Yesterday, I wrote about the music I’ve been listening to while I work on my science fiction novel and music—a song anyway—is the inspiration for the setting, at least for now. It’s set on Mars at a research station near Olympus Mons, the massive shield volcano at the edge of the Tharsis region.
According to Wikipedia, Olympus Mons stands over 16 miles above the Martian surface and is 342 miles wide, about the size of the state of Missouri.
I don’t know if I’ll keep that site in the final draft, but the choice was inspired by the Pixies tune “Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons,” one of my all-time favorite Pixies songs. Okay, all Pixies songs are pretty much my all-time favorite Pixies songs, but really, I mean a song about a bird dreaming of flying around on another planet?
My uncle, who is both a writer and a retired writing teacher (and who has read several of my works-in-progress over the years) has commented on occasion that the voice in my work is consistent in such a way that it seems everything is done in one sitting.
I had never thought about it, but I think part of what makes that possible is ritual. During the summer when I have all day everyday it’s not so important; I just sit and write. Doing NaNoWriMo last month forced me to think about how to get into the zone so that the isolated hour here and two hours there could be most productive.
Music is one of the best writing rituals I’ve found. Whenever I work on a novel, I tend to pick one CD (or one artist now that itunes makes it easy to shuffle all of an artist’s work) for that project. In the past I’ve written to And then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out by Yo La Tengo, the hundred or so hours of Dead I’ve got, and Enigma’s MCMXC. For this project, I turned to ( ) by Sigur Rós.
When finding music for writing, I look for work that’s interesting musically, but that can also fade into the background. I like lots of instrumentals and open spaces and maybe even some drone.
Last month, I found ( ) to be perfect for an eerie science fiction piece set at a research base on Mars. Perhaps on some level Sigur Rós appealed because they’re from Iceland, a nation whose landscapes are closer to what exists on Mars than almost anywhere else on Earth. The music is also otherworldly, and the lyrics are not sung in English so they don’t become a distraction.
By listening to ( ) in my car on my way home from work, I found that I would already be in my writing zone by the time I got home. I would brew a cup of tea (another ritual) and sit down to write. While writing at my computer, I used itunes and so could go beyond ( ) to include Takk… and “Sevefn-g-englar,” the epic track from Vanilla Sky that turned me on to Sigur Rós in the first place.
I have an easier time getting started when I’ve pre-focused my mind on the drive home. When I sit down the words come easier, and I’m in the frame of mind for a particular story because I think my subconscious is already tuned to that story’s frequency.
I was finishing some revisions on another novel at the beginning of the month and I found I could easily switch focus between stories by changing the music from Sigur Rós to the Grateful Dead.
What (if anything) do you listen to when you write?
Here’s a video of Sigur Rós performing “Sevefn-g-englar.” You have to love a guy who uses a bow to play his guitar. Enjoy.
It’s a beautiful book, LP sized to give the full effect of the album art that’s usually shrunk to CD at best or iPod screen at worst, truly made for enjoying the full-size renditions of such iconic covers as Wave and The Sound of New York.
Turner did covers mainly for albums produced by Creed Taylor for Impulse!, A&M, and CTI during the 1960s and 70s. The process was interesting to say the least. Taylor would give Turner an album title only, and Turner would create or find an image that more often than not took the title in a different direction, moving away from the artist portraits that were so in vogue at the time.
The work is amazing. Turner relies heavily on colored filters to create sublime images that are as haunting as they are vivid. His images take the music of such artists as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Freddy Hubbard, George Benson, Deodato, Joe Farrell, and Milt Jackson among others to new realms, often connecting with the music in surprising ways such as with his unsettling image from the cover of Joe Farrell’s Canned Funk: a glass eye floating in a newly opened can of peaches.
Oddly, I didn’t realize how many of the CDs in my collection are graced by Turner’s images and how many of the albums he did that I don’t have but are on my list. Reading this, I can’t help but be saddened by the way that the new download culture of music is dispensing with the notion of visual art accompanying the music. I never bought LPs, but I loved CDs for their packaging. Of course, the whole notion of the album seems to fading away as well.