Where were we? Ah, yes, music. I listen to music all the time while I’m writing. And working, too; I say that because as far as I’m concerned, they’re totally separate, distinct things... and one is much more fun than the other. I also have my classes listen to music while we work, too. In fact, it’s one of the first discussions we have at semester’s beginning. I inform them I don’t want their iPods or MP3 players etc. in class; if music is required, I’ll provide it. To which they want to know why they can’t listen to their own music. I ask them if they want the diplomatic answer, or the honest one. They usually start by choosing the diplomatic. “Because most of your music is not conducive to a productive learning environment,” I reply. Then, naturally, because they’re perversely curious, they ask for the honest answer. Gotcha. “Because most of your music is crap,” I reply sweetly. Well, they walked right into that. Then I add, “Besides, most of your music involves vocals, and you guys can’t multi-task to save your lives.” Sure they can, they protest. Gotcha again. “Nope,” I say cheerfully. “You cannot multi-task. In fact, most of you suck at doing one task at a time, never mind several.”
And it’s quiet while we’re working in class, too. As I gently point out, they have work to do, and while discussion absolutely does have a place in class (especially an English class --- I am not a complete dinosaur, he said haughtily), the tragic problem is that much of students’ casual discussion tends to focus on topics that have nothing whatsoever to do with what they’re supposed to be doing. To mimic Ecclesiastes, there’s a time to talk, and a time to be silent. A time to discuss together, and a time to create in the solitary splendour of one’s thoughts. And never the twain shall meet. (Yes... I do talk to students like this. Why do you ask?) But we’re digressing again, aren’t we? Sorry. Classes for a Brand New Year start in three days, so my teacher mentality is cranking into high gear. It’s a kind of Jekyll and Hyde season for me. Time to don the benevolent tyrant persona again.
Just kidding. Sort of.
Music. While writing. Terrific idea. It stimulates the soul, inspires the imagination, hauls on the heart strings, encourages the emotions, and a whole lot of other alliterative writing-type things. As long as it’s music of the right type. There’s that Goldilocks Factor I mentioned last entry, rearing its long, gorgeously blonde locks again. What’s the right type of music?
Well, among rational beings, I guess that’s a matter of personal preference, although some choices make a lot more sense to me than others. Notice I emphasized ‘rational.’ That’s why I choose what my students listen to. (An eminent psychologist said adolescence is ‘a time of transitory psychosis.’ To which I amend, yeah, well, more transitory for some than others. I am not making this up. You can’t make stuff like this up.)
My preference for music while writing is instrumental, not vocal, for the reason I give my students: I don’t believe you can focus on song lyrics and writing at the same time. I was mildly horrified to learn the author of a famous/notorious (pick your adjective) series concerning vegetarian vampires listens to hard rock groups like Muse while writing. How on earth does one focus on one’s writing with angry young men shrieking in the background? Not my idea of inspiring music.
So what do I listen to when writing/working? Film soundtracks, primarily, from multiple genres, not limiting myself to fantasy or science fiction. I’m looking for atmosphere. When I’m writing intense action/fighting between protagonist and antagonist, I want something reflecting that. When I’m writing triumphal, I want that music. When I’m writing tender or intimate or melancholy, I want music mirroring those things.
I go by composers, not the films they’ve scored. Hans Zimmer is sublime. I enjoyed James Horner and was saddened to hear of his recent passing. Patrick Doyle, James Newton Howard, Thomas Newman, John Williams, Howard Shore, Alexandre Desplat, Harry Gregson-Williams have all done terrific work on multiple films. (Ironically, I can’t listen to Shore’s Lord of the Rings while working... I know it too well, know what various characters are doing at precise moments in the soundtrack and so become distracted.)
Ilan Eshkeri, Ed Shearmur, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, Dario Marinelli and Stephen Warbeck have done sterling work, too. On TV, Bear McCreary’s work in series like Battlestar Galactica and, more recently, Outlander, is great. And don’t underestimate some of the composers for video games. Marty O’Donnell did tremendous stuff for the Halo franchise. The man can go from majestic to brooding to poignantly tender in the blink of an eye. The team working on the Mass Effect games is frequently brilliant, as are the folks working on the Assassin’s Creed series. And everything is available for purchase through iTunes or CD.
So there I sit in my little hole, hunched over my venerable laptop, stringing words together, listening to tunes on my iPod. Because, as the Bard said, “Here will we sit and let the sounds of music/Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night/Become the touches of sweet harmony.”
Indeed, Will, indeed.