Music: Adrian Belew—Big Electric Cat
Here it is! The prompt for this month’s Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain is:
“How does music relate to your writing?”
This is a question I could take hours about answering. Music is my number one hobby, both playing and listening (hobbies being distinct from passions, in the respect that I intend to take writing and maths to professional levels). Visitors can always tell when I’m home: soaring guitar solos, tuba multiphonics or shrill mellotron drones cranked up to full volume breach my defences (three doors) and penetrate the rest of the house.
It took me two weeks short of two years to get through my dad’s music collection, and, having navigated (and loved) Russian ballet, Solid Gold Soul and Icelandic baroque-pop, I’ve discovered that my true calling is progressive rock in the vein of King Crimson (who I’m going to see in September, woohoo!), Focus, Renaissance, Rush, Marillion and Yes.
I don’t make writing playlists. I find tone is best fed by the funkiest mix of styles music can give me, so I randomise it and let the variation drive my writing. But that’s the great thing about prog rock: its versatility. King Crimson are particularly known for their extreme counter-cultural music-making. Stick with their seemingly-chaotic mesh of awkward time signatures, atypical rhythmic structures, dissonant chords and fragmented lyrics for five or ten minutes and maybe you’ll fall under their enchantment.
Another aspect of versatility is instrumentation. Jethro Tull included a flautist (who famously stood on one leg while he played); Dan Ar Braz played Celtic jigs with a rock set-up (note the driving percussion, guitar solo and BAGPIPES(!!!), besides the pop-like vocals); then there’s the double-neck guitar which became a signature of the lead of jazz fusion group Mahavishnu Orchestra, and was used to create textural diversity ranging from Indian classical to chamber-like influences.
Prog rock helped to spawn a genre called ‘ambient music’. Most people have heard the motif of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells—but have you heard the whole track, or any of his other music? Oldfield is a master of writing mesmerising, lyric-less ostinatos that can just as well intrigue and inspire as provide background music for a project. That’s what I love: music that doesn’t set a standard of attention, that can drive your subconscious or satisfy your conscious intelligence with every new listening.
Next up is a lesser-known band called It Bites. Like Arcade Fire, they’re perhaps straying towards art and arena rock, but it’s the busy originality of their music that I find so easy to write to. It’s the kind of music that, even if it distracts you, you won’t emerge from its enchantment regretting lost time. It’s creatively enriching.
I can’t find my favourite track, Plastic Dreamer, on Youtube, but I urgeurgeurge you to look it up on whatever other media you have. Or have some Uriah Heep instead–this song of his has the same kind of effect on me.
Then we have Steely Dan, who explore tensions between jazz and pop chord progressions. They’re so well-known for using the added two chord they nicknamed it ‘mu major’, and the name has stuck. Their dissonant harmonies particularly keep me sitting up straight. It’s musical oxymoron! What author wouldn’t value that?
If I especially need something lighter, I’ll turn to Barclay James Harvest, America or Kayak. But they have more lyrics than the rest of the above songs put together; I use them for feel-good turn-tos, if I’m overdosing on cynical humour.
For the record, I don’t give a damn about a song’s lyrics. Considering I’m a writer, this may seem counter-productive; but if music is another medium for conveying stories and emotion, I feel it ought to be able to do so without words. If words can add to the feeling, so much the good; often I feel they don’t match the tone of the music anyway, and if attended too closely they ruin the track for me. So I listen primarily for wordless things—and then attempt to reproduce them in MY words, through writing.
Finally, I can’t finish this post without mentioning Captain Beefheart’s magnificent album Trout Mask Replica. The so-called Magic Band lived communally in a small rented house for eight months rehearsing the twenty-eight ridiculously difficult compositions of Van Vliet (aka Beefheart). During this time Van Vliet asserted utter artistic and emotional domination over his band members, using physical violence and unrelenting psychological abuse if they exhibited less than total submission to his vision. They rehearsed fourteen hours a day with restrictions on leaving the house. With no income, they were malnourished and in poor health—after their arrest for shoplifting, they were bailed out by none other than Frank Zappa!
Yes, it’s horrific (and it may all be rumours; Beefheart was known for those too), but it’s another artistic environment, and it translates in the music. This album has pretty much everything: folk, classical, blues, jazz; falsetto, casual ramblings, rumbling bass; history, politics, love, conformity, and civilisation. And the more I listen to this album the more I adore its tightness and spontaneous feel.
So, click on a few links and taste some sounds of the seventies! Do you like prog rock and ambient music, or hate it with a passion? Or are you utterly undecided, and not all that inclined to decide, either?
Here’s the rest of the chain:
14th – http://kirabudge.weebly.com/
28th – https://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ (Announcing the topic for March’s chain.)