Friday, September 16, 2011

Music For My Fingers

Here’s the funny thing: I had the entry I originally was going to post today ready to go back during the weekend. Then, last night, I read some news that put me in a different frame of mind.

What’s the deal? I learned that Film Score Monthly, which for more than twenty years has been a driving force in bringing to collectors quality soundtracks for new and classic movies, will “close their doors” next spring after completing and offering for sale their 250th album. Why does this make me feel more than a little sad? Well, I’m a huge nerd for film music, and FSM has been just one of the dealers supporting my habit for lo these many years. That I’m going to miss them is something that really only hit home this morning as I pondered my music collection and realized that a bunch of it was obtained through them or one of their partners in crime.

As I wrote for an entry on my own blog: I’ve been a fan of film scores for as long as I can remember listening to music. In the days before home video, I could play an LP album on my record player, close my eyes and relive the excitement of a favorite film. How many nights did I lay awake, pineapple-sized headphones covering my ears, and listen to the music of John Williams while recalling Superman in flight, the Millennium Falcon escaping the Death Star, or Indiana Jones chasing after the Nazis in order to steal back the lost ark?

Nowadays, I listen to a variety of different film and television scores when I write. I need some kind of background noise when I’m working, whether it’s the CD player in my home office or my mp3 player when I’m at the library. When I’m writing, the music usually can’t be anything with lyrics, but that still leaves me with a rather sizable selection from which to choose. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m listening to a recent acquisition: the soundtrack to the new Captain America movie. Great stuff, particularly if you’re a fan of the big epic westerns and war movies of the 50s and 60s (which I am) with music by great composers like Elmer Bernstein or Ennio Morricone.

(Don’t worry: I do also listen to other things. I love classical music and jazz, as well as good old-fashioned “turn it up and stomp on the gas” rock and roll. And, of course, I kneel before the greatness of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart. Those I save for when the writing’s done...though the idea of writing a science fiction themed rock concept album has its definite appeal. Too bad the only musical skill I possess involves pressing “Play.”)

Since I write a lot of science fiction, I tend to prefer appropriate music from film or television. Scores from films such as Outland or the Star Wars trilogies or the recent Battlestar Galactica TV series are frequently called into service. When I’m writing Star Trek (which, you may have heard, I do on occasion), I’ve been known to load up all the Trek movie scores and let them run in sequence. I’ve also managed to acquire just about every piece of music scored for the original series, which never fails to put me in the proper mindset when writing stories set in that era.

For action scenes, music from the Indiana Jones films or something like Gladiator or Sahara or Black Hawk Down comes in handy. For a change of pace or if I’m looking for some “atmosphere,” I might throw in something like Dances with Wolves, Alien, Crimson Tide or even the original 1951 The Day the Earth Stood Still. I’ve even got music from NFL Films along with the bits that accompany the game highlights on ESPN’s NFL Primetime simply because I once wrote a story about football. My music cache is nothing if not eclectic, and it’s as much a part of my writer’s toolbox as my laptop.

What about you? Do you prefer quiet while you write, or do you use music to get the juices flowing? If it’s the latter, what do you use to coax your muse out of hiding? Do you wonder if it ever dances around in its underwear when it thinks no one’s looking?

Wait, that’s just my muse? Okay, then. Moving on....


Charles Gramlich said...

I have to have relative quiet when I write. When I play music the rhythm of it seems to interfere with the rhythm in the prose itself.

As for soundtracks. I have one that was a gift, to ONce upon a time in the west. I also bought one, for the 13th warrior. Afraid that's about the extent of my film music knowledge.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Unfortunately, since I can't seem to filter sound (I tend to actively listen to background sounds), I need absolute quiet when I write. The only thing I might be able to tolerate is the sound of nature especially at the sea shore with birds squawking and waves lapping at the shore. But that same sound also makes me very sleepy...

Tom Doolan said...

Interestingly, I am currently listening to my "Soundtracks" playlist on my iPhone right this minute. It includes Gladiator, Fellowship of the Ring, Troy, The 13th Warrior, Conan the Barbarian (my favorite), a bunch of selections from a few Sci Fi Channel CDs, the themes from all of the Star Trek movies and shows (up through Voyager), and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I also have a playlist that includes all of the music from World of Warcraft (I write a lot of fantasy).

Yep, I feel ya. as for when i write, it depends on my mood. i generally like it quiet, but if I can't get that, than this playlist works for drowning out the haze, and setting the mood.

KeVin K. said...

My muse is Errata, patron of the tyop.

Because I distract easily I use music to isolate myself. (A relative who knows how easily distracted I am by sounds once gave me a tabletop waterfall intended to be restful while blocking unwanted sound. Had me going to the bathroom eight times an hour.) This usually means instrumental music. ("Rules of the Game" by Different Ways is playing as I type.) But vocals are good when I'm deep into my writing. Vocals in a language I don't know are good. Did some serious work to a CD of German stuff that sounded like a heavy metal/rap fusion my son gave me a few years ago. (Don't want to know what they were going on about.)

I usually write to jazz or acoustic guitar heard through headphones that are supposed to block background noise. ("Supposed" because real ones cost $100+ and I spent $19.99 for mine.) My two most used Pandora stations are "Anji" (Davey Graham, not movies or stones) and Coltrane. Though I do have Carol King, Bob Dylan, CCR, Matisyahu, Bomba Estereo, K'naan, Traci Chapman, S&G, and Phoebe Snow channels. And of course TSO for the holidays. No movie scores, however.

Liane Spicer said...

Music obviously plays an important part in your writing routine, and I can see how the scores you mentioned would put you in the right frame of mind for the kind of stories you write.

I rarely listen to music while I write and when I do it's usually guitar solos by Narciso Yepes or George Benson. Lyrics are way too distracting. My best writing conditions are: dead of night, natural sounds of the night - and the company of my writing lizards, of course.

Anonymous said...

I prefer listening to music when I write but I live in a one-bedroom apartment with my wife and she needs to study. Anywhere I play music she can hear it and I don't have an MP3 player anymore.

My favorite music to listen to is Nightwish, a folk rock music group. But film scores or pieces of action-oriented classical music work well too.