I have been listening to Ikon: Music for the Soul and Spirit (Harry Christophers & The Sixteen) a lot recently. When I’m writing fiction, I like to listen to instrumental music – preferably with a lot of white noise – such as Mogwai (and I have to confess here, that like drinking Highland Park, this is inspired by Ian Rankin’s habits – but a little bit of mindless hero-mirroring never did anyone any harm. It’s not like I go around trying to grow beards, eat dogfood or make wasp factories or you know, act mostly harmlessly, or anything. (‘Mostly harmlessly’? Seriously, Ivan, sort your -lys out.).
The white noise element – loud, shapeless or distorted guitars – helps to empty my head of other imagery so that I can focus on the scene in hand. It’s one less distraction in the process. If I could, I would probably write in the dark. Although being unpublished, I cannot afford the special ‘see in the dark’ eye transplants that I hear all the top authors are getting nowadays. I’ve also just realised that I tend to chew a lot (gum, I know, disgusting habit, but it’s healthier than biscuits) when I’m writing.
Together, these sensory deprivations/restritions all add to the blank canvas for me – the act of listening to the same thing, chewing the same taste etc all helps to create the environment for me to focus on creating new sights, sounds, tastes, smells…
Occasionally, I break my own rules with music with vocals in other languages – the only rule is that it can’t have easily identifiable English words in them – in case I type them by mistake. So I also listen to a lot of Scandinavian music, like Sigur Ros. I also tried branching out with The Necks, remembering a recommendation from someone whose opinion I value, but it took too long to arrive (as noise), and distorted the writing flow. I sometimes wonder if you can tell what I was listening to when I wrote a particular piece. I think you can, but then I think a lot of things about my writing that aren’t obvious to other readers. In my head, most of what I write is full of many coloured threads, whereas most readers just see black. And matt black, at that. C’est la vie… c’est la nuit.
Where was I? Oh yes, ‘joy’. When I’m doing my freelance work (which tends to require a pedantic, analytic mindset, rather than what I feel is ‘creativity’ (others may disagree)) I tend to listen to classical music – or opera if I’m feeling very Morse-like (he is the Uber Pedant, at whose feet we proto-grumpies all worship). I’m a bit of a classical ignoramus (in all senses), so I forget what I do and don’t have, or what composer I like etc. I’m one of these dreadful people who tends to associate the ‘better’ classical pieces with adverts or moving images, so associations and memories tend to blend into one another, regardless.
I guess this simply reinforces the idea that listening to classical music is, traditionally, a form of penance, or devotion.
Which leads me to Harry Christophers & The Sixteen. I’d forgotten how much I like choral music. It can be both deeply soothing and yet uplifting at the same time. And it has obvious appeal for anyone who has an interest in monks and monastic life (more on this in the blog, soon). Choral music is aural tea, basically.
Somewhere in the Ikon collection is a song that repeats the refrain ‘Joy’ several times – with each part of the choir singing it at a slightly different cadence (sorry, I forget the technical term for this, but it’s effect is like a wave of ‘Joy’ with different frequencies – peaks and troughs of sound that ripple around the room). It gives me goosebumps. An amazing surge of endorphines rush around my body and I have the overwhelming urge to join in (but for the sake of my neighbours, I don’t).
It makes me think of cliff tops, and druids, and darkly lit cathedrals and the sea and the birds swirling and viking warrior parties returning from a raiding voyage, and…so many other things, all wrapped up in a few precious seconds. It’s just magical. For those few moments, time stands still in my head and I am lost in a maelstrom of images and feelings. I can see, touch… smell things that aren’t there – like an intense narcotic experience. It’s a beautiful piece of music.
And you know what? I’ve listened to the collection umpteen times since, and I can’t find that refrain again. It’s an auditory hallucination. Has that ever happened to you? There’s something peculiar about music – this doesn’t happen in the other senses (I think, am I wrong?).
Of course, in writing this post, I’ve had to check again, and I have finally found the segment in question – it’s two minutes into ‘A Child’s Prayer‘ – and is nowhere near as impressive as my memory of it. Funny that, isn’t it? I almost wish I’d not found it, now.
Becayse, it’s there in my head, clear as a bell. ‘Joy’. Perhaps someone’s trying to tell me something.
Join in, everybody – ‘joy!’.