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A post this past summer by Justin Cox, (July 6, 2021) On Medium’s Writing Cooperative, This Week In Writing entitled “What’s On Your Desk-Work Playlist?” spurred me to post a comment about what I listen to while working on my Ravenstones series. (I hesitate to call it “work” because it’s also so enjoyable; I’d say the world needs a new verb/noun for such an endeavour).
The specific goal of Mr. Cox’s post was to canvas readers and find music that “inspires but doesn’t distract”, two essential aspects of such a playlist. In so doing, Mr. Cox revealed that he generally listened to nothing at all when preoccupied with his daily agenda and – by way of his Facebook group – discovered he was far from being alone in making that choice. Still, he admitted to enjoying background music and possessed a “few go-to Apple Music playlists”. These pieces ranged “from acoustic covers to epic movie scores”.
Choosing music that entertains but does not distract is no easy matter. I once knew a senior civil servant who worked while listening to heavy metal (since this was in the days before headphones, iPhones, earbuds and privacy, colleagues could hardly avoid it). I could never figure it out – first, drafting key policy proposals to music and, second, working to that particular kind. To my mind Metallica is not something contributing to thoughtful discourse, calm introspection or rational decision-making. Each to his own, I guess; his career was marked with success, so it clearly didn’t hinder his progress.
Colleagues from my distant past (in the days of offices and doors) worked to all sorts of music genres. They actually owned radios that stood on their desks. In plain view, no less! Although the practice was rare and usually frowned upon by those with more seniority, I suspect most productive ones got away with it. But how anyone managed that trick – working to music – is beyond my comprehension. I wouldn’t have had the ability to concentrate.
But what about writing? Is it really work? As I noted above, most days the creative process is so pleasurable, I’d consider it more fun than work.
As an author of “epic quest anthropomorphic animal fantasies” (a short terminology to describe the genre is also on my wish list!), no obvious music choices aiding the writing process exist. Apart from generally favouring jazz (Jim Hall and Keith Jarrett, to name but two) and classical (of all periods but especially Spanish guitar), my day-to-day music interests are pretty eclectic.
For writing The Ravenstones, I did occasionally turn to pure nature sounds, especially when writing scenes set in the countryside. And when I say pure, I mean without any sort of orchestration – they must be the sounds of birds singing, bees buzzing, crickets chirping, brooks babbling, raindrops (gently falling or hurricane-like), waves breaking on shore, wind sweeping through treetops, etc. and nothing else.
In sum, the sounds of nature can wax and wane, like an approaching or disappearing storm, or remain consistent for hours on end, but I don’t want to hear any romantic strains of classical top hits in the background. No! Not ever!
Not only did I appreciate the soothing aspects of these sounds but they also gave me ideas for adding in background aspects to the scenes. (I should also note that such music is great for dealing with bouts of sleeplessness.)
Becoming interested in the topic, I’ve just checked out the reaction to Mr. Cox’s post. On the basis of 149 likes (i.e., applauding hands) and the few replies (which may be typical for this venue), a small majority opted for nothing at all, while individuals chose the soundtrack of the Hamilton musical, or specific genres like chill hop, piano and classical guitar. While every respondent received some further upvotes, some clear divergent trends emerged – music either with or without lyrics, a carefully-crafted playlist but only prior to or in between writing or music, and music that matched the energy of the writing.
I can certainly relate to the last idea. As noted above, scenes set in the countryside benefit from recordings of quiet, calm nature music. Equally, battle scenes benefit from listening to heroic, dramatic soundtracks. To that end, I am a huge fan of the Canadian composer, Howard Shore and his exceptional (Academy Award-winning) Lord of The Rings music.
Having admitted to silence being my creative friend, three composers did keep me company over the many years of writing The Ravenstones. Stay tuned – I will deal with them in upcoming posts.