Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Writing music

I have found that I work better when I'm listening to music. And though different kinds of music produce different tones when I'm writing poetry, the optimal accompaniment for the writing of this book has been classical music. And even there I must sub-qualify. I get most done, and in least time, when I'm listening to Baroque stuff. The Baroquer the better. Bach is very productive for me. Handel is good. Locatelli good. St. Colombe and Marais. Something about the involutedness of the form, the mathiness of it. It appeals to the close focus and the intricacy of writing scholarly stuff. If I listen to Vaughan-Williams or Rachmaninoff, I get too seduced. Beethoven's too wide-focus. I need the attentive studies, the tight work, and the play of the Baroque.

What about y'all? What music jump-starts your juices?


jw said...

Beethoven is the worst background music ever. I can't even pee and listen to Beethoven at the same time.

For writing, nothing beats Arvo Part, especially Tabula Rasa. I've fiddled around with Steve Reich and even (heaven help me) Phillip Glass, but they tend to induce stupor, not focus. I just got a recording of Terry Reilly's "In C" in hopes that it might be good focus music, but it ain't, alas.

Bach can always work, but Handel makes me roll my eyes. I can usually write to non-English-language music from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: I'm a fan of Purcell and Thomas Tallis. Or there's the twentieth century American ensemble pieces that seems to work pretty well, too: Kronos Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, Tin Hat Trio.

If I'm really struggling to stay awake and want to press forward and I'm just doing some messy drafting, I can sometimes put a single song on repeat, crank it up high enough to damage the delicate parts inside my skull, and write in a pseudo-boozy haze of noise. It's been a few years since I've pulled that trick, so maybe it won't work as well as it used to. If I were a drinker, I'd probably just make it a real boozy haze, but the music thing is about as close as I get.

Lisa B. said...

I wrote large swaths of my discontinued dissertation whilst listening to the following, over and over but always in this order:

1. mozart requiem
2. brahms requiem
3. faure requiem
4. durufle requiem
5. derek and the dominos, layla and other love songs.

I loved ending up with "Thorn Tree in the Garden" on that last recording. Even though that piece of writing never achieved its putative destiny, it was gratifying to work on it, and the music was part of it.

Now, I mostly write in silence.The silencier the better.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I wrote my dissertation to R.E.M.'s "Automatic for the People." I have no idea why. It just really made for good work music for that moment in time. Now, I can't listen to it for anything. But I have been listening to Mozart a lot as I wrote my novel. His Clarinet Concerto (the adagio section) makes me ache. I love it, and I find myself writing purely from my soul when I have that on repeat. Then, I also really love his Piano Concerto #21. I also have that on repeat frequently. It's probably a cliché to love Mozart so deeply, but I'm also a Shakespearean, so I'm obviously in tune with the big guns.

Renaissance Girl said...

JW: I love Part, but I actually find him a bit too...I was going to say pensive but I guess I actually mean slow...for the kind of energy I need when I'm trying to write. A couple more jitters, I guess.

Lisa B: The diss may never have reached its destiny, but you certainly gave it a proper funeral.

Fie: That REM album is very good, and has a nice arc to it. But, as I said, can't write to lyrics.

moria said...

There's Bach and there's Bach. Brandenburg concertos? In some ways the ideal work-music. The B-minor mass? Total brainpocalypse. And the cello suites require my full and absolute attention.

Handel, Vivaldi – less consuming, therefore better for working (nothin' quite like major-key violins for a good scrub of the brain). Purcell in a good mood gets my engines going in the morning.

For work that requires only half my brain, like formatting citations or whathaveyou, it's all about the angry girl music, the synth-pop, and the old-school rock'n'roll.

Servetus said...

generally: early music (medieval discs recorded by Anonymous 4)

during Lent: Bach, St Matthew Passion (Herreweghe recording)

during Advent: Shawn Colvin, Holiday Songs and Lullabies

currently: Kate Nash, Made of Bricks

over the summer: Keane, Perfect Symmetry

if all else fails: Greatest Hits of the Police OR Paul Simon, Graceland. Wrote 150 pp of dissertation with those two on continuous play, so must use sparingly.

Renaissance Girl said...

Moria: So right abt Bach vs. Bach. I'm relying more on the Bach of the B-burgs, the Inventions, the Well-T-C, the Goldbergs. As I said, quietly mathy studies, as opposed to sonic overwhelm.

jw said...

Re Bach vs Bach: When I start thinking about using music as a tool to help me focus when writing (I was about to write to _fuel_ me when writing, but that's absolutely not true. Fuel music is fast music and my thinking-writing-brain and my fueled-brain are apparently incompatible), I always think of that classic of Hofstadter's _Gödel, Escher, Bach_, and I give Bach's "Musical Offering" (BVW 1079) a try. And then I start to think about GEB which makes me chuckle, and then I can't get any writing done because I start wondering if the book really is as silly as I remember, or if I should have finished it before making judgements about its silliness. It seems like it should be perfect writing music--it's canons, for heaven's sake--but the provenance for my discovery is too much for my little brain to handle.

Having admitted that, I think I'll put it back on the iPhone and give it a shot for some writing: may the gods of 1970s popular philosophy protect me.