The Thirty Five Timely & Untimely Deaths Of Cumberland County

By Mason Ball

1934: a doctor struggles with belief, mortality and murder; a novel inspired by real events

Monday, 11 April 2016

Music By Which To Write #1

I see much in online writer's groups and message boards about different author's methodologies when writing. Different superstitions and rituals. So and so writes longhand with a quill fashioned from a dodo feather pilfered from the natural history museum circa 1978, whatshername can only make her page-a-day target if facing true north wearing naught but a pith helmet and knitted swimwear, youknowwho writes exclusively on a rusty stolen typewriter whilst listening to Rachmaninov. Played backwards. On comb and paper. That kind of thing.

I think much of this speculation results from fear, fear that you're not doing it right, a selection of strange behavioural talismans gripped with white knuckles; dubious charms against the great boogieman of writer's block.

Having said that of course I'm now going to tell you all about an element of my ritual of writing, thus adding to the reservoir of spurious nonsense and conjecture about what 'works' (the truth being, obviously, what works is what works for you).

Music plays an important part when I'm writing. Silence will rarely do. I can rarely listen to anything with lyrics lest my attention wander and I fall to singing along (badly), so for the main it's instrumentals or nothing, and often I lean toward the less rhythmic and more abstract and/or drone-like accompaniment, and often of a darker bent. The following are a few favourites of mine when I'm hammering away on the keys, a clothes peg on one nipple (either), sockless but slippered, one trouser leg rolled up (always the left), a live heron gaffer-taped to my back; like I say, whatever works for you.


'The Dying Submariner (A Concerto For Piano And Reverberation In Four Movements)' -CD- by Andrew Liles

Put simply, this is like listening to the sound of a thousand pianos dropped from great heights, played slow-motion, at the bottom of the sea. And yet there is composition here, rather than pure chaos. the sound of Mozart drowning maybe, a thousand Mozarts. A huge and unfathomable sound; the word vertiginous comes to mind. -if you can get the limited edition with the bonus disc of 'The Dead Submariner (A Concerto For Bowed Guitar And Reverberation In Three Movements) do so, it’s equally impressive.



'Eerste Schijf' by Thu20

Avant garde microscopic noodlers, Thu20 create spare soundtracks of machines going ever so slightly wrong. Lots of space and silence that probably isn’t really silence. Like listening to a mechanical aneurysm.


'The Sinking Of The Titanic' by Gavin Bryars

Like a drowned then resurrected string quartet and choir playing in the raised hull of the 'unsinkable' ship, the musicians perhaps perched on rusted fixtures and fittings. Plaintive and, dare I say it, moving.

Read detailed notes on the recording HERE.



'Calcutta Gas Chamber' by John Watermann

Sounds not unlike like crawling through a malfunctioning machine full of metal insects, de-tuned radios and broken bottles.

Notes from the Cold Spring re-release: "The concept of aurally conveying the horror of a gas chamber was realised through field recordings in an abandoned electrical power station in Brisbane in 1992. The sounds are grating and harsh, a mixture of field recordings and electronic manipulations. One can rarely pinpoint a location or action but the images the sounds conjure up are of all sorts of nefarious activities related to death by machinery."



'Rhythmajik' by Z’ev.

Recorded to accompany his esoteric book of the same name (which I don’t own). This is a series of short 1 to 2 minute tracks of sound and rhythm (though far from metronomic or toe-tapping). Like some kind of siezure in a cymbal factory. As to the book's claims that the rhythm patterns included on this disc have magical healing properties, can’t say as I’ve noticed. A great record though.


(More music by which to write in a future shed post...)

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