Month: March, 2012

Anybody want to buy a used Discman?

At the risk of dating myself, I’m old enough to remember buying vinyl records. My first and second record was Michael Jackson’s BAD. The first copy melted during a particularly hot Saturday afternoon when I carelessly left it on the back parcel shelf for too long. Luckily, my mum was generous and patient enough to drive me back so I could buy a replacement.

When CD’s appeared I made the jump to the new technology quickly and without regret. So what if vinyl sounded better? I couldn’t play a record in the car or on my Discman. As far as I was concerned CDs ruled. Since that time, it’s been made abundantly clear that CDs do not rule. They have in fact been rendered more or less obsolete by digital downloads. DVDs and Blu-Rays are probably not far behind. Apparently, there’s no room for physical media in the digital age.

With the introduction of eReaders many folks prophesized the book would succumb to this extinction level event. It’s not hard to see why. eReaders are simple to operate and more importantly gratify that ‘I WANT IT NOW!’ impulse endemic to the iGeneration. So long as you have access to the internet, novels by your favourite authors are only a few clicks away. Even better, eBooks are cheaper than regular books.

That stated, I think books are here to stay. Sure, it’s inevitable that the percentage of physical books sold to digital is going to ultimately shift in favour of digital, however, I don’t think the difference will be as drastic as the publishing industry fears. Why am I so confident? It’s easy – you hold a book in your hands. Oh I know CDs and DVDs are tangible objects as well and that hasn’t served them too well in the long run, what I’m discussing is something different – the sensation of paper beneath your fingertips, the soft whisper of a page turning, the faint smell of dried ink. The subtle sensory stimulations that accompany the act of reading that you’re probably barely aware of but that you’d miss if they were absent.

This might seem like a tenuous argument but I think as we travel further into the digital age – an age defined by its ephemeral quality – sensual objects will take on greater value (and is there a more sensual object than a book? Something that not only excites the senses but also stimulates the imagination). In a world where all my media exists in a folder on my computer, a book on the shelf is going to be something special.

I still have BAD on vinyl, whereas my CD version has long since been lost to time. Why do I have it? Because vinyl sounds better and as I get older quality means a lot more to me than immediacy. Likewise reading words on a page will always be a superior experience to reading them on a screen. Sometimes the media adds a little magic to the material. It grounds it, gives it shading and depth that no amount of 1’s and 0’s will ever match.

M. J.

The playlist of dreams

Before I became a novelist, I was an aspiring screenwriter. One of my idols was Paul Thomas Anderson, the filmmaker behind Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. I used to visit his fan site religiously where I’d study interviews with him to try and glean as much information as possible. Information I could use to improve my own writing. In many of the site’s interviews, Anderson confessed to being a huge admirer of Aimee Mann going so far as to admit he couldn’t write without one of her albums playing in the background. Being a good proactive little sponge, I of course went out and bought a bunch of Aimee Mann CDs.

The music was great, unfortunately Ms Mann didn’t help my writing. She might have hurt it if anything. I’d be sitting there trying to work out the best way to phrase a sentence and the lyrics from ‘Freeway’ would intrude. Ultimately, I discovered writing in complete silence was the best way for me to work. However, complete silence is hard to come by. Unless you live alone in the middle of the woods chances are you’re constantly buffeted by noise – the sound of traffic outside, a television on in the next room, your loved one yelling at you to hang the washing out.

I suspected that music could still be used to help me focus, it was just a matter of finding the right kind of music. Aimee Mann didn’t work but after some trial and error I discovered something that did – film soundtracks. Specifically those composed by Thomas Newman, Carter Burwell, Danny Elfman or Jerry Goldsmith (John Williams didn’t work because as soon as the theme to Indiana Jones or Star Wars began my attention would shot to pieces and images of Han Solo firing lazer beams would fill my head). I wrote Winter’s Shadow largely to Danny Elfman’s scores for Edward Scissorhands and The Wolfman, with a bit of Wojciech Kilar’s Dracula thrown in for good measure. The dark fairytale quality of the music was evocative without being distracting.

For Winter’s Light, I decided the sequel should have its own soundtrack so I created an entirely new playlist. Again I used Elfman, but this time I grabbed his score for Nightbreed. I also added Carter Burwell’s scores for Barton Fink (very appropriate as the movie is about the horror of writer’s block) and Millers Crossing. At the moment I’m writing a short story set in the Winter-verse (more to come on this) so once again I’ve created a new playlist. This one has Jerry Goldsmith’s scores for Poltergeist I & II and Thomas Newman’s Lemony Snicket. I find it best to have no more than three or four soundtracks in any particular playlist as part of the effectiveness of this technique is the familiarity of the music. I need to get used to the songs so I don’t notice them so much.

Do you write to music? If so, feel free to list your preferred soundtrack in the comments below.

M. J.