Posts Tagged Joy Division

The Undercover Soundtrack – Andrew Lowe

for logo‘Music that seeps beneath your skin, then grows’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s post is by author, editor, journalist and musician Andrew Lowe @andylowe99

Soundtrack by Burial, The Durutti Column, Joy Division, Magazine, Nine Inch Nails, Sigur Ros, The xx.

That was his tragedy. He didn’t yet know that fear was more powerful than love.’

The Ghost is a novel about violence. At its centre is an act of extreme violence, perpetrated by three children. The book tells the story of how the consequences trickle down through time; a slow-acting psychological poison which engulfs the three children in adulthood.

I wrote it as a crescendo: smouldering beginning, gathering middle, explosive ending.

Andrew LoweI didn’t completely throw away the structure rulebook. I understand that continuous intensity will exhaust the reader, and so there are dropouts of release, spikes of hypertension, recurring motifs and anchoring asides.

In other words, I wanted it to feel like a lot of the music I love – the kind that steals over you, seeps beneath your skin and then grips and grows and grows.

Soundscape to landscape

Music is as vital a part of my life as light or air. I’ve always struggled with the idea of ‘background’ music in film or television. My favourite filmmakers bake it into the centre of the drama – as commentary to underscore the action, as soundscape to emphasise landscape. They also use the absence of music to wrongfoot the viewer into relaxing. (Is there anything less shocking than a jump scene telegraphed by a rising note and announced with a jarring chord?)

Music informs my writing in a similar way. It’s not there on the page, but it’s always present in my plotting brain and typing fingers.

When I’m not at my desk, I play out the scenes – particularly the set-pieces – on an internal cinema, soundtracking them with music in my headphones. Almost every story peak in The Ghost was conceived in this way; the events were enhanced by a vivid awareness of the sound which surrounded them.

I suppose it’s a form of creative synaesthesia. Before I write a word, most of my moments are steeped in distinct aural flavours. I find it difficult to write a significant sequence before seasoning its mood with music in this way.

Two timelines

The book follows two separate timelines in the life of lead character Dorian Cook: his impoverished childhood in early 1970s industrial England, and his working life as an adult film critic in modern-day London. As the present-day Cook realises he is being held to account for his actions as a child, the past timeline builds up to the inciting event itself.

The house carried an unholy chill that flowed deep through its foundations – a vaporous spectre of cold that first stirred in late August and had the place comprehensively haunted by December.’

For the austere 70s chapters, I favoured songs which seemed to define Cook’s world: corporal punishment, factory discharge, municipal menace. The clamour and whisper of Joy Division’s Heart and Soul; the inner-city palpitations of Burial’s Loner; and the slouching panic of Nine Inch Nails’s Corona Radiata, with its sense of impending reckoning which mirrors the book’s recurring first line:

Something was coming up the stairs.’

Two key sections in the past timeline take place during the notorious UK heatwave of 1976. At the time, I remember sweltering with a strawberry Mini Milk as my tiny portable radio squeaked out Minnie Ripperton’s ever-lovely Loving You and Mungo Jerry’s lascivious In The Summertime. But for the story I was telling, I needed Sketch For Summer by The Durutti Column, with its synthetic birdsong and rebounding guitar – a song that always evokes the invincibility of childhood summers, and Larkin’s mighty line about ‘the strength and pain of being young’.

In the present day, two songs defined Cook’s marital and mental collapse: Missing by The xx – a hushed and horrified dissection of a crumbling relationship; and, as the threat from his past grows ever mortal and Cook is forced to plot a counterattack, Magazine’s The Light Pours Out Of Me sets the death-defying scene.

So, The Ghost is a novel about violence. The story is triggered by violence and it ends with violence – although not, I hope, of the sort the reader is expecting. The final sequence – a queasy kind of closure – was linked to Sigur Ros’s monolithic Festival, a song which emerges, ever so delicately, with a lone Icelandic voice keening beneath overlapping string notes. It hovers like a hummingbird, and then drops hard into a midsection of martial drumming, before lulling and at last detonating in a starburst of choral harmonies. It briefly, unbelievably, ramps up one more level before collapsing into a single voice again, this time whistling the melody.

ghostIt doesn’t give me The Chills; it gives me The Glow – a surge of whiskey-warmth. I must have heard it a hundred times and I still get it, around eight minutes in, as if something in the song is hardwired into me.

Fellow writers talk of how their characters ‘take over’ and dictate the narrative. Others claim the muse descends in a certain place, or country. For me, it’s music that guides me through, defining the lifts and rifts of the characters’ inner lives and choreographing their actions in bold, movie-like rhythms.

The Ghost has been described as a ‘dark’ book, but I hope some of my musical motivation pokes through to reveal the more complex qualities I was reaching for – redemption, restoration, courage, euphoria, enduring connection. These are all qualities I find in the music I love, which in turn rouses my writing.

Andrew Lowe is an author, editor and journalist who has written for The Guardian and The Sunday Times, and contributed to numerous books and magazines on film, music, TV, sex, videogames, and shin splints. He divides his time between various rooms of his home in London, where he writes and makes music (as half of electronic duo Redpoint). He gets out of the house by cycling and coaching youth football. The Ghost is his first novel, but it won’t be his last. Find him on his website, Facebook, Google +, Instagram and Twitter @andylowe99

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments

The Undercover Soundtrack – Guy Mankowski

for logo‘Armour and post-punk lullabies’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by contemporary fiction author Guy Mankowski @Gmankow

Soundtrack by Savages, Manic Street Preachers, David Bowie, New Order, Magazine, Ultravox, Yourcodenameis: milo, Joy Division, Marilyn Manson, El Perro Del Mar

I think music has influenced me in a way that is perhaps unusual. One of my favourite bands, Savages, describes their music as a ‘suit of armour’. I use music to motivate me, empower me, and rouse me into a state of anger that I convert into writing. My favourite album, The Holy Bible by the Manic Street Preachers, contains a set of lyrics which are all about corruption and negativity, and about converting that anger into self-empowerment. During periods of difficulty in my life I’ve returned to that album again and again. The lyrics to my favourite song from it, Faster, capture many of the mantras I live by.

Guy MankowskiI first wanted to write How I Left The National Grid to capture, in writing, that feeling that music gave me. The mind-set of Savages and The Manics influenced my main character, the singer Robert Wardner, who uses his music to escape the bleakness of his surroundings. But the novel itself was written using various other non-lullabies.

The novel is comprised of two narratives- one, set in the 80s, following Robert Wardner’s rise and fall. The other, set in 2012, as a journalist called Sam tries to track Wardner down for a commissioned book. Whilst spending time in Manchester to research the post-punk scene I was struck by how many times the city has been bulldozed and regenerated in the last few decades. To me, the fragile, futuristic synths in New Order’s music worked as a metaphor for the fragile, futuristic living complexes that have sprouted in recent years. I felt the texture of New Order’s brittle guitars and undulating keyboard lines during the long, searching city walks I took. They inspired Sam’s more hopeful moments in his journey. I think that New Order used synths to evoke a future that then seemed impossibly utopian, given their grim surroundings in urban Manchester.

Aural utopias

In the novel Wardner fronts a band called The National Grid, who similarly try to create aural utopias on record, using whatever instruments they can lay their hands on. Magazine’s album Definitive Gaze and Ultravox’s Astradyne seemed to me the two records that had gone closest to achieving that. Neither are pristine, but their flaws make them all the most charming.
At the start of the novel Sam, and his girlfriend Elsa, are genuinely in thrall of futuristic visions about communal living, having just moved into a luxury apartment block. During the writing of these scenes I played I’m Leaving by Yourcodenameis: Milo again and again. The hard surfaces and polished textures of the song, along with singer Paul Mullen’s lyrics about living in a complex, were very evocative.

David Bowie has been quoted as the godfather of post-punk, and so perhaps fittingly his album Low was incredibly important in the creation of the book. Not least because in one scene, like in the song Always Crashing In The Same Car we see a character driving menacingly around a hotel car park, faster and faster, until a crash seems unavoidable.

How I Left the National Grid - Book ImageBrutalist surfaces

During his car journey to Manchester’s sink estates, in pursuit of Wardner, Sam listens to Joy Division’s Disorder, and he acknowledges the hard interiors of their song, as uncompromising as the unyielding, Brutalist surfaces around him. At other times he doesn’t skirt around cities, but is taken into the dark heart of them. In the scene in which his hunt takes him to a debauched London nightclub I had Marilyn Manson’s Great Big White World play in the background in the prose. The song has a synthetic, artificial, glossy feel to it, as if the arrangement is cased in Lucite. The song felt as Ballardian as the modern nightclub environment. I also used El Perro Del Mar’s Dark Night again and again as muzak during the writing of one scene in which a character experiences a comedown. The lulled vocals and the incessant repetition of that song are somehow addictive, and capture the atmosphere perfectly. This novel could not have been written without the push that such songs gave me.

Guy Mankowski was raised on the Isle of Wight. He was singer in Alba Nova, a band who were described by Gigwise as ‘mythical and evocative’. He trained as a psychologist at the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability in London. The first draft of his debut novel, The Intimates, was written when he was 21 and was chosen as a ‘must-read’ title by New Writing North’s Read Regional campaign. His second novel, Letters from Yelena, was researched in the world of Russian ballet. He was one of the first English people to be given access to The Vaganova Academy, perhaps the most prestigious ballet school in the world. The novel was adapted for the stage and used in GCSE training material by Osiris Educational. How I Left The National Grid was written after a creative writing PhD at Northumbria University under the supervision of Booker nominee Dr Andrew Crumey, and is published by Zer0 Books. Guy’s website is here, his Facebook page is here and you can tweet him on @Gmankow.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

The Undercover Soundtrack – Andy Harrod

for logo‘Love is the key to these stories’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s guest is Andy Harrod @decodingstatic

Soundtrack by Ólafur Arnalds, HATR Project, Smoke Fairies, Joy Division, Soap & Skin, Lanterns on the Lake, Eels, Polly Scattergood, The National, Sigur Ros

I constantly surround myself with music and that is where my words come from. Music allows me to connect with and un-censor myself, to release and to be. Which is exactly how Living Room Stories and tearing at thoughts came to be.

AndyHarrodLiving Room Stories was an experiment, to write to music, namely Ólafur Arnalds’s Living Room Songs. I plugged into the sparse piano of Frysta and sketched a moment of waiting. From then on I danced with Ólafur’s music, which I feel is very emotive; there is a beautiful simplicity to it. Love is key to these stories; without love I fear we are nothing. Ólafur’s songs connect to my heart and on this occasion I decided to dive in, listening to each song for a few hours and with this immersion a life in seven moments was formed. One of the reasons I buy music on vinyl is that I see the packaging, the art, as an extension of the music. Living Room Stories is housed in a 7inch record sleeve, each story on its own card with accompanying image, with a transparent print for the cover. It invites the reader to play with these moments, to invent their own story.

Tearing

I think of tearing at thoughts as an album. Each piece works separately, but together they layer and resonate the unspoken and the lost. This collection leaves me feeling exposed, in part due to how it was written as separate pieces. Each piece came about from entering a space, where I would immerse myself in my thoughts and feelings, whilst accompanied by music. In that space I was still, and the pieces came out uncensored and are a particular truth. Drawing together the pieces are a set of sentences, the first two were inspired by Coda by HATR Project from Heartbeat Against The Reason. A dark and gorgeous instrumental album that draws me into a place that hisses with noise.

That place of noise is lonely, where fear circles and strangles. Living with Ghosts by Smoke Fairies sums up this place (Strangled by Fear, Twilight), the echoing of slide guitar and plucked strings, the rich haunting voices of youth. Then there is the waking at four-fifty in the morning, sweating as the visuals fades, but the images plague. Dreamscapes interspace (I dreamt, Repeat till Fade) and develop through tearing at thoughts and their reconstruction occurs whilst listening to bands such as Joy Division, the hypnotism of 24 hours seals together scattered images and feelings.

There are pieces where I placed the needle on vinyl and kept repeating. Truth was formed by listening to Soap & Skin’s Lovetune for Vacuum over and over, especially Thanatos, a circling in on words to describe what is lost inside. Mist and Trees required less repeating of the music, it was instead the repeating of a lyric from I’ve Been Unkind by Lanterns on the Lake. When this lyric met a scene of trees in mist, the image of a frightened women was conjured.

EPSON scanner ImageEmpty Embrace and Rust I are those moments on an album, where I delve deep through screaming guitars, battered dreams and vibrating piano strings echoing, echoing, echoing, until I’ve spat out my disgust at the betrayals. The words at first muffled, trapped behind layers of educational, political and social shadows, till the chorus scream, and we are left alone in a pub cradling our empty drinks, the last to go home as there is still something to say. Think Eels, Polly Scattergood and The National’s High Violet and my favourite Bloodbuzz Ohio as sound-tracking that scene.

tearing at thoughts is infused with the places we tend not to explore and lingers with sadness, in the hope that by entering we may come to change ways of relating, become more authentic and less fearful; and the ending is one of hope and happiness. Where ágætis byrjun by Sigur Rós is the only song that can capture the joy of choices available in a loving relationship, but even there our choices may not be fulfilled and as such the ending is also a call to not forget myself, ourselves in our lives.

Andy Harrod is a writer, not out of a desire to tell stories, but a need to understand, to find meaning and connect with self and life. Outside of writing Andy is a trainee person-centred therapist and runs the streets of Lancaster, one day soon the fells of the Lake District. Living Room Stories was Andy’s first release; handmade and Kindle editions are available. tearing at thoughts, a collection of writing, art and photography, is to be published by 79 rat press as part of its NOTHING TO SAY exhibition, available from June 2013. Andy posts stories, photos, art and thoughts at Decoding Static. Say hello to him on Twitter @DecodingStatic.

GIVEAWAY Andy is giving away 1 handmade copy of Living Room Stories and a print of two from tearing at thoughts. To enter leave a comment or tweet the song that represents love for you. Andy will pick his favourite. If you take the tweet option, include the link to the post and the hashtag #undersound. Good luck!

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

21 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 314 other followers