The Undercover Soundtrack – Grigory Ryzhakov

for logo‘The music gave me short sentences, like gunshots’

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 scientist, writer, Russian speaker and aliased musician Grigory Ryzhakov @GrigoryRyzhakov

Soundtrack by Grisha McArrow, My Lady J, Hans Zimmer, Alexander Skryabin, Will Young, the Beach Boys, Maclemore, Stooshe, Madonna

I write in silence. It helps me to dive into the world of a story. Some people listen to music while they write; I listen to it before I write. I also listen to music when I walk to and from work through the streets of Fulham, south-west London, while plotting just another scene. Music replenishes my creative energy for writing and for science.

At times, I can’t find the right music, so I compose my own. My first self-published novelette Usher Syndrome was inspired like that: I wrote Cabaret Song, in which my character Agie describes her transformation from man to woman in a cheeky manner.

A year after it was written I attended a London concert of a M-F transsexual gospel singer My Lady J and bought her album. When I embarked on writing Pumpkin Day, a comic adventure sequel to the first Agie’s story, I really needed to be in Agie’s quirky spirit. So I listened a lot to My Pink Prada Purse by My Lady J at the time.

grRussian sci-fi

Music was also very important to me when I first started writing fiction seven years ago. My so far unpublished and untitled Russian-language sci-fi novel contains several episodes of gripping action. I listened to the Inception film soundtrack by Hans Zimmer to get myself in the mood for writing them. Thumping drums and basses associated in my mind with escalating threat of peril, I could feel the adrenaline rush as if I was at my character’s side. This music affected the way I wrote those action scenes: with shorter sentences, rhyming syllables, like gunshots. No room for reflection.

On the other hands, some parts of this book were quieter. In one chapter I introduced a secondary character, an international singing sensation and the opera diva Dez. When I wanted to describe her lofty performance on stage, I thought about what music would she sing. I listened to many pieces of Russian classical music and surprisingly my choice fell on Alexander Skryabin’s Poem of Fire.

I imagined vocal parts Dez would sing. She was like a tiny pure raindrop fighting the forest fire, I imagined the modern arrangement of Skryabin’s music, its mysticism, its symbolic meaning (the poem is also called Prometheus), and I thought just how well it suited Dez, her own mysterious aura. You may think the result would be a cacophony, but in my head it worked really well.

Right and Wrong

My upcoming book Mr Right and Mr Wrong, which I completed writing at the beginning of March, is a romantic comedy with elements of science, like all of my writing. Since it belongs to a rather light rom-com genre I listened to songs of Will Young and the Love Actually film soundtrack to get into the right mood. In Mr Right and Mr Wrong the heroine Chloe meets two men individually on the same day, she likes both of them and has trouble of choosing her Mr Right with all the funny and not-so-funny consequences following.

Becoming Agie-Kindle-coverOne of them is a DJ and songwriter, and some of the scenes occur in the nightclub. I’m not a regular clubber, so I was glued to the UK top 100 chart. Club music can be quite aggressive, while my story is a light-hearted comedy, so I tried choosing tracks with quirky, satirical lyrics. There is no space to name dozens of songs I listened to: my favourites are Thrift Shop by Maclemore, Black Heart by Stooshe and maybe I Fucked Up, a melancholic synth-pop track from Madonna’s new album, which I use as my phone’s ringtone. You can imagine the look on people’s faces when I receive a call.

In some alternative reality I am not a scientist or a writer, but probably a rock-singer like my idols David Bowie and Radiohead’s Tom Yorke. A vain thought it may be, but what the heck, any thought is useful if it fuels our writing.

Currently dwelling in the cosmopolitan ecosystem of London, Grigory is a Russian molecular biologist who communicates his love of science through his fiction and blogging. In addition, he makes/performs music using an alias Grisha McArrow and deposits it on Soundcloud. His books are Becoming Agie, Usher Syndrome and Pumpkin Day. Mr Right and Mr Wrong is scheduled for launch soon. Find him on Twitter (@GrigoryRyzhakov) and at his blog

GIVEAWAY Grigory is giving away 5 copies (Kindle or epub) of his two-part novelette Becoming Agie to commenters here. Leave a note to enter – and if you tweet or share on Facebook, G+ or other media, be sure to mention because that counts as extra entries too.

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  1. #1 by Beth Rudetsky on March 27, 2013 - 9:11 am

    Hi Grigory, thank you for sharing your marvelous piece on your writing and music. I’m a singer-songwriter-pianist and derive much of my passion and inspiration for songwriting from reading author’s works and getting into the heart and minds of the characters. Since you love Scriabin, I’d like to share with you a performance of Scriabin’s Etude No. 12 in D sharp minor, Opus 8 by concert pianist Morton Estrin who was my piano teacher. He was the first pianist to record all of Scriabin’s Etudes. Hope you enjoy it and thanks again for a fascinating piece! Here is the link to the recording:

    • #2 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 27, 2013 - 9:38 am

      Wow, Beth, you were quick off the mark! Estrin was your piano teacher? You are too cool.
      Grigory, if you want to know a little more about your commenter here, she wrote an Undercover Soundtrack of her own for my novel’s anniversary…

    • #3 by Grigory Ryzhakov (@GrigoryRyzhakov) on March 27, 2013 - 12:51 pm

      Hi Beth, thank you for stopping by and saying these kind words. What a lovely Sriabin’s piece it is, you must be very proud to be Estrin’s pupil.

      • #4 by Beth Rudetsky on March 27, 2013 - 7:51 pm

        Hi Grigory, it was a pleasure reading your piece and sharing the Scriabin. My piano teacher Morton Estrin is a wonderful person and it was a thrill being one of his students. In addition to classical piano, he encouraged me to continue to pursue my talents and would surprise me by coming out to listen to me perform at many clubs to hear me sing and play my songs.

        • #5 by Grigory Ryzhakov (@GrigoryRyzhakov) on March 28, 2013 - 9:18 am

          that must have been amazing to perform for your teacher in public. I love your singing and the dramatic songs. I’m very fond of beautiful tunes too. 🙂

          • #6 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 28, 2013 - 10:50 am

            Beth has a lovely voice, hasn’t she?

            • #7 by Beth Rudetsky on March 28, 2013 - 7:54 pm

              Thank you Roz for your compliment on my singing! You know I think that you are such a swell person and I love your blog too. Your UNDERCOVER SOUNDTRACK is the best part of my week and is the most exciting and intriguing blog out there!

          • #8 by Beth Rudetsky on March 28, 2013 - 7:50 pm

            Thanks so much Grigory for your lovely praise on my singing and songwriting!

  2. #9 by courseofmirrors on March 27, 2013 - 10:02 am

    Thanks, Roz, for sharing Grisha and his music. One of my recent short stories was inspired by the theme of Bolero. When I need to increase motion in a scene I listen to J. J Cale or Maselka Hugh. When stray thoughts need bubbling up and coming together, I listen to – Segu Blue. But when I need to concentrate I listen to Mozart. I already have the Usher Syndrome and Pumpkin Day in my Kindle folder 🙂

    • #10 by Grigory Ryzhakov (@GrigoryRyzhakov) on March 27, 2013 - 12:56 pm

      Nice choice, Ashen. It’d be great to learn more about your music influences. Ravel’s Bolero has been an old influence of mine as well, the cyclical evolving motives in it is what I often use in my own arrangements. Of Mozart – my long-time favorite is The Requiem, it has all the tragedy and beauty of fading human life

  3. #12 by Grigory Ryzhakov (@GrigoryRyzhakov) on March 27, 2013 - 12:41 pm

    thank you for hosting me this week, Roz. I’m currently battling with the worst flu on my memory, the Undercover Soundtrack is definitely helping me to recover 🙂

    • #13 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 28, 2013 - 10:01 am

      My pleasure, Grigory. You were in Barcelona when we were chatting over the weekend… hope this isn’t Spanish flu…

      • #14 by Grigory Ryzhakov (@GrigoryRyzhakov) on March 28, 2013 - 10:12 am

        it was a Russian one, but an equally bad-ass one (at least, I survived). I can walk again today, so am definitely getting better. 🙂

        • #15 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 28, 2013 - 10:51 am

          Russian flu, sheesh. I imagine Spanish flu is vigorous but at least colourful. Russian flu I imagine is dolorous enough to fell a Siberian bear.

  4. #16 by Tabitha Suzuma on March 28, 2013 - 1:26 am

    Hi Grigory, I’m sorry about your flu, hope you feel better soon. I have only just discovered this wonderful blog, thanks to Roz asking me to write last week’s guest post. And on reading yours, I couldn’t help but be struck by the number of things we have in common. I also use Hans Zimmer for my writing soundtrack – so much so in fact that I am amazed and a little embarrassed I forgot to mention him in last week’s post! Although, unlike you, I write to music rather than silence, I do find that some lyrics get in the way at times. So movie soundtracks are wonderful. And Hans Zimmer is most definitely my favourite movie soundtrack composer – I particularly like his one for ‘The Da Vinci Code’.

    I also mention Mozart’s Requiem in my post as one of my all-time favourites for writing to: I fell in love with that piece when I first saw the movie ‘Amadeus’ when I was just 10.

    Another huge coincidence is that you mention walking the streets of Fulham while plotting your book – I do the same! Walking, whilst listening to music, really helps inspire me and come up with new ideas. I often walk in the Brompton Cemetery on the Fulham Road (opposite the C&W Hospital). As I live on the border between Fulham and Chelsea, we must occasionally walk the same streets!

    And a final coincidence: the music of Scriabin. My debut novel was about a teenage piano prodigy, and here is a brief extract where I actually mention the composer by name:

    “That evening, soaking in a hot bath, he gazed blindly at a crack in the ceiling, the warm water melting the dried blood on his elbows and chin . . . Mum had made her usual carrot cake, Dad’s favourite, for his birthday . . . His scraped arms burned . . . ‘This is happiness for me,’ Mum had said, ‘having my family all under the same roof’ . . . Maybe the hot water would make him sleepy . . . Dad had looked weary but contented, Rami had taken some photos . . . His limbs ached, his mind hurt . . . He had played ‘Happy Birthday’ on the piano and then, later, some Scriabin . . . I want to sleep, he thought. I wish I could sleep . . . ”

    Anyway, good luck with your writing and maybe our paths will cross in Fulham some day. 🙂

    • #17 by Grigory Ryzhakov (@GrigoryRyzhakov) on March 28, 2013 - 9:24 am

      Hi Tabitha, indeed it’s an amazing number of coincidences. To add another one, you have a Japanese father and I was born in the Sakhalin island , next to Japan, so I can speak a little Japanese. Japanese literature has also been one of my biggest influences.
      I normally walk on the other side of the Brompton cemetery (I live just 3 min walk from it), along the Lillie Road.
      I’m sure I saw you many times in the area, just didn’t know you are a writer. I guess we all , London-based writers, going to meet at London Book fair in two-weeks time? Will you be there?

      • #18 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 28, 2013 - 10:07 am

        This is too cool. I’m not far from Fulham. Thanks to your Undercover Soundtracks I feel I know you guys already.
        Tabitha, a lot of writers like Hans Zimmer (myself included).

        BTW, you could also add Happy Birthday to your Soundtrack. When I was doing singing lessons I came across the sheet music for it in a book of songs. I was astonished to find that such a short piece actually had official chords (rather dreary ones) and that someone could claim to have composed it. The copyright belongs to Patty and Mildred Hill, who apparently rake in royalties whenever it’s used in films.

        Grigory, you speak Japanese? As well as Russian? As language shapes the way we relate to the world, this must give you some fascinating linguistic perspectives.

        • #19 by Grigory Ryzhakov (@GrigoryRyzhakov) on March 28, 2013 - 10:16 am

          My Japanese is very basic, I can write a little too, used to write haiku, I haven’t practiced it for over 10 years now. You’re right about linguistic perspectives. I can’t help but to have a distinct literary voice, since I’m a Far Eastern Russian and English is my recent acqusition.

  1. ‘The music gave me short sentences, like gunshots’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Grigory Ryzhakov | Nail Your Novel
  2. Musical Inspiration for the Writer | Storied Impressions
  3. My Undercover Soundtrack | Grigory Ryzhakov
  4. Music as Inspiration | Gretchen M Fogelstrom

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