The Undercover Soundtrack – Aaron Sikes

for logo‘Noir pictures in melody’

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 my guest is editor and author Aaron Sikes @SikesAaron

Soundtrack by Joe Satriani, DJ Fact.50Hans Zimmer, Daft Punk, Adrian Legg

I go for instrumental over vocal music when I write. Spoken or sung lyrics are a distraction. My mind wants to catch the words and hold them long enough to get immersed in the experience of the song. But with orchestral or ambient electronic music, my imagination is free to roam through my story worlds.

AJSikes_MailChimpMy serialized novel, Gods of Chicago, was drafted to the title track of Joe Satriani’s Time Machine. Satch paints pictures with melody, and every one of his songs can bring an image to mind. Listening to Time Machine as I wrote brought to mind scenes of dirigibles soaring overhead while automatons march on the streets below. Radio signals beep and crackle through the air from spires and beacons. Bootleggers’ sedans rumble down back alleys, and my protagonist, a hard-boiled newshawk named Mitchell Brand, races around the city to find the answers nobody else seems to care about. Following on the tail of Time Machine, I happened upon a mind-blowing noir soundtrack by Josh Pfieffer of Vernian Process (DJ Fact.50). The Mixcloud of his DJ set, Noir Jazz and Swing, saw me through first round revisions.

As I moved into deeper revisions, I got turned onto three soundtracks. I started with Hans Zimmer’s score for The Dark Knight. The moody atmospheric quality of the music was a perfect fit for the noir landscape of my story, and the score really helped me get under Brand’s skin a lot better.

In early drafts of the character, I had him as a mashup of Edward R Murrow and Philip Marlowe as played by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. This gave Brand a rough exterior and a hard nose for news, but he lacked depth of feeling, and I couldn’t get into his motivation well enough to fix that problem. Once I had The Dark Knight soundtrack playing in the background, I quickly found Brand’s core as a WWI veteran, and much more than the ronin I’d originally thought him to be. He’s still a man obsessed with truth, but he’s also a would-be father to the three newsboys who answer to him. That puts a softer edge to the character, making him feel more like a real person.

GoC-Season1BoxsetI’ve also written to Zimmer’s score for Inception and Daft Punk’s soundtrack for Tron Legacy, which have been incredible for helping me visualize major action scenes, flight and escape scenes, and moments of peril faced by all the major characters in the story. The ambient symphonic quality of both soundtracks is also responsible for me discovering how much more my supporting cast has to say. Previous drafts were Brand-centric, but now I have two major POV characters in addition to Brand, and each supporting cast member gets a little air time of their own.

Last but not least, when it comes to editing, I change gears and go with Adrian Legg – Guitars and Other Cathedrals. The exacting and fluid brilliance of Legg’s fingerstyle playing calms down all thoughts of action and suspense and puts me right into editor mode, smoothing out clunky prose, fixing typos, and ensuring clarity.

Aaron Sikes has been writing and editing full-time since late 2011. Gods of Chicago is his first full-length novel and he has previously had three stories published in anthologies by independent presses. Find him on Twitter @SikesAaron or visit his website http://www.ajsikes.com. He is also one half of the editing/formatting duo, The Wordwrights, with fellow author Colin F Barnes.

 

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  1. #1 by jazzfeathers on July 25, 2014 - 4:41 pm

    Nice piece, Aaron. I like seeing how you create with the accompaniment of music.

    I can’t write with music playing on the background. When I write, I need absolute silence. But I have a song for every one of my characters, at least for the main ones. A song that reminds me of them, for a reason or another. May be the lyrics, may be the mood, may be the rhythm. Before I write a section of my story, I listen to the song of the character involved and that helps me get into the right mood for that character.

    Then, I’m sorry, but… shhhh!!! 😉

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on July 25, 2014 - 7:37 pm

      Welcome, Jazzfeathers! Great to see Aaron’s piece getting new visitors. I know what you mean about having songs that remind you of your characters, and you’ll find if you dig around here there are plenty of other writers who’d chime in and understand too. Thanks for stopping by and do call again.

  1. ‘Pictures in melody’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Aaron Sikes | Nail Your Novel
  2. AJ Sikes – Guest Post | The Old Shelter

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