Posts Tagged Maya

The Undercover Soundtrack – Stephen Weinstock

for logoThe Undercover Soundtrack is a series where 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 theatre composer and fantasy novelist Stephen Weinstock @s_weinstock

Soundtrack by Fela Kuti, Beach Boys, Alice Coltrane, Benny Goodman, Brian Eno, the Doors, Jack Bruce, George Harrison, Beethoven, David Lang, Adam Guettel

Having marveled each week at how writers use music to flesh out a character or bring emotional life to their work, I feel like a fraud. These authors put on a particular piece to evoke what they write, but that feels like a magical act of synesthesia to me. So why does this poor fraud need music to write? In 2003, Apple introduced iTunes and the computer playlist, and I began my series, 1001, The Reincarnation Chronicles. For each of its 1001 chapters a character recounts a past life story, creating a karmic puzzle for the ten linked souls, the qaraq. The playlist became a writing tool to give me courage for this daunting task.

ucovstephen1Concentration

For Book One of the series, The Qaraq, I had to hold a lot in my head as I wrote: introducing ten characters in their present lives in suburban New Jersey, and fitting together the first puzzle pieces of their history. That they all lived as different body parts of a single prehistoric dragonfly is proof enough of the Qaraq’s reincarnations, but when reveal this epiphany?

I need concentration to manage this material. To minimize distracting shifts within my eclectic playlists, I often select long cuts, like Fela Kuti’s half-hour jam Look and Laugh.

My favorite listening process is a ‘contest,’ where I intersperse a playlist with ten recent downloads, then narrow them down to a ‘winner.’ A current winner: The Beach Boys’ gorgeous, new That’s Why God Made the Radio.

But assessing winners while writing requires concentration on the music. I realized one function of my listening is procrastination, re-organizing the next half-hour of songs, or mixing in every Andante from Mozart’s first fifteen symphonies. Perhaps I need distraction from the heady multiple structures. On the other hand, often I don’t notice the music and get on a roll. Deeply meditative pieces help this flow, like Alice Coltrane’s incomparable Journey in Satchidananda.

Energy

The energy of a composition provides another clue to why I listen while creating 1001, The Reincarnation Chronicles. Sometimes I need a perky track for stimulation, like One O’Clock Jump from the famous Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall Concert.

By contrast, in the morning on the train, or after work, I need peace, like the gentle repetition of Brian Eno’s ambient Music for Airports. For my latest book, The Qaraq and the Maya Factor, I contemplated the effect of Maya, the Hindu concept of worldly illusion. Blocked by the trivial details of everyday life, the Qaraq loses its power of memory, the higher awareness of reincarnation. I did not seek music to evoke a meditative mood, but in developing the theme of how Maya hinders and helps, I heard a lot of ragas and minimalist music. An unconscious influence?

Imagination

So I examined if music had an unconscious effect on my work. The Qaraq’s past life tales are full of wild imagination and experimental writing styles. My brain conjures up atomic particles having a love spat, an alien performing arts school where dancers train their nerves rather than their muscles, or an Ice Age tribe that copes by re-configuring the calendar to include three seasons, excluding winter.

I hope music triggers my imagination, and I make quirky selections for my playlists: a rarely heard track from a familiar artist, like Indian Summer by The Doors; a song off the beaten path, like Jack Bruce’s He the Richmond, from his masterful Songs for a Tailor; or hard-to-find gems, like George Harrison’s first film soundtrack, Wonderwall, the Indian collaboration he did during The Beatles.

But if an unconscious process, I may never know if music is the spark.

Ucov Stephen2

Comfort

It pains me to think I cannot access music’s emotional depths to deepen my writing. The writing process is painful enough. When I stare into space wondering how the next word will appear, it’s comforting to have music in my ears, like a virtuosic arpeggio from Glenn Gould’s brilliant reading of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #1 making me think, You can do this!

Despite its fanciful whimsy, The Qaraq and the Maya Factor has emotional moments, which were difficult to write. The Egyptian stories start humorously, with a pyramid tomb salesman, but lead to a terrifying vision of immortality, the dread of living endlessly with no relief from conflict. Can I access the pain of this emotion through music? I sobbed inconsolably when I heard David Lang’s ethereal The Little Match Girl Passion last winter, after seeing homeless people freezing on the sidewalks of New York City.
The beauty of it is a balm while writing, but it can’t make me write better.

A final test

For me, music and text exist on separate levels. The final chapter of The Qaraq and the Maya Factor is like a novella, where all the characters’ present-day dénouements thread through an epic past life tale. The first European translator of The Thousand and One Nights faces a moral crisis whether to fabricate tales to complete all 1001 sections of the collection. A mysterious ally lures him to a secluded chateau, full of cats costumed as fairy tale characters, and guides him to an emotional epiphany.

Playing a tune that always give me shivers, like Come to Jesus, by Richard Rodgers’s grandson, Adam Guettel, might inspire the struggle, the mystery, or the passion of this scene. But I only experience the duet on its own terms; it doesn’t bring the words alive. Am I a lost cause?

Looking back on this chapter, I am pleased with it: the way the Qaraq’s issues reflect the tale (complexity); the misty locale of the magical chateau (energy); the translator’s fantastical epic discovering the Nights (imagination). I feel moved by the impassioned encounter between the translator and his ally. Maybe music did have some psychic influence on the writing when all is said and done.

!cid_120C39F1-DFC3-4509-93E7-E64DD875E106Stephen Weinstock is the author of 1001: The Reincarnation Chronicles. You can find more information on the series and the upcoming ebook giveaway here . Find Stephen on Facebook. 1001 will be an 11-book series, contain 1001 chapters and past lives, and take the rest of Stephen’s life to complete. Book 2 is here. Musically speaking, Stephen worked for years as a composer in the theatre. He won his 15 minutes of fame for the experimental sound-theatre work Mt. Quad at San Francisco’s Magic Theater, developed and team taught the first curriculum for opera/musical theatre writing at New York University, and created music for dancers at the Martha Graham School of Dance, Juilliard, and LaGuardia Arts HS (the ‘Fame’ School), where he continues to bring young dancers to physical, emotional, and spiritual ecstasy every day. Find him on Twitter as @S_Weinstock.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Birgitte Rasine

for logo‘Music that flows into the marrow of the soul’

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 Birgitte Rasine @Birgitte_Rasine

Soundtrack by Lana Del Rey, Cirque du Soleil, Manish Vyas, Desert Dwellers, Professor Trance, Kimba Arem

When I was in middle school, I remember proudly thinking I would be one of the world’s few teenagers completely unaffected by rock-n-roll.

That was, thankfully, a nanoblip in my life.

rasine_wide_colorI live and breathe music. I’m trying to be really good in this lifetime so that in the next one I get to go on stage and sing. In this lifetime, I’m a writer. But that doesn’t stop me from appreciating music—on the contrary – as I said in this post on Joe Bunting’s The Write Practice.  In all of my literary career, I have not written a single story or book without piping the raw power of song through my veins.

I should cacao

My latest work, a historical fiction novel for young readers about the story of cacao, was written with a playlist you’re not likely to see anywhere else. What could Lana Del Rey, Cirque du Soleil, and Manish Vyas possibly have in common?

They all flow directly into the marrow of the soul, through the ancestral stem of the brain. They all color the fierce romance (as I also said on The Write Practice) that is human existence. That, and they’re the musical backbone of my novel.

Guatemala

Set in contemporary Guatemala, the story is about a young American boy and his bee researcher dad and mum visiting an ecological research station (also known as a forest garden). There, our protagonist meets an enigmatic Maya girl his own age who introduces him to the wonders and mysteries of the rainforest, of growing and making chocolate… and an ancient cacao tree that neither one of them will ever forget. Intertwined into the narrative is a wild blend of Mesoamerican mythology, botanical and natural science facts, and flights of fantasy that make history soar to life.

Because my characters spend so much time in the jungle and the cacao grove, I needed the musical expression of the soul of the rainforest, of ancient plants and the cycles of life and death. I needed to be able to write passages like

He could see eyes everywhere; he could hear the breathing of a million different animals, birds, and insects; he could feel the living rhythms of the rainforest shifting from the energies of the day to those of the night. Nervous but thrilled to the marrow of his soul, he could feel all of his senses open up like the wide petals of an orchid: his skin electrified at the slightest brush of a leaf or wing of a passing insect, his pupils dilated to capture the luminescent pollen of the moon and stars filtering through the canopy, his ears tuned to the full range of chirps, clicks, sighs, drips, footsteps, and scratches, of the slitherings of scaled bodies, the flutterings of wings small and large, the stalkings of silent claws through the undergrowth. Body and soul surrendered to the jungle, and fear had to take a back seat.
For all of his hi-tech gear, Max felt completely naked in the darkness of the jungle.

A thousand plays

With the exception of the three Cirque du Soleil tracks, which only came in at the end of the book, I played the soundtrack over and over and OVER again while I wrote, probably a thousand times. I listened to them individually looped or in certain groupings, at certain points in the narrative. Lana Del Rey’s warm amber ballads stood by the characters during times of tension and uncertainty, supporting them in their deepest emotions, their rawest moments. For passages describing the rainforest, the cacao grove, and other physical surroundings, the instrumental pieces (Manish Vyas, Desert Dwellers, Professor Trance, Kimba Arem) painted a rich sensual background. Whenever I had to stay in a certain emotional state, I’d loop a song until the scene was done.

As inevitably happens, repetition paired with alignment creates active memory. Just as your body embeds certain movements into muscle memory when you practise a dance number, so your mind instantly drops you into the world you’ve taught it to associate with a certain song. For a writer, that’s gold. You don’t need a specific setting to write. You don’t need a certain time of day. You don’t need your lucky necklace or those sexy boots. None of that. All you need is your music and your mind. I wrote in cafés, on my sofa, in my bed, at the pool, in my car (parked, no worries!).

Riding the intense wave of concentration these songs swelled for me, I completed the novel, from initial research to final manuscript, in about six months, despite the constant and unavoidable forced pauses in writing courtesy of my toddler, clients, domestic responsibilities, and sleep. During the holidays, I endured two weeks of an excruciating sinus infection — but I soldiered on, writing each day, Manish Vyas et al flexing my pain and fatigue into a near trance-like state of focus.

Serpent-Jaguar_cover_72dpi (1)At the end, when I was on the last chapter, my brain needed a break. Yet I couldn’t take a break—I needed to deliver the book to my publisher; I was already past my original deadline. One night, my family tucked blissfully into bed, I allowed myself the guilty pleasure of drifting away from my MS Word manuscript and onto the web pages of Cirque du Soleil. I’d gotten tickets to Amaluna with my daughter and stumbled across the soundtrack to Totem, another Cirque show we’d gone to see a few years prior. The throbbing native American rhythms of Onta and Kunda Tayé soaked into my veins, pumping the critical end of the storyline with new vigour.

But there are two other songs that carry the very DNA of the storyline, that I haven’t revealed yet. A book has to stay quiet and sacred until the day of its birth. And so it is with its primary songs. Stay tuned…

Birgitte Rasine is the author of numerous works, including The Serpent and the Jaguar, Verse in Arabic, Confession and The Seventh Crane. Her upcoming novel about the history of chocolate will be released by new educational publisher Zoozil (check them out on Facebook and Twitter) later this year. Be the first to know when it’s out — and what the novel’s two headline songs are: sign up for Birgitte’s eletter, The Muse. Aside from wishing she were an opera singer, Birgitte did actually lend her body — if not her voice — to music: she has danced flamenco, tango, salsa, the swing, the waltz and the hustle to name a few of her faves. She can still tear up the floor if she can manage to get away on an evening. You can follow Birgitte on Twitter, Google +, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. Or you can just become blissfully lost in her online visual soundtrack, er, website.

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‘Music that flows into the marrow of the soul’ – Birgitte Rasine

for logoOnce upon a time, a schoolgirl resolved to never be a slave to music. She says she is glad this promise never lasted, because she cannot imagine having a creative life without music to guide and inspire her. Her latest work is a historical novel for young readers about the story of cacao, and features a heady soundtrack of Lana Del Rey, Cirque du Soleil and Manish Vyas. She is multipublished author Birgitte Rasine and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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