Posts Tagged reincarnation
The 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Stephen 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.
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 supernatural historical thriller writer Gwendolyn Womack @Gwen_Womack
Soundtrack by Arvo Part, Paul Horn, Philip Glass, Gabrielle Roth & The Mirrors, Reiki Tribe, John Barry
I’ve always found music to be a wonderful tool while writing. Sometimes I will search for hours to find the perfect song to write a particular scene before I can begin. After I find the right music, I will loop it for days, sometimes weeks. And I’ve found I cannot write while listening to any lyrics. It must be instrumental or else it is distracting.
When I first began writing The Memory Painter years ago I did not think to make note of all the music I was listening to, so this is only a list of the highlights. For readers who are not familiar with the book, The Memory Painter is a supernatural historical thriller about a group of neuroscientists who have unlocked the secret to reincarnation and a love story about a two lovers who have traveled through time to remember an ancient legacy. The novel spans a lot of history and many of the chapters are devoted to specific lifetimes. Here are a few of the time periods and the music that inspired the writing…
Cremona Italy, 1700s
There is a special lifetime that deals with the famous violinmaker Guarneri ‘del Gesù’, and for this I played one song repeatedly: Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in Mirror) by Arvo Pärt. I would actually loop the YouTube video of Anne Akiko Meyers playing del Gesù’s Vieuxtemps violin. The song is incredibly poignant and it was just perfect for writing those scenes. Hearing Guarneri’s violin being played while I was trying to imagine his life was invaluable.
China 6TH century AD
Another album is 80 minutes of Reiki Music by Reiki Tribe and it’s filled with Asian flutes and Tibetan bells. I listened to it primarily while writing the Bodhidharma lifetime, the Zen master who trained the Shaolin monks. I literally plugged the search term ‘Tibetan bell music’ into iTunes and spent hours listening to sample tracks before deciding on this particular collection. Many of the songs felt very transportive and helped create the mental space to write the lifetime of a Zen Buddhist monk.
Ancient Egypt 10,000BC
Just listening to Inside The Great Pyramid by Paul Horn was the time capsule I needed to get my imagination in ancient Egypt where the climax of the novel takes place, and I wrote all of the chapters listening to it. This special album came out in the 1970s. Paul Horn went to the Great Pyramid and recorded the music inside the King’s Chamber. There have been acoustical studies on the King’s Chamber because of its incredible reverberation capability. This music really is quite something.
Present day and 1980s
Philip Glass’s album Glassworks was perfect music to write to, particularly track 1, and I played this album a lot throughout writing the entire novel. The mathematical harmonies within the songs and the heartrending melodies were a perfect backdrop.
Gabrielle Roth & The Mirrors’ album Totem was another go-to album that I looped repeatedly, particularly tracks 1-3. Totem has a driving rhythm and mystical feel and in general simply helped me to focus and write. I actually went to write a letter to Ms. Roth to tell her what I fan I was of the album because I was listening to it so much, but I found she had passed away in 2012. So instead I ended up spending the afternoon reading about her life and the legacy she left behind with 5Rhythms and I bought one of her books, Maps to Ecstasy, which is a fascinating read about her journey and the power of meditative dance. So that was a surprise veer one afternoon, researching the artist I was listening to and becoming inspired in other ways.
I also played several tracks from the soundtrack to Somewhere In Time, music by John Barry. It’s a favorite movie of mine and I’ve had the soundtrack well over 20 years. Several of the songs are so lovely and again poignant (a running theme perhaps in some of the music I chose). Many scenes in the book were written with this music.
Those are the main songs behind The Memory Painter that easily come to mind. For the current novel that I’m working on, I am keeping a more detailed account because it is fun to look back at what inspired you along the way. My current playlist is numbered with some incredible music that is filling my ears at the keyboard and helping the story come to life.
Gwendolyn Womack grew up in Houston, Texas. She studied theatre at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and then moved to California to pursue an MFA in Directing Theatre, Video, and Cinema at California Institute of the Arts. She lives in Los Angeles with her family. The Memory Painter is her first novel. Find her on Twitter as @Gwen_Womack, on Facebook and on her website.
My guest this week has a novel that spans several lifetimes and puts a new spin on reincarnation stories – she blends thriller with romance and the supernatural with her story of neuroscientists who have unlocked the secret of reincarnation. She used music to conjure her kaleidoscope of time periods, from ancient China to the modern day, and some of her selections are astoundingly haunting – I’m astonished to discover the 1970s album recorded in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid. Those among you who are reincarnation aficionados will have spotted the reference in the title of this post to the 1980s movie Somewhere In Time, and that was on her Soundtrack too. She is Gwendolyn Womack and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.