Posts Tagged Russia

The Undercover Soundtrack – Debbie Moon

for logo‘Music for the Revolution’

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 novelist, radio dramatist and BAFTA-winning screenwriter and Wolfblood creator Debbie Moon @DebbieBMoon

Soundtrack by Gustavo Dudamel, Michael Giacchino, Gustav Holst, George Butterworth

Music is important when I’m in the early stages of creating a screen story – it helps me establish the mood of scenes, create character, and finalise the tone of the wider world of the story. At the moment, I’m working on an action-adventure screenplay set during the Russian Revolution – think Indiana Jones meets Doctor Zhivago! – and capturing exactly the right tone is going to be crucial.

So what am I listening to for this as-yet-untitled project, and why?

DM_HS_PRINTZoyah

Our protagonist, Zoyah, is first described like this:

She’s been called a thief, a spy, a witch and an adventuress, but that barely scratches the surface. If the word had been invented yet, she’d probably call herself a superhero.’

Europe in 1917 is still very much a man’s world, but Zoyah knows how to use that to her advantage. So the piece of music that most remind me of her is Gustavo Dudamel’s Danzon No 2 from the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra.
Not the the right historical period or the right continent, but it feels like her – daring, playful, and smarter than you first think.

The Revolution will be musicalised

Sometimes the best music for writing screenplays to is film scores. After all, they’re all about mood too. To capture the chaos and the sense of hope and joy that the Revolution brought to Russia, I spent a lot of time listening to historic recordings by the Red Army Choir.

But my favourite piece to evoke the ‘new’ Russia is still the punningly-named Kremlin With Anticipation from Michael Giacchino’s music to Mission: ImpossibleGhost Protocol.

When Zoyah and her sidekick Sebi are recruited by the communist secret police to tackle a supernatural threat, I imagine them being marched into the awe-inspiring, intimidating palace of the Kremlin to the strains of something like this…

Things are always worse than the protagonist thinks

The thing that surprised me most while researching this project was the discovery that the Revolution was far from clear-cut. Rival left-wingers struggled for control in the halls of power and in the fields and factories – on top of civil war between ‘Reds’ and ‘Whites’, with the outcome far from certain in a nation exhausted by the First World War.

As Zoyah and Sebi return to the countryside they grew up in and see the devastation hunger, war and anti-capitalist purges have wrought, I resort to my collection of English string music – perhaps the Nocturne from Holst’s A Moorside Suite. It’s both beautiful and sad in that way that folk music often is, capturing the charm and the harshness of rural life the world over.

Spooky stuff

But no good action-adventure is complete without magic and the supernatural! Zoyah and Sebi have been tasked to recover a specific object that was lost during the Revolution, one that – whether the rationalist Reds believe it or not – is vital to the continued existence of Russia. As they pursue it across the war-torn country, they start to get glimpses of the mastermind behind the theft – who may or may not be a mythical bogeyman known as Koschei…

Koschei is a tough character to convey on paper, or in music – part dark wizard, part dirty old man, comical and yet immensely dangerous.
Thanks to a classical music radio station, I stumbled across a great album of Chinese piano music, and the way it references classical piano while still being very much its own things seems perfect for Koschei. I’ll go for Red Lilies Crimson And Bright, perhaps, as played by Yin Chengzong.

Everyone has a weakness

No dramatic character is worth writing about unless they have a weakness or a flaw – because a flaw needs to be overcome, and that means change. As we know from our own lives, changing who you are is the most difficult thing in the world, and that’s why we admire characters who overcome their weaknesses to survive and thrive.

Developing Zoyah’s character flaw, I was thinking about Indiana Jones, who, in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, goes from not believing in the supernatural to realising the Ark’s power and treating it with respect, thus surviving where the villains do not.

Zoyah is the opposite of Dr Jones – she believes so passionately in the supernatural that her the ‘real’ world is slightly unreal. As long-suffering Sebi puts it when he finally snaps:

These are real people feeling real hunger, real cold, real pain, and I don’t think you even see them. All that’s real to you is the tantalizing glint of magic just out of reach.’

FallingUntil Zoyah resets her priorities – including facing up to the unresolved feelings she and Sebi have for one another – she’s never going to be able to stop the bad guy and save Russia. And this calls for some romantic music! It’s back to early 20th Century English music for George Butterworth’s The Banks Of Green Willow, a lyrical triumph from a composer killed in battle about the time the film is set, and perfect for a realisation of true love just before the big all-action finale…

Debbie Moon is a BAFTA-winning writer for film and television. She’s the creator of the children’s supernatural series Wolfblood, which shows in almost 40 countries around the world, and has a number of film and television projects in development. She has also written a novel, Falling, short stories, and a radio play. Her blog is here and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter @DebbieBMoon

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Susan Price

‘Beautiful swaying voices took me to vast forests’

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 multi-award-winning children’s fantasy author Susan Price @priceclan

Soundtrack by Pavel Chesnokov, the Cantus Sacred Music Ensemble, The Orthodox Singers’ Male Choir, June Tabor, Steeleye Span, Orlando Gibbons, the King’s Singers, Pierrot Lunaire, Jan Garbarek, Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble, Tim Wong, Benjamin Britten

Music doesn’t help me understand my characters, or set the mood for a particular scene. I don’t need, for instance, martial music to write a martial scene. Instead, for me, the music seems to set the atmosphere, or time-frame, of the whole book. I can’t write a scene set in the past to poppy dance-music, because the music insistently reminds me of my own time and drags me back to it. I find it equally hard to write contemporary scenes while listening to music from the past. If Mozart is playing, my characters shrug off their jeans and trainers and slip into knee-britches and powdered wigs.

Czarist Russia

My Ghost World sequence (Ghost Drum, Ghost Song and Ghost Dance) is set in a fantasy Czarist Russia. I wanted these books to be fantastical, frightening and beautiful, with the brilliant jewel colours of Russian folk-art set against intense darkness and cold. While writing them I surrounded myself with postcards of Russian art, and played chants like this one on repeat.

The beautiful swaying voices, with their deep, dark bass notes took me into the vast, dark pine forests of Russian folk-tale, to Northern darkness and cold.  Listening again, as I write this blog, I feel the visceral thrill and shiver this music always gives me.

The music and art served the same purpose: bringing together and concentrating all my disparate imaginings. Looking at a Bilibin forest, listening to an Orthodox chant, I was there, in my imagination’s world.  This piece, with the Basso Profundo, sounds like the Russian Bear singing

Past, present and Borders

It is always time and place with me. My Sterkarm novels have scenes set both in the past and in the 21st Century, but the heart of the novels, for me, were the scenes in the 16th century Scottish borders. I read about the reivers and their way of life, I visited the Borders, but to bring it all together and put me there, I played Border Ballads, which I’ve loved since a teenager.  Here’s the wonderful June Tabor with her thrilling Clerk Sanders. The final, long-drawn note always raises my hair. It rings like a glass. It’s all there – love, hatred, jealousy, horror, revenge.

I listened to Steeleye Span a lot too. Even though they used electric instruments, I always felt they captured the spirit of many of these old songs better than many who tried too hard to be strictly traditional. Here’s their Wife of Usher’s Well, a tale of life, death, ghosts and maternal love. 

Hits of the 16th

I wrote Christopher Uptake, set in the 16th century, to the smash hits of Christopher’s day, such as The Silver Swan, sung here by the King’s Singers. (And its closing couplet, ‘More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise,’ seems appropriate for Christopher too.)

Poor old Keats reviewed plays in order to get a free pass to theatres so he could hear the playing of professional musicians.  We’re spoiled today – we can hear excellent musicians any time we casually turn on the radio. Not only musicians of our own day either, but those long dead, and music played in the style of centuries past.

The far future

But what to play when writing something set in the far future, such as my Odin’s Voice trilogy? I found myself seeking out music that, to me, sounded strange and futuristic, and helped me expand my ideas to include all the weird and wonderful possibilities of nano-technology and space-elevators. More musically educated people might find my choices rather old-fashioned, but they worked for me.

First is Moonstruck Pieirrot, or Pierrot Lunaire. ‘What the hell did I just listen to?’ asks a YouTube commentator. I can’t say that I love it, but it’s extraordinary. I remember first hearing it. I was vacuuming during the early hours, while half-listening to the Open University’s educational programmes. This began, and I switched off the vacumn to hear it. I remained on one leg, spellbound, throughout. Didn’t like it, exactly, but couldn’t stop listening.

I am fonder of this by Jan Gabarek and the Hilliard Ensemble. I find it chill, eerie, beautiful and strange – but instead of evoking deep, dark forests, it evokes, for me, the vast dark emptiness of space and the future, where who knows what might be possible? Oberon’s song from Britten’s Midsummer’s Night Dream has the same effect on me. It may have been written in the 20th century, as Britten’s response to Shakespeare’s 16th century play, but its eerie otherworldliness, for me, suggests space – perhaps the music of the spheres?

In 1973, Susan Price‘s father signed a contract with Faber for her first book, The Devil’s Piper. She was under-age, at 16, and couldn’t legally sign it herself. She has earned her living by writing and lecturing ever since. Her best known books are The Ghost Drum, which won the Carnegie Medal, and is available as an e-book, and The Sterkarm Handshake, which won the Guardian prize. She has a blog and is also a founder member of the group Do Authors Dream of Electric Books (aka Authors Electric), and she tweets as @priceclan.

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