Posts Tagged Thomas Tallis

The Undercover Soundtrack – Camille Griep

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 short story writer, cultural magazine editor and speculative fiction author Camille Griep @camillethegriep

Soundtrack by Steely Dan, Amanda McBroom, Esthero, London Grammar, Paul Simon, Jonatha Brooke, Thomas Tallis, Vaughan Williams, Phox, Eliza Carthy, George Michael, Weekend Players, Florence + the Machine, Nick Cave

The Undercover Soundtrack Camille Griep 1I have long been an aficionado of the journey (not to be confused with Journey), the treks taken between a home we love and a home we’ve yet to build. I’ve spent countless miles on mountain passes between my Montana birthplace and eventual homes in other parts of the state, to Los Angeles, San Francisco, even northwest Ohio. These places eventually became, and in some cases still are, home.

Journeys are an integral part of the fantasy genre, whether the travels are real or allegory. In my most recent novel, New Charity Blues, I set out to not only examine the pull one feels between an old home and a new one, but the coming of age that accompanies the realization that home is rarely static, and even if it is, the person going there is rarely unchanged from the journey itself.

When I sat down to write this book, a reimagining of the Trojan War, I listened to Steely Dan’s Home at Last on repeat. In New Charity Blues, Syd (aka Cressyda) travels from her home in the ruined City to her hometown, a walled-off bastion of perfection in a world trying to rebuild from a post-pandemic disaster. Once there, she finds herself at odds with her once best friend, the seer Cas (aka Cassandra). Home at Last holds lyrical meaning for both characters, a study of Odysseus, so changed by his journey that he can’t bring himself to disembark his ship. I played it as often as I needed in order to remember the aversion to melding worlds and experiences – a commonality for most of us who eventually leave home.

Home changes, and we ourselves are changed

I also basked in Amanda McBroom’s Dorothy, a song lamenting the Wizard of Oz heroine’s return to Kansas. In some ways, New Charity, the bastion Syd is pushed toward and enveloped in, is a sort of Oz. It’s a self-sustaining community full of safety and secrets. The magic that once imbued the town now protects the water Syd’s City so badly needs. But she’s torn, too. Memories of home, the assurance of love, the temptation of ease gives her pause – which home is home?

Like so many of us from small places, Syd is of two minds about New Charity itself. Listening to Esthero’s Country Living allowed me to remember what it was like to be in a small place, hoping to get out. Syd’s trajectory led her out and up, and, returning, she find New Charity is too narrow and too slow. She misses the sharp angles of the City and the people who had become her family. London Grammar’s Metal & Dust was a beautiful accompaniment to the character’s unrest.

These realisations – the pull between the people Syd loves, the town she once knew, and the City she promised to save were served Paul Simon’s beautifully sad Further to Fly. The song, as well as the pull of the characters, are a clear reminder that, though unrealistic, sometimes, it’s only human to want everything.

The Undercover Soundtrack Camille Griep 2

Outside the sanctuary

The relationship between best friends Syd and Cas is tested from the moment Syd arrives in New Charity. Cas all at once understands the threat Syd poses to the stasis New Charity has achieved and, at the same time, she begins to think outside the hermetic box of the Sanctuary, a religion devoted to the Spirit of the land headed up by a darkly mysterious Bishop. Though she wants to protect her friend and her home, it seems she cannot do both. She pleads with Syd to consider the consequences of her plans, and I imagine her doing so with Jonatha Brooke’s Because I Told You So playing in the background – a song that soothed me through many a tough conversation over the years.

Unlike Syd, whose circumstances of loss and need accelerated her adulthood, Cas is in some ways still a young girl. We meet her looking out over the green hills of New Charity, reflecting on the horizon. In her head, I imagine the Tallis Fantasia playing, the whole thing, from its beginning so quiet you have to sit next to the speakers to hear it to the heartswell at the eighth minute. I know this because I have felt this same swell for a piece of land, a vista, a connection and I think Cas feels it, too. As Cas falters with her identity – once so closely tied to being a twin, I listened carefully to more lush instrumental brilliance within Laura by Phox and Poor Little Me by Eliza Carthy.

Cas and Syd’s friendship is further displaced by the romance between Cas’s older brother, Troy. In her capacity as prophetess, she can see the beginning of the end, and, if she knew the song, she’d be singing George Michael’s Cowboys and Angels to both her friend and her brother.

New Charity BluesAs in life, circumstances and characters beyond their control complicate Syd and Cas’s eventual unearthing of the town’s secrets. Syd falls in love and finally allies with Cas. After a night under the stars with Troy, she wakes up knowing what to do. Crafting this scene, I studied the lyrics of Higher Ground by The Weekend Players and Rabbit Heart by Florence + the Machine.

The die is cast for the town of New Charity. In the dark moments, which I’ll not spoil here, Nick Cave’s O’Children guided the necessary tears of both characters and the writer.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to make arts by the grace of other artists like the ones above – and, of course, the countless others. Though we don’t always know whose lives – whose homes – we touch with our art, it is reassuring to know we are always building another space in which to feel free.

Camille Griep is the author of two novels: Letters to Zell (July 2015) and New Charity Blues (April 2016), both from 47North. Her recent short-form work has been featured in Synaesthesia, The Vignette Review, and Under the Gum Tree, among others. She edits the literary magazines Easy Street and The Lascaux Review and lives north of Seattle with her partner Adam and a spoiled bulldog named Dutch. She is agented by Cameron McClure at Donald Maass Literary Agency. Find her on Twitter @camillethegriep or at www.camillegriep.com.

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‘To make art by the grace of other artists’ – Camille Griep

for logoMy guest this week has set herself the task of reimagining the Trojan War and she says she couldn’t have done it without music. Her soundtrack has a stirring, epic scale with storming emotional keys, from Florence + the Machine to Thomas Tallis. More intimate pieces by Amanda McBroom and Esthero illuminated the interior lives of her Cressida (renamed Syd) and Cassandra (Cas). She is also a much-decorated writer of short stories and the editor of two cultural journals, Easy Street and The Lascaux Review. Drop by tomorrow for the Undercover Soundtrack of Camille Griep.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – JW Hicks

for logo‘A lyric; a tune; a fragment; a thrilling chord-run’

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 quirky speculative fiction and award-winning short story writer JW Hicks @TriskeleBooks

Soundtrack by Bedrich Smetana, Aaron Copland, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Tallis Scholars, Alison Krauss, Soggy Bottom Boys, Hans Zimmer, Lisa Gerrard

Most of my better ideas are sparked by music. I have a radio in every room – yes, every room, and a disc player close to where I write. I hear a lyric, a fragment of tune, a thrilling chord-run in a classical piece, and visualise a character, feeling him or her and knowing something of their lives. That exciting moment when ideas come is a buzz that never fails to thrill. My mind is filled with the promise of a story hovering within my grasp and just dying to be told, and I shoot to the moon on an adrenaline high. Who needs drugs if ideas can make you feel like that?

jane hicks2Captured

But those sparked ideas are will-o’-the wisps; here and gone in an instant. If they’re not captured on paper or tape they’ll fly away – into another writer’s mind perhaps. I know what it’s like to lose an idea and  try in vain to recapture it. Lesson learned, I keep a notepad at hand at all times. I’ve even run soaking wet from the bathroom to scribble a few damp sentences on the pad kept on my bedside table. Crazy, I know, but once they take flight, those ideas are lost forever.

When I’m deep in writing mode and the seam runs out, I, like Worzel Gummidge, swap my writing head for a go-do-something-else head. I might clean the cooker, scrub the bathtub, or brush the cat’s black-velvet fur: necessary but easily put-off-able chores. (Have you ever tried brushing an unwilling cat?) As I clean or brush I listen to music suited to the seam that ran dry, hoping it will oil my writing wheels. I look on it as an equation: a good match between music + writing = a satisfying flow of ideas/words. In my case, most often the ploy works, the seam opens and I see my way forward.

Worlds
My debut novel Rats is a book of speculative fiction – SF, Fantasy, Dystopian? All three, if truth be told, but hopefully suitable for both YA and general readers. Rats is a journey from one world to the next – beginning in the future, ending in the past. In one world my protagonist is Bitch Singer – fighting a dictator – guerilla style. In another she is Dorrie Hart, housewife and mother – carer to a speech-impaired child. Which world is real – which life is true? And why does she wake each morning crying for a lost lover – a lover she is determined to find.

Bedrich Smetana’s Vltavaa tone painting used to evoke the sounds of one of Bohemia’s great rivers, is the music that most suits the Wilderness chapters in Rats. Bitch Singer of the Whip Tails dreams of escaping from the Ruins and the rat-hunting troopers. Sharing that dream of freedom, her clan heads for unoccupied territory, the Wilderness, where Dictator Templeton has no sway. For me, that yearning, that dream of freedom is encapsulated in Vltava. In the joy of the river’s run and the surges of gathering strength as it flows through the forest, I am Bit, heading for the Wilderness with her clan. Hearing Vltava places me there, climbing the hills, sleeping in the forests; searching for a refuge where Rats can live free.

Solitude
Music inspires, give impetus, gives insight, but it’s the hard graft of putting words on a page that is the truth of writing. For that I need to be alone and in a quiet place.

Place is all-important. At present I write in a room with a good view of the sky. Living at the top of a hill, my sky is high, wide and handsome. Today it’s cloudy but not flat-dull, just a patchwork of grey clouds ranging from dove to near charcoal. I watch as they thin to expose hazy blue streaks when just an hour ago they had thickened to an indigo frown. Day moods and stormy night moods are stored in my memory, ready to add texture to my prose.
Emotion runs strong in Rats, like the river Vltava.

Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring is an inspiration for forging the clan’s new life in the Wilderness. I love its peace and its joy – the sounds of a new beginning.

For deep emotion I listen to Beth Nielsen Chapman. Sand and Water got me in the mood to write a particularly harrowing scene in Rats, just as Allegri’s soul-quivering Miserere saw Bit through her traumatic journey into the unknown.

Rats Cover LARGE EBOOKIt’s not all gloom and sorrow in Rats, Alison Krauss singing Down to the River to Pray helped write the homely scenes where my freed Rats attempt to throw off the pall cast by Templeton. And let’s not forget the Soggy Bottom Boys’ Man of Constant Sorrow that jogged me through Bit’s extraordinary new life.

Last but not least I depended on the music score of Gladiator composed by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard, to give life to certain action sequences in the novel. In fact the whole CD fits Rats perfectly – death and hunting, a Rat’s life in just three words. I still watch Gladiator, and listen to my CD of the theme music, thinking of my rebellious freedom fighters and especially of Bit, sent unwillingly on a traumatic journey into the unknown.

JW Hicks, a long-time story teller and writer of quirky tales. Her first love is speculative fiction. Her mentors – John Wyndham, Robert A Heinlein and CJ Cherryh. A prize winning short story writer, with success at the Words With Jam ‘first page’ competition, with Rats, her debut novel, now found on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords. She can be found on the Triskele Books Blog.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Alice Degan

for logo‘Music is a ritual of invocation’

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 medieval literature scholar and metaphysical fantasy writer Alice Degan @ajdegan

Soundtrack by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Maddy Prior, Adele, Sarah Slean, Loreena McKennitt, Squirrel Nut Zippers

14805487315_d629b6cefb_kBefore iTunes, making a mix of music to write to used to be this whole ritual. For me it was one of those great para-writing procrastination activities, like buying notebooks or clearing off your desk. I’d want to carefully select a track to go at the beginning of the CD, which served as a kind of invocation to set the mood as I sat down to write. Often this one would be a song that wasn’t musically appropriate to the setting, but had some apposite lyrics, or related thematically somehow. With From All False Doctrine, which I began after I had started migrating my music library onto my computer, things were a bit different. It was easier to create a soundtrack, which deprived the ritual of some of its distracting power, and it wasn’t necessary to select just one track to open with. Several different songs ended up playing that role of invocation.

Adding to the choir

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis was the track that most often functioned as an entry point. It’s an exquisite piece that embroiders on the melody of one of my favourite hymns. It builds slowly and quietly, but reaches a dramatic climax. Listening to Vaughan Williams’s version calls to mind not so much the exact words of the hymn but its general theme and mood: a feeling of inadequacy in the face of greater powers, and a plea to God for the strength to add my own voice to a great choir. That spoke to me as I approached my writing, and it evoked the concerns of my main characters in their different pursuits.

If it’s the life you feel called to, it’s what you should live. If you’ll pardon the expression.’

‘What expression?’

‘ “Called. “’ He grinned up at her apologetically. “It implies there’s Someone to do the calling.’

‘It’s just a turn of phrase,’ she said sternly.

From All False Doctrine is set in the 1920s, but jazz music isn’t a major feature of the plot, and didn’t help in its creation either. Of course that’s partly due to my own musical tastes. But it’s also partly because the book is set in Toronto, which was still a fairly conservative city in the ’20s, not a hotbed of the kind of social and artistic innovation that we associate with the decade. A jazz soundtrack wouldn’t quite capture the mood of 1925 Toronto as I understand it. My story centres on the worlds of the university and the Anglican Church. My hero, Kit Underhill, is a young Anglo-Catholic priest in the working-class neighbourhood of Earlscourt, an area populated at the time mostly by English immigrants. Elsa Nordqvist, my heroine, is a classics student who has lost her faith in God but believes passionately in her academic calling.

Spirituality

The words to a number of hymns feature in the story, but I didn’t listen to most of these while writing: they’re songs I know from years in the pews, not from recordings. Jesu, lover of my soul, in Maddy Prior’s atypical rendition, was one I did play while writing, though it doesn’t get a mention in the story. Privately, though, I know that my characters like it: I think of it as expressing something of Kit’s spirituality while at the same time evoking Elsa’s Protestant upbringing.

Then there are songs that evoke just the right mood even though the style and lyrics may have no obvious connection to the story. One of those for this book was Adele’s Set Fire to the Rain, which spoke perfectly of the unhappiness of a secondary character, Harriet Spencer, a charismatic young woman who is abandoned by her fiancé. (Come to think of it, she looks a little bit like Adele, especially in that video!) Sarah Slean’s Society Song evokes something of Elsa’s relationship to propriety: it’s a defiant, upbeat song that made a nice contrast to the more contemplative tracks on my list.

False Doctrine Front CoverStar of the County Down is the shiftless fiancé’s theme. A classic folk song about a determined suitor, it’s also very close in its tune to another hymn, I heard the voice of Jesus say, so it evokes two aspects of this character for me. I have several recordings, but the one I had on the False Doctrine soundtrack was Loreena McKennitt’s rendition from The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

Finally, because of the turn that the story takes towards the end, the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Hell made it onto the soundtrack.

He reached for her hands and then stopped. ‘At midnight my soul—whatever that may be—is forfeit to that thing and its Master. Do you think I would hesitate to throw you to him, to save myself?’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘You are hesitating right now.’

I’m working on a sequel now, and the song I use to get in the mood (this is a slight spoiler) is Sarah Slean’s Angel.
Alice Degan is an academic and novelist who lives in Toronto. She studies and teaches medieval literature, and writes fantasy and something she likes to call metaphysical romance. From All False Doctrine, a supernatural mystery wrapped in a 1920s comedy of manners, is her first published novel. She also has a series of urban fantasy stories involving a collection of misfit otherworldly characters who live above a bakery. You can find her on Twitter as @ajdegan, or on her website.

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‘Music is a ritual of invocation’ – Alice Degan

for logoI find it so interesting how one novel’s soundtrack can absorb so many styles.  My guest this week has written a supernatural mystery wrapped up in a 1920s comedy of manners and her soundtrack is a glorious tour of classical, folk and madcap jazz. Even more interesting, she uses Thomas Tallis – as my guest did last week – but with such a different outcome. We all operate in our own key of creativity, which is one of the wonders of this series for me. Anyway, this week you’ll be entering the classical, folky and knock-bones skelly-shaking jazzy world of Alice Degan – and her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Paul Connolly

for logo‘The power of music and friendship’

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 a capella singer and debut author Paul Connolly @ACappellaPaul

Soundtrack by The Beatles, Van Morrison, The Beach Boys, Thomas Tallis, John Barry

 The Fifth Voice is about the power of music and friendship, and the incredible influence both can have on our lives. The four main characters are struggling in various ways with what life has thrown at them (an illness, a betrayal, a bereavement, a mid-life crisis), but when they sing together none of that matters. Together they embark on a journey of self-discovery and self-healing, as they go in search of the mysterious and elusive Fifth Voice.

PaulC-TFV-promo photoIt’s all about the music

My very first memory is hearing Help! by The Beatles playing in an amusement arcade when I was just five. Listening to the song as an adult, I remember what it was like to feel happy and carefree as a child on holiday, being transported by music for the very first time. Coincidentally, John Lennon said he wrote the song at a time when he’d completely lost himself and was harking back to when he was much younger and everything in life was much simpler.

Aside from the obvious connection (four singers), The Beatles inspired The Fifth Voice by providing two of the protagonists, Vince and Danny, with the material for their opening dialogue, arguing about their favourite albums around a pub table. They don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to The Beatles, Vince referring to the Sergeant Pepper album as ‘a pile of over-contrived, trippy nonsense’. Danny hits back by informing his friend that ‘when Sergeant Pepper was released, Kenneth Tynan in The Times said it was a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization’. And so the tone is set for the emerging friendship between the two.

Oh, and there’s dance too

One of my own favourite albums is Astral Weeks by Van Morrison, which features the song Ballerina. It’s a haunting evocation of a love unrequited, or perhaps broken in some way. Listening to it, I get a sense of fragility, of a man who is yearning for this perfect vision of a woman to be his. The fact that I was once married to a ballet dancer means that those feelings have the ring of truth, and both the song and my personal experience compelled me to include a character in the book who was once a ballet dancer.

Margaret, the mother of Neil (another of the quartet) is a smart, sensitive, worldly and compassionate lady of a certain age. She has suffered the loss of her eldest son, which both she and Neil are struggling to come to terms with. She has every right to be bitter, but instead she throws all her energies into looking after her husband and remaining son, helping local charities, and running a ballet class for the senior citizens of her village. In her early years she lived a rarefied and exotic life as a dancer in Paris and was, without doubt, held in as much esteem as the ballerina in Van Morrison’s achingly beautiful song.

Finding their voices

One of the first songs I learned to sing in four-part harmony was a Beach Boys medley featuring the ballad In My Room. It made a big impression on me, as the harmonies are delicate and easy, and yet powerfully moving. I had to make it the first song the quartet in The Fifth Voice sing together, the one that makes them and their assembled company realise that their voices blend beautifully and that they could have a future as a quartet.

The song doesn’t always serve them well, however. When Ken, their eccentric vocal coach and mentor, invites them to explain what the song is about, Vince suggests ‘a bloke in a room’. Frustrated by his lack of imagination, Ken replies

Well, that certainly explains things. From the way you sang just now, I’d guess that the room is painted entirely white. Featureless. And I’d say that the bloke in question is probably wearing a straitjacket, that the walls are padded, and that the door is heavily bolted from the outside.

Perfect harmony

The book is about the search for harmony, not just in the musical sense. Ken inspires the quartet to discover a curious vocal technique called The Fifth Voice, which has the promise to deliver a prize much greater than anything they can imagine.

This idea was inspired in part by listening to harmonies on a grand scale, in the form of Spem In Alium, a 40-part Renaissance motet by Thomas Tallis. Composed in the 16th century for eight choirs of five voices each, this majestic piece is mind-blowing in its complexity and beauty, and no wonder it is widely considered to be the greatest piece of English early music.

TFV final cover-300dpi-mod1The big picture

A piece of orchestral music I return to often is The Beyondness of Things by John Barry. Barry’s late signature sound of richly textured strings and reflective, romantic melodies has a wooing effect, and I find myself drifting away whenever I listen to this piece. But it also delivers a genuine sense of beyondness, of there being more to life than the here and now. And that’s the essence of what The Fifth Voice is about. Listening to Barry helped set the tone for the metaphysical aspects of the story, as when Ken first tells the quartet about The Fifth Voice:

Listen to a top quartet ringing chords, and the room will fill with harmonic overtones. And at a purely physical level, you could say that those harmonic overtones are themselves an independent voice. A fifth voice, so to speak. But that’s only part of the story. Any competent quartet can create a fifth voice, but very few find The Fifth Voice. That’s something that goes beyond the physical. Something that comes from inside each of you. Something you have to search for.

Paul Connolly was born and brought up in Liverpool. After studying biology at Manchester University he worked for many years as a technical author in the computer industry, the foundation of his writing career. Paul sings bass with award-winning a cappella group The Royal Harmonics, which provided the inspiration for his debut novel, The Fifth Voice. He lives in Berkshire, visits Lundy Island as often as possible, supports Everton FC, and has a grown-up daughter. He is currently working on the sequel to The Fifth Voice, and you can connect with him at www.paulconnollyauthor.com and on Twitter @ACappellaPaul. The Fifth Voice is available as a paperback and ebook.

 

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