‘The moment of making the first sound or writing the first word is special’
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 award-winning percussionist Pete Lockett @petelockett
Soundtrack by Pete Lockett with Björk, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Dido, Bill Bruford, Jeff Beck, Ustad Zakir Hussain, The Verve, Texas, Trans-Global Underground, Nelly Furtado, Lee Scratch Perry, Primal Scream, Damien Rice, Dave Weckl, Thomas Lang, Jarvis Cocker, Craig Armstrong, Nicko McBrain, Iron Maiden, U Shrinivas, Ronan Keating, Vanessa-Mae, Errol Brown, Rory Gallagher, Pet Shop Boys, Hari Haran, Kodo, Amy Winehouse, Mel C, A R Rahman, Sinead O’Connor
This music is just incredible; I’ve never heard anything like it before.”
I doubt if anyone outside of this community ever has. This is what you get when Brahms and Bach have been living next door to one another for hundreds of years.They don’t even use notation any more.They’ve just devised a way to conduct the whole group with nods, looks and head shakes.Look, can you see them there at either side? Bach is doing all the spiky staccato stuff and Brahms is doing the smooth legato.It’s all totally improvised and will never happen again. Every rendition is completely different.They both claim that it is the highest level of composition one can reach.Instantaneous composition, conducting and performance.”
When Ed Trew wakes up with a killer hangover, little does he realise that it is the beginning of a mind-boggling journey of revelations and surprises that completely reshapes his view of the world. In the midst of chaos and confusion he becomes completely seduced by music.
It’s no surprise that music and the arts so often act as a liberating influence, giving some lucky individuals the chance a world of creativity and hope. I am grateful to fate to have been propelled out of an ordinary, functional and less than satisfying existence. Music came and lifted me away and showed me a path towards self fulfilment where my mind could become a canvas for fresh ideas. Everything about music fascinated me and as I grew, I slowly started absorbing influences from every corner of the globe, from India to Africa and Nepal to New York – the systems and techniques, sounds, colours and moods. It also led me to a much deeper understanding of people, their motivations, formalities and habits. The way people make music reveals a lot about the culture from which they have flourished.
This ‘open plan’ consumption and integration of varied influences naturally became a cornerstone of my writing when I finally got around to penning a novel. Having had a great degree of freedom in my interpretation and mixing of musical styles, it was natural that this approach got carried over into ideas and stories.
When I sit down and compose music, I start with nothing. That moment of making the first sound or writing the first note is always special, all the more so because I have no idea where it is going to lead. This influenced me directly to try the same thing with words, to take a simple starting point and embark on a journey, not knowing where or how I would get between the various points along the way.
I knew I wanted to have the same freedom that I find in music, able to bring together seemingly disparate concepts and make a new sense out of it all. To be unbound by all that is ‘normal’ but convincing enough to create a dialogue that stands up under scrutiny. As I wrote more and more, I was amazed about how similar the creative buzz was between both of them. I never thought I would find anything that gave me the spiritual lift that music making did but was convinced otherwise during the writing of A Survivor’s Guide to Eternity.
Just as I would embark on so many journeys with my work as a musician, so the character in my book is thrown headlong into an incredible journey, except his is through life, death, reincarnation and the afterlife. Little does he realise that it’s the beginning of a mind-boggling journey of revelations and surprises that completely reshapes his view of the world.
Structure and suspense
Once I really started to get into it, the writing and music began to feed one another even more in quite an inspiring way. A good gig would send me straight back to the hotel with my laptop to get writing and vice versa. I began to think through certain pieces of music and see how the suspense built up over a set time frame, keeping the listener engaged and waiting for the next development. Indian classical music is perfect for that, especially over long periods of time. I began to experiment to see how I could mirror that in my storytelling, sowing seeds and planting suggestions, but all the while keeping the reader impatient for the detail of the next development. As I thought about it, more and more parallels became apparent between literature and music.
Before I knew it I was unconsciously taking on board the broad shapes of pieces of music, flowing like a river around bends and over rocks, sometimes calm and sometimes ferocious. It gave me a great insight into how to approach the timeline within the novel, sometimes going slowly and patiently before propelling it through rapids and over rocks down towards a calming resolution.
There’s so much in common between the two disciplines. One tells a story with words and the other with sound. We need to keep the listener/reader interested with suggestions but not in a way that paints an obvious picture. We need to create suspense, excitement, anticipation and resolution. I never thought they would be quite so interlinked.
Pete Lockett has recorded and/or performed with Björk, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Dido, Bill Bruford, Jeff Beck, Ustad Zakir Hussain, The Verve, Texas, Trans-Global Underground, Nelly Furtado, Lee Scratch Perry, Primal Scream, Damien Rice, Dave Weckl, Thomas Lang, Jarvis Cocker, Craig Armstrong, Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden), U Shrinivas, Ronan Keating, Vanessa-Mae, Errol Brown, Rory Gallagher, Pet Shop Boys, Hari Haran, Kodo, Amy Winehouse, Mel C, A R Rahman, Sinead O’Connor and many more. He arranged and recorded ethnic percussion for five Bond films and other Hollywood blockbusters and has taught and lectured worldwide, including The Royal College, Berklee School of Music Boston, and The Royal Academy of Music in London. He is the author of Indian Rhythms for the Drum Set (Hudson). A Survivor’s Guide To Eternity is his first novel. Here he is on a mountain with percussionist Benny Greb. Find him on Twitter @PeteLockett