The world may be split between two kinds of writers: those who can listen to music when they write and those who can’t. I’m one who needs sensory deprivation. Creating (or in my case most often, recreating) the timbre of a voice, the cadence of action, or the tone of a moment requires a vacuum. A clock ticking can be enough to disrupt writing from memory: the phantom process of transporting the body, the senses, into places and moments in the trunks of the mind.
Next to aroma, though, music may be the most transporting medium. A song can be a red plastic pushpin holding a stack of former doubts, images, hopes and relationships together as a world intact. A hymn can bring back not just the slant of light on pine pews at 10:12 am in September, but the texture of those weeks when you knew something was wrong with grandma but no one had yet said, ‘Alzheimer’s.’ With music we can not only access discrete objects from the past, but we can fall into its net, and sometimes pluck the web. Music lets us enter moments as they were rather than as they have come to be.
There’s a lot of music in Triptych. Much (I hope) in the language itself, and most unmentioned in the text, present as a sort of silent soundtrack. But a few songs were so integral to moments of the story they are named in the pages. I wrote these sections while listening to their tracks on repeat. I wanted the measures of the music to be the measures of the breath, the instrumentation to ooze into the images, the harmonies to shade the scenes.
When copyright slashed through the manuscript, this became more than an exercise in craft. Permissions and fees for lyrics can be impossible— especially for popular music, the likeliest soundtrack for memories– which meant the songs had to be present without their lyrics, somehow palpable with neither their notes nor their words.
The songs most present in Triptych make great studies in tone (which was part of their magnetism). They are distinct and varied, and beyond being useful to my writing, could toss you momentarily into new worlds. If you write or make other art, creating to this playlist could be a 20-minute exercise in virtuosity.
We all, though, have an artistic or personal bulletin board full of musical pushpins.
- What songs capture watershed moments in your life?
- What music plays when you create?
- What tunes get you in deep? What tracks lead you out of yourself?