Let’s face it, we often listen to music while reading. We do it to block out the world and immerse ourselves in the world built by words. We do it with a focused mood, adding ambiance to the narrative. Much of the music we listen to deserves better treatment and more respect than being relegated to “background music”, but there you have it. This is where two of my passions collide – music and books. Clearly you don’t want to be pulled out of the narrative, so instrumental music works best. For me, the genres that work best are classical, jazz and soundtracks. [NOTE – Updates to new finds will be given at the end of the post] Soundtracks are an obvious choice because they are designed to drive narrative. Sometimes the choice is easily driven by the book, such as Howard Shore’s Lord of the Ring series or the new Hobbit soundtrack when reading Tolkien. Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek First Contact while reading David Mack’s Destiny series or John Williams’s Star Wars New Hope while reading Timothy Zahn’s Specter of the Past. Inception’s soundtrack is driving while Hugo’s is more lyrical. Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger Tide’s has a lighter aspect with a Mexican flair thanks to Rodrigo y Gabriela’s collaboration on the project with Hans Zimmer along with some really interesting remixes. Claude Bolling’s Suite for … and jazz piano is fun series to read by; I particularly like the Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano (with Jean-Pierre Rampal) and Suite for Cello and Jazz Piano (with Yo-Yo Ma). They all help set the stage while creating a sound barrier between us and that nasty real world trying to break our connection to our book. In the immortal words of Gandalf: interruption, “you shall not pass!” It works for writing as well. With reading, however, it sometimes connects us more intimately with the story, driving us in the heart of the world we inhabit while we read. A less obvious soundtrack, at least for me, is Halo’s soundtrack, especially Halo 3 (composed by Martin O’Donnell & Michael Salvatori). Who knew a game soundtrack could be so good? There is pathos and pounding, rainfall and rhapsodic tirades. This is great music to listen to while picking up your favorite SciFi action thriller. One of the more interesting pieces of music that I’ve listened to while reading is Satoh / Debussy / Messiaen / Takemitsu / Ravel played by Anne Akiko Meyers with Li Jian. Before I discuss this “book music”, I want to emphasize that it definitely should be listened to on its own with no distractions. It deserves your full attention (and it demands it). The first piece is Birds in Warped Time II for violin & piano by Somei Satoh. It pulls you in with a different tonality, rhythm and musical narrative than typically heard. It is a fusion of Japanese and European musical elements that is its own. While I’m fairly traditional in my musical tastes, falling more solidly on the Bach, Beethoven and Brahm side of the world than on the Philip Glass and John Cage side, this is a wonderfully gentle foray into a variety of different tonal shapes, from the haunting pace of Messiaen’s Thème et Variations for Violin and Piano to the lyrical yet eerie Distance de fée by Toru Takemitsu. As always, Ms. Meyers brings these to life with aplomb. You might ask why a musical work that requires (and deserves) such attention would be good to listen to while reading. Much of my reading of late has involved stark and disturbing depictions of depravity. SciFi (for example, iD by Madeline Ashby) and sometimes Fantasy (such as Angelfall by Susan Ee) are places where we deal with the social ills in different contexts. Lately, these social ills are played out in perverse ways on a different landscape and context. The Satoh / Debussy / Messiaen / Takemitsu / Ravel pieces on the album are hauntingly beautiful in a way that both places, at least me, into a mindset that the atypical is going to happen but the evil paraded in the books is not the last answer. There is always beauty. I’m both immersed into the depiction of evil and, at the same time, given perspective on it. _____________________________________________________________ “NEW ADDITIONS From time to time, when I come across some music that is particularly apt to envelop my reading (or writing), I’ll add it here. 4.14.14 – Ludovico Einaudi’s music is an ideal envelope in which to read or work since it tends to be characterized by a driving rhythm ground on which an enchanting melody grows. It doesn’t put you to sleep, but it also allows you to focus. I particularly recommend Nightbook (apt titled and Divenire).
So queue up the music; where it’s the driving the narrative or delving you more deeply into the world of words, music and books make a beautiful couple.