Make Mine Music
I always write with music playing. I find that soundtracks can provide the perfect atmosphere in which to write. But where do you start?
Soundtrack music is created to enhance the emotion of visuals, so it makes an ideal accompaniment. I went through a phase of writing to Michael Nyman scores, particularly the Handel-like ‘The Draughtsman’s Contract’ and ‘Drowning by Numbers’, based on Mozart phrases, plus a limited edition album of his called ‘Sublime’. His score for ‘Prospero’s Books’ also conjures images. Minimalists Wim Mertens and Max Richter heavily feature on my writing playlists. Phillip Glass is too intrusive to write to.
Hans Zimmer’s scores from ‘Inception’ to the new ‘Dune’ and ‘No Time To Die’ are energising, and Zimmer’s live concert scores feature remixes of his film soundtracks. You can find them complete on YouTube. Richard Rodney Bennett’s score for ‘Gormenghast’ works as a concert piece on its own.
Composers have written pieces for the Bryant & May novels, and several of them have proven inspirational for further stories; a case of creative reverse-engineering.
Terrific Spanish composers include Federico Jusid (try his deliciously sinister scores for ‘La Cara Oculta’ and ‘Isabel’), Joan Valent’s score for ‘Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi’, Roque Banos’s moving piano for ‘The 13 Rosas’ and the Hitchcockian soundtrack for ‘La Comunidad’. Hitchcock’s composer Bernard Herrmann is also a favourite when writing tense scenes.
French and Spanish soundtracks also provide great mood music for sad or melancholic scene-setting, especially the scores for ‘Loreak’, ‘Dans La Maison’, ‘Au Revoir Là-haut’ and the beautiful hymns and adagios in ‘Joyeux Noel’. Game soundtracks can be lavish affairs, with the sinister jazz-inflected ‘LA Noir’, the lighter-hearted ‘Monument Valley’ and the extraordinary ‘Cuphead’ big band sound of the roaring 20s (above). There’s a French-language album of Disney songs that turns them into Montmartre cabaret.
Composers now have a tendency to ‘thicken’ sound with overlaid instrumentation and effects. Listen to John Barry’s original masters for ‘Goldfinger’ and you’ll be shocked at how simple his arrangements are. It sounds as if you’re in a smoky room with a small jazz band. I once sat in with the orchestra while one of the later Bond films was being scored, and the sound was overwhelmingly huge.
The longest piece of music I have ever ‘heard’ is ‘Sleep’ by Max Richter, a piece designed to be slept through. The concert halls it plays have beds, and it has a slowly mutating chord change that’s very soothing. Thomas Bergersen’s long pieces like ‘Sun’ and ‘Illusions’ and the lengthy soundtracks for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films by Howard Shore are good for writing grand action. An easy solution is to pick the work of one soundtrack composer and leave it on Apple Music so that you clearly hear the development of the music.