Cursed Are The Listmakers

The Arts

I am afflicted with what I’m told is a deeply male disease; the need to collect, to catalogue, to alphabetise, to thematise, to build empirical data, to complete.

It seems I share this with many other writers (far more than with artists, who are often happily disorganised). Today six writers had lunch – we hang out in a group, like a wittier but less congruously dressed version of the Reservoir Dogs – and shared notes; me, Kim Newman, China Mieville, Nick Harkaway, Barry Forshaw and Paul MacAuley – and it seems that to some extent at least we all suffer this damaged gene.

My completist nature takes many forms but one of the most debilitating is music. At least it’s not a super-expensive gene, like say, collecting Meissen figurines, but the worst thing that can happen is to discover a composer you like and then find out that they’ve produced over 70 albums. And what you know you’ll have to do is CROSS-INDEX them all to find which tracks you haven’t got.

Which brings me back to Nick Harkaway, whose novel ‘The Gone-Away World’ I loved. After our lunch I checked his blog here and came across a short film I’d not seen for a while, reposted here. I vaguely recalled that the score was by Belgian minimalist Wim Mertens, so when I trawled his albums I realised that, aurally speaking, he bisects Michael Nyman, whom regular readers know I greatly admire.

Aha, I thought, my cue to buy some Mertens – but there it is, a horrifying melange of recordings, literally hundreds of them, and now I know I’ll have to explore them all, sifting the duplicates and purchasing the ones I like, and accidentally purchasing doubles (something I do all the time) and it still won’t be perfect because this is the wrong way to collect stuff. Kim and Barry are entirely unapologetic about this habit. Kim, especially, is capable of finding rarities and teasing out connections one would never have thought possible, because his mind – like his writing – is a thing of wonder, the biggest movie library in the world. It’s appropriate that a mathematically oriented composer should be chosen for such a lovely little film.

6 comments on “Cursed Are The Listmakers”

  1. Cid says:

    Nick Harkaway’s latest, Angelmaker, is also excellent if you’ve not had a go on it.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    Fantastic film with great music.
    I turned off the sound the third time through and watched it listening to one of J. S. Bach’s keyboard works as the soundtrack and it worked. He composed very orderly (“mathematically”) but with great depth of feeling. I can almost contain a completist urge, but have to admit I have all of his compositions, various versions and many, many books on his music. My wife has threatened to frisk me when I come in from shopping alone; when Bob our UPS man rolls up.
    Beyond that I tend to buy everything by a writer I like. I’m about halfway through your list.

  3. Diogenes says:

    A great place to start with Wim Mehrtens is the soundtrack to the Greenaway movie Belly of an Architect. It’s quite different from Nyman’s Greenaway soundtracks but both composers are wonderful.

  4. admin says:

    Thanks Diog, I hit DOWNLOAD like a ton of bricks.

  5. Diogenes says:


    It’s a great movie as well, probably my favourite Greenaway. It’s set in Rome and follows an architect from Chicago who is putting together an exhibition about Boullee, a visionary French architect. It features the seven Roman buildings (Coliseum, Hadrians villa, St Peters, Tomb of Augustus, Pantheon etc) which influenced or were influenced by Boullee and I visited them to make a theme during a trip to Rome.

  6. admin says:

    Oh I remember the film well – I worked with Greenaway, launching most of his films in the UK. Very intense man!

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