Roundtable on Music

Discussions of non-fiction lead to discussions of poetry lead inevitably to discussions of music. Cecelia Holland, Stefan Dziemianowicz, Peter Straub, F. Brett Cox, Ellen Datlow, Michael Dirda, Guy Gavriel Kay, Paul Graham Raven, and Russell Letson lend their musings. As always, this discussion is broken up into multiple pages for ease of reading. If you’d like to read it all on a single page, select ‘View All’ from the drop down menu above. If you don’t see the drop down menu, please click here.

Cecelia Holland

What about music? (Other than Dylan). What about John Adams? I think he’s terrific. Except the operas.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

Charles Ives. Philip Glass (though not when I’m feeling blocked). Steven Reich.

Peter Straub

Oh, this is a deep subject. I listen to music more or less nonstop while working. John Adams, yes, sometimes over and over. Monteverdi, especially the records of the madrigal books with Emma Kirkby singing; Mahler, the 3rd, 4th, 5th, & 7th symphonies especially; Berg, including the operas; Wagner, Parsifal, the Ring, Wesendonk Lieder; Richard Strauss, esp. Capriccio, Die Frau Ohne Schatten, Metamorphosen (!!); Haydn Quartets, piano sonatas and late masses; Mozart Quartets; Beethoven piano sonatas and quartets and piano trios; Debussy piano works & string quartet; …, I’m just getting started so I’ll stop.

But then, jazz: Paul Desmond, Bill Evans, Lester Young, Miles Davis, esp. the crazy amounts of music recorded by the late sixties group with Wayne Shorter & Tony Williams, Ahmad Jamal, Eric Alexander, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, of course Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Vijay Ayer, Kurt Rosenwinkle, I’ll stop here.

And I’m totally crazy about Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues, what a knockout great CD.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

When it comes to jazz, Peter’s iPod is my iPod.

Should have added that I would also include Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Don Cherry, Oliver Nelson, and too many others to name.

Is there anyone else out there who finds it hard to write while listening to musical favorites because of the endlessly discovered/rediscovered nuances of their art that tend to distract you from what you’re trying to do yourself?

F. Brett Cox

Me, too, Stefan.  If I listen to music while I write, I wind up listening to music and not writing.

Peter Straub

Stefan: “I would also include Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Don Cherry, Oliver Nelson, and too many others to name.”

Oh, all those guys? Me, too. Except maybe Don Cherry and Oliver Nelson, apart from Blues and the Abstract Truth.

But this has descended into specialist-speak.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

Nelson had fun with that album. But I agree–we’re getting outside of the realm of inspiration/motivation and more into specialist niches.

Getting (or trying to get) more back on topic–the diversity of what has been offered up in this conversation confirms for me that there are no end of non-fiction and fictional inspirations for what we choose to write and how we write. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel that after reading everyone else’s comments I’ve got a lot more reading to do. Isn’t that always the case?

Ellen Datlow

I listen to jazz radio (WBGO) whenever I’m home. I love most of those Stefan and Peter mention. When  I don’t listen to WBGO I listen to my jazz station on Pandora, which includes jazz singers –Ella, Sara Vaughn, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, I could go on and on. I do find it better to listen to instrumental rather than voice when actually editing.

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2 thoughts on “Roundtable on Music

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  • March 27, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    My music of choice when writing is frequently ambient music, experimental drone and the like. It’s not fitting for all projects, but science fiction in particular feels right when listening to this music. Artists like Emeralds (and the musicians within that band, Mark McGuire, Steve Hauschildt, John Elliott), Charlatan, Pulse Emitter, Peter Friel, Food Pyramid, and many others. It’s relaxing, beautiful, and makes me feel like there is an exclusive soundtrack for my science fiction stories. A lot of this music is synthesizer based, which adds to the “sci-fi-ness”, but even the guitar loops of Mark McGuire give an air of futurism, music constructed with space and flying in mind. I highly recommend all of those artists for science fiction writers.


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