Thursday 1 December 2022

SOUNDING OFF - OR ON? by Penny Dolan

The first of December, and my mind is full of music. After no live music for ages, three events come along almost at once. Must be the season.

                            - Broadside by Bellowhead (2012-10-30) - Music

All the evenings are different, in style and in location. The first was the twelve-piece folk band Bellowhead bringing their magnificent Broadside Album Anniversary Concert to our local Conference Centre. The second, Frost*, was a four-piece prog-rock band, who noodled impressively at a rambling social club in a run-down area of Leeds while the third is a duo: the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and pianist/collaborator Harry Baker, with a mix of folk, jazz and classical piece, in a trendy bar beside Leeds College of Music.

So much music, so close together. The host of sounds and songs floating through my head will take a while to separate and settle and so I am glad I have this post to write today. 

Doing any “real writing” when music is playing is almost impossible. I need to hear the sounds of the words in my head, to listen to the cadences and the patterns, to the rhythm and flow. I like working in silence in a place of peace and quiet, where anything that happens is on the page or screen, not in the living space around me. Such a silence is, I know, an impossible luxury for many.  Also, if something unexpected is happening, or someone is about, I really do want to know. Is this a basic insecurity or the effect of too many scary books and movies? I like silence.

On the other hand, some writers seem to need music for the work to happen. They love having sound about them. They have favourite musicians and pieces that inspire them, that sets the writing mood. I have heard writers talk about create playlists for a specific project, of choosing tracks to match the themes, characters or period of their story and seen that it is clearly an essential part of their creative process.

Does the music create the right mood to begin work or do the sounds act as aural guidelines while they work, or do both purposes become one?

Of course, music can also have a very practical purpose. Music creates a wall of sound or auditory block between the writer, writing, and the real life happening beyond that circumference. Music acts as if it can protect the writer from all the uncomfortable demands and surprises that affect the flow of ideas., allowing them to escape into their own thought and process. Ah, the blessed power of modern headphones . . .

                                        Music Piano Keys · Free image on Pixabay

Then there’s also the matter of “sound” itself. - or sounds, human or natural. Some people who like working alone do not like to feel alone. They like being by themselves but not by themselves. They prefer having the sense and sound of an undemanding noise going on around them, an indication of a social world around them, and subtle signs that they are not locked into solitary confinement.

Before the pandemic, writing in coffee shops was a Thing to Do. Confined, some writers began writing to sound effects. They commented on the quiet clink and chatter of an illusory coffee shop, or the sounds of rain and water and the sea while among domestic comfort or wide woodland spaces without the unexpected peskiness of insects. A more comfortable "reality."

                                                    forest glade in shade of the trees Free Stock Photo | FreeImages 

While such sound effects didn’t work for me, there were and still are wonderful Writing Room zoom groups, where real writers greet each other on screen and then write for a set period of time with a fifteen minutes of chat afterwards. These, I have found in the past, are enjoyable and useful - and maybe a practice for after the festivities? Oddly enough, even though the sound button is muted, I am sure I can hear all the ideas gathering and ticking their way down into everybody’s work while we are together. And that is an encouraging and inspiring sound!

So now I'm wondering:

Are you someone who uses music around your writing? While you are writing? 

What do you listen to? What do you rush to turn off? 

Do you create personal playlists for your books or simply use a genre to inspire you?

Are you still stuck with a coffee shop app or do you welcome the sound of a real world library space? Or avoid any accompanying real world chatter?

All I know is that as I sit alone in my workroom early on the first of December, I hear the hum of the desktop, the as-yet disappointed click of the cat flap, and the creaking wheels of the much-welcomed oil radiator tucked tightly at my back. Silence is rarely silence.

Have a happy, peaceful and maybe musical December.

Penny Dolan


1 comment:

Sue Purkiss said...

When I'm really, actually writing, and it's going well, I don't need music. But if I'm researching, or noodling, or just feeling my way into something, then yes, I do like music. But it needs to be the right kind of music: not intrusive. I find film scores are good, for obvious reasons, I suppose: they are written as background, to create a mood, not to call attention to themselves. My current favourite is the score to Local Hero. I also sometimes use Memoirs of a Geisha, and The Lost Prince. Must look out for some more!