The computer keys click under the weight of my fingers typing one word after the next and then, silence. My focus is fleeting. I need something to keep me fastened to this creaking chair, something to stop me from trying to escape this tiny windowless office and do something regrettable like crack open a beer on the sunny balcony or worse, engage in some form of physical exercise.
Silence reigns supreme. In the meditative art of fiction writing, it is something to be embraced. However, possessing a clear mind that can edit with surgical precision is an elusive state and more often than not, I need a boost, a melody, not a wall of sound that will stem the flow of creative sap, but something to channel it and filter out the racket of the real world.
Compiling the right playlist is the tricky part. MRI scans illustrate how the brain responds to different styles of music. The aggression of heavy metal helps to depict a bloodlust axe-battle scene, but not a pastoral description of a pelican diving for fish in the Pacific. Funk makes me feel too cheerful and upbeat to stay put in this cramped office of mine. Meanwhile, classical works in bursts. Its intensity is right for this sombre, contemplative business, but sends my thoughts racing toward dissolution after a sustained period of listening. If I’m not careful I may end up like Burgess’ Alex at the end of A Clockwork Orange, wailing in agony at the sound of Beethoven’s ninth. Jazz on the other hand, nearly always strikes the right balance with its intricate jam of piano, cymbals and horns. John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space is a prime example. The contrabass climbs and descends the scales while the sax bellows, affording me a rhythm and steady tempo in which to hit my own notes.
Transformations occur. Melodies mutate. The same track, unsuitable for generating the energy required for creating, could prove useful for editing. Generally, words don’t work. Language, if I can understand it, is an obstacle when I’m putting my own thoughts to paper. Words conjure complex images and notions that stop me in my tracks. However, when the same song is played on a loop, it begins to meld into the atmosphere, converted into a digestible stimulant that seeps into my system without forcing me to stop and observe it. Suffer Little Children by the Smiths, a song about the Manchester moor murders, causes me stumble at first, but with each listen, I tune into it on a different frequency. The melancholy and eeriness draws me into the right mood and frame of mind to work on darker subject matter.
Quiet, if you can bear it, helps produce magic, but sometimes it is better to be carried by a body of sound than stumble in silence.