Some music can be difficult to write to. I get too caught up in the lyrics or the melody to think of anything else. My hands and feet drum along and I am completely lost. If the sound is something new and unfamiliar it makes it a little bit easier for me to have it on in the background to inspire me. But if something plays that I know extremely well, there’s no use.
I’m not trying to say that I have to write to music I don’t enjoy. That’s not what I mean at all. If the music is bad, I can’t turn it off fast enough. You put on most pop stuff like Bieber or Rhianna and I’ll go screaming bloody murder out into the streets.
I’ve always been this way. My sister could crank up the volume on her old turntable and study along with Madonna or Van Halen back in the day. Not me. I closed the door, pulled the shades down and stuffed tissues in my ears. My college roommates hated me. I needed to work in silence. If there was too much noise in the dorm I might even go out and work in my truck. Pretty odd for a music major yeah?
I don’t think it’s that strange at all. Music is too important for me to relegate it to background status most of the time. If there’s good music on in the room while I’m in the middle of a conversation, I can easily be pulled away into the sound. I’ve been known to completely lose all connection to topic and social skill. That’s just who I am.
Often time’s silence can be the loudest inspiration. Quiet leaves room for the emptiness of the page to pull ideas out that would otherwise drown in sound. For instance, right this very moment I needed to turn the music off in order to finish that last sentence. I couldn’t get my head unlatched from Trespasser’s William. Her beautiful voice can be soothing and transporting at times but today she sucked me in and dragged me away from the words. Ironically proving my point.
I’ve been collecting music avidly ever since I can remember. I bought records, stole them from my sister and my father, checked them out from the library. I borrowed from friends and taped albums on clear plastic cassettes. When cd’s came out I replaced them all and traded them in and out at used record stores. I joined fan clubs to get limited releases and I bought tour only cd’s at concerts. I used to have hundreds and hundreds of cd’s all over my walls and on bookshelves.
Now that the age of Digital is in full swing, I have a120 Gig iPod that my family gave me a few years back. It’s loaded with more music than I could listen to letting it play straight through for a month. But now that I can take so much music with me, I don’t know what I’d do without it!
Here in my studio, I pull up iTunes and scroll through the artists on my one and a half terabyte hard drive of music until I find something that I think I can work with. I’ll hit play and start typing. On a usual day I’ll have to go back into iTunes, stop my first choice and pick something else. Then I’ll repeat the process three or four times before I find the right music for my mood that day.
If I look out the window to my left I watch the trees. The local family of wild turkeys might wander across my neighbor’s lawn again. If I’m lucky I’ll see the bright glowing crimson breast of another cardinal on one of the branches. If that’s not enough inspiration I may get up, stretch my legs and play with the dog for a few minutes. When I get back there may be something on the blank page that shifts my perspective.
Lungfish, Fugazi, Olafur Arnalds, Brian Eno, Peter Broderick, Husker Du, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, M83, Daniel Lanois, City and Colour, El Ten Eleven, Talk Talk, Motohiro Nakashima, Nils Frahm, Philip Glass, Harold Budd, Sigur Ros, Mooncake, Steve Reich, David Sylvian and The Damnwells. These are straight off the top of my head. There are too many more to list. All of them set amazing moods in my life. Different sounds, distinct colors for my ear’s palate.
There’s so much music out there to listen to. So much more that I want to hear. Part of me wishes that I could leave it on in the background all the time and leave it there like wallpaper. I wish I could read Shakespeare while playing the drums at the same time. I just can’t. I love words and I love sounds. Sometimes I can combine the two and it makes me feel like I’m flying. But then there are moments when the silent world is the most beautiful music I could ever imagine.