I often get asked, "What do you write to?" This is one of those vague, unfinished questions I usually answer with, "I write to appease the creative demons in my head. I write to entertain. I write to BLAH BLAH BLAH." I am always given a strange look by the questioner before the questioner says, "No. No. What music do you write to?"
As a teenager, I never really associated music with my writing. Of course, I always had something playing when I was writing my teenage drivel, but there was never any thought behind my choice of music. The music never influenced the words, or put me in a specific headspace. It wasn't until I went backpacking through Northern Europe when I was in my early twenties that I began matching music to my writing.
I was in this beautiful town in Ireland called Kilkenny, settling myself into yet another hostel. I had arrived at the hostel a little after one in the afternoon and, to my amazement, I was the only traveller there. The only other people there were a couple of girls who were cleaning the place, readying it for the onslaught of weary bodies that would slowly be stumbling in through the day. It was a perfect opportunity for me to take a few quiet minutes and write in my journal.
The second I flipped my journal open and touched pen to paper (yes, I actually hand wrote in this journal), music began to play from a stereo somewhere down below. The music was filled with deep bass and quiet sadness and a longing hope. I had never heard anything so hypnotic and beautiful in my life. I ran downstairs and asked one of the girls what was playing. She said the song was called "All I Need" by a band called AIR. The album was called MOON SAFARI. I went back upstairs and wrote as the melodic and ambient album moved from one song to the next. And when the album ended I looked down at what I had written and couldn't believe what I was seeing. Where before my journal entries were half a page long and very general, I had now written a five-page tale of my journey from Cork to Kilkenny and it was specific and colourful and even entertaining (which journal entries usually never are). It was unlike anything I had written in my journal before.
I ran downstairs and shuffled through the collection of CDs the girls had with them and I began taking names down. Aphex Twin. Orb. Orbital. Moby. Boards of Canada. Massive Attack. Luke Vibert. DJ Shadow. The list goes on. And as my travels continued on through Ireland and Scotland and England and the Netherlands and Germany and Denmark and Sweden and Finland, I slowly built up my collection of electronic and ambient music. I'm not going to claim the music made me a better writer, but I knew I would need it to get me back to that perfect headspace for future writing.
My love of mid-nineties to mid-2000s' electronic and ambient music continues today. This is the music I write most of my books to. When this music is on in the background, my thoughts and my words become focused. Worlds and situations and conversations suddenly just appear. I wrote my novel THE KING OF ARUGULA while (mostly) listening to Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II. I wrote the sequel FOWL, SWINE AND THINGS THAT SEND SHIVERS DOWN YOUR SPINE while (mostly) listening to Boards of Canada's The Campfire Headphase.
Take a listen to this. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the most amazing pieces of music ever composed. It is a source of constant inspiration for me.
And this bit of dark playfulness always makes me smile.