Music for writing

So my latest excuse for not updating this site: I finished writing a novel.

I showed some friends this unfinished manuscript I’ve had sitting around since 2004, and they wanted to know how the story ended. So in between all the stuff I’ve been doing for Eponymous 4, I decided to chip away at it. I got the first draft done over the weekend. Now comes the arduous task of editing and rewriting.

I wrote the novel mostly without any music playing, but in that last stretch, I put on a whole bunch of Eastern European and Central Asian composers on the media player, primarily string quartets.

My history should show multiple plays of Alfred Schnittke, Henryk Górecki, Béla Bartók, Dmitri Shostakovich, Osvaldo Golijov and a few instances of Sofia Gubaidulina. (A smattering of Arvo Pärt and Witold Lutoslawski is in there too.) I don’t think I reached a point where I had to bust out any Giya Kancheli.

Some of the novel is tangentially set in Romania, so I was in a better mindset to write while listening to music influenced by that particular region. I tried putting on Philip Glass and Kevin Volans, but it wasn’t the same.

Probably the two albums that got the most mileage out of this exercise were Kronos Quartet’s recordings of the Schnittke and Górecki quartets.

When Kronos first released The Complete Quartets of Alfred Schnittke in 1999, I couldn’t get into it. I love his third quartet, which the ensemble recorded in 1988 on Winter Was Hard, but that entire set required concentration I was unwilling to provide.

With the Schnittke quartets playing in the background, they started to sink in, and I became impressed with just how much material Schnittke packed into those quartets. The Górecki quartets share a lot of the same intensity as the Schnittke pieces, but they have a bit more breathing room. His second quartet is feeling much more familiar to me now. The third still has a way to go.

To get a bit of perspective on the novel before I go further, I’m editing another manuscript I started but abandoned. This time, I’m using Morton Feldman’s Quartet No. 2 as the soundtrack. It’s six hours long.