June 2, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Daniel Orozco's short fiction collection Orientation is filled with breathtakingly original stories, each fully realized. I first read the title story in The Best American Short Stories 1995, and have been seeking out Orozco's singularly compelling tales ever since. In this strong and consistent short story collection, he proves himself a master of the format.
Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:
"A debut collection of stories that are both challenging and compelling, with narrative perspectives that suggest how difficult it is to know oneself (let alone anyone else)."
I don’t listen much to music with lyrics. I like to slip into and out of the music, and lyrics get in the way of that. I do sit and just listen, often and with great pleasure. But when I’m writing I need what you’d call background or ambient music, because I’m always someplace else in my head--either actually typing something on the computer screen, or simply sitting there (or walking along, "writing" in my head) and drifting into the imagined world--into what John Gardner calls the vivid and continuous dream of the story--with the music as dramatic score. I often wear headphones; I need to have my head inside whatever I’m listening to, and so inside whatever I’m working on and thinking about as well. With respect to Orientation and Other Stories--I started writing the first story in the collection almost 20 years ago, and finished the last story in it in 2008, and so I honestly can’t be sure which songs I listened to while writing what, but I did listen to several of these. In any case, this list is representative of the kind of music that inspires my writing, that kick-starts and sustains imaginative thinking and feeling.
"Cowgirl" by Underworld from Dubnobasswithmyheadman
So this has lyrics, but they don’t make any sense--sound poetry where the words aren’t semantically important. Or are they? Everything everything . . . I’m invisible . . . An eraser of love . . . Why don't you call me I feel like flying in two . . . . These lines are sung over and over, in a round, by an electronic voice, like a sinister Dadaist "Row, row, row your boat." I love the relentless repetitive rhythm of the music, how it all layers and builds and layers and builds until it breaks wide open. Like a good story, the song has this tension that stretches until it snaps in what seems to be the exact right spot.
"The Sunshine Underground" by The Chemical Brothers from Surrender
This one starts slow and soon gets very fast, and loud, and beautifully repetitive. It just keeps going and going . . . and going--something the Chemical Brothers are riskily very good at. I like music that varies the same melodic beat, that textures and details and filigrees something simple until it becomes complex and rich. A lot of electronica--ambient, industrial, house, whatever you want to call it--takes this technique to terrifying extremes, and when it works, it’s thrilling to listen to. My skin prickles and my throat catches. I think this response to music--visceral and kind of . . . primitive--is something I’d love my writing to do. Maybe that’s why I listen to electronica? I dunno.
"The Box, Part 2"by Orbital from In Sides
This song has a great zither riff, and--as with Underworld and the Brothers--a very propulsive beat, like a train getting up to speed. It reminds me (because of that Third-Man-theme zither) of Cold War secret agents tailing each other on the Orient Express. It sounds dangerous and cool. Sometimes I listen to this on my way to work, and hope I’ll be dangerous and cool for the rest of the day.
"Music for 18 Musicians" by Ensemble Modern from Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians
I’ve been listening to this hour-long composition for years and years while writing, or often while driving cross-country. (I’ve been afraid of flying for many years, and I used to drive everywhere.) Sometimes I’ll put it on repeat for hours. It’s hypnotic in a way that heightens the senses, that deepens and sharpens whatever I’m pondering. I’m amazed at how Reich’s seemingly simple, sort of mathematical approach to variations on a theme can result in such beautiful music. And so: I’m being repetitive about repetition, I know. I wonder what draws me to the particular kind of attention elicited by repetition, whether in music, or in poetry or prose?
Wonderland Film Score by Michael Nyman
I’m cheating here because I’m including the entire score to Michael Winterbottom’s 1999 vérité-ish movie of working-class lives in London. It consists of eleven pieces--some orchestral, some solo piano--each named after a different character, each with his/her own theme. In the movie, the weather is bleak, and the people are tatty and worn down. Their dramas are small and quotidian and painful, and their music is just frickin’ gorgeous. Art is about transforming experience, not transcribing it, and the contrast between the grim and grubby stories in Wonderland and the accompanying music renders a beauty to the ugliness of the mundane and the everyday that isn’t simply superimposed onto the drama, but essential and organic to these lives, and deeply felt.
Daniel Orozco and Orientation links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists