December 13, 2013
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
The stories in William VanDenBerg's short story collection Lake of Earth are intense, lyrical, and wonderfully dark.
Michael Kimball wrote of the book:
"The captivating stories in Lake of Earth are meticulously crafted and full of sure-handed description. William VanDenBerg writes so much story into so few lines that it’s easy to get lost in these bright fictions."
Here are seven pieces of music for the seven stories in Lake of Earth. With the exception of the Blackout Beach album, their influence is indirect. I find the music most in the settings of the stories—I hear Loscil’s slight piano in the emptying room of "Treatment," Christine Fellows’s urgent strings in the hospital of "Wife of Elijah," and Carey Mercer’s booming voice ringing all over the island of the title story.
Loscil - "City Hospital"
This 18-minute track is part of Wist Rec.’s Book Report Series, a group of releases inspired by literary works, so it seems fitting that it should feed into other writing. It’s difficult to write about "ambient" work like Loscil’s. The term itself is inaccurate—it suggests air-conditioner drone or construction site field recordings. "City Hospital" is more structured than that, consisting of quiet clicks, long, wave-like tones, and a final, elegant piano section that merges with static.
Destroyer - "My Favorite Year"
This song first gives the impression that it’s rooted in nostalgia, with lyrics similar to what the title "My Favorite Year" would suggest. There’s some groove-ish interplay between the guitar and bass, forceful drums, honest to god background vocals. We hear a "linger," a reluctant "moving on," fond descriptions of ecstasy use in 1993. But then there’s this anomalous section where Dan Bejar repeats the phrase, "Beware the company you reside in!" over mangled guitar strumming. It gives an edge to the song, provides it with teeth. It’s like the narrator is remembering a time that no sane person would consider worthy of nostalgia.
Christine Fellows - "What Makes The Cherry Red"
This track showcases Fellows’s skill with piano and string arrangements and successfully incorporates an array of natural sounds. The lyrics are less specific than some of her directly narrative songs, but they do convey a thematic arc about growth and decay, gain and loss.
The 2009 album from Frog Eyes's Carey Mercer had a huge influence on the title story. They share similar subjects: gender-based violence, water/island imagery, and what happens when you don’t respect something vastly larger than you. The album represents a huge step forward for Mercer. The recording is crisp and distinctive, the lyrics detail rich and expressive. His voice takes a similar leap—it’s never been more pliant, often layered as both a boom and a whisper. Along with his 2011 album Fuck Death, it forms the sound of a major artist pushing and exploring, advancing forward.
Simon Scott - "Sealevel.2"
Scott's Below Sea Level album is an depiction of the Fens in East Anglia, England. Scott weaves field recordings of the location with repeating drones and guitar to recreate an area filtered through memory. In the song "Sealevel.2," static hiss mimics and blends with the sound of insects and birds, as well as feet rustling through thick, wet underbrush. There’s guitar at times, which adds texture and a recognizable element to the track. I love creative work that takes me places I've never been before, and Below Sea Level has immersion to spare.
Tim Hecker - "In The Air III"
My wife described this song as "planetarium music," which should be taken as a compliment—we love planetariums. A piano weaves in and out over long, alien tones, creating tension between familiar and unfamiliar sounds. Hecker succeeds in twisting the basic identifiers of music into something unique, unheard before. I buy into the idea that there isn't anything actually new in art, which makes even the appearance of newness extraordinary. Whenever I listen to Hecker’s music, I’m constantly reminded of his originality (even if it’s just an illusion) and ability to push the boundaries of music.
Benoît Pioulard - "RTO"
Up to 2011, I mostly listened to pop, rock or some variant. It wasn't very conducive to writing—the lyrics got tangled into the words I was trying to get out. I had to find music I could write to, and Pioulard’s album Lasted was an effective gateway. It alternates between wordless, ambient sections, and folk-ish, guitar driven songs. In "RTO," the lyrics are always half buried in the mix, obscured by the melody and the overall haze of the track. It also brings to mind the fall and winter of that year, which was a stressful but positive time for me. The album is the sound of things turning out ok.
William VanDenBerg and Lake of Earth links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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