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March 28, 2016

Book Notes - Mark de Silva "Square Wave"

Square Wave

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, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Mark de Silva's Square Wave is a bold and ambitious novel of ideas, easily one of the year's finest debuts.

Flavorwire wrote of the book:

"A novel that looks our technocratic, militarized present in the face, Square Wave tells the story of a night watchman who discovers weaponized weather modification technologies. It sounds crazy, but in de Silva's hands it all makes perfect (and terrifying) sense."


In his own words, here is Mark de Silva's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel Square Wave:

Square Wave has a lot of music in it, much of it peculiar. One strand of the plot involves musicians attempting to transcend the scalar limits imposed by mere contingencies of modern instrumentation, the piano in particular. I don’t really want to talk about this here, though. I also want to bypass a discussion of the music I listened to while writing the book, except to say Mahler loomed large. I’d rather talk about rock—indie rock, taken broadly. The connection to the book is simple: each of the following bands gets at least a mention, and in one case a chapter, in the novel.


“Hip Priest” (1982)—The Fall

Though it’s too narrow a view to take of such a seminal band, I do often find myself thinking of The Fall as Pavement before Pavement. That’s especially true of this tune, down to the title itself. Mark E. Smith’s vocal cadences here are strikingly like Stephen Malkmus’s—the same ennui-drenched insouciance, the same off-handed mix of irony, comedy, and contempt (the snarl is a vital part of both singer’s repertoires).


“Do Not Consider Yourself Free” (1987)—Embrace

Here’s Ian MacKaye, post-Minor Threat yet pre-Fugazi, declaiming: “And yes of course I’m scared of getting hurt / And yes of course I’m scared of being wrong / But at the same time my silence will convict me / And the evil will carry on.” A perfect articulation of the hardcore ethos mutating in the post-hardcore era. I like all phases of MacKaye, but this transitional one—Embrace made only one album, and Fugazi was born soon after—is especially compelling to me.


“Mushroom” (1971)—Can

This song is Can playing things relatively straight, yet with hints of the dissonance and difficulty that were always at the heart of the band. Experimental rock has never found a weirder exponent. The band’s double album Tago Mago is a useful reminder to me of how flexible the rock idiom can be.


“Work from Smoke” (1994)—Gastr del Sol

Gastr has always seemed to me the high point of that recondite strain of indie-rock that surfaced in Chicago in the 1990s. One of their specialties was the atonal acoustic-guitar riff. This classic 12-minute track is a good example, stringing several of them together seamlessly. It’s also overlaid with lyrics with a claim to being poetry rather than the typical rock blather (The Fall rates well on this score too).


“Thermal Treasure” (1993)—Polvo

Polvo is a band that revels in time-signature shifts and angular, harmonically complex guitarwork, though without abandoning the fuzzed propulsiveness of post-punk. In some ways, they’re the thinking-man’s (early) Sebadoh—though I adore Sebadoh, for other qualities.


“Night Air” (1994)—Tortoise

Square Wave actually has a scene devoted to Tortoise bassist Bundy K. Brown. Rhythms are the key to this band; John MacEntire, a drummer of other-worldly skill, has something to do with that. So of course does Bundy. They’ve also got an ominous, bass-heavy tonal palette. Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man” might have used some their tracks to good effect, though Neil Young did pretty well all by himself.


“Dreams of Being King” (1998)—Dianogah

This band famously had two bassists, along with vocals that were talked or shouted but rarely sung over them. There’s an intricacy, a delicacy even, to their use of the lower registers that is unique and cogent. This song gets a name-check in Square Wave. Bright, airy, hypnotic, wistful.


“Good Morning, Captain” (1991)—Slint

This is off of Spiderland, one of the most influential indie albums there is. Many of the bands on this playlist, in fact, are unthinkable without Slint. “Spiderland” was the right choice of title. These songs creep toward you. And they’re venomous.


“Farewell” (2005)—Boris

This song comes down to massive power chords moving in slow motion and crushing everything in waves. I suppose this is what I would have drowning feel like (presumably the real thing isn’t quite so pleasant). This Japanese band operates all over the metal spectrum, but it’s their drone metal tracks that most appeal to me. There are also the tracks that are nothing but gorgeously orchestrated feedback.


“Harvey” (1995)—Earth

This three-minute tune, built from three sludgy chords arranged in a triumphant diatonic progression, is uncharacteristic of this seminal drone metal band, in both its brevity and consonance. Still, it’s one of my favorites. I set it to repeat and wrote parts of the book to it, actually. (That’s my token concession to music vis-à-vis writing “process” here, then.) The band is purely instrumental, and the music aims to numb your mind, in the best way (Boris clearly picked up a trick or two from them). But lighter qualities sneak in through song titles: “Tibetan Quaaludes,” say, or “Site Specific Carnivorous Occurrence.” Both are tremendous tracks—“primal” and “monstrous” are the best words I can think of to describe their appeal—and they’re also probably more representative of the band’s M.O. than is “Harvey.”


Mark de Silva and Square Wave links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Publishers Weekly review
Slant Magazine review

Bookworm interview with the author
The Millions interview with the author
Necessary Fiction interview with the author
Otherppl interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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