April 18, 2017
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Lidia Yuknavitch's ambitious and accomplished novel The Book of Joan, a dystopic and science fiction retelling of Joan of Arc, might be the perfect novel for our times.
KIrkus Reviews wrote of the book:
"Yuknavitch writes with her characteristic fusion of poetic precision and barbed ferocity, and the ingenuity of the world she creates astounds even in the face of the novel’s ambitiously messy sprawl. Perhaps even more astounding is Yuknavitch’s prescience: readers will be familiar with the figure of Jean de Men, a celebrity-turned–drone-wielding–dictator who first presided over the Wars on Earth and now lords over CIEL, having substituted ‘all gods, all ethics, and all science with the power of representation, a notion born on Earth, evolved through media and technology.’ A harrowing and timely entry into the canon of speculative fiction."
Music is so profoundly at the heart of The Book of Joan I almost can't make sentences about it because it makes my hands shake (from nerd glee). That is, in my refiguring of the Joan of Arc story, I took theological God out of the equation, and in his place I put string theory--the music of the planets and cosmos. But you know who says it best? Physicist Michio Kaku: "In string theory, all particles are vibrations on a tiny rubber band; physics is the harmonies on the string; chemistry is the melodies we play on vibrating strings; the universe is a symphony of strings, and the 'Mind of God' is cosmic music resonating in 11-dimensional hyperspace."
See why my hands shake? Nerd gasm.
So while I was writing The Book of Joan I threaded through this string theory musicality, and that is what she hears instead of god. All energy and all matter manifesting as a fierce symphonic music in her head.
The actual music I listened to in the years I was writing The Book of Joan thus carries the trace of astrophysics in them—if only in my ears and head and heart.
You heard me. The sounds are made from electronic vibrations of the planets, moons and rings, electromagnetic fields of the planets and moons, planetary magnetosphere, trapped radio waves bouncing between the planet and the inner surface of it's atmosphere, charged particle interactions of the planet, it's moons and the solar wind, and from charged particle emissions from the rings of certain planets. When I imagined what the Joan of Arc character in my book hears in her head instead of god, this is where I began.
The Soundtrack to Three Colours: Blue (from Trois couleurs, a three-part film series directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski : "Song For The Unification Of Europe (Patrice's Version)"
Originally, the music that Joan hears from the cosmos was pure space sound; as I evolved the story I decided to evolve what she hears toward something more symphonic. The music that the main character in Trois Couleurs, Bleu hears in her head as she struggles with her grief at the death of her husband and daughter—the bursts of sound—was the core influence for my narrative version as I imagined that mixed with the music of Saturn's rings and other string theory orchestral sounds.
Sigur Rós:: "Untitled 3," "Sæglópur" and "Hoppípolla"
Um, I played these three songs in loops as endlessly as a 17 year old angsty boy the entire time I was writing The Book of Joan. I'd say I don't know why, but I do know why. Sigur Rós defies musical categorization, and since I was dislocating a "real" story from history and scattering it like new stars in the sky of my imagination, I needed music that didn't remind me of old tropes and categories and tired out stories.
Sun Ra :: "The Cosmos Fire" and "Hidden Spheres"
In so very many ways Afrofuturism has influenced my imagination as a writer. Early on I was influenced by Afrofuturism writers such as Octavia Butler, Samuel Delaney, and more recently by Colson Whitehead and Nnedi Okorafor. For me Sun Ra is a musical ground zero for the Afrofuturism impulse. Making a helix of jazz and space created an imaginal realm that catapulted me into multiverses and the possibility of creating new myths. His insistence that he had a vision in which he visited Saturn partly inspired me to ask the question, how might we make new myths of our lives and experiences?
John Coltrane :: A Love Supreme
As I was casting about in my mind's eye for how to represent non-theological spirituality as a kind of cosmic music for my Joan of Arc character, I kept coming back to the four movements of A Love Supreme—Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance, and Psalm. Not only do I experience this music as a kind of extended ecstatic state every SINGLE TIME I listen to it, but I also patterned the narrative movements of Joan's journey in my novel after secular versions of these musical movements.
Devotchka :: "The Last Beat of My Heart"
This seemed to me to be the lovesong between Joan and Leone.
Devotchka :: "How It Ends"
This would be the lovesong between Christine and Trinculo toward the end of the novel.
David Bowie :: "Blackstar"
David Bowie died while I was in the final editing stages of The Book of Joan. But he left us the gift of a lifetime with the Blackstar release. The title track incorporates Jazztronica or Nu jazz in a way that made me feel like the past and the present and the future are not linear, that life and death are not linear, and that music, like narrative, is quantum. It felt like his music made a portal from his death, released it from time and into the multiverses. This concept—that time is not linear, proven by astrophysics, is also at the heart of The Book of Joan. Since I no longer believe in linear time, nor linear narrative, his last music scorched itself into my heart and creative psychic space. The entire work reminds me that everything is matter and energy; I believe in art the way other people believe in god. Blackstar (in its entirety) loosens the story of a life and sets it sailing back out into space. I cried listening to the tracks over and over and over again while I was reaching the "ending" of The Book of Joan and saying goodbye to the characters I had created.
Lidia Yuknavitch and The Book of Joan links:
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)
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