‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ Martin Mull’s quote gave this session its subtitle, and described how difficult the task set to the four speakers was: to present new writing on the music that has provided the soundtrack to their life’s work, or just to their life. Immediately each writer was given an almost impossible task, as host Kiran Dass sympathised, that being, who and what to write about? Over the course of Soundtrack it became evident that music is integral to the lives of these four writers.
Nic Low shares the chaotic music that was the soundtrack to writing his first, terrible (his judgement) novel for two months. He lost his ability to speak. pic.twitter.com/hv0PKynGIN
— WORD Christchurch (@WORDChCh) September 1, 2018
Nic Low talked about growing up in a musical family, his claim to fame as a baby being ‘the ability to sleep through drum solos.’Low’s contribution to today’s soundtrack were the two CDs he took with him on the Avoca Residency in 2007. One was
electronic/dubstep compilation Tectonic Plates Volume 2, disc 2. The other, American jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp’s Soul Song. Low would play these two CDs, and only these two CDs, on repeat as he wrote his first novel. ‘It’s never been published and it will never be published.’ Low’s attempt to get out of his head and channel the “wild energy” of the music was perhaps a little too successful. ‘On the plus side, listening to two albums on rotation I got a real consistency of tone, and on the downside, I got a real consistency of tone.’
Chris Tse’s addition to the soundtrack lightened the tone, and gave us some pure pop joy. Though as we heard from Tse, it turns out pop isn’t all just sugar sweet, but contains some spice when you scratch below the surface. Tse spoke of how Kylie Minogue’s 1998 album Impossible Princess was the beginning of what is sure to be a lifelong love affair with the Pop Princess. Tse presented a solid case in favour of Minogue, talking about her versatility and ability to reinvent herself. Tse says this discovery of Minogue’s music while in high school ‘Put me on the path to accepting who I am.’
Pip Adam wrote about The Front Lawn’s ‘national anthem of loss,’ Andy. Before reading her essay the song was played in its entirety to a silent, attentive, and traumatised theatre. As Adam wrote of the song, ‘It’s not just sad – it’s innocence visited by tragedy.’ She spoke of her research into the song, an autobiographical work by band member Don McGlashan. Adam wanted to know why not just the lyrics, with their ‘genius of the late casual reveal,’ but the music, sounds so sad. This is the genius that Adam has to offer; the ability to take things to the next level, to never stop enquiring ‘why?’ And then to take her learnings and use them in her own work, comparing the rhythm of the song and its protagonist’s beach walking to swimming scenes in her latest novel, The New Animals.
Philip Hoare read a piece on profound loss and grief. It was a journey of discovery for those of us listening, as the more Hoare read the closer we came to figuring out the identity of his musical subject. Hoare never spoke of David Bowie by name, only ever referring to him as He, with what sounded like a capital H. Hoare’s piece drove home just how affected we become by the artists we love. We claim them as our own, and develop close personal relationships with them through their music. Of the last time Hoare saw Bowie live he writes ‘I didn’t know I was saying goodbye.’ Hoare goes to see Bowie’s Pierrot the Clown costume, only to find it ‘hollow like the shell that a butterfly leaves behind.’
Hoare explained how ‘great artists…give you so much more than music, they give you culture.’ All of the writers’ pieces today spoke to this. Their essays were not just about music, but on the transformative power great music can have.
Reviewed by Gem Wilder