Lots of things have been happening lately in my life, I've recently become Mrs Wanton (it's my first month anniversary on 13th November!) I've had a promotion in my day job, and of course, i'm finalising my third book in the Tess Trilogy due for release shortly. It's difficult to know what to blog about, but it occurred to me that maybe some more information about the person behind the writer may pique some questions from my readers, and of course, give an insight into why certain influences come through in my writing time and again. So - what was my first love? It wasn’t a person, but music. Music was the first thing to ever make me feel, and not just love, but anger, sadness, happiness, everything. There’s nothing like a piece of music to send a shiver down your spine, to make you remember better times, the best times, the bad times, and I can truly say that without music, this world would be a dull and lifeless place. There have been so many pieces of music which have influenced my life, and I would like to share four examples here which have personal importance to me. I’ve deliberately picked some albums/pieces of music that may not be mainstream or familiar – to share perhaps, a new insight with you.
Piece number 1 – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis – Vaughan Williams
This was the first piece of classical music that stopped me in my tracks. I was a naive early teenager, I’d been studying music from a very early age, learning to read music at the same time I learned to read. Music is like another language to me, I read a score in exactly the same way as I read literature, hearing the sounds form and listening to the piece in the recesses of my mind. Thing was, I wasn’t a huge ‘Classical’ music fan. I simply refused to listen to it, probably out of teenage petulance rather than any reason of not liking it. It was around the time of the start of Classic FM over here in the UK, a warm Summer’s day, and my Dad was dropping me off down town or a lesson or something – it’s not important where, but my parents being the nurturers they are don’t give up on anything. He had Classic FM on the radio and we were chatting about it, and this piece of music came on. Dad stopped and said ‘Shhhh you *have* to listen to this. Properly. It’s one of my favourite pieces of all time, along with The Lark Ascending, but… you will love it’. Sometimes I wasn’t a complete teenager, and I love my Dad, so I sat quietly and tried to listen. Listen I did. I remember now how I heard this beautiful music for the first time, it was like a new side of me was born. The soaring melodies, the vast soundscape, it all just tumbled over me causing me to feel sensations I never thought were possible. Uplifted, excited, shivers – yes, music really *can* make you feel like that. Even sitting in Dad’s work van, music struggling to escape from the tinny speakers, the power of that music shone through. This piece, to me, is quintessentially English in sound. An expansive scoring creates a dense, yet fragile sensation that makes you feel as though you are standing on top of a high hill, surveying the countryside for miles around.
Throughout the work, Vaughan Williams combines interactions between two different ensembles, one, a huge full scale orchestra, the other, a small select group. It is this dialogue between the two which forms the body of the music, an ethereal conversation that moves elegantly until they join forces toward the end, a perfect symbiosis until a climax is reached, and then in an wrenching moment, it goes one step further. The first time you hear it, it’s unexpected, something new, but of course after all of these years, I know what’s coming. I feel it, I sense it, yet still… the shivers occur, the goosebumps make an appearance. It’s like that first flush of love when your beloved takes your hand gently in theirs. Each time this piece evokes this for me, and when I need to feel that innocence, that connection with the younger, wide-eyed idealistic me, I play this masterpiece.
Album number 2 – Third – Portishead
I simply love this group. For me, finely crafted sounds are of the utmost importance, and it’s not just finely played classical instruments which can create compelling Aural delights. Portishead form raw, sexual music, (in my opinion!) combining earthy rhythms together with electronic samples to create the expansive sounds I crave. Again, vast soundscapes simply draw me like a moth to a flame, and for some reason, their music stirs something almost instinctual within me. Their first album ‘Dummy’ was iconic. Widely played through the 90’s, sampled everywhere even to this day, but they have released two albums since that, and as this title suggests, Third was, indeed their Third.
The collection of songs that they gathered for this venture remind me of late nights following clubbing, concerts, gigging, that lazy almost ‘jaded’ feeling of over indulgence and decadence. Surprising motifs and interjections startle in some pieces, seeming almost harsh in places, but it is this which intrigues me the most, as they are perfect for each track. What might be incredibly jarring on its own, adds depth and dimension to the songs. An edge of discomfort in some, fluctuating emotional responses so delicious, you don’t even realise quite how it happened. I like a puzzle, I like to analyse, and here, there are so many layers, I’m never disappointed. The craft of this band is severely overlooked, and their music is such, that I believe they will stand the test of time without any difficulty at all. It isn’t a genre which can be tied to ‘ooh they were a band of the 90’s weren’t they?’, it feels fresh even now, and still inspires me when I play it, perhaps when I need to find answers in the darker depths of my storylines.
Album number 3 – Akhnaten – Philip Glass
Back to the pseudo Classical again, I often tweet a lot about listening to Philip Glass. Mainly because I commute long distances to work on the train, and I consider Glass’ music ‘Train Music’. That sounds bad, but I don’t see it that way. Let me explain. For those who don’t know, Glass is a ‘Minimalist’ composer, which means he chooses a recurring motif, say 5 notes, and then repeats them over and over and over, hence for me, like a locomotive. Boring! I hear you say, but think again. The skill of this genius composer is how he creates such variety with just one motif. As a young composer myself I listened to and studied this man perpetually. He had lots of amazingly diverse compositions, famously known for his frenetic electronic works, he also did small ensemble and beautiful, simple piano pieces. Listening to Glass, for me, evokes such amazing feelings, the music flowing so sinuously almost to be hypnotic, trance inducing.
As Glass is popularly known for his ‘freaky’ electronic pieces, I feel that he is often forgotten for his beautifully, painstakingly crafted orchestral works, like Akhnaten, one of his trilogy of operas; Satyagraha, Einstein on the Beach and Akhnaten. Weirdly Akhnaten seems to be the least famous, but it is magnificent. The real life story of Akhnaten chosen by him is moving enough on its own, the story of a Pharaoh changing the whole religion within his country of Egypt from Multiple deities to just one. But again, it is the vast soundscape he creates that I adore, topped with soaring male alto voices dueting with arching female lines, drama, passion, it has it all. If you want a remarkable experience with your Friday night tipple, take my advice and dream of the sultry heat of Egypt and listen to the magnificent beauty of simplicity.
Album number 4 – ( ) – Sigur Ros
What better way to express music than for the composition itself to just ‘be’? This album is untitled, or ‘brackets’ as some prefer to call it. Initially I was drawn to the album for that very reason. All *good* albums have a story, a direction, the way the songs/music is arranged means you should listen to the whole album in order to *get* what the music is about. So how could an album with no tangible story be compelling enough to sit through? In the way that words can speak on their own, this album proves that music can as well. There are no words, no descriptions, just a soundscape. And by now, you know I love highly detailed, expansive, complex soundscapes. This album ticks all the boxes in this respect, to me, Sigur Ros are truly awe-inspiring. Sitting back and listening to the sounds they create, from the disturbing and spine chilling disembodied cries in ‘Von’ – their first album, to the reflective, ethereal, other-worldly sounds of this album, they never fail to entice the listener to stop and ‘hear’, for just one moment. When I am writing I often turn to ( ) because it allows my mind to roam freely, inspires new possibilities, expands the usual into realms just that little bit further than you can imagine in the hum drum moments of every day. When I’m sitting on a train, where I happen to write most of my work, it’s the little things that allow escape that are more important than you can imagine.
So now you’ve had a little glimpse of my first love, challenge yourself next time you reach to put some music on to inspire you, pick something that is out of your usual listening regime. Snippets of the music described can be found all over YouTube and other such sites, so check them out – you might surprise yourself!
Thanks for stopping by - hope to catch you around, always feel free to drop me a comment!