I usually write in silence, but sometimes I get a certain song looping in my head, connected, often, to a certain character or scene I’m working on, and I play it over and over and over. I am always intrigued by this, by the interaction between different kinds of art, music to writing, movies to music, dance to art to comics, whatever the mix. Steampunk, for example is cool in the way the visual art is fed by the books, which are fed by the music, which are fed by the sculptures, all in a loosely unified movement (maybe?) or possibly you call it an aesthetic.
Sidebar: There is a steampunk cafe in our tiny town, a fact which I adore. It has a series of nesting room sporting a decidedly steampunk (if under capitalized) ambiance and sells steampunk art, jewelry, books, pastries and absinthe, no kidding, I’ve had some. You pour it (it’s pale green) over a sugar cube and it tastes delightful. Did you know that absinthe is not the toxic substance it is commonly thought to be, but, rather, all that wormwood-makes-you-crazy-stuff is just bad PR spread by the French wine industry in the early 1900s? Seriously! There is a fun documentary about the history of this mysterious beverage called, what else, Absinthe, and here is a link to a preview of it.
Anyway. I have mentioned my love of of the anime Samurai Champloo, and now I’ve seen all the eps (sadness! finding something that delights is so bittersweet because once you’ve finished, its gone) so, in mourning, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack. Shinichiro Watanabe, Champloo‘s director and creator, is famous for the powerful use of music in his work, and even for writing scenes for specific songs. Champloo is no exception, lots of great songs in the mix.
My favorite, hands down, is the song played during this amazing scene in ep #14 where a character is having a life-flashes-before-his-eyes moment, plus some possible afterlife with weird crow-men gods-of-death sort of dudes—a WAY more remarkable scene than this little description lets on—and I’d say a large part of the scene’s impact comes from the song, an eerie Okinawan folk song about sadness and death. Indeed, Watanabe has said that he was so moved by that song when he first heard it (before he started working on Champloo) that it would NOT be an exaggeration to say that he had created the entire series just to be able to write that scene for that song.
Here it is, “Obokuri Eeumi,” and it’s gorgeous, go ahead, click play listen. The video itself is just a few pictures from the show, ignore that, just listen to the music. And no, I’m not giving you the scene itself because that would SPOIL you for this great episode. Plus Funimation doesn’t want to share the copyrights, boo.
Did you listen?
I’ve done this, too, this song-to-story transfer. I’ve had songs that moved me, sometimes on their own, sometimes because they were connected in my head to a certain moment in a movie or show, and I’ve written that mix into a scene of my own. I remember at one point I had latched onto part of a song by Tori Amos, “Siren,” and another small part of “I Wish You Were Here” by Incubus (I think there was another one, but I can’t think of it now, god, what was it? maybe “Opening” by Philip Glass?) while I was writing the Jeremy section of Children of the Fallen and playing these three bits over and over on a loop—“Iiiiiiii wish you were here, Iiiiiiiiii wish you were here!”—my poor family!—until Paul came in one day and said, “You wish she was there, yeah, you say that now, but wait till she gets there.”
I bet Watanabe played “Obokuri Eeumi” over and over. I just bet.
On the other hand, a writer friend of mine says that writing from your own life, rather than writing from other people’s art, is more potent, more real. I find this an intriguing differentiation. Is writing from other people’s art derivative and therefore less valuable? Certainly there are less digested (and therefore, more easily recognizable) versions of retelling someone else’s story. Copies of copies. (Which makes me think of that Star Trek: New Generation episode where an entire culture’s language consisted of references to mythic stories. “Shaka! When the walls fell!” I loved that ep. Could that culture tell new stories, I wonder?)
Is it cheating somehow to write from other people’s writing or music or visual art? Or, possibly, are these three separate things….
Similar to the the music-loop phenomena, there are paintings and photographs I’m looking at a lot for Lucidity Effect, probably because my main character, Liv, is a photographer. For example, I love these, images I found at the Etsy shop, Eye Poetry. This is in Italy:
or this one from England,
These pictures help me know something about my character, for some reason. Art influencing art. Media hopping?
I wonder how all these tracks work in the brain, how separate they really are?
As for soundtracks, I’m also listening to the music from The Secret World of Arietty which I love, and writing a scene between two characters that shares an emotional quality with a scene in that movie—something about the way Miyazaki creates such meaning and importance in the exchange of a couple of insignificant objects, how he builds that up in the way the story is told. The music is reminding me of all that, so I listen and listen and try to channel that feeling into the words I’m typing. He is such a master at tiny moments that contain great emotion. May I touch the hem of his kimono.
Pro tip: Good headphones are very important to this process, or one’s family gives one no end of flack.
Deep thoughts for a late night blog post, eh? Anyway, I should probably get back to it and quit blathering on.