So taken with the melancholy

Music is a great catalyst for emotion because it gets to your core — Chris Milk

Last week, I discovered a piece of music I would dare to describe as the definitive theme, the musical blueprint that speaks to the relationship between my two main characters, my boys. The lyrics don’t speak entirely to the true nature of the relationship between my boys. It is the emotions the music evokes that simmers between them.

It happened by accident, to be honest. I follow a website called Nowness on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a great little site. So, I spotted one of their postings and because of the blurb and the image, I had to click and watch. What I clicked onto and watched was a dance video (if you want to label it as such) called The Idea of Us, directed by Geej Ower.

What adjectives can I use to describe this film (because it’s more than just a video)… heartbreaking, melancholic, breathtaking, tender, brilliantly simple in terms of its visual language and the body language belonging to the two characters, and just drop-dead beautiful. Yes, I’m a little obsessed with it, at the moment. I’ve never experienced before, a music/dance video, that basically put me under its spell the way this one has.

After seeing the vid, I was wondering what the fuck happened. The visual storytelling was clear. No ‘ifs, ands or buts’ about what it was about. That definitely didn’t confuse me. But I was left in the wake of the emotions, the intentions, the struggles of the lead character. They stayed with me. And that was pretty powerful.

You may watch the video and wonder what the fuck I’m talking about. I’m fine with you not understanding why this visual and musical manifestation of pain, loss and the struggle to move on is a masterpiece in my eyes and my heart. I’m also fine with you not reading this post anymore for whatever reason pops into your head. Later, dude. Make sure the door doesn’t hit you in the ass on the way out.

Movement, music and visual language are my holy trinity. Get the mix just right and it is beyond sublime. Ower’s video/film does that for me. I could spend days looking at that video, examining the details. Every. Fucking. Detail. I would go at it scene by scene, frame by frame. I’m such a geek.

You’d think I was looking for secrets. Secrets to what? I haven’t a clue and I don’t know what you’re talking about. But, if you insist, I’m looking for revelations and affirmations about my own artistic sensibilities — defining or redefining it by dissecting the sensibilities of others. Who are the kindred spirits? Who inspires me without even trying? If I met them at a bar, would we end up sharing a bottle of whisky or mezcal? I’m always up for new drinking buddies, especially when they make you think, in a good way.

I want to talk about the music as much as the visuals and the movement. Sometimes it’s so hard to separate them and talk about them in isolation from one another. It’s possible but it would be so wrong. So, I’ll start off with the music and weave everything else into it.

The song is This Idea of Us by UK singer-songwriter Jono McCleery. I don’t know what to say other than the combination of acoustic guitar teamed up with a string quartet and McCleery’s vocals has given me nothing but all kinds of intense feels. The kind that gently takes you by the hand and takes you on a slow burn journey that leaves you stunned and breathless at the end.

As an side, I have to say this: As much as I love the piano, I’ve become a sucker for string instruments. Their sound brings texture, complexity and nuance to a piece of music and to the sound of other instruments. I never thought to pair a string quartet with a guitar but it was done. McCleery’s friend, Matt Kelly, wrote the string quartet part for the song. He refers to Kelly as a wizard. I would have to agree. The layers of sounds he wrote for the strings, blend so seductively with McCleery’s voice. It really is sublime. Yeah, it’s definitely one way to seduce me. How do I know Kelly wrote the music for the strings? McCleery told me when we were chatting via Twitter. How did that happen? Well, I tweeted about being obsessed with This Idea of Us and we ended up having a small discourse.

So, back to that slow burn journey. That journey is manifested in the two characters in the film. Without a doubt, the two characters are portrayed by dancers because of the quality of their movement. While it’s not quite dance, the interaction and struggle is expressed in contemporary dance movements. The choice of particular movements enhance and magnify the music, the story and the characters’ motivations. And vice versa.

The visual choices the director makes, brings out the bittersweet melancholy of the song. Overcast skies with no hint of sun. Ambient light pouring into a home where its four walls, if it could talk, would tell you stories of a love that once lived there. The light is not harsh, cruel or dim. You’re just stuck in the grey. Nothing bright and colourful except for the rich blue sweater the lead character wears in most of his scenes. The memories of the past clashing with the need to move forward bleeds in the softness of shadow and light.

I don’t even know if what I feel when I listen to the song has been appropriately conveyed. Sometimes words are not enough or they can’t do justice to the intangibles. I think my words fall somewhere in between.

And I’m going back to play the crap out of that song again because it’s not done with me yet. It probably won’t ever be done with me. So enthralled. So taken. So under its spell.

Sound, imagery inextricably linked

I listen to music cinematically. I think about music and how it would make me feel when it’s put to an image, a moving image, and I love it — Walton Goggins

In the last three or four weeks, I’ve been obsessed with a musical mash-up between Blondie (Heart of Glass) and Philip Glass (Violin Concerto: II) which was created by Daft Beatles a few years ago. Titled Heart of Glass (Crabtree remix), I never knew this was a mash-up I needed in my life and on my writing playlist.

The first time I heard the song was on the July 11 broadcast of CBC’s q with guest host Ali Hassan. Hassan was interviewing Michael Perlmutter, the music supervisor for the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. They were discussing the rise of the music supervisor and how the Emmys finally created a category for outstanding music supervision.

Side note: Perlmutter didn’t make the cut for that category. Bummer.

Second side note: the job of music supervisor or music editor for a film or TV series fascinates me to no end. Soundscapes are just as important as the visuals and when you have a perfect marriage between the two, it is absolutely unforgettable.

The TV series Person of Interest was the first show I became aware of the music they used in their episodes. They used music by artists such as Johnny Cash, Nat King Cole, The Kills and Philip Glass for two or three key scenes in every episode during the five seasons that they ran. It was smart use of sound and visuals to manipulate the viewer into feeling a certain way about a situation or one of the characters. Although the show probably paid a pretty sum to use the music of these artists, the real star, musically-speaking, was music composer Ramin Djawadi who created the score for the series. This is where I discovered his music and have remained an ardent fan of his work. The leitmotifs he created for the series were sublime. Mind you, his work for Game of Thrones is nothing to sneeze at either. Light of the Seven will always be one of my favourite works from Djawadi.

Watching this series made me think about the marriage between sound and imagery. It also made me want to talk to the show’s music supervisor, Djawadi and the show’s producers about their views on music and its role in visual storytelling. I just wanted to pick their brains. It would have been an eye-opening experience.

Anyway, back to Perlmutter and his CBC q interview. Assuming I heard the man correctly, the show submitted its third episode for Emmy consideration which featured the Daft Beatles mash-up. Then they played the song without naming it. Well, I nearly fell over when I heard the piece. I love Blondie. I love Debbie Harry. And I have an ever-growing appreciation for Philip Glass. Holy crap. Who knew these two artists could be mashed up like that and sound so sublime. I didn’t. And had I been PVRing The Handmaid’s Tale I would have discovered this little bit of aural heaven a lot sooner.

Of course, it’s a piece of music that fits perfectly with my current writing playlist. The piece is visually and emotionally evocative. It inspires my characters. It sets the right tone for them in some of the scenes I plan to write. It sets the wheels in motion.

My playlist is forever evolving and being fine-tuned as I work on the second novel. What the playlist looked like at the beginning of the writing process will look almost completely different by the time the first draft of the book is finished. What will remain are the core pieces that represent the characters and their relationships to each other.

Music and the writing process are inextricably linked.

I’m not sure when I started listening to music cinematically. I probably started when I was a teenager. Bits and pieces of images that would pop into my head because the music I was listening to at the time demanded it. I’ve always believed in the power of combining music and imagery, be it still or moving. But not everything I hear is cinematic. The pieces of music my brain registers as cinematic share some sort of intangible quality. I know what some of the commonalities are but it doesn’t completely explain the reason they affect me the way they do.

To be honest, I’m not all that interested in over-analyzing it. I go by gut instinct when it comes to music.

And now, I’m off to obsess over music and story.

The kind of elixir I enjoy

I see only one requirement you have to have to be a director or any kind of artist: rhythm. Rhythm, for me, is everything. Without rhythm, there’s no music. Without rhythm, there’s no cinema. Without rhythm, there’s no architecture — Alejandro González Iñarritu

Considering there is a lot on my plate around this time of year, discovering the music of Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi is the last thing I should be indulging in.

But here I am, listening to him on Spotify when I can, wherever I can. The man has a profile there and he compiled a ‘Best of’ of his work. I cannot tell you how his compositions have added fuel to the creative fire that burns relentlessly in my soul. Not that the fire will ever be in danger of burning out.

I am forever humbled and blown away when my senses, combined with an already overactive imagination, are stimulated to the point that new scenes, ideas and concepts for my writing start throwing themselves into an already volatile mix of storytelling elements ready to transform into a novel. Christ, that was a long sentence. Maybe too long. Well, fuck it, I’m leaving it. That’s what Einaudi’s work has done to me.

He’s managed to seduce my imagination and, in turn, seduced me. That’s one way to burrow into my heart. Music. Talent. Mad skillz. Passion. The images his music evokes are cinematic in scope and nature. Just the kind of elixir I enjoy with unbridled want.

Einaudi’s work has been described as meditative and cinematic. I discovered that description somewhere online after a couple of days of listening the music. It had me at cinematic. That would explain the images freely swimming in my head — the chaotic kaleidoscope of shapes and colours swirling in my mind, waiting for me to dip my hand in to pull them out and arrange them into something beautiful and hypnotic.

What is so enticing and engaging about Einaudi’s work? For starters, he has simple leitmotifs that he uses to build complicatedly beautiful layers of sound between the piano and strings. His solo piano work is stunning, too. But the sound of strings and piano together is tantalizing to my ears. I’m not sure what it is about that combination of instruments, but whatever it is, Einaudi uses it to full effect. His musical sensibility is so alarmingly in tune with the way the creative part of my brain wants to function. Kinda a scary, to be honest. But so thrilling at the same time.

I think discovering Einaudi’s work is another sign that the storytelling ambitions I aspire to, are the right ones for the tools and skill set I’ve been trying to hone and sharpen in the last several months.

While I tend to my book design commitments, the creative fire will continue to burn. At low intensity, for now. But there are things I can do, such as re-examine the trajectory of the characters and make adjustments where necessary. Let those thoughts and ideas grow.

Once the commitments are done for another year, I will go back to stoke the creative fire so it can burn as brilliantly as Einaudi’s compositions.