The very first compact disc I ever bought was Schiller’s Voyage, the Anglophone market vesion of his album Weltreise. I would listen to that album on my Christmas Sanyo portable CD player over and over again, savoring each song like a jawbreaker candy, tonguing and hearing through layer after layer. With a yard-sale VHS recorder camera, I tried to make videos of the farmland vistas and low mountains that spread out in a beautiful rippling patchwork behind our exurban neighborhood to accompany the music. I was entranced by that Trance album to where I could ascend in my imagination into these worlds and places that I had never, as a boy in Virginia, been even remotely near.
I sometimes wonder if it was fate that I found that CD, colored circles and round-edged jewel case, at the record store near the library my mother always took us to. There had always been music to listen to on the radio, and my parents had vinyl and cassettes of all sorts of music. But this was my first album, that I paid for and owned. I still vividly remember putting on the ungainly large sampling headphones from the receiver at the store and jumping through the beginnings of several tracks, to “try before I bought” well before the mp3 and streaming brought music down to the status of a utility.
Since that time, more than a decade ago, I have listened to that album so many times as to have lost count only a few months into having it. The lesson it taught me, to use music as a tool to nudge my mind, has become an ever important part of my life of the mind. I may not be a great writer, pouring out captivating prose and poetry as quickly as a bird molts off great gouts of shimmering feathers only to grow them anew. But I have harnessed that discovery to at least make attempts at capturing some of the stories and films that I have concocted in my head on paper and even, tentatively, on video.
Similar to finding the perfect runner’s high I have found that if you need to write particular sorts of things, the right soundtrack or music is marvelously powerful. When I was in middle and high school, I would put on a lot of new agey-type music to work on the grand fantasy novel I had begun without much plan, relying instead on imagery and setting to carry a plot of only the vaguest dimensions atop. I think that remains one of my greatest problems is that more than wanting to tell stories I want to take people on journeys like a helicopter pilot through my imagination, shouting out the names of fantastic places and buzzing the snowy heights of mountains in worlds without end. What happens in those worlds is, to me, unfortunately secondary to their simple existence to be mapped, explored, named, and elucidated.
One of my goals while I have free time here in Qatar has been to work on the mechanics of writing more of that sort of detail – the things that readers are really looking for, as they are not filmgoers looking to watch a travel documentary about a made-up country, but require characters, deeds, and a comprehensible story arc. To be sure, there are plenty of literary creations that have very little in the way of such things – Wittgenstein’s Mistress is one, for a particularly erudite example (and one I found by way of a David Foster Wallace biography.) I am not, however, attempting to write about philosophical constructs wrapped in prose-poetry.
To sum up this somewhat meandering blog entry, I have found that using music ccan allow you to find the right words to capture a given place or time, whether you are attempting to pin down a dreamlike otherworld or to write a piece grounded firmly in the last several hundred years of history. Music, perhaps uniquely among the aesthetic creations of humanity, can open waking gateways into the part of the brain that dreams without the cumbersome need for sleep. Music can send you soaring across landscapes that have no earthly counterpart for good or ill, and for me that first real musical takeoff came from Schiller (named, appropriately, for the German Romantic poet.)