Thursday, March 8, 2012

Music for Editing

This is a follow-up to Music for Writing. Because it's easier on me minute-to-minute than composition, editing my work often takes more hours of a given day. I can do more of it before my syndrome kicks back. Between January and March I got my beta readers' copies back and set about editing my first full novel in several years, and so amassing a supportive musical library was pretty important. I can't edit in silence anymore than I can compose; I need to block out the real world to tinker with the fictional one. Like Music for Writing, I'm hoping to share how certain music helped in this process. Please share your own favorite artists and albums in the Comments. You never know who you might help.

1. God is an Astronaut’s Discography
Though an egregious repeat from Music for Writing, I have to tip my hat to these folks again. I honestly don’t remember a single track that I listened to, though I went through five albums in just one day of editing. No band I know organizes an album with such consistency and flow, and no band I know is quite so useful at blending into the background of my thoughts.

Whereas in composition they could set sweeping or oppressive moods, here, with the volume turned down slightly, they became an excellent tool for keeping me alert. The trick is all its musical valleys lulled me into relaxing, and moved so slowly that I wasn’t conscious of how they carried back up, so that sometimes I managed to excite myself psychosomatically. There are so many siren-like moments in those songs, none as jarring as a police car, rather exhilarating in precisely the way I need when trying to convince myself to streamline one more fight scene.

2. Roque Banos’s Machinist OST

This album is more of a scalpel than a knife. You do not edit a love scene to “Trevor’s Lair.” Alright, maybe you do – and if you do, let me read that sucker. But I only turn this on for scenes of loneliness, eeriness, Horror before Horror arrives, and old-fashioned mystery. Banos channeled old Twilight Zone and Hitchcock soundtracks, even importing the wonderfully ridiculous theremin that strikes me with a suburban sense of unease. Though I wrote about a prison rather than suburbia, there were four particular chapters what Banos’s vibes drew me into the proper frame of mind to revise. It’s also just plain fun to read your creepier material out loud with this playing in the background.

3. The Final Fantasy 13-2 OST
However lame it makes me seem, “Paradox” was the battle theme of these edits. Not editing during fight scenes, but the rallying track I’d put on as I paced my room and convinced myself to spend more time at the computer. By about the 0:50-mark, the inspirational swells goaded me into trying to get these characters out alive. Worked every humiliating time.

At four discs, this was clearly a collaboration effort, though resting primarily on the compositions of Masashi Hamauzu, Mitsuko Suzuki and Naoshi Mizuta. I had to trim out the high number of vocal tracks from my playlist as lyrics only distract me (though some of the English lyric tracks are hilarious). Whatever you think of the franchise, it has a great history of music design, and this is one of the strongest entries. Both the “Knight of the Goddess” and “Paradigm Shift” tracks were useful at gearing me up to resume writing after short breaks.

4. The Vanquish OST
I’ve played and beaten Vanquish, and I’m still surprised there was three CDs of music in the game. Masafumi Takada and Erina Nawa’s three-disc compilation that scored an unusual Japanese action game, relying on some military themes, some rock and techno, utilizing many of the same slow-to-fast patterns and percussive rhythms even with synethetic instruments to mimic ambient sound patterns popular in Hollywood war films.

The first track (naturally titled “Title”) is like splashing water in my face. On several 8:00 AM’s, I queued it up directly after splashing real water into my face, relying on Takada and Nawa’s tunes to carry me editing into noon. For a three-disc set it follows remarkably well, and I seldom realized I was on another disc until I paused. I discontinued using it not because the music got stale, but because I associated it so strongly with marathon sessions that I began to resent it. I recommend listening, but in moderation.

5. Michael Giacchino’s Lost OST
Giacchino makes sweet and sweeping use of his orchestra, which is particularly calming when played at low volumes. It seeps into the background, blocking environmental noises and coaxing concentration the best of anything I’ve used since Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill albums. 

Giacchino earned bonus points from me with his penchant for punny track titles (“The Eyeland,” “Thinking Clairely,” “Charlie Hangs Around”). There are certain songs that benefit as strongly from association as anything I can recall, with “Locke’d Out Again” always pulling me into the emotional space of watching Terry O’Quinn in full pathos. That’s a handy tool.

6 & 7. Uyama Hiroto’s A Son on the Sun and Supergiant Games’s Bastion OST
In the final week of editing my nerves were shot and Writer’s Burnout was alarmingly close. I’m used to going to bed with my hands shaking; it’s less comforting to wake up with them doing that. My neuromuscular syndrome didn’t want the book to end, and I applied every trick I could to get around it. One of the best things I did was dump all my old music, which I’d spent months of emotionally attaching to long hours of work, and try new albums set at very low volume, as though overheard from another . Does music from other rooms calm anyone else? I have a serious mental compression issue there; it puts me in the headspace of leaving a party that’s gone too long, sitting out the rest of the evening and kicking the shoes off my swelling feet.

Okay, so I’m crazy. At least I own it.

I bounced between these two albums in particular. They have little in common other than not sounding like normal music, and having no words (tracks with words, naturally, were pruned). Bastion is a patch-work of Cajun, Middle Eastern and Asian influences, while Hiroto’s tunes are the most tranquil stuff. For me there’s a less rational common denominator: many of the early tracks on both albums keenly sound like the end of a day.

If you haven’t disregarded me for babbling about imaginary parties and days ending, then hopefully you’ve figured out why this kind of music is so damned useful to an overstressed mind. I couldn’t fool myself or my syndrome into believing the work was over, or even convince myself the work was as close to being over as it was. I could, however, use breathing and music to let myself know that this would be alright – it would only be a few pages, a few changes per page, a few alterations per song. At my sickest in months, I sat back in my chair and worked at the pace I could manage. The music helped. I can’t ask for more than that from music.


  1. I will have to check out the ones I don't have.
    But I only have one question?
    Do you think you can ride this chocobo?

  2. Yay, music post!

    You had mentioned the Vanquish soundtrack to me before, but this is the first time I actually listened to a track. It's very atmospheric... I'll have to track down the rest of the soundtrack.


Counter est. March 2, 2008