Sotto Voce.

"Qui plume a, guerre a." — Voltaire

Sound Tracks

Music has always been an important creative tool for my writing. I am a film score buff; I love to annoy Mrs. Sotto Voce, when we’re watching movies on TV, by playing “Name That Composer” — how quickly into the opening credits can I identify who wrote the score? (I don’t play for movies for which I already know the answer; that would be cheating).

I co-opt film scores as background music for scenes and sometimes whole stories of my own. And in turn, listening to those scores helps me to slide quickly into the mental mindset to write. The “score” for my novel Seeing Through Clouds was that of the movie Country; James Horner’s playful Sneakers score captured the feel of my novella Invasion of the Orb Men; and I’ve lost count of how many epic space operas I plotted, as a teenager, to Horner’s verdant Star Trek scores.

I rely on music (not always film scores) for my nonfiction work too: my MA thesis was done to the music of Steve Roach and Dead Can Dance; my perpetual work-in-progress memoir of Lord Thomson is fueled by the many (non-Bond) scores of His Magisterial Awesomeness, John Barry; and my freelance writing requires me to cocoon myself in the insulating warmth of the streaming audio of RadioIO, SomaFM, and Coolstreams.

But I am working on a new SF short story/novellette, and I have been hampered by the lack of a soundtrack for it. After flailing around for a while auditioning various scores and composers, I discussed it with Mrs. Sotto Voce. She knows the short story’s themes and suggested Michael Nyman’s perfection for Andrew Niccol’s SF masterpiece, Gattaca.

Yep, that’s it. The themes of the movie are similar enough to the themes of my story — an individual out of place; a society in which a smooth, stylish coating of order and rationality deflects people’s gaze from its underlying violence. And Nyman’s score has phrases of such poignancy and passion that there’s no way that you can — well, that I can — ever get through the end of the movie with dry eyes.

That last bit is a vital necessity for my short story. My crit group has pointed out, and rightly so, that the writer’s voice (both mine and the narrator’s) is too cold and emotionally distant for the overt and covert tensions that drive the story. Listening to Nyman would melt that frigidity like turning a blowtorch on a popsicle. And that’s so what this story needs. It needs to boil.

Thanks, Mrs. Sotto Voce. And thanks in advance, Mr. Nyman. The score hasn’t been released (legally) for download, but I have a CD on the way. And my writing will be all the better for it. In the meantime, I should go watch the movie again. Any excuse.

Categorised as: Life the Universe and Everything

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  1. Alan says:

    Ah, the good old days before James Horner became a self-plagiarizing hack.

    My favorite scores to write to are tomandandy’s “Mothman Prophecies” (dark, creepy, weird), Klaus Badelt’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” (I love Hans Zimmer, but they never should have replaced Badelt for the sequels), Dario Marianelli’s “Atonement”, and Philip Glass’s “The Illusionist”. Depending upon the subject matter, Brian Tyler’s “Bubba Ho-Tep” and Bear McCreary’s “Battlestar Galactica Season 3” get put on heavy rotation as well.

    I’ll have to check out the “Gattica” score. It’s been too long since I’ve seen it to remember what the music was like.

  2. Mrs. Sotto Voce says:

    Turns out Andrei Codrescu also understands exactly what you are talking about. I think you will love this. See

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