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Archive for the 'The Powell’s Playlist' Category

The Powell’s Playlist: Water Music by Peter Mendelsund

The Powell's PlaylistWe "see" when we read, and we "see" when we listen. There are many ways in which music can create the cross-sensory experience of this seeing... through sonic imitation, through poetic evocation, through dynamic mapping, through programmatic association, through the literal use of physical materials...

1. "La Mer" by Claude Debussy
The big kahuna of classical "water musics." So painterly in its orchestrational detail. The big move here by Debussy is paralleling the idea of a swelling of physical volume (a cresting wave) with a swelling of aural volume (a crescendo). In this mapping, louder=fuller.

2. "Sea Interludes" by Benjamin Britten

3. "Ondine" from Gaspard de la Nuit by Maurice Ravel
The piano is particularly suited, in its instrumental color, to evoking water; specifically the sound of the tinkling, chiming of water drops. Here we have one of Ravel's programmatic water pieces, based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand:

Listen! — Listen! — It is I, it is Ondine who brushes drops of water on the resonant panes of your windows lit by the gloomy rays of the moon; and here in gown of watered silk,


The Powell’s Playlist: Graham Joyce

The Powell's PlaylistThe Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit is set on the English coast in the hot summer of 1976, so the music in this playlist is pretty much all from the '70s. The songs follow David's journey of innocence to experience, and on the way he solves a terrifying personal mystery.

1. "In the Summertime" by Mungo Jerry
This first song is a signature summertime sound of the period. It's easygoing, upbeat, and sort of naive almost to the point of being naff; but that's how David is when he starts out in this story.

2. "Low Rider" by War
David arrives at the holiday centre to find himself sharing a room with a doper. He lands a cool job as a Greencoat. You get to walk around looking pretty. What could be easier than being a Low Rider like that?

3. "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" by Joe Jackson
David meets the beautiful Terri. He can't believe that she's married to the scary gorilla Colin. Oh-oh, better stay well clear of that train wreck.

4. "The Man with the Child in ...

The Powell’s Playlist: Daniel H. Wilson

The Powell's PlaylistLike many writers, I'm constantly haunting coffee shops with a laptop out and my headphones on. I listen to a lot of music while I write, and songs do eventually get tangled up with certain characters. My novel Robogenesis is a techno-thriller that largely takes place in the country, pitting high-tech machines against decidedly low-tech human beings. As a result, my playlist ends up being a strange mix of golden-age country songs and chest-throbbing dubstep/trap electronic music. Whichever you prefer (and both is a good answer, too), these are the songs that congealed in my mind as I created Robogenesis in Portland's coffee shops and with the kiss of rain on the nape of my neck as I walked the streets.

1. "Mama Tried" by Merle Haggard
I went and licensed these lyrics from Sony to put inside the novel, as they perfectly explain the journey of the cowboy Hank Cotton as he descends into madness and worships a false god. Hank's mother told him to never pray to a devil, but he disobeys… and for that he will pay a ...

The Powell’s Playlist: Josh Malerman

The Powell's PlaylistI can't imagine writing a novel without some sound. When you're facing a few hundred blank pages, silence can be cold. Thing is, I love lyrics so much that rock 'n' roll can be a distraction (though maybe I should try it again). Instead, I go for horror movie soundtracks. So many moods, so many colors; it's kind of like listening to a ne'er-do-well child trying his hand at classical music. Like any album, the good ones soar, but the truth is, I think they're all good, and they probably end up influencing my books more than I'll ever really know. Let's look at some:

"Prologue/Welcome to Creepshow" by John Harrison, Creepshow
I was seven years old when Creepshow came out, and I'm guessing I was around 10 when I saw it for the first time on VHS. The opening theme reminds me that there are five stories to be told, all so different, and the process of telling a scary story is a dark, glorious trip.

"Flight" by Bernard Herrmann, Psycho
Marion Crane is fleeing Arizona, $40,000 in her car. We're catching her ...

The Powell’s Playlist: B. J. Novak

The Powell's PlaylistThese are some of the songs I listened to while writing the stories in my collection, One More Thing.

"Never Been to Spain" by Elvis Presley
I was never much of an Elvis guy, but for some reason he was on my mind a lot as I wrote this book. I actually wrote several stories about him and then chose one for the collection so as not to seem too repetitive (or obsessive). It was late-life Elvis who was on my mind: What was it like to be Elvis after you're not really Elvis anymore? I listened to this song a lot, as well as some fascinating late-career covers he did: "Something" by the Beatles, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" by Bob Dylan. The covers are generally in bad taste, but you can still hear an exceptional heart shining through. I listened to "Never Been to Spain" in particular while writing "Quantum Nonlocality and the Death of Elvis Presley."

"Moonage Daydream" by David Bowie
I write from a desk that directly faces the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. Perhaps coincidentally, several stories in the book concern outer space — "Dark Matter," "I Never Want to Walk on the Moon," and "The Impatient Billionaire and the Mirror for Earth." Also perhaps coincidentally, I found myself listening to this song a lot as I wrote the book. I don't know whether the song or the stories came first. But then again, there's a lot I don't understand concerning this song.

"Under Your Spell" by Desire
I was in New York during a very moody November and I wrote much of the story "Sophia" while listening to this song on repeat. There is a blend of obsessive and electronic emotion in this song, which in retrospect felt like the right combination for this particular story.

The Powell’s Playlist: Daniel Alarcón

The Powell's PlaylistWhen I was younger I was able to write with music playing in the background, but these days I can't. I find it distracting. Even when the music is just instrumental or has lyrics in a language I don't understand, the clash between the voices in my head and the song can be very disorienting. I need concentration and silence in order to work (a clean desk helps too), so when I was putting together this list, I was thinking primarily about the mood of the novel, a mix of songs that describe the atmosphere of At Night We Walk in Circles — not songs that inspired me directly so much as an imagined soundtrack to the book I'd already written. I thought a lot about my protagonist, Nelson, his generation, and his particular predicament: he's a bookish young man who believes at a very intuitive level in the power of art but who hasn't been particularly diligent about making that art. He hasn't really been very diligent about anything actually, and he's allowed himself to drift just a ...

The Powell’s Playlist: Stephen King

The Powell's PlaylistEditor's note: We don't know if you've heard, but author Stephen King has written a follow-up to a little book called The Shining. The new novel is called Doctor Sleep, and here are a few tunes King kept close at hand while penning the long-anticipated sequel. Scroll down to read some excerpts from the book while listening to the music.

÷ ÷ ÷

I have a playlist for every novel I write. The music serves the book. Hope you enjoy these tunes — some are on the grizzly side. I would have included "Freebird," but you know it's a very long song. – Stephen King

The Powell’s Playlist: J. Robert Lennon

The Powell's PlaylistPlaylist? You want a playlist, you say? Don't you understand that I'm busy? Look, when you're a D-list literary celebrity like me, you don't have time for silly pursuits like making lists of songs for people. Beard grooming alone takes up enough of my time, and this week I'm supervising the modification of my waterfall-bubinga standing desk, specifically the embossing of my very favorite of my own lines of prose, in Edwardian script, onto the Russian reindeer-leather elbow rest. Hell, I don't even have time to listen to songs, let alone list them, which is why I limit myself to songs that last fewer than thirty seconds.

Note: Happyland is
currently only available
as an eBook.

What, you're still here? Are you serious? Don't you know how valuable my time is? Don't you see the line of prostrate undergraduates arrayed down the hall? My students are required to purchase those ceremonial robes and hand-stitched sandals, custom-dyed in my university's colors, to wear during my office hours, whether I'm meeting with them or not, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., every Tuesday, wherever they happen to be. Of course they're always here.

Shove over. My coffee boy isn't accustomed to sharing the settee.

Okay, fine. I'll give you a playlist — five minutes, that's all I've got. Thirty seconds max per song. Ten songs. Hand me my laptop. No, not the one with the Swarovski crystals spelling out the word dream on it, the other one. Yeah, that. You know this slipcase is made out of a genuine Steve Jobs turtleneck? Never mind. Let's get this thing done.

1. "Breakfast" by The Voluntary Butler Scheme (0:24)
This seems a nice place to start — it consists of a woman describing her breakfast ("scrambled tofu, a piece of fruit, some toast or somethin'") over a cheerful mélange of piano, bells, and woodwinds. The VBR is the brainchild of Rob Jones, a British multi-instrumentalist.

The Powell’s Playlist: Jenni Fagan

The Powell's PlaylistI selected this playlist because the songs remind me of the main character in The Panopticon. Anais Hendricks has a contradictory nature: she's cool, streetwise, caustic, but also empathic and vulnerable. She is too worldly for her age but she still has hope, innocence, and a childlike way of wholly embracing the world of her imagination. She likes to look at the stars and believes life is too short to waste it all on sadness — she loves music and counterculture.

1. "Like a Hurricane" by Neil Young
I picked this song because it is one of my favorite songs of all time and it makes me think of Anais. She is a force of nature.

2. "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam" by Nirvana
I could have picked numerous songs by Nirvana, and Anais does mention that they're on her iPod. This song is laid back and clever — if it were a café, it would be the kind of place where outsiders belong.

3. "O-o-h Child" by The Five Stairsteps
This song makes me think of what I would want to ...

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