What Do You Listen to When you Write?

I nearly always write to music. Quite often I’ll listen to the same track on loop whilst writing. Plenty of other writers I know don’t do this, preferring to work in silence.

But I struggle to write without having music on in the background.

The music doesn’t have to be related to the subject matter. Song for Zula by Phosphorescent is clearly a song about broken love, about something that wasn’t as it seemed, but I spent many hours listening to it whilst writing a poem about a pigeon! Not just any pigeon, mind you. This one;

Martha, the last living Passenger Pigeon, photographed in 1912

Tonally the song fitted the wistful melancholy of the poem itself (I’ll not share it here yet as it’s in a submission pile somewhere). Hopefully you’ll see Poem for Martha in print or online sometime soon. It almost got published in Butcher’s Dog magazine, so I think it has some merit. I’m just trying to find the right place for it. I digress.

You can hear Song for Zula here;

I usually write to music that doesn’t have any strong connection with a personal memory. As someone who is always looking out for and listening to new music, (when I say new, I mean new to me), this may not necessarily be significant, but I do think that too much familiarity, particularly if that familiarity is associated with a particular time of my life, would influence the creative process too much.

Looking back to my late teens and early twenties I used to listen to Talk Talk on repeat. This may have been a factor in my creating a whole folder of dire heart-on-my sleeve lost love poems that I threw away as they were so bad.

As it happens I was clueless then as to the real meanings of some of these songs – Such a Shame for example is actually inspired by a story of a psychiatrist who bases his actions/decisions on the cast of a dice: The Diceman, a novel published in 1971 by George Cockcroft (pen name Luke Rhinehart). It’s clearly suggested as such in the official video which you can see here: https://youtu.be/lLdvpFIPReA (Unlike the Song for Zula link I can’t seem to embed the video into this post).

Whatever, I couldn’t write poetry now whilst listening to It’s My Life, Such A Shame, Life’s What You Make It, or anything else by pre Spirit of Eden Talk Talk. The memories these songs drag up are too wince-inducing for me to want to revisit at the best of times, let alone when I am trying to create something new.

Over the last few weeks I have primarily been listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor whilst writing. Like the later iteration of Talk Talk, GYBE are a post – rock band. Unlike Talk Talk, with the exception of the occasional sample, their music doesn’t have any lyrics. Mladic , the track which I’m sharing below is apparently named after Ratko Mladic, responsible for organising the Srebrenica massacre and extradited to face trial in The Hague at around the time this song was recorded.

At 19 minutes 59 seconds long it has time to build different themes and motifs into the track. It’s one of GYBE’s heaviest tracks, and works particularly well when listened through headphones. Thematically, (rising darkness through despair, defiance and ending with hope for redemption), it fits the tone of what I am currently writing about, if not the exact subject matter.

I think the only times when I have written poetry whilst in silence was when on an Arvon course or in some other writing workshop. Maybe I’ll suggest sticking Mladic or The Dead Flag Blues, (which is equally expansive and apocalyptic, if more so), on full volume next time I’m in one and seeing how everyone else reacts!

I have experimented with this – trying to write poetry whilst listening to The Trammps’ Disco Inferno or Reach by S-Club 7 simply didn’t work. Maybe it’s just me, and the sort of subject matter that I am drawn to.

What about you? Do you write to music? If so, what works? Let me know!