Theme Tunes


This blog was inspired by a conversation with Cybermage when I met him at a kaffeklatsch at Worldcon last year. I thought I would use the publication of A Quantum Mythology to lever in the chance to talk about one of my favourite things, music, and how music pertains to the characters in the Age of Scorpio trilogy.

Music is very important to me. I have music on the entire time. I’ve got more than three weeks worth of music on my iTunes but prefer listening to CDs and vinyl when the opportunity arises. I’ve tended to favour the rockier/metalier side of the music spectra, but that’s just nurture versus nature, I’ve managed to find something I like in just about all genres of music.

I try and listen to music that puts me in the right frame of mind and helps provide the right atmosphere for what I’m writing. (I know what a prima donna right? There’s no Green M&Ms around here.) Veteran and War in Heaven were both written listening to a lot of industrial music, particularly the Ministry, the Revolting Cocks, Front 242 and Front Line Assembly. There were occasional oblique references to the music in the stories. Jakob, the protagonist (I don’t really have heroes) of the books is a fan of jazz music, particularly John Coltrane and Miles Davis. One of my friends who cast an eye over an early draft of the books said that the song Dead End Friends by Them Crooked Vultures reminded him of Jakob and his cronies.

I need to know what sort of music the characters I write about listen to. Probably due to my own out-dated music tribalism, it helps me get an idea of the kind of person they are, even if just on the most superficial level.

With that in mind I’ve put together a mixblog of the music that helped inspire each of the characters. To avoid spoilers I’m mostly going to be talking about the characters from Age of Scorpio, though I’ve included one new character from AQM as well. (The trilogy is set across three different time periods: ancient Britain, the modern day and the far future. I’ve divided the characters into those categories:)

Ancient Britian:

Britha: Britha is a Pictish druid, a fierce protector of her people, who fights with the warriors. Due to the nature of her position, however, she is something of an outsider, as she would lose her objectivity if she got too close to those she protects and advises

Her track is Gift by Old Man Gloom. This song sort of sets the tone for all of the Ancient Britain sections in the Age of Scorpio trilogy. When I hear this track, with it’s atmospheric, doom-laden intro, followed by visceral, frenzied metal, it makes movies in my head. The image I’m always left with is of Britha stood on a rock at the head of a pass as lines of tribal warriors march by. The whole track screams (literally) of tribal life and war to me.

Fachtna: Fachtna is a warrior from the ‘Otherworld’. On the surface of it he’s a brash, cocky, warrior’s warrior, however I’m very taken with the romanticised view of the Celt as a warrior poet. For some reason the idea of the warrior poet became conflated with the Seattle music scene of the 90’s. I suspect Mark Yam’s excellent Everyone Loves Our Town, a history of the scene, influenced me.

When I was writing Fachtna I tended to listen to a lot of Soundgarden or Pearl Jam, with a bit of Alice in Chains and Nirvana thrown in (I suffered Nirvana fatigue during the 90’s, but whether I like it or not Nevermind was that decade’s soundtrack). I decided on Hunger Strike by Temple of the Dog. Temple of the Dog were a collaboration between Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Their one eponymous album was a tribute to Andrew Wood, the singer in Mother Love Bone, who died just before the band’s debut album was due to be released.  I like the track, and indeed the whole album, because it has a melancholy to it that I always took to be more thoughtful than depressing, despite the subject matter.

Modern Day:

Malcolm Du Bois: So on the one hand du Bois is an immortal enforcer of the Circle, cool, debonair, well travelled, terribly dangerous and mysterious. On the other hand he is transplanted medieval man who finds modern culture baffling at best. He’s your dad yelling at you to turn that crap down. Not for him are howling guitars and screaming singers. He likes ‘proper’ music.

In Age of Scorpio du Bois goes to see his sister’s band play. After the gig he sits down at a keyboard and plays Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy. I wish I knew more about classical music but I don’t so this piece was actually suggested by a friend of mine after I posted up a request for suggestions on Facebook. Not only did the piece fit very well, reading about it, and deciding when du Bois had first heard it gave me another little piece of the character’s backstory.

Alexia du Bois: Alexia is Malcom’s equally immortal sister. She has adjusted to modern culture better than her sibling, and on the whole is much more capable of enjoying herself. She has lived a life of decadence but in recent decades has calmed down a little and concentrated on her first love, music. Alexia is the front-woman of a Progressive Metal band called Light (named in tribute to the M. John Harrison novel of the same name). To my mind Light would sound a lot like Swedish prog metal band Opeth, a mixture of beautiful melodies and crushing, brutal heaviness. Her theme tune is Blackwater Park (the link is the band playing live at the Albert Hall) from the album of the same name.

As an aside, prog metal bands like Opeth, Cult of Luna, Isis and TesseracT were the music I listened to when writing the far future pieces. Their sound seemed to fit my style of space opera.

Grace Soggin: Grace is one on the new characters in A Quantum Mythology. She is du Bois’s (working) partner, who started life in a rookery in the East End of London in the late 19th century. Her Victorian roots notwithstanding she took a shine to punk music in the mid-70’s. Her favourite bands are the Clash and the Dead Kennedys, coincidentally my two favourite punk bands. Given her hometown London Calling seemed the most appropriate for her theme tune. Everyone should own a copy of the London Calling album. The cover is the most archetypal rock ‘n’ roll image ever shot for my money.

Beth Luckwicke: Beth is a hard-woman and ex-con from Bradford. In Age of Scorpio her search for a quiet life after her release is thrown into turmoil when she is forced to go looking for her missing sister. It’s not stated but Beth’s look, the leather jacket, style of tattoos, combat boots and trousers, was taken from the fandom of one of my favourite bands, New Model Army, who, like Beth, come from Bradford. Beth’s theme tune is Green and Grey. Listening to the lyrics now it all but describes the relationship between Beth and her missing sister, Talia.

The Far Future:

 Woodbine Scab: Maybe it’s the kind of SF I read but the music of the future always seems to be a derived from dub for some reason. I sidestepped the tricky question of what does music sound like in the future (though I do make references to immersive soundscapes) with Scab by making him a fan of pre-Loss music. In Poor People parts I & II, Scab’s first fictional outing, he listens to Dancing With Tears In My Eyes by Ultravox whilst battling agents of the Church. That worked for that particular story but not as a theme tune for ‘the most vicious man alive’. Peter Tosh’s Stepping Razor seems far more appropriate.

Anyway this has felt pretty self-indulgent but I’ve had fun re-listening to the tracks as I wrote this. Any excuse to talk about music. I’m left wondering if other people have soundtracks for books they read/write?

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