Inspirations: Music, art, writing and unleashing the inner geek

As a writer, I have never regretted chugging through the Royal Schools of Music grade system. Music offers skills that feed directly into writing. Learning how to write a tune to words, for instance, rammed home why it’s important, even in prose, to have rhythm.

The panel of one of my analog synths... dusty, a bit scratched, but still workable.
The panel of one of my analog synths… dusty, a bit scratched, but still workable. Pop quiz: can anybody identify it from this clipped close-up?

There’s a more subtle side to it, too. Music is about evoking emotion in the recipient – the satisfaction of listening, hope, despair, anger, laughter. So is writing. That’s one reason why rhythm of words is important. For writers, as for musicians, it helps evoke a response.

I still have a small collection of vintage analog synths. They all work – including my Moog, which was old and battered when I bought it in 1987. The fact that it functions 37 years after it left Moog’s Trumansburg factory is testament to the quality.

It is also an expressive instrument, meant to be played like a violin, not a piano. You can do things with pitch-bender, potentiometers and modulation wheels that give the sound life. If you have never heard a Moog 24dBa high-pass ladder filter being overdriven, you’ve missed something. Here’s someone using the filter as a resonator. Here’s Erik Norlander playing the biggest Modular Moog I’ve ever seen.

The worn out ribbon pitch-controller on my Micromoog. Apparently Bob Moog invented that device for Beach Boys keyboard player Brian Wilson.

One of the doyens of the Moog, way back, was Brit prog-rock icon Rick Wakeman. He defined the ‘rock opera’ via such classics as Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (1974), essentially a modern oratorio.

I saw him in concert, here in New Zealand, last year – and @grumpyoldrick didn’t disappoint. He spilled off a flight from the UK and gave a 2 1/2 hour show, using the Wellington City Council’s Steinway Model D, all from memory. He had the audience in stitches – he is a great comedian. Along the way he explained how he had been taught to put feeling into music. You close your eyes and imagine what you want to convey – the feeling of a summer’s day, for instance.

To me, that summed up music as art. Art is about conceptual shapes and patterns that convey feeling and emotion. Notes are flawed tools to express an inexpressible form – idea, which is emotional. The essence of art is conveying that emotion, however imperfectly, by whatever medium, to others. And that is true of writing, too. The medium is words; but the essence is emotion.

Wakeman was taught that about his art from the beginning. Others, including me, had to learn it later. The hard way.

Do you find art in music, in writing? How do you see these things?  is music inspirational for you in these ways? I’d love to hear from you.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013


11 thoughts on “Inspirations: Music, art, writing and unleashing the inner geek

  1. I’ve found that I do my best writing when I’m listening to music that affects me emotionally. I cannot write if I’m not feeling at the same time. But what I’m writing does not necessarily match what I’m feeling. I could be listening to music that makes me sad and write down a gripping action sequence. The key is to feel something and nothing stimulates emotion for me like music.

  2. I believe that all of us are hard wired for rhythm. Since the dawn of time it was the beat of a drum that bound us together.Rhythm led armies into battle, brought people to their feet, and spoke in ways that words could not. The timeless, universal language.

    1. It is, very much so. Also, it appears, we are built with certain kinds of chord progressions. Apparently it’s possible to play ‘Star Spangled Banner’ on a Neolithic flute, recently found – which is kind of weird when you realise ‘Star Spangled Banner’ was written on a 12-note scale that hadn’t been invented when the flute was made.

      1. That is weird, and wonderful. Don’t know why this popped into my head as it takes the subject sideways but, I’m a huge Brian Eno fan. Listen to the piano introduction in the song Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy.Absolutely beautiful.

  3. First, Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (1974) was truly epic. I wore out my first album and had to buy a new one.

    I think I appreciate many types of music because of the feel of each. For example, i used to drive a lot and create two cassettes (oops, dated myself) with what I called road music. They were perfect for driving long distances because the music was invigorating. I think each of us has a specific play list that we like to listen to when we write. Mine changes depending on what’s going on in the story.

    1. Indeed it was! I still have it on vinyl too – that original gatefold sleeve with booklet inside. Wakeman recently re-recorded it and has released the studio version CD with an extra 20 mins of music, which I haven’t heard yet (but will). He’s touring both that and ‘Arthur’ (also extended) early next year apparently.

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