Love, Music and the Here and Now: the music of Watch Over Me

Claire Corbett writes about the music that inspired her new novel Watch Over Me, and the soundtrack she put together to go with the book, which you can listen to below. You can also win a copy of the book & a minidrone to go with it.

Minimalism

I’d been interested in the idea of a playlist for WATCH OVER ME for a long time. It started with minimalism. I want stark, elegant, repetitive music to listen to while I work. Like many writers who listen to music while working, I tend to avoid music with lyrics.

I looked up minimalism and saw some favourites such as Philip Glass and Arvo Part. Part’s Mirror in the Mirror (Spiegel in der Spiegel) was so pure and heart-breaking that I knew right away it was perfect for the later part of the book and it occurred to me it was the kind of thing my soldiers might use to try to wind down.

But I was intrigued by work I didn’t know and listened to Steve Reich who led me to Flemish Belgian composer Wim Mertens. I think many people get stuck listening to music they loved in their teens and twenties for the rest of their lives – it’s wonderful to keep expanding musical horizons. Both composers opened new worlds for me. Mertens’ piece Often a Bird feels just right for WATCH OVER ME, with its lush romanticism underpinned by a doom-laden military drumroll. This encapsulates beautiful but occupied Port Angelsund to me, a place of culture threatened by violence.

The Steve Reich was a revelation: he uses the sounds of pre-WWII trains and vocal phrases from interviews as the elements of melody. It is hypnotic. That’s probably the most avant-garde, experimental track on the playlist – but hugely rewarding once you really listen – and it was written in 1988.

What’s on soldiers’ iPods?

Another aspect of music in the book is that I’m intrigued by how soldiers themselves use music and found fascinating research on what American soldiers load onto their iPods before going into battle – what they use to pump themselves up. Some of that found its way on to the main playlist, songs such as Indestructible by Disturbed.

I then put together a separate playlist that was just for the Black Mambas going into battle  and included Nordic and Russian heavy metal such as songs by Arkona and Dimmu Borgir because the nationality of the Black Mambas is deliberately ambiguous. The Russian heavy metal I found has a very different feel, quite melodic.

One surprising result of my research was finding that one of the world’s most popular marching songs is the theme of Spongebob Squarepants. It’s funny to watch Russian soldiers marching to that, singing it with gusto.

EDM

But the real discovery for me came while thinking about the music Sylvie and Will share as lovers. They’re young: music is important to them and to how they see themselves and their being in the world. And the music I discovered was EDM – Electronic Dance Music – and in my experience the most exciting EDM masters currently are the duo Odesza. Their songs, especially tracks like Bloom and Memories That You Call, become the soundtrack for the blossoming of young love, that infatuation that lights up the world.

My husband and I became so entranced with this music we went to an Odesza concert at the Metro in Sydney, which was a great experience but weird because we were the only people over about twenty-three in the room. Everyone I mention Odesza to lights up if they’re under twenty-five. Friends my own age check with their kids and report back: yeah, Odesza are cool. So, their music is right for my characters but I encourage everyone of any age to listen to them. At the very least you will acquire serious street cred with your children and your friends’ children.

Music for films and computer games

Another discovery while I was writing was another great minimalist composer, Max Richter. I was teaching film and one film we taught was the remarkable animation Waltz With Bashir, about the 1982 Israel/Lebanon war. The soundtrack of that film is haunting. By fabulous coincidence and not long after we’d gone to the Odesza concert, the Sydney Opera House staged the most incredible event: the eight-hour long concert of Max Richter’s work Sleep. This involved us turning up at the Opera House and getting into our pyjamas and having a sleep-over right there at the Opera House (the first one ever held there) while listening to Richter’s music as we woke and slept through the night. This was the most amazing concert experience and one of the great events of my life. Waking up to soprano Grace Davidson singing as light dawned grey and rainy over Sydney Harbour through the windows of the Utzon Room is something I will never forget.

Another element inserted itself into the playlist when I realised my children discover music largely through their favourite computer games. Computer game soundtracks are probably about where film music was in the eighties – people love it and listen to it but it’s not respectable yet. I love film music and listen to it a lot – the soundtracks for Alien, The Black Stallion, Interstellar…This is what’s fun about computer game soundtracks – it’s still kind of a secret pleasure. So, that’s what the Mass Effect dubstep remix and the track from Silent Hill are doing in there – they’re terrific music in their own right but they are also the kind of things that Sylvie and Will and Vick and even Toby would listen to.

The Joik

The final discovery was the joik. This is a traditional song form of the Sámi, the Indigenous people of Northern Europe. Funnily enough, I discovered joiks through an edition of Sweden’s Got Talent, and a most beautiful song:

This became a very moving element, for me, in the book, a living example of a traditional form of Sámi culture that is innovative and modern as well as an important aspect of Indigenous heritage in the region –  which is a perfect fit for what the book is about. The joik is a very personal form, commemorating people and places in the singer’s life.

So, using music while writing was a musical exploration for me, one that is still enriching my life. I guarantee that if you listen to the whole playlist, you’re going to hear things you’ve never heard before and I’d bet money that you will love at least one track new to you.

Win a minidrone & learn more about Watch Over Me

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Learn more about Claire's inspiration for Watch Over Me from strong women around the world, and more about the book on the following blog tour stops:

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