Category: Music

Sextet on an Ice Epic

I meant to post this a long time ago, but somehow forgot. (I say “somehow,” but really there’s no “somehow” when you forget things as often as I do.) You  may remember Alessandro, the young musician who composed a quartet inspired by The Clockwork Three. Well, he has done the same for Icefall, and I continue to be amazed by this young man’s talent.

Here is how he described the piece:

Sextet on an Ice Epic is a piece inspired by Matthew J Kirby’s book Icefall. The structure of the piece loosely reflects the story:
• A “run-away” theme plays when Solveig, a young princess, is forced to run away in an icy land.
• She spends a lot of time alone, like a star in the Northern sky, sad but strong (sweet “Solveig theme”).
• Enemies arrive, they want to kill her! Solveig’s warriors fight to defend her (battle theme).
• The run-away theme returns, since Solveig and her warriors are forced to run off, but …
• Solveig has an idea and the enemy is defeated (“tumbling down” theme).
• Her dad, the king, finally arrives and Solveig is now happy again (peace theme).

And now, here is the premiere performance:

A very talented young composer.

I recently received an amazing email from a young reader named Alessandro, who is 11 years old, a violinist, and a composer. He shared with me a video, the premiere of a quartet he wrote for flute, clarinet, cello, and viola. The piece is called “The Clockmaker, the Hotel Maid, and the Italian Violinist.”

From the composer’s notes:

The inspiration for this piece came to me from a book I recently read, “The Clockwork Three” by Matthew J. Kirby…

At the beginning they all live in gloomy situations, as you can hear at the start of the piece, a sad theme. They each try to escape and make their life better: a faster theme represents their attempts to escape. However, every time the bad guys win, and the sad melody comes back. At some point the 3 kids meet, and I’ve merged previous themes together to represent that important event.

They try to escape together, the escape theme comes back with instruments playing new motives, and we get into the Presto part, the final fight, where the kids defeat the bad guys. The Italian violinist can now return back to Italy, and the Presto becomes a tarantella, a Southern Italian dance. Finally there is a coda, where the escape theme becomes Allegro Vivace, and everybody lives happy ever after.

That alone left me a little speechless. It’s a truly magical thing to think that my story inspired someone else’s art and creativity. As happens with some premieres, the performance had a slight hiccup partway through where the flutist seems to have forgotten the rest of the score. But you can still get a sense of the piece when the music is replaced by a synthesized sound for the last part. And be sure to watch to the end, where Alessandro stands up on the front row and takes his bow.

Okay, silence all cellphones, please. Without further ado, I present to you Alessandro’s “Quartet in F-sharp Minor.”

Isn’t that awesome? I have to say, he really captured the spirit of the book. I hear Giuseppe in those notes, and Frederick, and Hannah, and even perhaps Stephano’s low growl. I’m told the composer is currently working on Giuseppe’s “canzone” for solo violin and full orchestra. I cannot wait to hear it.

Bravo, Alessandro! Bravo!

Music of Icefall

In anticipation of the release of my next novel, Icefall, I thought I would share some of the music from which I drew inspiration while writing it. Like a lot of authors, I have a few tricks I use to help me enter into the world of the story I’m telling, and music plays a big part in my creative process. I typically have a playlist of songs I listen to while working on a given project, music that evokes the emotions, the mood, the setting, or the feel that I’m going for. The music I draw from may not always seem like the obvious choice (Rage Against the Machine and Tool are on rotation as I’m writing my next book set in Colonial America). But there’s always a reason for my choice that works internally for me.

Right about the time I began Icefall, I heard an interview with the composer Ben Frost. While I use the term “composer” to describe him, because it’s really the closest word, it doesn’t completely capture what he does. His work is hard to define – it crosses boundaries, or blurs them, or makes them seem irrelevant. There is an electronic component to it, an industrial component, a lot of traditional instruments sometimes used in nontraditional ways, and a few other sounds you might not find musical at all until you hear what he does with them. Like the sound of wolves growling and howling. Or the sharp intake of breath when your body hits icy water. It is relentless music and sound, visceral almost to the point where your ears want to turn away, and that is exactly what I needed for this book.

At any rate, when I heard Ben Frost interviewed on NPR’s Studio 360, I knew just from the few bits they played that this was what I was looking for to help me bring Solveig’s icy and forbidding Nordic world to life. I’ve embedded the interview here, and if you have any interest in music or the creation of art, it would be worth a listen.

And below I’ve embedded a player with some tracks from his album By the Throat, which he composed in Iceland and infused with a distillation of that landscape. When I was writing, I would typically play the entire album through and repeat it a couple of times in one stretch. Related to that, I’ve found that listening through to the end of an album or a playlist can be a great way to carve out units of time to write.

If you like what you hear, you can stream or purchase the rest of the album here.

Another song I added to my Icefall playlist is called “Crystal” by Mannheim Steamroller. For some reason, and as long as I can remember, I’ve associated this song with a vivid, almost-nightmare I had as a child. In the dream, I was walking alone at night over a winter hill, the icy crust on the snow crunching beneath my boots, my breath a white cloud carried away by the wind, the light of the full moon glinting on the ground. The feeling of the dream was desolate and very frightening without a distinct source for the fear. Here’s that song from my childhood:

A few pieces of classical music also found their way into the Icefall playlist.

The first, A Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky:

And of course, it would be an absolute sin to omit Edvard Grieg from the playlist for a book set in Norway. The following come from Peer Gynt (this production).

And finally, if I wanted to lighten things up for certain scenes in the book, I would occasionally write while tuning into a Norwegian folk music station I found streaming online here. There were a few other pieces of music that I listened to now and again, but not enough that I kept them in the playlist.

So there you have it. The music of my novel Icefall. What do you think? Was there anything that you liked or that surprised you? Do you listen to music while you write?

I plan to do a companion post to this one in the future, the “images of Icefall,” with some of the pictures that helped me visualize the world of the story. But that post will be a bit spoilery, so I’m going to wait until after the book has been released on October 1st to put it up.


An email conversation with a friend reminded me of another album I listened to quite a bit. William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops are the aural equivalent of a memory you can’t quite fully recall. There are four albums, but I listened to the second while writing Icefall. How these albums came to be is interesting in itself. The story goes that as Basinski went back to transfer some old loops and samples from magnetic tape to a digital format, the magnetic tape began to disintegrate as it was being recorded, resulting in a sound like, as my friend described, “a very large something dying over a very long period of time.” This music, in particular, helped me capture the essence of the glacier as a figure in the book.

Icefall is available for pre-order: Indiebound|B&N|Amazon

This is just for fun…

Because I like the band Marcy Playground, and their fourth album hit stores today, and they distributed this cool player for everyone to listen to the new tunes.  Try the songs “Blackbird” (not a Beatles cover) “Star Baby,” or “Down the Drain.”  They’re my favorites.

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