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.

UPDATE:

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

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12 Responses

  1. Carolyn Frank

     /  September 8, 2011

    I found the first song you listed very distracting and wondered how in the world you could ever write anything listening to that. But some of the later songs really fit the mood of the book. I used to listen to music while I wrote, but I don’t any more. I don’t know why. Maybe I should try it again. Oh, and by the way, I like how you switched the clockwork artwork to that of a raven on your blog header. Good luck with Icefall!

    Reply
    • Matthew

       /  September 9, 2011

      Thanks, Carolyn. I can definitely see how some people might find the music distracting when trying to write, especially some of Ben Frost’s stuff. But for me, by sort of letting the music in, just giving myself over to it, it stopped being a distraction from the writing and became a part of it.

      Reply
  2. Great list! The songs definitely provoke a desperate/dangerous kind of mood. I’m glad you shared it.

    Reply
  3. Joseph Pettibon

     /  January 18, 2012

    I really enjoyed reading about you and how you started writing when you were a kid. I enjoy writing as well. My mom and I enjoyed listening to the musical selections that inspired your writing of Icefall, which I am currently reading.

    Reply
    • Matthew

       /  January 20, 2012

      Cool. I hope you liked the music and the book! Did hearing the music add to your experience reading?

      Reply
  4. louis m

     /  April 6, 2013

    I think that these songs really helped me understand Solveig’s fear and helplessness
    will there ever be a sequel

    Reply
    • Matthew

       /  April 23, 2013

      I think I may return to Solveig one day, but I have other books I plan to write first. Glad you enjoyed the music.

      Reply
  5. Carter Strope

     /  May 1, 2013

    I beg to return to her, i lost my copy and am seeking another.

    Reply
  6. Julie H

     /  October 20, 2013

    I am a middle school librarian in South Carolina, where your book is currently on the state Junior Book Award list. I loved your book when I first read it, and it was my choice for our school’s first book club of the year, which will meet tomorrow, because of the adventure, mystery, and wonderful story. I look forward to sharing your music list with the kids and finding out what they think of it as a soundtrack to their reading.

    Reply
    • Matthew

       /  October 23, 2013

      I hope they enjoy it, and perhaps they’ll be able to feel the way the music informed the writing. Thanks for spotlighting it.

      Reply
  7. anne

     /  December 4, 2016

    It was One of the BEST book I have ever read
    thanks for writing such a fabulous story like this

    Reply

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