One of my closest friends does an exercise when facing a creative block. He recently put it to me to find a soundtrack that would fit with something I am reading and write a short review. Since I didn’t ask any clarifying questions, I’m not sure whether he’d prefer me to go with theme or ambiance in pairing these two media. Do I stick Led Zeppelin with the Lord of the Rings for all the Middle Earth references those gods of rock liked to brandish? Or do I go with music that “feels” like the mood of its literary partner?
For the sake of simplicity, I thought I would go with the latter this first time. Eerie music for an eerie story—since I love H.P. Lovecraft—was a natural choice (I would be reading The Shadow Over Innsmouth again soon anyway). I needed something a little creepy (to put it lightly) and relatively low-key to match the haunting yarns of weird fiction’s greatest pioneer. So I opened my Lovecraft anthology, turned to page 515, and pressed “play” on the Wax Tailor album, Tales of the Forgotten Melodies.
It took me about one minute to realize this would be anything but simple.
While Wax Tailor certainly offers a sufficiently creepy soundtrack to any story, I was almost instantly struggling to keep my focus on the reading. If you’ve ever listened to the truly odd mixings of Wax Tailor (aka Jean-Christophe Le Saoût), you know that this Frenchman’s trip/hip-hop music is full of samples from science fiction, mystery, and pulp films from the ‘40s and ‘50s. Suffice it to say, this album was threatening to replace the words on the page in front of me with the completely different narrative of track one, “Behind the Curtain Opening”.
I have a one track mind though (seriously, no pun intended), so by the end of track two (and onward), I had all but blocked out the music. The track’s light melody (and general lack of sampled dialogue) allowed me to carry on reading. I was barely aware of it, but I do recall bobbing my head as I read of the rumors surrounding Innsmouth and its geographically isolated situation on the New England coast. And then…
Track four: a monologue from the 1941 film That Uncertain Feeling. I was right back out of the story, listening to a man’s nihilistic worldviews, but only for a minute. This game of attention span ping pong was pretty much indicative of the whole experience. The rest of the album provided the occasional complementary atmosphere, but too often the equilibrium was punctuated with intrusive samples of angry men, crying women and other equally anonymous and disturbing goodies that would have been terrific on their own, but did NOT lend themselves to reading a book.
Full disclosure: I admittedly skipped tracks six, seven, and fourteen, as they featured guest vocalists and were the most disruptive. My favorite though, was track twelve, “Our Dance,” featuring Charlotte Savary. Her contribution to the melody was dark and breathy, and mingled well with the song’s slightly nightmarish sound bites.
Long story short, it takes a bit longer to read The Shadow Over Innsmouth than it does to listen to Tales of the Forgotten Melodies. I’d say my first effort in creating a multimedia soundtrack wasn’t quite a big ‘ol fail…but it was close. At least I picked two equally fear and anxiety-inducing pieces. And now it’s time for bed. Great.
Wax Tailor CD image from Wired