Miss Alexandrina

The thinking-space of a not-quite novelist


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7 Quick Takes About Music and Writing and a Little Bit of Costuming

Regulars know the Friday drill. Join us at ConversionDiary  as we connect about our weeks.

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes about dog whispering fails, a hilarious interview moment, and why my radio show will have the best intro music ever

~1~

It feels like it’s been a busy week for me – back and forth even when never moving. Now September is here, I’ve started preparing my body, soul and mind for moving back to Reading. Next week will be the start of the physical preparations…packing. I’d love to wait until after Lincoln, but that would give me five days (actually, that’s totally acceptable).

~2~

Speaking of which…my costume is almost finished, and I’m getting excited. Here’s a snippet I took to test out the use of petticoats under the floor-length dress. Technically, my petticoats are 50s and half-length, but if I wear them at that very line of my hips, they provide some necessary frame on full-length. Yay for petticoats.

And messing about with photo editor...

And messing about with photo editor…

~3~

We’re looking after two cats at the moment, a grey tabby and a black-and-white bundle. Not to mention little neighbourhood Mew (at least, that’s what we’re calling the feisty little girl) who, whilst at odds with the two we’re looking after, is still content to try and steal their food by forcing entry into our house with her cuteness. It’s not my fault I’m a weak soul when it comes to felines!

The three of them are certainly a handful, though! I’d forgotten the thrill of cats, chasing, struggling, looking all big-eyed when they don’t want to eat the food we’ve provided. :P

ALexB_Mew

~4~

Not only is this 6-minute (SPG) song awesome, and one that definitely grew on me, and it always From the (am I allowed to say iconic?) album The 2 Cent Show, it’s one of their more acoustic-sounding pieces.

~5~

My music… I was supposed to be practising a few of the songs for choir in my privacy today, but I have misplaced—

Literally as I was writing that, I realised that I’ve been looking in the wrong email address for the classical repertoire. Right, I’ll be practising that tomorrow then. The evening is for writing exclusively.

I’ll hopefully keep updated on this one. This is one of the things I’m looking forward to on my return.

~6~

On the other hand, I’m definitely getting back into the swing of being a guitarist. Maybe one post I’ll write about the year’s hiatus I took and how it helped me. Shimmer is easier to use than my acoustic, Ruby – electrics have lighter strings, and I’m finding it much easier to barre and run the fret. Certainly, useful for songs like Brass Goggles. Not so useful for today’s work, I’ll Rust With You, but that song’s pretty groovy anyway ;) The most difficult part is probably singing the melody as I find the strumming patterns

~7~

Editing. I got through chapter 14, one of the more…difficult chapters of OJAP, mainly because of it’s compounding of all Agnetha’s thought-trails in the novel – also, as I discovered, it is 4000 words of chatter and contemplation, two phone calls, Agnetha lying on the floor crying and some mother-daughter dissonance. Whilst these are totally acceptable themes to have in the novel, I’m worried about this chapter for its interesting-ness. I mean, if I’m getting bored editing… #nothappy appropriate here.


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Photo of the Week: Wooden Waves

Not much on the actual photography front this week, sadly: the entirety of the, what?, three photos I took this week were purely touristy and not artistic, though I did take a nice picture of two in-costume Victorian flowergirls and a train-shell in historical Windsor, which I might share later if the wifi between my phone and my laptop would please work. *annoyed look*

On the other hand, I’ve been playing my electric a lot to pass the time and dissolve into music. I think I mentioned Shimmer when I first acquired him? *obligatory guitar fretboard shot*

Shimmer_AlexB

Anyway, back to the photo. This is another from my trip to Dubai, our hotel room. I couldn’t help being a bit macro/’arsty’ (if one might call it that) when I saw the way the chest of drawers was shaped – to fit with the rest of the water-and-wave theme in the room, I suppose. All the drawers themselves were the same size, but I had fun working this out by opening and closing them to different levels! #childsplay

AlexB_CupboardLines


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Dealing With a Music-less Novel

NYCorgan2As the rain pours down in a typical English spring day outside, I’m listening to Mozart’s 27th violin sonata (in G major) and thinking. “Does this reflect any scene from WTCB?” There’s no reason why it should, but I have been trialling certain songs to see which would make any kind of ‘soundtrack’, theme songs or #ManuscriptMusic for the novel.

If anything, 27 in G echoes the silence between the scenes. Peter’s walk from Mansion hall to entrance after he chooses family rather than love; Aidelle and Phillip arm-in-arm leaving Grassland Close with an argument of revelations in their proper past. The music holds both the sorrow and the relief of scenes like those. Maybe not happiness in an entirety, but an edge of artistic peace, an edge in general.

Despite his accompanying flamboyance, and what one feels is rather an overuse of certain motifs, I am rather partial to Mozart sonatas.

These thoughts came to me mostly from the fact that Twitter has been alive with Pitch Slam hashtags recently, one Twitter party of which was the above #ManuscriptMusic, inviting authors to post songs or playlists of their novel’s soundtrack or the music they listen to as they write.

Now, I have neither. I don’t listen to music as I write – my musician’s tendency distracts me from the writing – nor does WTCB have a set of music fundamentally linked to it, as, for instance, OJAP does.

This problem has crossed me before, but I might just be at a solution-point.

What does one do when music not only is not a prominent feature of a novel, but also is backwards to our real, modern music? Jumping the gun a little, this must provide some sort of problem for those people who pair commercial movies with commercial or ‘modern’ pieces of music (you’ll recall that The Great Gatsby sound track featured modern interpretations of jazz-era sounds); all well and good if one has Hans Zimmer or John Williams, but for an alternate universe without those composers and ideas some sense of the music is lost by sticking common songs in place of something that should be created. Even dystopians get away with pop song soundtracks – after all, we live in a world of metallic and computer-generated beats that reflect the frame of metallic surroundings, capitols and divided societies dystopians emulate.

I Wanna Be a Billionaire1. Ignore the music aspect entirely. There’s nothing wrong with this. Not every novel needs a soundtrack tied in a bow around it. One doesn’t need music for the process of writing or editing, and not every protagonist thinks in music.

For me, however, this route is flawed, since, as soon as the first chapter, Phillip and Aidelle have a quick discussion of the piano Aidelle’s mother bought for Phillip’s parents. Evidently, even if it is a matter of class, music features in my novel, from beginning to end and I have to be true to that.

2. Tailor the characters’ experiences of music to fit a suggested soundtrack. In WTCB, three significant instances of music stand out to me. One of these is an indirect feature: the piano, as I mentioned, which, whilst not showing the type of music Continentians tend towards, gives a suggestion that music has some weight in their society, if not their culture. In an earlier draft, Phillip uses a similarly indirect mention of a guitar plectrum to act as a metaphor.

The latter two instances of music come from a character whose career is to become a singer – if she lives through the changing timelines. Lynnetta sings a phrase of the Piu Jesu in one instance – suggesting that the Continentians are acquainted with choral music even if they don’t understand the notion or vocab of God. The song is just words. After all, Latin is present in the society.

Later, she and her brothers (who play said piano) sing their composed ditty. So, that sort of music is present, too. I have to create a soundtrack that reflects this – with choral music moving towards a more casual kind of inn music.

As The Almanac says:

“The Little College takes into account the ‘fashion’ of music and creates a new Entertainment course. During the year, they have an influx of applicants and break away into a new college. The Espionage Team still exists and they discover a ‘Conservatoire’ music hall in The Second Continent. The name is stolen.”

3.RecordPlayer_AlexB Have a character who defies the norm. In The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, music is prohibited. When MC Paige is sent to the alien-run Oxford, her Warden, Arcturus, has managed to obtain a forbidden gramophone through transactions with humans and Paige often comes back from her training to the sound of jazz and awesome classical pieces.

4. Devise a ‘soundtrack’ of action pieces. Every good story has conflict and spikes in tension. Think of your favourite books – haven’t you ever heard a cacophony of noise in amongst the dialogue? Maybe not, but I know I have. Had I the confidence, I’d return to composing my own pieces of action sequence music. In this way, that’s why I’ve been seeking classical music to fill the void where WTCB’s soundtrack ought to stand. It best has the crashes, bangs and synaesthesia-like patterns of scenes to mimic the elegance of prose.

5. Create an alternative playlist. Maybe it’s not so faithful to the fantasy world you’ve created or maybe your protagonist doesn’t have any favourite musicians/songs, but you want to show how music is in the themes and ideologies of the novel. I’ve heard a good number of modern songs that reflect Aidelle and Phillip’s relationship and troubles, but I’d not put them on my playlist because they don’t reflect the feel of the novel – such as Time by Anastacia.

There’s nothing wrong with having an official playlist and having your favourite songs on a separate list to point to and say – “this is what I feel my novel is about, but this isn’t music from the novel.”

So, those are my thoughts for how music could be included in a music-less world. I’m hoping I can get a playlist or one or two specific songs that truly reflect the world I’ve devised and in which my characters exist and live.

Any other tips you can think of?


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Photo of the WeeK: Shimmer

(Moved back from yesterday because of the obligatory blog hop post)

Shimmer_AlexB

I’d like to welcome a very late Christmas present to the blog: my electric guitar, Shimmer, which didn’t arrive until this week. A basic Affinity series Fender Stratocaster, but my family can’t afford anything fancier and because I still have my electric-acoustic, Ruby, I wouldn’t ask for anything more.

I hope you like the shot – I wanted to get all of the lake placid blue colour in, whilst also being artistic. What’s photography without artistry, eh?

Because I have a bit of a fretboard fetish (!), here’s some gratuitous shots of the new one, smooth rosewood fingerboard and harmonious strings.

IMAG7730 IMAG7744 IMAG7745

I also got a birthday present early – a new phone, so, although I’m not upgrading ’til June, I’ve got a shiny new camera feature to my rather-outdated pixalations here. It’s been great working with my hTc Wildfire, and you’ll find it – and, more importantly, its photographs – scattered across my posts since the genesis of this blog, but it’s time for me to change (aside from the fact that I couldn’t make calls anymore…).


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WTCB September: Should I Have Music?

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I LOVE music. I feel like I live it. When I play my acoustic guitar, the notes flow and dance around me; when I listen to music, it fills me with joy. I always have some sort of song in my mind.

So why do I have very few instances of music in When the Clock Broke? Sure, I have mentions, but, even the instances of living through the music are fleeting. Some books have a melodic undertone or symbolic numbers interwoven – easier to write in contemporary or historical than fantasy. Nevertheless, I believe all writing should have at least an inch of musicality to its prose.

As a general question, is there a way to wind music into each story, or is it simply not possible?

Perhaps When the Clock Broke is missing a stream of symbolic music/melodic references because it’s a classical world with fewer instruments; fewer instances of explicit performance. The Conservatoire (the Continental college for music) is only opened after the end of the trilogy, in time for Zara’s little sister to study there.

Even so, that’s a weak excuse.

Why? The honest answer is ‘I don’t know’. I never imagined that any scenes in the novel are filled with music as they occur – I’ve not even a soundtrack, as some authors have. Even during Lynnetta’s scenes – because it’s not about her soprano gift and performance, it’s about what happens after she finishes singing. It’s just in her personality to be a singer, as it is in her grandfather’s to attempt to learn the piano given with his fiancé.

In Costello Mansion, an eerie silence hangs. A foreboder of the land laid bare and unentertained? After all, the entertainers are the middle-lower class; it is the role of the upper class to watch and only watch. Still, the family eats in silence; the servants have no piano or musical instrument; and Andrew’s guitar was abandoned in the attack a long time ago (I told you he was a cold fellow).

Conversely, it’s characters who play instruments for whom I really care. So – why do none of mine properly?

Is Phillip weak for not being able to progress further with his pianist instincts? Or is that simply borrowed from my own lapses in practise?

That world is without music. Why? Or rather – how did it come to lack music’s golden caress? Or still – should it have? One of the things I’ve always wondered about JK Rowling’s world is that she rarely explicitly mentions a wizard or witch who plays an instrument. One’d have thought Hermione would have been musical, since all the brightest people I know are not only freakishly intelligent, but they are similarly gifted musically.

Should fantasy worlds always have a musical background or aspect to them? Of course, music adds another flavour of culture, as with any tale, but I don’t want to force it into the mix, to make melodies where none exist.

Ruby_AlexB

I look at my novel sometimes frequently with an eye of pure criticism: “how is this great, or powerful, or wonderful?” Where are those pieces of sparkling inspiration I see when I read? Nobody has a gramophone in The Continent (ironically, in the contemporary, there is one – but then that also comes with a dead organist, so figures), so no music will play in the background. In a stilled time, how will music spill when life does not move? In an alternate universe, I cannot choose from a selection of old-timey musicians because those musicians never existed. Only Latinate verse is found from the somewhere.

But they are there, in the background. If music had been discovered/had evolved sooner, perhaps Chopin and Bach would have joined the list of historical figures in The Almanac we share with The Continent.

NYCorgan2

Did I mention that music can change my mood very quickly?

PS. I love the origin of English the word ‘music’. As with many words, it has evolved through several languages to be the word we know today, including old French (oddly, the same as the current French musique, so I’m not entirely sure how it is entitled to be ‘old’ French apart from the Norman Conquest linages).

Unsurprisingly, however, we look back as far as the Romans and Greeks for our word. The Latin musica is a stolen derivative of the Greek word for the Muses: µύσας. The consonantal K-sound then comes from the genitive of µύσα, as any form of art was described as the work of the Muses: µὐσική τέχνή.

One more fun fact: as collated by Aristotle, ‘techne’, technical knowledge (in this case used as the act of creating a finished product), is one of the primary intellectual virtues forming in the rational part of the soul needed for living a more virtuous/continent life.


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King and Queen of Music

 

If the organ is the king of the instruments, then the harp is the queen, surely?

An organ from the instrument collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

An organ from the instrument collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

My thought behind the first statement comes in several stages. If the organ is king, then it follows logically that it would have subjects and lower-status instruments in its family. I would originally have posited that the harpsichord stood for queen-ship, but this instrument is still the string-pedal-key type*, so it doesn’t make sense to be equal to a much larger, more insistent guy. At best, the harpsichord can only rank as princess (there’s something very feminine about the word ‘harp’ to me) or prince of the instrument family.

*This makes it seem as if I know less about the mechanics of an organ than I do or still less about the pedal-string application of a harp. I’m oversimplifying, ‘kay?

In another way of looking at it, we could take the king and queen from their sound value – the louder an instrument can be, the higher their royal ranking. This may also be on a par with physical size as well as aural; the organ fits both category requirements well. But as do a lot of instruments….

Then there’s some logic in supposing that the organ is king of the instruments for his/its spiritual value; the organ has been used for symphonies, cantatas, masses big and small since the ‘beginning’ of music – or commercial music, I suppose. As well as having been there for a long time, the organ is the base of the idea of chords and choral and melodic differences. Plus, it can belt out whatever sort of sound.

In this way, the organ pretty much rules!

That said, I now feel I have made my justification task a whole lot harder.

A harp from the same collection

A harp from the same collection –  look how decorative this instrument can be!

However, though she/it may not be the largest of instruments, the harp brings something new to the table, whilst still being something old. It is of my opinion that the harp can be a spiritual instrument (it’s mentioned in the Bible and with the stereotypical angelic Host image) and its sound produced is a magnificent blend of gentle harmony and string aesthetics.

The harp has been around possibly longer than the organ itself, or some variety has. Ever since humanity has understood how to make a melodic stringed instrument, they have done so, with the lyre and the popular cithara. My guitar is only the baby of the string family (or should that be ‘servant’ in the royal ranking?). 

The harp may not be the loudest of instruments, but its position in the string family is clearly quite a high one. It’s one of the bigger string instruments and, whilst being accessible on many levels, it can also be altered and played in all manner of ways.

Thus, I think the harp is a well deserved queen!

It’s not that I am discrediting the sound value of other instruments, but the organ and harp are two that are synonymous with importance in musical society. As for other families, I see brass up there as highly-respected courtiers for their amazing sound value, if not for size or background wealth. I’m particularly a fan of the horn section when played to perfection.

 


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I Love My Capotasto

Okay, so this is basically a rant about how much I love the new capo (short for capotasto, Italian for “head of fretboard”- thank you, Wikipedia!) I have been bought and the sound I am able to produce with it.

For those of you less string-inclined, this is a capo.

By being placed tight on the fretboard of a stringed instrument- in my case, guitar- it changes the length of the strings (hence the Italian translation, since it does become the new fretboard-head), thus the pitch, and thus the entire key of the instrument. It’s an ingenious little device actually, first mentioned by musicologist G.B. Doni in his Annotazioni of 1640, though capo use began earlier in the 17th-century (so Wikipedia informs me). Some muscians use capos to help them with holding certain chord shapes as if they were playing with ‘open’ strings; I myself use one because I think it sounds divine!

I have come to the decision that my favourite  capo position is on the third fret, the regular barre positon of G, creating a tone that brings up the fallen red of a sunlight across a sandy beach. Yay, slight synaesthesia!  It helps that my Music GCSE enabled me to complete cadences by ear, as well as with some complex thinking about which key requires what cadence where. Ironically, I advanced my barre chord skills by playing Lady GaGa’s song ‘Pokerface’ over and over again.

I had a good session of composing yesterday, though it probably didn’t do my nails any good- not that I should actually have long nails on my left hand. Now, they’ve been brittle, chipping, breaking and peeling, calcium layers like an onion. My fingers flake themselves too; it’s lucky I’ve been playing for so long that my calluses are automatic.

I could go on and on about capos, but I shan’t, since a capo-specific post could come in the future. If you would like to know a little more, you need only ask!

Ruby, my darling guitar, steel-string, and acoustic with amplifiable qualities

Music is so much a part of my life. I love the wisdom that can be sought from it, the inspiration that is gained without much effort, and the ability that is honed and will always become better. There are many great musicians in the world, there have, indeed, been some remarkable , but there will never be a ‘perfect’ musician. Music may have the appearance of sounding perfect, complete, but it can never be the best music, as such a thing changes with the turn of life. In any case, let music rein on so well!

Alexandrina :)

(Wikipedia page) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capo

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