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The music of chance

27th August 2012 - 12 Midnight Ben Sweeney


Ben Sweeney, from our Charing Cross Road branch, used to find music a terrible distraction when reading. But then a chance juxtaposition while travelling on a particuarly rowdy bus made him realise that finding the right music can bring out something new in a book.



Way back when I still read while walking down the street, neither a car horn nor a pneumatic drill could distract me from what I was reading. I could soundproof my brain. Unless by some chance there was a radio or a CD player nearby. In which case, a little bit of music was always nice in the background.


But then I started to appreciate silence while I was reading. I'm going to blame it on the education system. No more reading for pleasure; must analyse, must remember. The best soundtrack for this process is silence, even though the ache of a library's silence will slowly but inexorably spike my anxiety levels after a period of hours... or is that the info-dump causing the headache?


And then education finished, and a sort of literary shell-shock kicked in. I couldn't read without over-analysing, so I didn't.


It was a slow recovery. A few months later I could read non-fiction again. A short while after that I could pick up a fiction book and actually enjoy it. But I was reading at a snail's pace, and every single thing was a distraction. So best to read in silence.


A month ago I was on a long bus journey, one of those hellish ones with the screaming baby and an unrelated quarrelling couple, and I wanted nothing more than to find out what was happening to Daenerys in A Game of Thrones. So I put on my headphones and hit shuffle.


The Dark Knight RisesThe first thing I got was some tracks from Hans Zimmer's Batman soundtrack. And you know what? The sweeping strings, the pulsing bass, the synthesized reverb effects, they all seemed to match just perfectly the mood of the chapter. Daenerys gets angry, the violins start uptempo screeching. Daenerys' anger falls back into wary anxiety, and the screeching drops out leaving regimented percussion. Chapter changes, song changes.


Since then I've been trying to find mood-appropriate music to the books I've been reading. Film soundtracks by Hans Zimmer, Philip Glass, Gustavo Santaolalla and James Newton Howard seem to be wins all round. But with shuffle on, I've found a couple of matches:


Iain M Banks' Surface Detail: Muse - Absolution (instrumental version)

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale: Fallout 3 soundtrack

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth: Saint-Saens - Carnival of Animals


What do you listen to while you read? What is the soundtrack to your book?

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