I spend a regular part of my writing life these days reviewing music. It’s a great job, and gives me a chance to discover and appreciate some brilliant new rock music by new bands, as well as new music by older bands. Sometimes I do wish I could listen to all those albums while I’m working on my writing or doing translations, but unfortunately I can’t. Sure, I can listen to an album while I’m reviewing it, but if I’m working on any other writing, or a translation… it just doesn’t work.
For me, hearing what my words sound like as I’m writing them down is crucial – no matter whether I’m writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, translations, or an album review. I need to “hear” that voice in my head to judge whether the text has the right flow, the right feel, and the right rhythm.
When I’m writing prose or poetry, I simply can’t listen to to any kind of music with lyrics, because it seems to interfere and even block that all-important inner voice. Instrumental music, however, is fine and can even help me concentrate. Some of my favourite music to listen to while writing is Australian guitarist Graham Greene’s work (available on CD Baby), which I discovered a couple of years ago. He plays some truly amazing instrumental rock, which is an underrated genre in my opinion: I wish there was more of it! Depending on my mood, I also listen to Gregorian chants, and Jean Michel Jarre while writing.
When I’m translating, I also feel the need to “hear” the text in my head, especially once I’m in the editing stage and going through my work. I do listen to “regular music” when I’m doing my initial, rough translations, but my favoured background noise for this is Swedish radio, especially Swedish Radio P1. It’s 100% talk-radio, with shows about current affairs, religion, news, economy, health, and a wide variety of other subjects. No matter what the talk is about, having that radio chatting away in the background somehow helps my brain “tune in” to Swedish, making it easier to get into the groove of translating. Living in Canada means that I have to listen to P1 over the internet, of course, and that’s what I’ve been doing for years. How did I ever do without it? By now it’s an indispensable part of my day, and something I definitely don’t want to go without.
Finally, here’s a taste of one my favourite tunes for writing. It’s by Graham Greene, from his “Leap Of Face” album: