¶ It has been a busy summer full of travel: I’ve been to Kansas City to grade AP literature exams, to Champaign to walk in commencement with my cohort, and we just got back from Bowen Island off the coast of Vancouver for a brief birthday vacation as I look down the barrel at 30. I have a couple of brief weeks to buckle down on some research and writing projects before family from Boston come for a visit, and then I take off for professional gigs in Montreal and London for August. As I fully re-engaged with a full-time scholarly posture, I am reminded of the tools that keep me plugged in to my practice when I am balancing teaching in the mix.
¶ So this month, here is a list of some scholarly tools I live by on a day-to-day basis that makes reconnecting with the muscles needed for full-time scholarly work much more streamlined.
I am pushing toward the end of the last chapter of my dissertation and it feels so good. There is much revision that awaits in the new year, so I thought that a reflection on the tunes I use to write with seemed apropos. As a classical musician at one time, I prefer the well-constructed “wall of sound” to get my writing engine to turn over. As a literary critic, I simply cannot write with more words swirling around me. The exception might be the coffeehouse, where all the nose is in the abstract and unspecific, somehow remaining generative for me. (I have yet to employ Coffitivity, however, an app that recreates the ambient sounds of a café in the comfort of your own home.) Whether you are working through an academic essay or trying to hit next week’s #NaNoWriMo goal, here are a couple musicians I recommend to get you through.
Ludovico Einaudi: This Italian composer and pianist is my current go-to for sounds that snap me into focus. Preferring live recordings over the studio, I’ve given The Royal Albert Hall (2010) concert to many as gifts. It has m favorite version of “I Giorni,” which is a beautiful suggestion and cultivation of the affect of anticipation. I could listen to it over and over again. His newest release from earlier this year, Elements, is a refined exploration into technologically enhanced orchestra—moreso that In A Time Lapse. My favorite track at the moment is “Night.”
Hauschka: This German pianist is incredibly prolific, and it is hard to pick a favorite album. He is most famous for The Prepared Piano (2005), in which he compellingly experimented with the insertion of alien objects between or upon the piano strings, hammers and dampers. For writing, I most frequently turn to Snow Flakes & Car Wrecks (2009), Foreign Landscapes (2010), and Salon des Amateurs (2011). The last of these includes a larger ensemble of instruments if you are looking for a bit of texture to all this piano music.
Brad Mehldau: This American pianist (are you sensing a theme, yet?) plays as often as a soloist as he does with his trio. After seeing him in concert as an undergraduate with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra I was hooked, and have been writing to Brad for nearly a decade now. He’s an excellent collaborator not just with the trio but with Pat Metheny and others. He doesn’t shy away from a good cover either: his versions of The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android,” and Sufjan Stevens’ “Holland” are breath-taking. His new set of solo live recordings, 10 Years Solo Live (2015) makes a great sampler, as does the Brad Mehldau Trio’s Where Do You Start? (2012).
Everything I have listed here is streaming on Spotify and Amazon Music Prime. What are you writing to?