July 4, 2014
After reading Air Carnation, we were curious to ask Guadalupe Muro about the soundtrack she has been putting together. She agreed to do an interview with us, and to share some insights on the inspiration behind it, the writing and recording experience, and what was next for the project.
- We just listened to the music on http://songsforrunawaygirls.bandcamp.com/. We loved it. Can you tell us more about the experience?
Songs have been a crucial presence during the writing of the book; and the English writers that have influenced its writing were: Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, Laurie Anderson and many classic soul and jazz song lyricists. Lyrics are for me malleable objects of investigation, much more than novels. I can dissect those little creatures and try to understand how language is operating and deduce how to use English in my own text. I wanted my writing to sound like the songs I love. I´m not musician, but I know that there is a music that accompanies my writing, so I tried to write pieces that gave me the same feeling I get when I look for lyrics and read them without their music. I took the structure of the verses in those lyrics like a parameter, to be sure that my sentences were well written. Of course this wasn´t an infallible technique, and Stan Dragland, who worked with me side-by-side for the last almost 4 years, can attest to that. I still have the first manuscript of the book he edited, and there is a note written in pencil for every two words. That´s what happens when you are learning a language, while you are writing a novel in that languageEven when I was writing the novel, the spine of each section, for me, is a song in a specific genre, a song written in prose, specially the first part of the book. Words are meanings but also sound, for me they are primary sounds. Each language has a sound and a rhythm of its own, that´s the difficulty of translating poetry. And that´s one of the main reasons why I wrote in English, I like how it sounds. I write when I find a cadence that I feel I want to ride, or that I´m already riding. I find a rhythm, and then I use words to embody that rhythm. But it doesn´t precede the poem in a conscious way, it develops while I´m writing it. Rhythm is always stronger than meaning, but it also has a meaning by itself, I mean, emotional information, like breathing, it can be calm or agitated, playful, faltering, sustained. Once I have a sense of how the poem will breathe, I see what that breathing allows me to say, how time and air flows through it. It´s like when you are walking and talking at the same time, if you walk slowly you can talk a lot, if you are running you can barely pronounce words, or you do it quickly, loud, straight forward. It´s like talking while you are laughing, or making love, or crying or furious. I play with information, the one carried by the breathing and the one carried by words, until they are inseparable, a unit. I know that if I get too stubborn with meaning, I might break the rhythm, and that will mean losing the poem. I can write “I felt miserable” and somehow trust that people will understand what I am talking about, or I can try to push readers to feel what I am talking about, like in this line in the book:
“As I assumed the guilt for my own misfortune, all the waves of the ocean fell out of the moon. They fell straight into my heart and broke it.”
Of course there is the image related to the ocean, but it is also the cadence of the waves inbuilt in the writing. When you read that, it pushes you to breath in its way, and it´s a heavy and blue and nocturnal and round and sad way, and that´s what music does to people.
- What inspired it?
This will be a long answer, because it is about the heart of the book and the intimacy of my whole writing practice. Since I was a child, I sang to myself and told stories to myself, and when I was very little, I used to sing stories to myself. What I really wanted to write–what I’m always trying to write–are songs. For me, Air Carnation is a collection of songs, defective, silent songs. I have read only two books in English: The Bell Jar and The Catcher in the Rye. My true bond with English is through music, since I look up the lyrics of the songs I like in English, but first it is about the music and then the desire to know what the lyrics are about.Some of the challenges:
Before writing this book, I only wrote poetry, and this book was a way for me to learn a new way to approach writing and language, writing narrative changed my writing routine and my awareness of something called “the reader.” As soon as I started, I discovered what might be obvious for many people, but not for me until then: narrative implies a lot of words that need to be written one next to the other! And it takes a lot of time to write them all! And a strong will. Writing a novel, in its delusions of grandeur, demands from the writer a steady pace, which was a challenge for me. I´m very interested in change and I can be very adaptable and change, I guess my rhythm in life is like that, and so it is in my writing, so writing narrative as you can imagine, some nights, became incredibly boring.
How the project got started:
After a year of steady writing, the boredom climax was more and more frequent, so I started to write parallel projects so I could have a break from the novel, but without completely stopping my writing. My friend and now band mate in Songs For Runaway Girls, Ana Lopez asked me if I could write lyrics in Spanish for her, she wanted to write some sambas and chacareras, two typical genres in Argentinean folklore, so I started to write lyrics. And I did it just as I started to write poems when I was a kid, choosing my favorite poems and emulating the voice. I wrote odes when I read Neruda. I wrote romances when I read Lorca, and I used a raw language, cut the stanzas in odd ways and added many spaces between words when I read James Laughlin.
So this time, I asked Ana to send me the lyrics of her favorite sambas and chacareras. When she did, I started to study them and analyze the structure, counting syllables and stanzas and accents, and discovering irregularities too. And I thought, if this lyric fit in a melody, if I copy the structure, eventually it will also fit in a melody. But these lyrics needed to be written in Spanish, and I was having a lot of problems writing in Spanish, I didn´t like how it sounded, so I stopped trying. But then, right in the middle of the process of writing the novel, I discovered Leonard Cohen, and by listening to him, I got the feeling that he was not entirely singing but reciting poems, and that the songs were more like musical environments for the poems to inhabit. That opened up my horizon to irregularities in the metrics, and with this in mind, I started to write lyrics in English in the same way I was trying to write them in Spanish. When Ana asked me again about the lyrics, I sent her “Green Song”, and one morning while we were having breakfast at my house, she sung it accompanied by a piano recording made with her phone, and that was one of the most joyful experiences in my life. Later that day, I found myself coming back from the supermarket singing to myself, my own poem, during the three kilometer trip that separates it from my house in Bariloche and become addicted to it, to write my silent songs and send them to her, and then wait and hear what music they create in her. And I discovered that in every case, the music was the kind I was thinking of when I wrote the lyrics.
Then I started to send the lyrics with some idea of the genre or the sound I was looking for, and then my brother Julián Muro joined us.
I know that I´m done with the lyrics when it brings to me a deep and almost uncomfortable silence, and the feeling that something important is missing, or worst remaining! When I see that they are limping, that they are still kind of raw, kind of silly with all their exposed rhymes, and the repeated choruses that I would never, not even in death will let survive in one of my poems, I send them before I erase and rewrite half of them. The lyrics are never finished until they go through Ana and Julián’s hands. They live both in Buenos Aires, and some of the happiest moments of my life were when one or the other called me and said “listen” and played the new song for me over the phone. There is nothing like that. Only love correspondence is like that
3. What was the recording and writing experience like?
I could write three pages about the recording process. However, the most important and revealing part of it was working and collaborating with the two other artists. I´m not used to that. I´m used to being a lone wolf writing into the late hours of the night. They are both amazing artists and I´m so grateful to have the chance to work with them. They are very talented and committed to their art and the project, and it’s very interesting to work with them and see how they relate to their creativity. Ana and Julián have had a huge influence on me, and have helped me to work on every literature piece that I talk about like a musical composition. We consider ourselves three composers and three voices, and that´s something that can be appreciated in the show. Each day, I´m more and more interested in storytelling and collaborations.
From the beginning, I wanted to keep that raw sound in the recordings, and that feeling, the one carried in the homemade recordings that Ana and Julián sent me, that heart beat, the texture of silence that is not neat, not the studio surgical silence but rich silence, the silence that embraces a reader. Silence for me is very important, and I´m always thinking about silence and it is an indispensable part of my work. The songs we recorded for me, are like the breaks I took from writing to listen to music, and I imagine the reader doing the same with my book, stop and read, pour a glass of wine, listen to the songs, and continue reading. And as the musician, I thought that it would be very easy, to make a simple recording! If it were up to me, we would just record the songs over the phone! However, to make a recording sound simple and raw with quality, is quite complex. I also wanted to record the whole album in one shot, in ambient sound (which it didn´t work in the end, of course) so we recorded it with a sound engineer in a disused inn, built on the shores of a beautiful lake in Bariloche. The place is huge with a high roof, and the camera was perfect, and some windows were broken so we had the sound of the Patagonian wind and we lit a fire, and the dogs came in while we were recording, and for me that was perfect.
4. What’s next for the soundtrack, for the book? Will there be a movie?
This is still a work in progress. We have more songs, and I wish to develop the project until it really sounds like the soundtrack of a movie, like the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction or Zorba, the Greek, with the recording of scenes from the book interpreted by actors, in real scenarios. There’s a long way to go still. And I hope there is a movie! We only need someone willing to make it!
The views expressed in this BookThug blog entry are held by the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of BookThug.
Puneet Dutt is a MA candidate in the Literatures of Modernity program at Ryerson University and currently works as an intern for BookThug. She has completed a marathon, and when she is not working, running, or doing coursework, she tastes the words of great poets on her tongue. Her poems have been published in Canadian Literature, the White Wall Review, and the League of Canadian Poets published “The Lonesome Lunch” for the 2013 National Poetry Month’s New Poet Selection. She resides in Toronto with her husband. (Follow her on Twitter: @Puneet_Dutt.)