Guest post by Alex White:
I started composing music for The Gearheart back in 2009 on a lark. When I started, I had no sense of composition for an emotional journey, only fantasy tropes. I had to noodle each note onto a tiny keyboard until it felt right, and I spent about three hours on eight bars. My first attempt was a song called “Steel Convictions,” and it’s noticeably amateurish.
Fast forward to now, and I just released two songs for my forthcoming debut novel, EVERY MOUNTAIN MADE LOW (https://soundcloud.com/countermeasures/sets/every-mountain-made-low). I’ve scored dozens of projects, including THE MINISTRY OF PECULIAR OCCURRENCES and most recently, SIX STORIES, TOLD AT NIGHT. My soundtracks have gotten far better at conjuring their parent stories, and I’d like to detail my thought process for the EVERY MOUNTAIN MADE LOW theme, “The Fiddleback’s Revenge.”
I started with the main character.
Loxley Fiddleback is an anxious woman, drawn to patterns and routine, living in the desperate conditions of the Hole, a cutthroat mining town built into the rings of a crater. She’s a private person who loves to play her violin and dreams of being a farmer far away from the city.
Right there, I know that I should start with a violin. Not only is it the main character’s chosen instrument, but it’s extremely expressive when arranged well. Loads of composers have used it in patterned, minimalist arrangements, especially Philip Glass, whom I adore. A quick piano bit for punctuation stops it from getting too repetitive without much distraction from the thesis. The only downside is that the violin carries almost no cultural connotations without a bluegrass effect.
The Hole is an alternate-reality of Birmingham, Alabama, so the book is steeped in the traditions of the Deep South, the good and the bad. I grew up just north of Birmingham, where we had our annual bluegrass festival. There, fiddlers, banjo players, guitarists and cloggers stood in circles in chilly October to while the day away in fellowship. Nothing conjures the thought of home like a mandolin, so I immediately knew to add one to the track. That’s the counter-melody you hear in the middle.
The pace of the track had that anxious pattern I wanted and a bit of southern charm, but the book is about revenge, and the grit just wasn’t there. It was time for a harmonica—the universal shorthand for lawlessness.
Like any great revenge tale, the song needed to build to a bloody crescendo. For that, I chose a bluesy solo played on a Gretsch (a guitar local to Nashville). Add a rocking drumbeat, and the fury came down on the track like a hammer. I switched up the mandolin to the Italian style to get the pace I needed, as opposed to the local chop chord method, which might conjure memories of Silent Hill for some of you. Wrapping it up with a minor harmonica part gave the whole thing an air of uncertainty. Is this a happy story? Who knows?
So there you have it. Here’s hoping you’ll head to your local bookstore and pick up a copy, and when you do, take a moment to listen to the theme. See if it does it for you.
EVERY MOUNTAIN MADE LOW (Solaris, 2016) by Alex White is available now wherever you buy books. The cover art alone is worth the price. If you like it, consider leaving a review on Goodreads or Amazon. It is one of the few fantasy novels I know of that features an autistic savant woman as the main character. Loxley Fiddleback’s story is sure to stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.