The Musicality of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
August 11, 2012 § 8 Comments
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is brimming with music.
“When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s ‘The Thieving Magpie’, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.”
Usually, I might not linger long on the mention of a song in a novel, especially when it’s in the first sentence and I’m eager to continue reading. But I sell handmade pasta at a farmer’s market and was compelled to test this unusual hypothesis.
Nonna’s Noodles are a fresh, egg-based pasta and take just a jiffy to cook so timing was a consideration for Rossini’s more than ten-minute overture. I figured I’d include even the most mundane parts of the process and pressed play just as I was placing a large pot under the cold tap.
Certainly, the opening snare-drum rolls added an intensity that I’d never before attributed to water gushing from a faucet. The water came to a salty, rolling boil just as I added the lemon-zest linguine and the piece transitioned into a softer, flightier movement – the musical equivalent of a gentle simmer. The noodles were al dente before the last crescendo, leaving enough time to drizzle olive oil, grate parmesan and twist the wrist with some cracked black-pepper, and voila! A most dramatic dinner!
I do believe Murakami was right about pasta and Rossini, and it’s clear that music in general is important to the author.
There are over 250 catalogued references to music, songs and albums in his writing on his site at Random House. A New York Times author-profile details his life as a teenager in Kobe, Japan where he immersed himself in American culture and jazz, internalizing “their attitude of cool rebellion”, marrying against his parent’s wishes and opening his own jazz club in Tokyo called Peter Cat. He messed around with music but didn’t feel like he had the technique required to be a professional musician.
In another NY Times piece called Jazz Messenger, Murakami says:
“I did often feel as though something like my own music was swirling around in a rich, strong surge. I wondered if it might be possible for me to transfer that music into writing. That was how my style got started.”
Practically everything he knows about writing came from music, he says, and these are some things he has learned:
“Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz.
Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more.
Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words.
Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow.
Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.”
A wonderful analogy. I do like his writing and it’s great to delve further into how the novel’s strange and sometimes syncopated style was influenced by elements of music and jazz (though a review of 1Q84 in The Guardian claims Murakami plays too many familiar tunes).
I like it though. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has a musical reference on every other page and I’ve started to jot them down as I read.
I’m only nine chapters in but so far I’ve swung from sentimental crooning to experimental jazz and delighted in a diversity of artists, from Johnny Angel to Eric Dolphy and Percy Faith.
It’s certainly eclectic and I’ve had fun compiling a playlist based on the book, which I’ll add to as I read along. If you happen to have Spotify, you can listen to it too!
For those more obscure references, it might be worth picking up a copy of Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, by Jay Rubin; it has a very enticing chapter called ‘Wagner and the Modern Kitchen’.
I don’t often stop mid-sentence to listen to a song but I always make the exception for pasta.
If music be the food of love, play on indeed!