EMI is producing a soundtrack for Fifty Shades of Grey. E L James’ incredibly popular book – this week becoming the fastest selling book in the UK of all time – will be set to 15 track album made up of music referred to within the books: Spem in Alium, La Fille Aux Chevreux de Lin, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.
Whilst a novel idea, this is by no means the first time music has been paired with the page. There’s a history of the practice but also some very modern takes on the idea.
First off, let’s get any prudes or naysayers out the way: it doesn’t matter what you think of Fifty Shades of Grey – be you avid fan, disgruntled spectator, or literary critic – the fact is that the book has been phenomenally successful, with or without the housewife revolution some have attached to its popularity. What is relevant to our shared interests is that Vintage Books and EMI have decided that a soundtrack would be a fitting accompaniment to the book. Yes, there’s a film deal in the works – there always is with these mega hits though – but it’s not every book that comes along and gets a CD of music that, according to EMI, creates a “mysterious and alluring atmosphere with just the slightest hint of danger” with which to best appreciate the story.
The decisions was likely spurred by a number of factors, that James makes mention of a number of classical pieces throughout the work; so they aren’t simply pulling these pieces together from nowhere. There’s also evidence that readers are searching out this music: as the books rose in the charts to claim the UK top spots, sales of Spem in Alium have risen too. The Tallis Scholars recording now sits atop the UK classics chart. So for Vintage looking on, the decision was heavily suggested.
So it makes sense for this instance of this soundtrack to be produced. Yet, if you look about online, it doesn’t take long to find a community of listeners similarly engaged in constructing a tone for their reads. David Gutowski’s site Largehearted Boy provides a source of daily music. It also has a collection of playlists created by authors whilst they were writing their books. For instance, whilst the writer of American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis, was working on his book Lunar Park he was listening to the likes of Frank Sinatra, ELO, and Turin Brakes. They form odd accompaniment as, unlike the Fifty Shades soundtrack, the songs aren’t actually name checked in the book, nor do they have a consistent theme that meshes beneath the book. Instead, this is the music that formed the brain-stuff that became the book.
The second comic in The Phonogram trilogy, The Singles Club (which is utterly fantastic and I’d be remiss to not recommend it heartily) takes place over a single club night, viewed from six different perspectives. As such, the music forms a marker between the stories: across the different episodes you learn where everyone was whilst Pull Shapes was playing, for instance. It also means there is a definitive playlist and running order through the series.
Finally, there’s a project you may not have heard of which may be right up your street if you’re looking for something aural to flesh out your reading: Booktrack. It’s a company that creates an accompanying score for books. These aren’t simply a playlist put together on the back of a napkin but full nine hour tracks made of original recordings, ambient sounds, and sound effects to fit the action on the page. For instance, their version of Dracula fits storm noises to the section in which Dracula’s dread boat makes landfall at Wetherby. As an iOS app it works on the iPad much like an enhanced Kindle. By gauging your reading speed over time, Booktrack aims to sync the words you’re reading almost perfectly with sounds. Because of the length of the scores and the work involved they’ve only managed to create a drop in the ocean when it comes to the books on offer but it’s certainly an interesting endeavour.
What do you think: should books come supplied with a soundtrack, or do you already create your own?