Short Story: “Background Music” By C. A. Brown

Strange as it might sound, the best place to daydream is at a metal concert. In fact, I’d even go so far as to call it a form of meditation. If you’re seeing a band that you’ve heard before, then the goosebump-inducing “oh my god, I know this song and now I’m actually seeing it live” feeling quickly wears off and – with the cheering, the beautiful stage lights, the physical thumping from the speakers and the fast music – you can go into a kind of trance.

It is the last thing you’d expect to happen and yet it almost always feels perfectly natural at the time. I’d be standing in the middle of a music festival crowd and, whilst the rain hammered down and the gnarly dudes on stage growled into the mic, my mind would suddenly drift elsewhere. I’d find myself wondering what some kind of Aliens-style horror movie would look like if it was set in a bizarre desert village where the skies were always perfect blue and the buildings were painted the same colour as the hourglass sand below.

As the singer would rouse the crowd into repetitive cheers, I’d find that I was shouting along without even noticing it.

Instead, my mind would be mapping out this horror movie village, whilst also playing suspenseful scenes where scaly reptilian creatures lurk just out of sight and some nameless faceless main character explores the mysteriously deserted village.

And then, as the guitars begin to screech and wail again, and the rain drives down even harder, I’d suddenly realise that this cheesy B-movie that my mind had conjured up would work way better as a videogame. But, then, I’d wonder whether it’d be more fitting as a slow, suspenseful Resident Evil-style survival horror game or a fast, intense Doom II-like action game. I’d debate this question seriously for a minute or two, weighing up the pros and cons of each option until I remembered that I don’t know how to make videogames.

As the crushing disappointment of this fact hits me, the song finishes and the lead singer shouts to the crowd about how awesome we were. How we were louder than anyone they’d heard at the other festivals. Of course, they probably said the same thing at every festival. No doubt it was a hangover from the days when people held lighters rather than phones in the air. But, it didn’t matter. Because it was what we wanted to hear.

And then the band would launch into the next song and I’d realise that it was one that I associated with some memory or part of my life. As the sky darkens and the feeling of the rain fades away, I’d find that I was back in the past again. But not the actual past. Not the real past with all of it’s mixed emotions, awkward moments, dull days and foolish thoughts – but something else. My memories would suddenly go from being a montage of mental images and words to being a single emotion. A totally new emotion that literally was that part of the past.

Then, I’d try to think of a word for it. And I couldn’t. I could feel it more strongly than anything else and I knew exactly what this brand new emotion felt like – but, I was the only one who did. No-one had gone before and added a word to the dictionary to describe the exact feeling of remembering that exact time from that exact perspective. I realised that I had something really precious, but that I could never share it. Sure, I could try to paint a picture using words that people already knew, but it would be a crude, second-hand bootleg copy. It wouldn’t even come close.

Then, as the word “bootleg” flashed through my mind, I’d find myself back at the concert again, listening to the music. I’d realise that I’d been singing along the whole time and my throat was hoarse. My eyes would flit towards one of the phone screens held towards the sky, showing a miniature version of the flashing, dancing stage. Then I’d wonder if I’d be visible in any of the concert bootlegs that showed up on Youtube a few days later. Inevitably, I wouldn’t.

Then, with applause and shouts, the concert would end and the crowd would begin to scatter. And, with more than a little surprise, I’d find myself realising that I could remember more about the daydreams I’d had than the spectacular show I’d just seen.

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One Basic Way To Make Up For The Lack Of Background Music In Art, Comics And Fiction

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this subject before, but I’ll be talking about background music (or, rather, the lack of it) today. This was mostly because I ended up watching this absolutely fascinating video about the soundtrack to the classic 1982 sci-fi masterpiece “Blade Runner“.

As the video explains, the soundtrack to this film is an integral part of the film for all sorts of interesting reasons. Naturally, this made me think about making art, making comics and writing fiction.

After all, in their traditional form, these mediums can’t include background music. In purely practical terms, this is probably a blessing (given the money and/or stress involved in licencing background music or hiring a composer), but it also means that comics, traditional art and prose fiction can’t really do the same things that films, TV shows and computer/video games can.

So, I thought that I’d take a quick look at one of the most basic ways that you can make up for the lack of background music in art, comics and/or prose fiction.

One of the most important features of background music in films, television and games is that it helps to set the tone of what is happening. If you hear ominous and suspenseful music during part of a horror movie, you know that something frightening is going to happen. But, of course, you can’t do this in art, comics or fiction.

So, what do you do instead? Simple, you use the background elements to do the same thing. Whether this is carefully choosing the lighting you use in a painting or using a slightly faster-paced narrative style with slightly less complex language during a thrilling scene in your novel, changing some of the background elements slightly can really help to set an emotional tone in a smilar way to how this is done through background music.

To show you what I mean, here is the example painting that I used in yesterday’s article. It’s a piece of gloomy 1980s/90s-style sci-fi horror art that I made a few months before writing this article. It relies heavily on gloomy lighting, a slightly limited colour palette etc… to create a slightly ominous atmosphere which compliments the events of the painting:

“Scaffolding” By C. A. Brown

Now, here’s a digitally-altered version of the same picture which changes a lot of things (eg: the background, the colour saturation etc..), whilst keeping the events of the painting the same. As you can see, it loses a lot of the ominous tone of the original version:

This is the same painting, but with some digital changes to the background, colours and colour saturation levels. The events happening in the picture are the same, although they look less dramatic due to the brighter tone of the rest of the painting.

To give you an example of this kind of thing in prose fiction, here’s a lush, vivid description from the first page of “Lost Souls” By Poppy Z. Brite: ‘The sky is purple, the flare of a match behind a cupped hand is gold; the liquor is bright green, made from a thousand herbs, made from altars.

And here’s a quote from a later part of the book during a more fast-paced moment. The sentences are shorter and the descriptions are considerably less complex: ‘He edged around the front end of the car and pulled his door open. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ghost do the same. They threw themselves in and both doors slammed at once. Steve thumbed the lock button. Ghost was ranting at him.

Although neither scene includes any background music, you can probably imagine the first one having a much deeper, more complex and more ambient soundtrack. Likewise, the second quote would probably have a much more muted and fast-paced soundtrack. Yet, the changes in atmosphere and tone are achieved by the way that each scene is written.

As for comics, there are all sorts of ways that these techniques can be used. As well as changing the “look” and detail level of the art to reflect the mood that you want to get across the audience, you can also do things like having dialogue-free segments during fast-paced or suspenseful moments etc.. Likewise, changes to the panel layout can also affect the tone of your comic.

For example, the second panel of this comic update of mine is a long, flowing thing that seems to consist of four panels blended together. Since there are no obvious panel borders in this scene, it creates a slightly dreamy and ethereal atmosphere which might make you think of a similar type of background music.

“Damania Reflection – Attention Span” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, novels, art, comics etc… can’t include background music, but they can do a lot of the same things that background music in a film does.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂