One thing I’d always done during the course of a writing project is to give it a soundtrack. Whether it’s a playlist, a list of specific albums, or a mixtape, it serves to create a specific mood that I’m looking for. With The Phoenix Effect, having envisioned this as a multi-book project even then, I’d given the series the name The Eden Cycle (referencing both obvious religious imagery and EdenTree, a megacorporation that would be a part of the plot). It seemed fitting to give the mixtapes the same title.
At the time, my idea had been of souls inhabiting AI cybernetic bodies — which in hindsight created a lot more trouble than it was worth — so the imagery I was looking for was much darker and creepier. That said, however, I chose not to focus on dystopian pessimism; instead I wanted my story to ascend past that into something positive.
This is the first of four mixtapes I made during 1997-8; this one was made in mid-April of 1997, just before I went on a road trip out to Ohio to visit a friend of mine. One of the major reasons for making it was so I could listen to it during my commute and think about what I was going to write. Over the next few days I’ll be sharing the other three original volumes from this era. The links are to their YouTube/Vimeo videos (they’ll open in a separate tab), and I’ll also provide a brief background as to why I chose the song for the mix.
- Poe, “Hello [Band Version]”
I liked Poe’s Hello album, but the kickass single remake of the song felt like a perfect opening to a mix tape. It fit in with the cyberpunk feel of TPE that I was originally aiming for as well. An ‘opening credits’ song, if you will.
- Failure, “Heliotropic”
Fantastic Planet was getting a crapton of play on my cd players, both at work and at home during my writing sessions. This track’s spaciness, loudness and extremely heavy, crunchy bass evoked the exact amount of tension I was looking for. It had that feeling of being outside on the brightest day with the heaviest of hangovers.
- U2, “Mofo”
Pop was still getting a lot of play as well, and I loved how twitchy this one was. I used this track as a kind of gauge to remind me of how Bridgetown felt on a spiritual energy level: a sprawl of millions of people, each with different levels and directions of this energy, all dissonant and discordant.
- David Bowie, “Dead Man Walking”
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the biggest of Bowie collectors — I think I only owned maybe five or six releases, tops — but Earthling (released earlier in 1997) connected with me big time. I loved its techno influences and its paranoia. This track fit my image of Nehalé: a man who was destined to take a specific action that would affect a vast number of people, and he had to force himself to come to terms with that.
- Psykosonik, “Need to Die”
There was a brief surge of darkwave techno in the mid to late 90s (super-generalization: darkwave = gothy electronica) that I got into, and Psykosonik’s Unlearn was handed to me by one of my HMV coworkers (Thanks, Doug!). I put this here mostly as a mood piece, but I did like how it fit in with one of the TPE themes: people didn’t necessarily have to die to be reborn spiritually.
- Live, “Lakini’s Juice”
Another mood piece, this one suggesting (to me) discomfort in a situation one could find themselves in. I believe I used this as inspiration for Poe’s constant irritation at not being able to complete tasks put before him.
- Elysian Fields, “Lady in the Lake”
Their Bleed Your Cedar album was handed to me as a promo, and I liked its swampy feel. The album (and this track) helped me focus on how a recently awakened character would have to deal with their situation; both feeling disconnected from everyone (I’m the only one like this) and superconnected (I can intimately sense everyone around me) at the same time.
- Moby, “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver”
As a Masshole, I had to appreciate Moby covering the Mission of Burma classic (as well as putting out a punk album, considering he’s more known as an electronic musician). Just like the original, this song was a perfect example of dedicated and determined nonconformity that fit in with Vigil.
- The Verve Pipe, “Veneer”
Not that long before this, I’d seen this band live in Boston, and they did a beautiful and transcendent version of this track (which, as it happens, is about a long road trip through Michigan while high). To me, it evoked a sensation of being elsewhere; in the process it inspired how I had my characters react when they first visited Trisanda.
- Richard Einhorn, Anonymous 4, “Exclamavit”
I’d heard Einhorn’s Voices of Light on NPR one evening when I was driving into Boston in the summer of 1995, and I was completely floored by the gorgeousness of it. [It was inspired by Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc and can be heard as its soundtrack on the Criterion dvd.] I wasn’t the biggest orchestral music fan at the time, but this slowly set me on my way. This particular opening felt like another good ‘opening credits’ piece, and thus opens Side B of the tape.
- Pulp, “Common People”
The album version of their classic single is a much more sinister affair than the single version (there’s an additional verse that truly reveals the disgust he holds back in the rest of the song). While the plot of the song doesn’t quite fit the plot of my story, it does reflect the bigoted view of The Other that was part of my story’s plot.
- Sponge, “Isolation”
There’s a great Lennon tribute album called Working Class Hero from 1995 that I listened to a lot then, and I loved this version of the Plastic Ono Band track. This ties in with the previous Pulp track, a forced cultural disconnect that one can only accept for so long before one has to fight back.
- The Offspring, “Gone Away”
Part of the reason this one was on here is that I heard it so many times during that Ohio road trip! Again, tension and discord. This time because something’s been taken away and you can’t do a damn thing about it.
- Filter, “Hey Man, Nice Shot”
This track inspired my love for the Slow Build: starting off quiet and sparse, but gradually growing louder and more intense in energy. The original Chapter 1 of The Phoenix Effect used this song as a template, which carried all the way to the opening of A Division of Souls. The ADoS opening is supposed to feel like someone slowly turning the volume louder and louder until it climaxes in an intense burst of energy.
- Failure, “Daylight”
Okay, how many times is this track on one of my mixtapes? One of my favorite songs of all time, and even at the start of the project I knew it would be the Ending Credits track to my story. [NOTE: I’m planning on writing a script of the ‘director’s cut’ for the ending of A Division of Souls and posting it over at the Bridgetown blog later this month, which uses this song as its soundtrack.] The story is done, everyone’s exhausted, and the day has been saved…but the fight is far from over…and roll credits. [Seriously, folks…go buy Fantastic Planet. It’s a fucking phenomenal record.]
- U2, “Wake Up Dead Man”
A denouement track after the epic ending track preceding. I knew TPE was going to end on an unresolved note, leaving it wide open for its sequel. The day has been saved, but the work’s not over. Relationships between certain characters have been strained or broken; others have refused to give in so easily. For me, this song is a plea for the war to cease before it goes too far. [I never forgot this idea and eventually used it in The Balance of Light.]
- The Tragically Hip, “Grace, Too”
Canada’s favorite band with one of their favorite hits, which I remember seeing on MuchMusic back in 1994 (partly because I loved that the video was created using monitor feedback). A lift from the previous song, in which we shift viewpoint to someone who knows they’re in the lower classes but still has high hopes for themselves. This idea would later become the gathering of the Mendaihu at the Moulding Warehouse in A Division of Souls.
- Jamiroquai, “Virtual Insanity”
…and after all that, ending on a slightly more positive note (somewhat), the final track brings a kind of…well, not hope, but an awareness. This was a big plot point even in TPE: the characters had to become completely aware of their situation, where the conflict wasn’t in trying to figure it out, but in coming to terms with it and choosing either use it, abuse it, or avoid it as long as they could.
Hope you enjoyed my little bit of tunage sharing there! I’ll be following up with the other three volumes in the original series soon!