I often listen to music while I’m reading. Usually instrumental stuff, because anything with lyrics often makes me want to sing along and it’s kind of difficult to sing while also reading. Plus it’s often easy to find good instrumental music to fit the mood of what I’m reading, given that most of what I read trends to fantasy and sci-fi. A quick search on Spotify will yield dozens of playlists with music that fits well for those genres.
But rarely does music get written specifically to accompany a given book. That’s usually reserves for movies or TV shows, but not for novels. Enter Austin Farmer, and The Bookshelf Symphony Orchestra.
The Bookshelf Symphony Orchestra is an instrumental concept album created for readers and writers. Over the course of 2 years, Austin Farmer teamed up with brothers Addam and Heath Farmer to help produce, co-arrange, and mix/master the album, bringing over a decade of experience in the music industry to the project. Every song is titled after the novel it was inspired by and couldn’t have been created without those stories. Austin’s previous songs have been featured on Nickelodeon, CBS, Fox Sports, and a national Sprint TV campaign with indie rock bands Island Apollo and The Bolts. Musical influences on this album include songs from many of the instrumental playlists he’d listen to while writing fiction, including Two Steps From Hell, Bear McCreary, and Joe Hisaishi.
His short story “Beethoven’s Baton” is featured in Baker Street Irregulars, co-edited by Michael A. Ventrella and NYT Bestselling Author Jonathan Maberry.
The music on the album is beautiful, and even if you haven’t read every novel associated with the playlist (which I can safely and sadly say that I haven’t), you can still appreciate the scene-setting that’s evident in every note. Listening to the album, even though the tone changes from song to song, it was hard to not just close my eyes and get swept away in the music.
I’m particularly fond of Flight of the Lionheart and The Alchemist. But each of us associated with the blog tour were assigned particular songs to focus on, and mine was the eminently creepy Patient Zero.
Go figure the person with the zombie phobia gets assigned a song connected to a novel about zombies.
Don’t get me wrong. The song is fantastic, even if zombies scare the everloving hell out of me and I want nothing to do with them. It starts out creepy, evoking images of empty streets and tense silence, ramps up into what feels very much like a tight chase scene with high stakes, and then winds down again into a haunting repeat of the opening. It’s fantastic, spine-tingling, and I love it.
Farmer was kind enough to do a bit of a Q&A session with me (as well as all the other bloggers participating in this tour; so if you’re interested in reading those, head to the tour page for links), so let’s launch into those right now.
1. I’m sure just about everybody has asked this by now, but what was it that made you want to make this album to begin with? Books don’t usually get musical accompaniment in this fashion, so I’m curious as to what inspired you to provide some.
That’s a great question! I’ve been wanting to fuse my passions of music, reading, and writing for a long time. When I’m writing fiction, I normally have an instrumental playlist pulled up to help inspire me to create, and I know that a lot of authors do the same thing. I wanted to create an entirely original album of new instrumental music for readers and writers to listen to while they’re working, and that’s how I originally thought to create The Bookshelf Symphony Orchestra.
It was a 2 year process from start to finish, from creating the songs, to pitching the idea as an album, to fully re-arranging, producing, mixing, and mastering the album ourselves. My brother Heath helped me co-produce and co-arrange these songs, and my other brother Addam helped mix and master these. They really helped bring this project to life.
2. There are a lot of novels that have zombie apocalypses as a theme. What was it about Patient Zero that made you want to highlight it in particular in the album?
Patient Zero by #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Jonathan Maberry (published by St. Martin’s Griffin) is amazing. I wanted to highlight this book in particular because I wanted to emulate the same adrenaline-fueled emotions I felt when reading about Joe Ledger’s journey.
I tried writing 3 different versions of a song for Patient Zero over the course of a year. The first two earlier drafts weren’t really cutting it, and I kept getting frustrated on how those versions were sounding. These drafts were completely different songs than what is heard for Patient Zero on the final album. I wanted this song to really feel like a journey into another world alongside none other than Joe Ledger himself, so I gave this song more time to cool off and start again without rushing the quality of the song. It wasn’t until we used new software and arranging techniques to help make the orchestral instruments work well with the mix that it started coming together.
In the first movement of the song, there is a dark piano part set against an underscore of strings. Then, a few layers of haunting choir singers come in, which soon transition with an 808 drop to a rhythmic, distorted synth beat. Shortly after, chaos ensues for the second movement of the song with a tense, driving orchestral rock jam session with horns. In this section, Addam played electric bass and I played drums. Heath helped create the horn and synth countermelodies for the second half of this section, and I’m really happy how it turned out (especially after 2 early drafts of the song for Patient Zero)!
Also, Jonathan Maberry is one of the most generous authors around and continuously gives back to the writing community with different writing events and resources. If you haven’t checked out his fiction yet, you need to.
3. Was there a particular scene from the novel you were trying to invoke with the Patient Zero song, or was it more emblematic of the novel as a whole?
Without giving anything away, there is a section in Patient Zero where Joe Ledger first demonstrates his abilities to his team. In this song, I wanted to evoke a sense of adrenaline where you can feel the tension continually rise, just like what Joe Ledger feels throughout this scene and the entire novel. I also wanted to bring about the feeling, like you mentioned, that zombies are right around the corner, so you can hear those elements in the intro and outro. I had such a great time recording this song. Thank you very much for listening!
If you want to get your hands on the album, which was release on August 17, 2019, you can find it on Amazon or Spotify, and I highly recommend giving it a listen. And thank you very much to both Austin Farmer and Storytellers on Tour for allowing me to be part of this fantastic blog tour!
Austin Farmer is a musician, writer, and filmmaker from Southern California. His music has been featured on Nickelodeon, Fox Sports, and a national Sprint commercial. His short story “Beethoven’s Baton” is featured in Baker Street Irregulars Volume 1 (co-edited by Michael A. Ventrella and NYT Bestselling Author Jonathan Maberry).