Another day, another project. At the back end of last year, with a work-in-progress milestone reached, my fingers were itchy for creative distractions - new short stories, new performances, new ventures. There's always a tiny part of me which is terrified by staleness and when I'm working on a long-term project, I often feel its dry, scratchy fingers reaching out to dehydrate me. As is often the case when these irritations visit, I turn to my brother for some form of salve. His musical aptitude, which seems somehow wedded to his DNA like a third strand, is a creative force I've often found myself rushing towards for comfort, solace and energy. It might sound corny to say, but I've always felt like my writing and his music are different sides to the same soul. At times I find it essential to visit the frantic landscapes his bleeps and sweeps, blips and bounces in order to shore up my words when they're lacking a certain dance or colour. I'll often listen to his Rickerly music when writing - but especially, actually, when editing. There must be something in the deep code of his tunes which aligns with whatever I'm trying to write.
We've collaborated a few times, most notably on our 18 minute sci-fi Soviet epic Tether, which I'm still immensely proud of, and we can occasionally be found on stage together offering up ear-straining blends of our words and notes to startled live literature audiences. No doubt there will be much more of this to come. In the meantime, I wanted to work with Rick on something a little different: a podcast of some kind which brought together our passions for harmonious sounds and poetic wordage. The result, which we managed to rattle together remarkably quickly in the end, was The Hillside Curation.
It's a very simple idea. Rick picks out 45 minutes worth of music that he likes, and I pick out three or four bits of literature that I like, and we mix it all together. Well I say *we* - Rick does all the mixing because I don't have the first clue about any of that sound stuff, all I knows how to do is splurt it out of my mouth-machine. Each episode will be loosely themed to give us a bit of an anchor to work with during the gathering stage. We decided to name it for the street we grew up in - Hillside Avenue in Preston. Each episode is named after another local street which links in some way to the theme. We're already three episodes deep:
Mix 1: Hillside Avenue - stories and music about 'home and family'.
In this pilot episode, I recorded my bits on a mobile phone so the sound quality isn't all that great, but it's listenable. I chose a gentle and melancholy tale about a grandfather and a robot by Nicola West, a delicious little tale of twinship by Alison Wassell, and an unsettling poem about a man called Steve by Michael Conley. Rick's music choices range from Flying Lotus to Buck 65, Radiohead to US Girls, ending on the lovely 'Freedom Interlude' by Noname. My favourite moment is the drop from the end of Nicola's story into the eerie pulsating rhythms of Foil by Autechre.
Mix 2: Black Bull Lane - tales and sounds around the theme of animals.
The sound quality raised by use of a proper microphone, I offered forth a quick and creepy tale of my own - the one about insects making a crime scene from Spiderseed - alongside a delicate but chilling story of guinea pig murders by writing pal Simon Sylvester. A tough but satisfying story of vengeful cats comes in from Kate Feld, and the literature is rounded off with a filigree poem about autism and ants by Joanne Limburg, which loops nicely back to the Lewis Carroll piece which opens the mix. Rick's scope widened too to take in the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Wild Beasts, Boards of Canada, Feist and the rousing, thumping conclusion of Hive Mind by Blanck Mass (from my favourite album of 2017, btw).
Mix 3: Hillpark Avenue - literature and melodies about nature
I was delighted when Rick took the helm with this one, pushing me to pick out stories and poem based on the theme he set. His music choices here are the most surprising but, I think, also the most satisfying, and universal. We open with the 'My Own Home' song from The Jungle Book which I hadn't heard in years. From there he takes us via some thrilling mixes - not least the Rickerly edit of a Nat King Cole song, which underscores the gorgeous story 'We Can Be Asteroids' by FJ Morris (a writer to watch, I'm sure). I was over the moon to see the appearance of musical hero Koji Kondo with his deeply creepy theme for the Forest Temple from Ocarina of Time, which bubbles away underneath an amusing tale of tininess by David Gaffney. Two gorgeous poems bookend the mix - the glacial epic 'Portal' by Hannah Bressler and the beautiful decay of 'Ingredients of Graves' by Dean Rhetoric.
Next up, we've got vague ideas for something a touch more unusual, but it will be the same format: excellent music in a passionate dance with fantastic literature. For my part, I want this to be a chance for me to showcase bits of fiction and poetry that I've come across down the years which I think deserves another bump. Too often our tales get a little stuck once they've enjoyed publication - they disappear into the digital shadows of websites, they get tucked away in back issues of magazines. But many of these literary delights deserve another airing. To that end, we don't take submissions - but who knows where this will go in the future? I'd love to see it grow, if it can. And this is an open house - if you're listening and have any suggestions, particularly how we might set the mixes flying out further than Mixcloud (radio play?), then do let us know!
In the meantime, please do enjoy these free mixes as a way of discovering literary and musical talents. And not only that, but a way of fusing them together. There's no need to keep literature and music apart; they are the unruly siblings of the same instinct and with fraternal/sororal harmony, the compliments are endless.