by Sean Williams

Portrait of the composer, aged 25

My twenties corresponded with the PC boom and the birth of the internet. They also saw me dropping out of an ill-conceived Economics degree to take up writing short stories, while at the same time shifting academic streams to studying music part-time. Sequencer software wasn’t up to much in those days, particularly the kind a broke student could afford, but I did my level best to squeeze something interesting out of my trusty Amiga, showing off my influences as I did so (Yello, electronica and House, synthpop, electronic ambient). I also linked the Amiga to a Yamaha Clavinova in order to play my uni assignments, since I could barely pick out a note myself. This has always been my curse: able to write, unable to play. There’s a metaphor in here somewhere.

As well as studying theory, my life revolved around music in a number of other ways. I was working behind the counter in a Compact Disc shop (the Compact Disc Shop, a legend in my home town), doing odd jobs in a small recording studio, and ushering for a large live music venue (Thebarton Theatre). I was also briefly playing keyboards in a band. It would be fair to say that, despite my heartfelt commitment to pursuing writing as a long-term career, music remained central to my very existence.

Eventually, around the time this photo was taken, I was forced to choose between music and words. The latter was taking off, and taking up more and more time as a result. I concluded that there wasn’t room in my life for two creative pursuits, so I put music on hold indefinitely. It’s not the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but it is the one I’ve second-guessed the most.

What would my life have been like if I’d dedicated it to the composition of music instead of novels? I’m under no illusions that I would have been the next John Cage, but I reckon I could’ve penned a catchy jingle or two, maybe the odd film score. Having grown up on John Williams (Star Wars) and Jerry Goldsmith (Alien), the latter would’ve really been something.

Pondering the next note, c.1994 (photo by Cat Sparks.)

Pondering the next note, c.1994 (photo by Cat Sparks.)

Perhaps because of my decision to stop composing, music began to leak into my fiction into a variety of ways. There’s “The Jackie Onassis Swamp-Buggy Concerto”, an adventurous romp that explores the idea of music as a universal carrier wave (which you can read online at Curious Fictions). This story is a compression of a much longer work, “Schubert Dandrough and the Daughters of Krataios” (available in The Future Trap). “Playing Radio”, published in 1991, pays tribute to my time with a university station. Other works, like “Praying to the Aliens” (available here), “The Perfect Gun” (read online at Eidolon), and “The Stuff of Dreams (and Far Stranger Things)” (1991), use lyrics as epigraph, structural metaphors or plot points (Frank Zappa, MC 900ft Jesus and Kate Bush, respectively). Others just lift titles from songs: “White Christmas” (available in Magic Dirt), “Robbery, Assault and Battery” (1992), “Heartbreak Hotel” (1992), and “Praying to the Aliens” (again).

My on-going love-affair with music ultimately led to Impossible Music, but there were a number of interesting flings along the way.