Inspired by Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, New York composer Ryan Anthony Francis has created what he calls ‘Wind-Up Bird Preludes.’ (Click the link to listen to a few of his interpretations)
The undertaking of translating Murakami’s work of fiction to a musical score is a difficult challenge. The author himself is well versed in music, and the novel is more than a troubling read as it references Kafka and Joyce, yet at times is stylistically reminiscent of Hemingway. The novel’s title refers to a strange and unseen bird whose otherworldly cry is a harbinger of doom. The fantastical elements of the book are vivid—whether demonstrated through flashbacks, WWII history, dreams or the unbelievable adventures that the protagonist Toru Okada meets in his seemingly boring life become difficult for the reader to distinguish between Toru’s imagination and some concept of reality.
This is why developing a score for the book, to me, seems impossible. According to the composer, Francis,“Murakami’s novel itself is divided into three separately published parts, each named after classical pieces, respectively Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, Schumann’s Bird as Prophet and “Birdcatcher” in reference to Mozart’s The Magic Flute,” so the project had a natural genesis.”
I appreciate this ambitious nature of Francis. I listened to these Soundlcoud tracks. They are indeed inspiring, original. Gutsy, even. There is a real feeling behind those scores—I’ve played classical piano for 9 years—I get it.
And yet, I find that it would be easy to listen to these tracks and passively nod my head and acknowledge how yes—these songs are literary and allegorically correct. They represent the ideas, the stories and the magic in Murakami’s novel in a beautiful, classical-piano-way. But somehow they fall short. At times they start out too harsh, as in ‘Birdcatcher’ and progress too softly into waves of music, like someone floating through life. Others are too quiet, like coming home to an empty house late at night, as in ‘Goodbye.” It’s as if Francis took from Murakami a few intensely sad moments, or dramatically unreal moments depicted in the novel and tried to capture those feelings through sound.
As much as I want to like these songs, I’m afraid I don’t. I adore the idea of translating or using literature as inspiration for a form of music, especially classical, but Francis’ ‘Preludes’ doesn’t feel like Murakami’s novel; and more importantly the songs fail to leave any sort of impression on the listener in the way a good book does, let alone an outstanding book by Murakami.