Plenty of literary novels have inspired musicals—Winesburg, Ohio, Moby-Dick, and The Color Purple, to name a few—and a few band names too. But I’m hard-pressed to think of a novel that’s inspired a musical composition. So until a commenter corrects me, I’ll think of Sam Shalabi as a pioneer; he’s written a 60-minute free-improv suite based on Thomas Pynchon‘s 2006 novel, Against the Day. Performed with a Montreal collective called Land of Kush, the piece has five sections named after the novel’s five sections, and Shalabi tells the McGill Daily he was particularly inspired by one of the book’s main themes:
The novel “is structured around light,” he explains, “and [light] becomes a character in a really interesting way.” One narrative thread traces the groundbreaking scientific advances made in the West in the years leading up to World War I – the discovery of the photon, and the connection between electromagnetism and visible light – that led to a widespread obsession with illumination. Nikola Tesla, one of the pioneers of the second Industrial Revolution, makes a cameo; Tesla “was doing many interesting things with light,” says Shalabi, “but was seen as a freak.” The story, he further explains, “is about those moments where no one knows what’s going on, but it’s all really exciting.”
I haven’t read the book, so I can’t speak to how well the piece evokes it. But on the evidence of the sample available on Constellation Records’ Web page for the album, the album stands on its own quite well—it’s busy but tuneful, full of the kind of martial drumming and chanting that would excite any modern day freak-folk and psych-rock fan. A sample from part four, the title track, is available as a free download.