I have to start this post with a spoiler:
Update, June 24:
I just heard that the book is now available on amazon for Swedish readers - and I understand it has been for American readers (and others, perhaps) all along. (Those who don´t have the Kindle reader can download a free app from amazon for their computer or smartphone or read it in their browser. All is explained on the amazon website.)The author, Nyssim Lefford, is a collegue of my husband, and he happened to mention one day over fika that she had written a novel. I googled it immediately, and the name, "The Music Box", and the description made me curious. I asked him to pass along an inquiry about where to get it. Next thing, it was in my mailbox. It´s a great book, by far the most interesting thing I have read in years. I don´t think I have underlined a novel this much since I read my first Kundera in the 80´s.
"At every juncture, decide. Reading all the options at each fork leads to outcomes that are not as interesting, not as musical, as they might be. Our agency comes from choosing. To avoid choosing is to abdicate the part of us that is most worth recording."And I haven´t. I made my choices and read my story. I imagine that someone else´s choices would give a slightly different story, although I suppose the foundations are the same. Exactly what levers the readers are allowed to (blindly) push, only the author knows. The whole structure is just like the mixing console that this story takes place at, for this is a story about music production, and a discussion about the creative process and what art really is, and is for.
"Cass sighed. "Something will have to happen soon." "It will," said Leo, "and when it does you´ll realize that the distance between here and there was not as great as you had imagined.""Second, Cass, his trusted and brilliant engineer, who has producer dreams of her own (and a severe shortage of confidence).
""Beauty isn´t a one-sided thing," said Cass. "A painting isn´t beautiful unless we take part in viewing it. It just is without us. We choose to see it a certain way, the eye of the beholder thing. It´s a relationship... and we each have different ways of participating..." She drew a breath. "...which is terrifying." "Why terrifying?" asked Leo. "When no one else gets it. Sometimes, Leo, the sound is so clear in my head and no one else hears it.""Then, Liam, Leo´s best friend and agent, a clever and smartly dressed lawyer, who is also a devoted art lover.
"I don´t shop for relationships. It´s like music. Music, art, they take you. Relationships, at the end of the day, it´s not about the size or color or the name romantic on the label. Like art, it´s the quality of the experience. I don´t care how that experience comes packaged. It can be pop music or a painting. Does the experience deliver, that´s all that matters."And, Gabe, owner of the studio where much of the action takes place, super-kind, quietly writing his own music by his desk when he has a minute to spare.
"Great players, in Gabe´s humble opinion, players like Thurston Moore or Jonny Greenwood, their music reflected most clearly when it was at its dirtiest. Players like that zeroed in on a specific emotion, like a parametric equalizer. They boosted or cut emotion until hearing it and feeling it was the same thing."
"Andrew loved this problem. He was smitten with the notion that some goals could not be sufficiently described, and that humans faced those sorts of problems a lot. Humans produced things without having a specific goal in mind all the time, and they did it extremely well. They produced great things. Andrew wanted to find out about that process, how did humans make decisions when they did not know where they wanted it to lead."
This is a novel of ideas. The character´s lives are fairly simple, they don´t have relationships that complicate the story, no spouses (except Leo´s wife who is a very minor character), no children. There is Gabe´s mom, but she is there to make a point, I think. Often, these kinds of novels can feel a bit fakey. I felt this very much with "Sofie´s World" by Jostein Gaardner, a novel I couldn´t even finish because I found the dialog so awkward. But Lefford really is a good writer of dialogue. People who concern themselves with ideas really do talk like this (I know a few), and I found myself very much drawn into the discussion.
"Leo observed the rhythmic structure of Andrew´s intellectual arguments. Andrew paused for preplanned moments of reflection. Key points, whether made by him or others, were given a moment to establish themselves in the mind. Threads closed. There were dominant chords, dissonances and resolutions. Leo wondered how Andrew worked out his timings. It was a tight, if nuanced, performance, and it brought them to Andrew´s main interest in record producers, not knowing what will ultimately be produced."
"Why make the process artificial? Why put it in a Box?" he asked. "In the studio, the piecing together of combinations, the decisions, they race by so fast. There´s no way to hang on to ideas. No way to think about them. It almost feels like the decisions are made for you by something external. The Box was a way to look at those choices and to make the instinct tangible.""
Tragically, before they can start testing the box, Leo dies, and the others are left with the box and the project he started. Cass, Liam, and Gabe are all idealists, all good guys working for art and the benefit of artists and their audiences. The evil forces are represented by a big record company trying to get their hands on the box (which they seem to think is Leo´s brain in a bottle!) (even Liam kind of feels that way, which makes him particularly protective of it) and put it on a website to make money.
Another enemy is Gabe´s mom, who sees art as a rival for the attention she feels entitled to. Really, the scenes with her and Gabe are quite spooky, and I think Lefford has done a marvelous job of dramatizing that manipulation that some people are so good at, particularly with their children. It´s so easy to feel just what Gabe feels in those situations. I mean, she really nails it. I´d love to give you a shorter, meaningful quote, but the scenes have a long build-up, and I´d have to quote at least a whole page. I think there should be a whole novel about Gabe and his mom.
As you have noticed, I quote heavily from this book. Partly because I can´t say anything more intelligent about it than what is already in there, and my small selection might be your only taste of it, so I am sharing. I hope to meet the author in person soon, and I intend to argue for it to be made available somewhere.
Lefford doesn´t give any definite answers, but she asks a lot of very interesting questions, and if I can make a guess, she answers them a little differently in all the versions she provides. It´s astonishingly clever. I´m blown away, really.
""We don´t ever look at art objectively. We´re all biased. Each of us is open to some possibilities and closed to others." "At some point, you have to determine what´s good. Are you biased about my music?" "Yes." He was tickled by the question. "What´s wrong with bias? You built a whole Box of bias. Bias is interesting." "But, then how do I really know when I´m good?" "You don´t find out that way. If that´s your metric, you´ll have to find a different way to make your music.""