A friend of mine always listens to music when he reads books. A few years ago he told me he read the four Rendezvous with Rama books while listening to Vangelis, and that, like a cinematic experience, the two mediums merge to complement each other. Now, for him, listening to Vangelis reminds him of the awe he experienced when reading those books.
Now, I studied Music and am compelled to listen to, and dissect melodies and lyrics, and to that end tend to give music my full concentration while I'm hearing it. I told my friend that I couldn't concentrate on music and read at the same time, that it would feel like I was doing a disservice to both the musician and the writer. And that would especially be so for any music with lyrics.
However, the other day I decided to give it a go. As a lifelong fan of seminal synth band Tangerine Dream, but one who had gotten a little tired of their mid-to-late nineties output (for those who don't know, Tangerine Dream have released a staggering 107 albums since the sixties). Tangerine Dream were pioneers of electronic music in the seventies and eighties, but in the nineties, where keyboards, synths and samplers became commonplace it must have been harder for them to be as pioneering as before. And then they started using the saxophone too much, and basic keyboard presets clanged a little too often, but my thesis on the progression of Tangerine Dream's unique sound is for another day.
Having said that, I decided to give some of their more recent output a try. I purchased a handful of their latest albums, namely Mars Polaris, Views From a Red Train, Mota Atma and Seven Letters From Tibet. What better way to try out these instrumental records than to listen to them while reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars). I'm most of the way through the first book as I write this.
Something about the synergy between the music and the books now seems to click. Perhaps because it has been a number of years since I was so heavily into studying and composing music, therefore my analytical thoughts on melodies and chord sequences are not so prevalent. I really am able to enjoy both. The music, when I hum it in my head now, really does remind me of the barren Martian landscape created in Kim Stanley Robinson's vision of the terraforming of our nearest planetary neighbour.
So now I think it is possible to enjoy the two at the same time, if you can find the right music to fit the right book. But make your choices carefully, as one really does influence the perception of the other.