Neal Stephenson’s Anathem and Music

Here is an exciting bit of news about Neal Stephenson's upcoming novel from

The book came with a CD of music, which I must say was surprising. It says it is “IOLET: Music from the World of Anathem.” There are seven tracks:
  1. Aproximating Pi
  2. Thousander Chant
  3. Proof Using Finite Projective Geometry
  4. Cellular Automata
  5. Quantum Spin Network
  6. Sixteen Color Prime Generating Automation
  7. Deriving the Quadratic Equation
Each of these is between four and eleven and a half minutes long. There is a note with it stating that “In order to conform to the practices of the avout, this disc contains music composed for and performed by voices alone.”
I’ve just listened to several of the songs on this CD and, frankly, this is some weird shit. I say this without reservation. The musical styles are all over the map except that they all only use human voices (and occasionally hands). Some of it is similar to Western, Christian, styles of chanting. Other tracks are more Classical vocal arrangements with singing. The rest of the tracks seem to be heavily influenced by Eastern, Buddhist, styles of chanting, especially Tibetan Buddhism with its use of harmonics and overlaying voices. It varies quite a bit from song to song. Additionally, when there are recognizable words, they are not in English (nor in any language that I recognize). “Celluar Automata” is the weirdest track of this sort with multiple voices weaving in and out, along with some clapping and exclamations in an unknown language. “Thousander Chant” would be at home on some of the collections of Tibetan chanting that I have and whoever is performing it is obviously trained in the throat chanting used by Tibetans and others in Asia.

This is an intriguing concept. I’m a fan of Stephenson’s work, particularly Quicksilver. I’d love to see more music incorporated into literature in this way. So many great fantasy works, like Lord of the Rings and Elizabeth Haydon’s Rhapsody books, have great songs in them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear the music to go along with the lyrics? I almost always listen to music while reading, so having an album’s worth of music written as a score for the book would be welcome. The desire to see music incorporated into sci-fi and fantasy literature is what led me to start this blog.

What do you think? Would you be interested in hearing music composed for a literary work?

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