A Q&A with Timothy B. Layden
about his new synesthetic science fiction book, Dreams of Laika
Timothy Layden is an artist who “paints music”—music fuels his visual art as it does his new science fiction novel
The author is interviewed by Patricia Lynne Duffy
|“I would suggest taking each page a step at a time, like you are traveling in a foreign world, like a tourist might wander unknown streets: occasionally feeling a bit lost is part of the fun…” – author, Timothy Layden|
PLD: Before your “heady” science fiction book, Dreams of Laika came out, I had long known you as a synesthete-painter, whose artwork is often fueled by your synesthetic experience of music.
In Dreams of Laika, the character Marshal tells us that music is the fuel that powers the “Mothership”, which is transporting “earth refugees” from what has become an unlivable planet — to their next planetary destination, “Terra Nova”. As Marshal plays his bass, he experiences the musical sounds as visual forms, his consciousness merging with and powering the ship. To quote Marshal (and to give an example of one of your book’s beautiful, lush passages):
“I closed my eyes and saw all of the sounds expanding out of me like amorphous forms: multi-colored beads of mercury floating through a vast emptiness. I played quick high notes that broke the forms apart into smaller and smaller pieces that began to spin around me.”
In a sense, music is the “fuel” of your book as it is the “fuel” of your paintings. Do you see a connection between your visual art and literary creations? How did one lead you to the other?
TBL: The primary connection between the two is my brain! Marshal and the world he lives in appeared to me in my mind’s eye in a similar manner to how my paintings do. I am also a bass player, not as good as Marshal, but I do have similar experiences of sound to his in my real-world experiences. I have painted and drawn many of the sounds I have created when playing music and that experience informed how I told Marshal’s story. What Marshal sees in the story is a representation of how I see the world and his synesthetic experiences are like what I experience and what inspires my paintings of sound. I have painted and drawn many of the sounds I have created when playing music and that experience informed how I told Marshal’s story.
Figure 1: Author Timothy B. Layden
PLD: You and I have met at several international conferences on synesthesia over the years—specifically, at Artecitta conferences on ‘Art, Science, and Synesthesia.” To what extent did these conferences—where participants interact with and learn from their fellow-synesthete and researchers into synesthesia–inspire some of the characters, descriptions, or concepts in your book?
TBL: Originally each character in the novel was based on a specific, well known, musician from the 20th century. That said, I have gotten to know many people I met through synesthesia networks quite well– and the characters in one’s real life inform those of imagined worlds. I have learned an immense amount from all the people I have met at events that bring synesthetes together; everyone is there because it is about synesthesia, and there is so much amazing discussion and creativity: artists, musicians, scientists, writers, etc., coming together around the subject of synesthesia is very fertile ground for ideas.
Figure 2: A Holiday within album cover
PLD: Did you become conscious of experiencing more types of anomalous perceptions —synesthetic -or otherwise—as you were writing and creating– in a sense “living” Dreams of Laika?
TBL: I have always been a bit introspective and indulge in observing how I feel and think, I also love hearing others describe the way they see things. Therefore, while writing the novel, I would “watch myself imagine”, and learn from the characters — about how they saw things in ways I had not before thought of before. This made it easier for me to inhabit the world that was being created, as if I had been invited to visit the place that was unravelling while I typed. I guess that level of visual thinking was somewhat new.
Figure 3: Tres Elementos
PLD: Many scenes in Dreams of Laika are striking combinations of vision and sound. I can imagine the story as a film. Have you thought about a film version of Dreams of Laika?
TBL: That has crossed my mind; I saw the whole thing as a film in my head several times, with every imagining and edit. If there is anyone who comes along with a project in mind of making Laika into a film, or series of films, I would be thrilled to entertain the idea.
Figure 4: “Study of Shape-Sounds”
PLD: Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers and potential readers about Dreams of Laika?
TBL: Dreams of Laika was a joy to write. I tried to put a lot into it, maybe more than I should have, but the experience of doing so was wonderful for me. I would suggest taking each page a step at a time, like you are travelling in a foreign world, like a tourist might wander unknown streets: occasionally feeling a bit lost is part of the fun. Don’t take it too seriously and don’t worry about a thing.
PLD: What is your next project?
TBL: I wish I knew, or maybe I do; something to do with music, art, and stories. It isn’t always easy to know or describe what something will become while it is still being formed.
PLD: Yes, I agree. It’s hard to know how the recipe will come out while it’s still cooking!
Dreams of Laika can be purchased from Lulu(click shopping cart icon, upper right-hand corner)
Patricia Lynne Duffy is the author of the now classic, Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens: how synesthetes color their worlds, the first book by a synesthete about synesthesia. An audio version of the book with research updates, music by synesthete-composers, and an “Afterword ”is recently out. Available from Audible
She also contributed a chapter, “Synesthesia and Literature” to the Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia.