Jose Heydrich, the hero of The Butcher’s Son, has a condition known as Synesthesia; a sensory impression where one sense is stimulated by another. For him it is music that gives him a kaleidoscopic effect behind his eyes. Synesthetic perceptions vary in intensity, and people vary in their awareness of it. It can also run strongly in families. Numbers and letters, days of the week or calendar months might all be experienced in the form of different colours or indeed tastes. Sound Synesthesia provokes something like fireworks going off, where voice, music or any number of noises, such as clattering dishes, doors banging or dog barking can trigger coloured shapes that rise, move around, change in brightness then fade when the sound ends. Some see music on a ‘screen’ in front of their faces. Generally loud tones are brighter than soft ones and lower tones are darker than higher.
Music plays an important role throughout the story. Through Jose's perception we can see as well as hear the tunes of the times. It is 1976, disco music rules the airwaves, but there are sad refrains in his mother’s opera records, while the TV harps back to a different time in order to escape reality and what the future holds.
Quicksand – David Bowie. The story opens with this beautifully melancholic song, the lyrics of which sum up Jose Heydrich’s midlife state of mind and his, and all of our frustrations with the roles we find ourselves governed by.
Debussy – Claire De Lune. The death of a mother; the calm and reflective moments after the event.
Maria Callas – La Mamma Morta. Mourning, Jose is angry and bewildered at what he finds himself confronted with.
Max Steiner & the MGM Orchestra – Gone With The Wind. A rock star unveils himself in a television interview.
Aretha Franklin – (You Make Me Fell Like) A Natural Woman. Driving through a frozen landscape; farmers killing a calf, a mysterious black limousine and the radio plays.
Jim Reeves – Four Walls. A lonely cabin in Pennsylvania with the pensive Benjamin Bernstein.
ABBA – Fernando. Hope in returning to a world he once knew; memories tinted rose-colour, but with the realisation that everything has changed and nothing can be as it was.
Mozart – Symphony No 40. The swirling strings of Mozart’s symphony evoking memories of a father possessed, torn with grief, playing his violin with the transcendental conviction of a madman.
Stomu Yamtash’ta – Poker Dice. This fusion of Japanese and Western new-age, sci-fi music, epitomises the character of the Ufologist TV presenter, Hans Jungdorf; erratic, deadly dangerous and yet dream-like; living on flights of fancy or the knife-edge of reality.
David Bowie – The Jean Genie (Live at the Coliseum ’76). The crescendo of a rock-star’s concert and its dire consequences.
Boney M – Ma Baker. The tinny sound of ’76, played from radios set on windowsills above the bustling streets of Sao Paulo and in the discos of Europe, as the hot summer takes-a-grip.
Maria Callas – Casta Diva from the Opera Norma. The circle closes in this strange, out-of-this-world scene, as Callas laments the guilt of the druid priestess, Norma, as she ascends the lighted pyre to die with the Roman Proconsul, Pollione; her lover and the father of her children.
Barry White – Never Gonna Give You Up. Ironic disco – optimism on the dance floor; ‘I’ve found what the world is searching for’. The background music to the fervent clamour of news-reporters.
David Bowie – Win. The end credits role over the song; Win, from the album Young Americans, and we learn that the ultimate force of life is to do just that – Win. ‘Seek and believe in you’.