Friday, 22 September 2017

Deeper Into the Light



My latest album project, Back Into the Light – the follow-up to my 2007 début, Into the Light – was unleashed to the world today.

Even though two of the tracks were created during 2016, it is one of the fastest albums I have ever made, but also one of the most rewarding – if not the most rewarding.

Although the music on Back Into the Light is wide open to interpretation, all the tracks had different starting points or ideas behind them...

Back Into the Light
It was always my plan to open the album with a reinterpretation of the original title track from the first album. This song uses most of the same sounds that were present on the original, and it is built around the same analogue drum loop. I wanted it to start off sounding quite familiar, before venturing into new territory.

Existence
One of my favourite pieces on the album. I was trying to make a piece of music that evokes the same kind of life-affirming feeling that you get when you're out in a beautiful place and a huge intake of fresh air never tasted so good.

Due North
An evolving adventure of a track. I imagined plotting some kind of mystical journey across unknown lands. This one never stands still and takes you through several different places. This track remained unfinished for quite a while, before I discovered how it should conclude, with a thumping rhythm and booming bass synth.

Moments of Bliss
A simple, upbeat track with a catchy groove... for those little, rare moments in life when everything feels perfect.

Magnificent
Again an appreciation of the natural world around us, whether it be mountains, forests, animals or even huge manmade structures from times past.

Semaphore
The album takes a darker turn at this point as we enter a series of songs that explore the psyche and dream state a little more. This track started out as a series of happy accidents – sounds and notes which shouldn't have been played together are actually what make it work.

Infinite Rooms
I was reading an article about mental health, and the title came from there – the idea of there being an infinite number of "rooms" in the human mind. This immediately reminded me of a fascinating art exhibition I saw in the 1990s, of works by patients of a mental institution, produced whilst under controlled drugs. There was one piece I remember, a cross-section of a head – like the type of illustration you'd find in an encyclopaedia – and inside it was filled with hundreds of tiny little interconnected rooms. That piece stayed with me – I'd love to see it again.

Mnemonic
This is another track with a direct link to Into the Light, being built around the same percussion loop as Above and Below. Like that track it also features the sound of marimbas and is again a track of two parts; one distinctly darker and heavier than the other, like a split personality.

The Water's Edge
David A. Hardy's stunning painting Ocean of Space – which features as the album cover – was the starting point for this track. A framed canvas print of the piece hangs above my Mac, so I can stare out into this other world at any time and watch the crashing waves. As a synesthete, I wanted to use sounds that in my mind, matched the colours and form of the painting – and like all Hardy paintings, it is one that you feel like you could jump into and go soaring off over an awe-inspiring landscape.

Sleep
I've always maintained a connection between dreams and music, and the dream state has inspired a large portion of my music to date. I wanted to interpret that moment when you don't realise you've fallen to sleep and cross through that blurred line between reality and dream. This was one of those rare tracks which fell into place effortlessly, and the version you hear is pretty much my first take.

Back Into the Light is available now via Bandcamp.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Back Into the Light - cover art reveal!

I'm thrilled to announce that the cover art for Back Into the Light will again feature astounding artwork from renowned space and science fiction artist, David A. Hardy.



In my home office/studio, a framed canvas print of Hardy's painting, Ocean of Space hangs above my Mac, and acts as a constant source of inspiration as well as being a portal to another dimension. As I was working on Back Into the Light, I found myself staring at the piece more and more – and I released that it simply had to be the album cover.

Although Back Into the Light is not a space-themed album, what I loved was the central glow in the almost animated looking galaxy, and how it reflects through the crashing waves in the foreground. The sea has often be a recurring theme in my music (see: Traces), and I think that's what drew me to this particular piece more than anything.

David A. Hardy of course provided the cover art to my original Into the Light album back in 2007, so this really makes a perfect follow-up, especially being of a similar palette. Although with that in mind, the music of the new album obviously has to live up to the expectations delivered by the cover!


For a limited time, Into the Light is available on Bandcamp as a 'name your price' release - which of course means you can grab it for free!

Stay tuned for further updates and music samples from Back Into the Light...

Back Into the Light will be released via Bandcamp in late September/early October.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Stepping Back Into the Light

When I first started experimenting with the idea of making music back in early 2006, I had no idea if it would work – if as an un-trained musician, I could create anything listenable, whether it be for my own enjoyment or (dare I say it) anybody else.

It was a long and slow process, but it worked – and I soon discovered the creative stimulation, enjoyment and satisfaction in making my own music was akin to that of creating artwork. One uses colours, the other uses sounds, but my approach and thinking was the same. It was all about applying layer upon layer of sound, to form another world in which to escape.

After several quick demo album ideas, in the spring of 2007, I started work on what I regard as my first true album, having found my sound, style and direction – Into the Light.



The title came about after a very vivid dream. In the dream I had been shot, and suddenly found myself hurtling towards a bright light. Of course as I entered the light, I woke up. But the months that followed were also a very special time for me personally, and all of that optimism combined with travel went into the music.

Ten years on, when I look back at Into the Light, although I can hear the sound of an amateur, untrained musician finding his way, there's also the memories of a special moment in life, that you know can never be repeated or recaptured. Plus, I was regurgitating years of musical influence that I had stored up, and discovering the thrill and excitement of making music.

I never thought I would make as many self-produced/released albums as I have in the decade that has passed – but each one has been a learning curve, a new adventure and attempt to better myself and my abilities (from playing to mixing and the whole technical side), with the satisfaction that I'm able to put my work out into the world for likeminded folk to hear.

So here we are in 2017, and it's time to step back into the light. It seems fitting to return to those musical worlds and ways of thinking ten years on – although many things have changed in that time, including myself. It has also been fun to play with some of the synth sounds and presets that I used on Into the Light – revisiting some of the sounds I haven't worked with for a long time, somehow took me back to those early days of making music (or trying to) and the spontaneity that went with it... how discovering a certain sound could form the basis of an entire track.

So without further ado, here are brief excerpts from three of the new tracks. More soon!

Back Into the Light - album preview #1 on Soundcloud

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Back Into the Light (again)

This time in 2007 - ten whole years ago - I was in the middle of creating my first proper album, Into the Light; music inspired by travel, dreams and much more. It's incredible that a whole decade has passed since then. In fact, I refuse to accept it!

But, it's true. I'm ten years older and wiser, and if I'm honest, I have made much more accomplished music since then. But, Into the Light remains a favourite of mine, and it was a very personal project for me too, as detailed in this blog post on the album from 2014.

It's always saddening to know you can never quite recapture something, whether it's something you're creating or a place you've been to that held a special value. But there are always glimmers, and an urge to revisit such things or places.

And with that in mind, what better way to celebrate it's anniversary by starting work on a sequel, which will be called Back Into the Light.

While I know I can't re-capture the exact influences, places or moments that fuelled the music on my début, I can return to a certain mindset and way of thinking and working, and build on what I established and indeed learnt from making that original album, which defined my sound and style.







Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Trailblazers


Earlier this year, I was contacted by SkillForce to create a very unique piece of artwork...

SkillForce is a national education charity whose aim is to empower children and young people, helping them to build character, confidence and resilience, though an innovative awards programme.

The latest addition to this programme, is the newly-created Prince William Award – a first of its kind, and as the name suggests, it is backed by HRH The Duke of Cambridge KG KT, which was launched on 1st March 2017, at a special event in Wales.

In the few weeks leading up to this, I had been busy creating a piece of original artwork that would be presented as a gift to HRH on the day.

After initial discussions, my proposed concept was a simple one - featuring the Duke and Duchess with their children, gazing up at a fleet of Air Ambulance helicopters, each towing PWA banners, that would feature the various titles under the award – Pioneer, Explorer and Trailblazer – the latter would also inspire the name of the final painting.

The first stage was a simple B&W concept sketch:


I wanted the artwork to reflect the ambition and optimism of the Award, at the same time as looking distinctly British and of course, capturing a likeness of the Royal Family. No pressure, then!

The PWA logos were being developed separately by a creative agency, so I had to make sure there would be sufficient scope to integrate them seamlessly in the final artwork.







And finally - the finished piece, presented on the day! A genuine honour, and a piece I'm very proud of, especially given that it is outside of my usual science fiction comfort zone!




Friday, 17 February 2017

The musical onion of time

The passing of time has become a recurring and central theme to my music in recent years.

Making music that is heavily atmosphere-based, a thought-provoking subject needs to lie at the core and work as a catalyst for the project, and this subject matter provides a wealth of inspiration.

Whether you’re reflecting on life, sifting through memories and nostalgia or researching history, it all links back to the passing of time.

I’ve always found it interesting when in towns or cities, to look at the changing architectural styles. Or sometimes when you look just above the façades at street level, you’ll see part of the buildings that haven’t changed for decades, maybe even centuries. Buildings have history attached to them – if you’ve ever looked at old photographs of places you know, and spotted the familiar buildings but looking very different or serving a different purpose entirely at a different point in time. That’s when you realise time really is all around us, constantly. 

I remember once doing some family tree research and discovered that the factory where my great grandfather worked, stood on the exact same spot and street as the office where I was working at the time. The spooky connections of past and present were clearly strong that day!

There’s also that feeling of re-treading the footprints of your former self when you return to a fondly remembered place that you haven’t been to for a long time. Almost like you left a bit of yourself behind there.

It’s very easy to think of time like an onion, with layers and layers to peel back and reveal what went before. Except with an onion, you'd reach the core. Not with time.

At the same time, layering is a vital part of my musical composition - this time, building up a soundscape layer by layer. My intention has always been to create a musical landscape to explore; the kind where you might hear something new each time, or perhaps want to focus just on a tiny part in the background. So my music feels rather onion-like in that sense!



Traces (2014) and Timeshift (2015) are two of my personal favourite album projects which are heavily inspired by all of this (and more!). I wanted to make music that evoked the nostalgia of reflection, often with a tinge of melancholy, and that explored the ever-changing environments around us and the transition from day to night.

I’m incredibly proud of these two albums, not only because I feel they work as strong concept albums in the way I had intended, but both were a progression musically and creatively.

Thanks to Distribeat, Traces and Timeshift now have a wider release, and are available on iTunes and Amazon’s digital music store.


Saturday, 28 January 2017

Return to Ommadawn

I have loved Mike Oldfield’s music for almost as long as I can remember – one of my earliest musical memories was my father playing Tubular Bells in the early 1980s. That music transported my young imagination to somewhere else entirely. However, I didn’t properly delve into Oldfield's musical world until the release of Tubular Bells II in late 1992.

I spent the following decade gradually discovering his back catalogue, which would ultimately inspire my own instrumental music. Discovering his 1994 album The Songs of Distant Earth was a particular turning point for me, clearly linking this fantastical music with my love of science fiction and reading Arthur C. Clarke.

However, it wasn't until the summer of 2007 that I discovered a whole new meaning and significance to Oldfield's work, whilst I was lazing in the Andalusian mountains, reading his autobiography Changeling and listening to his music. Not only did I gain a new understanding of Mike’s work through reading about his personal journey, but playing my favourite Oldfield albums in such a wonderful environment (which I've previously blogged about) made me appreciate just how in-tune with nature and emotions his music is.

I've always associated Mike Oldfield's music with the natural world; forestry, clouds and the evolving landscape of changing seasons. Ommadawn was one such album that always reminds me of a journey through changing landscapes, and that often mystical quality you only find whilst roaming through the countryside at certain times of year.



So last year, when Oldfield announced Return to Ommadawn – and a return to his 1970s way of working – I knew this new album wouldn't disappoint… and it hasn't.

Return to Ommadawn is more than just a return to the musical landscape of his original 1975 album, but a return to a certain mind frame and 20-minute long tracks, which were among the things that made Oldfield's early albums so different.

But on my first listen, I returned to more than just Ommadawn – this new composition has plenty in common with Hergest Ridge, Amarok, QE2, Voyager and of course, Tubular Bells (right down to the Helvetica font in orange on the cover!). In fact, if you were to add a few vinyl crackles and scratches, Return to Ommadawn could easily sound as if it were an unreleased album from that iconic early part of Oldfield's career.

Return to Ommadawn is one of those albums that requires a few attentive listens to appreciate. There's so much to explore that it takes a little time before the different sections really start to emerge. Over the course of the last week, I soon found myself waking up with different parts going round my head – an early but clear indication that this would be an album I’ll be ranking alongside my favourites.

I have often had seasonal associations with certain albums, and from that point of view, Return to Ommadawn perfectly matches the chilly wintry month in which it was released – but I look forward to listening to how it sounds as we reach the Spring and colours and foliage begin to return.

By coincidence at the same point in time, I have found myself returning to the rural town where I grew up. Walking around this old familiar place with Return to Ommadawn playing on my iPod gelled perfectly – walking down paths I hadn’t taken in over 20 years, wading through the church yard, or past the library where I first rented The Songs of Distant Earth on cassette (remember those?!), it all seemed to come together perfectly. This is a reminder of the personal and individual relationships we all have with music – and this is what a great album can be all about. 

In returning to a style of music that he hasn’t visited in some time, Oldfield has proven his decade-spanning relevance, influence and individuality. For many people, these long two-track albums are quintessential Oldfield, and Return to Ommadawn certainly delivers all of this and more.