It’s been a while since I last blogged. So what’s been happening?
Since the spring, I’ve been working on two musical projects in parallel. One of which is an album especially composed for the Institute for Interstellar Studies (I4IS), and is entirely themed around interstellar travel. This is an easy subject for me, as science-fiction is often a starting point for my work and an ongoing influence – and ever since I started making my own music back in 2006, one of my ambitions has been to make a space album. I first tried this in the summer of 2006 when I made a set of demos entitled Discovery. Although it had some nice ideas, it didn’t really turn out how I wanted and I soon got distracted by other album ideas. The second attempt came in 2009 with a set of demo tracks with the working title of Voyage, but again, these musical sketches never really went anywhere, and it was at that point, that I decided to give music a rest for a few years.
Fast forward to 2012, and having proudly accepted the position of honorary musician for the I4IS, I made my science-fiction concept album, Future Worlds, which in many ways felt like the culmination of the past few years’ musical experimentation. But it was firmly rooted in SF concepts, rather than space travel, and it felt like the right time to explore this theme again, both as an exclusive release with which to promote the I4IS and also to be used in their upcoming promotional film work. My plan for this was simply to make an EP rather than fully-fledged album, and a nice tie-in to their forthcoming book, Beyond the Boundary, to which I also contributed. However, over time, this project gradually evolved beyond an EP, and once the running time exceeded half an hour, I soon realised I was on the way to making a full album after all!
As an independent solo artist, when you embark on the making of an album, you know the journey isn’t going to always be the same. Ideas come from different sources. As somebody who experiences synaesthesia, making music is very much an artistic and emotional activity – I cannot detach sounds from colours and textures, and for me personally, that is integral to my output. Likewise are the books I read, or places I’ve been. I like to try and create certain atmospheres, moods and states of mind in my music.
While Beyond the Boundary uses a combination of orchestral/symphonic sounds as well as electronic, my other album project has been much more focused on electronic sounds. The original idea was to make an album using nothing but classic Korg synthesiser sounds, but once again, as the songs evolved, so did the sound palette, but the Korg is still very much at the core of these new songs, deliberately so. I’d heard and loved the sounds of the Wavestation or M1 on albums by artists including Gary Numan and Depche Mode, so to finally get my hands on these was an absolute pleasure – but the challenge was then to make something which didn’t sound (completely) retro.
The second album project is called Traces and to date, has gone through three or four evolutions. The creative process always takes you to unexpected places; round surprise corners. And more often than not, what you end up with, is quite far away from the idea you started out with!
My original plan for the album was for it to be a series of very short, minimal pieces; heavily atmospheric – like a series of musical snapshots. Almost like when you glance through a photo album, each picture from a different point in the past; of a different mood and time. My plan was initially for it to be totally free of concept and open to interpretation. As I got into working on the album, it was inevitable that longer, fuller tracks would emerge. And they did, however, the shorter tracks actually punctuated the album, forming brief transitions between the more layered tracks and longer pieces. And yes, a concept had started to emerge, despite my best intentions!
I’ll be talking more about Traces as the time grows closer to unleash it, but I really wanted the music to have a dream-like quality to it. Like a soundtrack to those vivid dreams where you briefly question whether it was a dream or not on waking, or when a flashback comes the following day. The psychological aspect of dreams has always fascinated me; like mini movies in your head – a crossover into an alternative reality. Authors such as Christopher Priest and Haruki Murakami portray about this so well in their work. Their novels really take you places; the characters so profound, the imagery so vibrant, the mood so dreamlike as they too cross that boundary between the subconscious and reality. This is really what Traces is about, as well as looking at our own invisible footprints of the past.