Sunday, 22 December 2013

Time to reflect...

So we're nearing the end of another year. I don't know about you, but 2013 seems to have flown by in a flash. I thought I'd take a self-indulgent moment to look back on what the last year brought to the world of The Light Dreams.

In February I released Future Worlds, the culmination of several months hard work and a lifetime's interest in science fiction. I learned a lot during the making of that album, and I'm incredibly proud of it. My artwork and music converged for this release, with one of my favourite paintings, "The World Outside" being used as the album cover (the painting actually illustrates the song on the album of the same name). This was also the first new music I had produced as honorary musician for the Institute for Interstellar Studies (I4IS), so it was a privilege to also promote them with the album. Future Worlds was also my first work to be available on the big platforms such as Amazon and iTunes.

Following the release of Future Worlds, I decided to take stock and look at my back catalogue of demo albums dating back to 2006 – stuff which had been online around the time I was working on them, but that I had taken down around 2009. From these demo albums, I pulled together a new compilation, After Hours, of what I felt were the strongest pieces.

I started working on new music around June, and decided to work on 2 different albums simultaneously. One would be an EP of space music for the I4IS, the other would be a more electronic, dream-inspired album called Traces, a title which had been in my head for a while. Working on 2 music projects meant that when the ideas temporarily dried up for one, I could bounce back to the other, and inevitably this would lead to new ideas on the other album!

I was also invited by the I4IS to contribute a chapter to their forthcoming book, Beyond the Boundary. My chapter looked at the association of space and interstellar travel and popular music culture in the twentieth century. This gave me a perfect opportunity to write about my specialised subjects of the careers of Jean Michel Jarre, David Bowie and Mike Oldfield, artists whose music continues to inspire me to this day, and artists whose work is synonymous with space travel.

This also led to me naming my space EP after the book, as a sort of tie-in. However, as work progressed, Beyond the Boundary EP soon evolved into Beyond the Boundady – the album! The ideas kept coming, so why stop them?!

In the autumn, I started working on some artwork again – this year, I'd only produced one original piece, albeit, it was probably one of my best! But this time I looked back at several earlier works that I never felt were quite finished, and enough time had elapsed for me to see exactly what was required. So by October, I had several refreshed digital paintings I was very pleased with, and all ready in time for the Novacon convention.

Novacon took place in early November, and although it was only my second appearance there as an exhibiting artist, I loved it. I'm already looking forward to next years. It was an absolute honour once again to exhibit alongside my good friend and renowned space artist David A. Hardy, and it was great to talk to the people visiting the art room. I'll admit, I'm not the best when it comes to spontaneous social interaction, but at Novacon, you can literally talk to anyone about anything! What's more, my work did very well in the auction, which I hadn't expected. This was not only very rewarding personally, but a huge confidence boost.

My artwork and music converged yet again at Novacon, as several of my albums were playing in the art room, and the newly-completed Beyond the Boundary had its first public airing.

I released Beyond the Boundary on Bandcamp at the start of December, its real aim to help raise the profile of the I4IS. I'm working hard on the Traces album and also have ideas for new artwork. So although the year is almost over, my work here is almost certainly not done! I have a good feeling about 2014…

Friday, 20 December 2013

Turrican - the music!

Anybody of a certain age will remember the Commodore Amiga computer with a certain fondness. In the late 80s and early 90s, it was head and shoulders above the rest of the competition, and the home computer to have. It offered sound - in stereo. And hundreds of colours. You could even upgrade the RAM to a whopping megabyte!

But thanks to the Amiga's superior graphics and audio capabilities, with it came a plethora of outstanding games. As a teenager of the early 90s, I spent many days huddled in the corner of the lounge, plugged into my Amiga, whether it was my early forays into digital art and music production, or hours spent gaming.

Out of all the hundreds of amazing games, one clear favourite would emerge for me, and that was the action-packed platform adventure, Turrican, originally published by Rainbow Arts in 1990. My friend Tony had gone on about this Turrican game for ages, and when my 13th Birthday came, along with it, came Turrican, in his chunky silver robo-armour.

Not only did the game take you through another word on an exciting and explosive journey, but it had the best computer game music I had ever heard - composed by the mysterious Chris Hüelsbeck (in the following years, Hüelsbeck's fantastic music would accompany many a great classic game). Over time I became as addicted to the music in the game, as I did the game itself - to the point where I'd stick a tape recorder in front of the TV speaker and record the music to listen to, when I wasn't lost in the world of Turrican.

In 1992 and 1993, we had two more Turrican games, both with fantastic music, but it was always the original game's soundtrack that both stuck with me and would ultimately inspire my own music.

While the Amiga is (very sadly) long gone, Turrican has lived on through various games and of course, its fans, whom like myself, have maintained a certain adoration of Hüelsbeck's music. Therefore it came as a pleasant surprise in 2012 when, due to popular demand, Chris Hüelsbeck announced a Kickstarter campaign with the plan of re-recording all the Turrican music into one big anthology.

The campaign was a huge success, and as a result, we now have a lot of very happy Turrican fans, myself included! The anthology has its own website, and each volume of the anthology is now available on Bandcamp as a digital download.

Not only do we have fantastic and faithfully recreated artwork, but we have all the music, bigger and better than ever and still sounding as fresh and exciting as when I first heard it 23 years ago.  I've spent the last couple of weeks reliving memories of being lost in the Turrican worlds for hours on end. The soundtrack to every level, the end-of-level boss musics, game loader tunes, the intro and outtro - they're all here, and more. And it's brilliant.

The Turrican games boasted a level of creativity and perfect playability that most other platform games could only dream of, but I'm sure that the soundtrack was integral to the game's success. It certainly wouldn't have been quite the same without it. Chris Hüelsbeck first issued a selection of updated recordings of the music on CD in the mid-90s – while finding video game soundtracks on CD is fairly commonplace nowadays, back then it was almost unheard of, which says something about the demand for both his work and this game. So it's really fantastic that all this time later, we can enjoy the music all over again.

I dare say you do need to be a fan of the game to appreciate this kind of music, but for us fans, it holds a very special place indeed. Great job, Chris!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

BEYOND THE BOUNDARY: track by track

The mission of the Institute for Interstellar Studies is to foster and promote education, knowledge and technical capabilities which lead to designs, technologies or enterprise that will enable the construction and launch of interstellar spacecraft.
We aspire towards an optimistic future for humans on Earth and in space. Our bold vision is to be an organisation that is central to catalysing the conditions in society over the next century to enable robotic and human exploration of the frontier beyond our Solar System and to other stars, as part of a long-term enduring strategy and towards a sustainable space-based economy.

…these are, in brief, the mission and values of the Institute for Interstellar Studies. As their honorary musician, I really had to think about how to translate this vision into music. Not only into a suite of songs that reflect this ethos and ambition, but as a solid album of interesting and exciting music. When the I4IS announced their forthcoming book, Beyond the Boundary, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to connect the dots and make an interstellar album that would promote both the institute, their thinkers, visionaries and artists and the book.

Beyond the Boundary (the album) was released last week on Bandcamp. Here’s some of my thinking behind the songs…

This track is based on one of my earliest demos, a track called “Birthline” originally from my first ever attempt at space music, in 2006. I always felt there was potential in this piece and it was a case of finding the right opportunity – and this was it! But while the original demo built into a longer, rhythm-based song, this version serves more like an intro to the whole album, keeping only the first part of that original demo, now completely reworked. An interstellar atmosphere of resonating choral vocals gradually build up while we hear distant communications from astronauts, culminating in an exchange between Mercury Hub and starship Prometheus, beginning its interstellar voyage.

For the title track, I wanted driving beats, catchy riffs and a real sense of dynamism and excitement. The fusion of symphonic and orchestral styles continue the soundscape I established on Future Worlds, but this track really shifts things up a gear. I wanted to create an anthem to the stars, full of optimism and adventure. The choral vocals reprise towards the end of the track and I also introduced some electric guitar sounds which would continue throughout the rest of the album.

In contrast to the previous track, "Halo Orbit" is an ambient yet cinematic piece; dark, cold and haunting. I wanted it to sound as blinding as starlight and as vast as space. 

This track was the first to be composed for the album, and makes heavy use of Korg’s classic M1 and Wavestation synthesisers, the big, warm tones of which lend themselves perfectly to a science fiction soundtrack. "Stasis" is the album’s most chilled-out piece, a steady, flowing piece to take you on your interstellar journey. I wanted the music to reflect the colours of space, and the ever-changing sights of galaxies and nebulae.

"Afterglow" picks up on the subtle hook in the end of "Stasis", taking us once again into new territory. The origins of this track actually came about in 2012, when I worked on a long demo of evolving styles, entitled Chrysalis. This was more like a musical sketchpad or dumping ground for ideas – from that emerged “To the Stars” (on Future Worlds) and "Afterglow".

My favourite track on the album, and actually one of the last to be written. Until this point, the album was going to be an EP, but once this track was coming together, it was clear that a full album was in the works! There is a slight prog rock feel to this epic track, as it goes through 3 stylistic evolutions, gradually building up to a dramatic, thunderous finalé. Again, I wanted to create something powerful and anthemic to compliment "Beyond the Boundary (Part One)". I think there’s some of my best work to date in this track – very proud of it.

A heartbeat percussion leads into this groove-driven chillout track. This was the final song to be composed and was really designed to be a short transitionary piece between the previous and final tracks. After a mellow start, this song takes an unexpected turn towards the end, adding a feel of drama and uncertainty before heading off into the unknown territory of the closing song.

A dark and menacing close to the album. While overall, I wanted to create a suite of tracks that reflect man’s interstellar goals and starbound ambitions, ultimately, we don’t know what’s out there – and I wanted to bring back a sense of tense uncertainty, as we enter unchartered territory. I had also been working on a painting showing a starship heading towards a black hole (as featured in the digital booklet which accompanies the full album download) – it seemed fitting to leave the album with questions left unanswered. Although I wanted to close the album with a sense of mystery, I did want an upbeat ending, so this track (which clocks in at over eight minutes) does accelerate into an energetic crescendo, as we cross beyond the boundary and into the unknown.