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 finalĂ©. 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.

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