Thursday, 6 February 2014

The wonders of creativity

I’ve never enjoyed making music as much as I have over the last 18 months. Hopefully my output is testament to that – but I’m not the one to decide this. With my last two releases, Future Worlds and Beyond the Boundary and my upcoming album Traces, I feel I’ve not only done my best work to date, but finally found my sound, style and direction. 

But it hasn’t been the easiest ride. All this output is the result of the most difficult period of my personal life I’ve ever had to get through. And I’m still getting through it. However, creativity works in mysterious ways, and at a time when one part of me feels completely shut down and and in dire need of a reboot, another part has kicked into action and sent me on this musical creative flurry. A good deal of that has been a process of catharsis as well as an emotional distraction.

Creativity certainly works in mysterious ways. And where does it come from?! Whether you’re an artist, musician, writer etc, there’s always that part of your brain that years to create, and isn’t content until you’ve at least had a go at getting whatever idea is niggling away at your brain down in some form. You also have those days when nothing comes at all, and whatever you try ends in frustrating failure. But then come the golden moments, when something great just seems to fall out of the sky and land at your fingertips, and you get on a roll. I think at the core of creativity is a degree of self-satisfaction. I certainly started out making music purely for my own enjoyment – but if you’re really into what you’re doing and fired up by it, there’s bound to be loads of other people out there who will love it and connect with it too. And that’s the really rewarding part.

I’ve always viewed myself as primarily a visual artist, having stumbled into my own self-taught musical world. But recently, all my creative energies have been directed towards making music, rather than artwork. I’ve done some artwork, but compared to a few years ago when I was nearly always working on a piece or an idea, it’s been few and far between of late, giving music a priority. With that in mind, I do look forward to getting back into artwork and doing something new.

However, being honorary musician for the I4IS has certainly given me good reason to prioritise my music, and that journey isn’t over yet – far from it, we’re just at the beginning of a long and exciting adventure.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The state of SF in film

So finally, an article on the lack of imagination in sci-fi films hits the news. Yet it’s not really news. Science fiction in cinema has lacked originality for a long time. There have been so many un-necessary remakes (Robocop, Total Recall, etc), prequels and sequels that we don’t need (Star Wars, Planet of the Apes), reboots (Star Trek) and original films that clearly have big budgets with crap stories and diabolical results (such as After Earth). 

We do get good films with great potential, which look absolutely stunning and are still incredibly enjoyable - but the plot or screenplay still let it down in the end. By and large films like Prometheus, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Oblivion and Gravity have, over the last year or two, upped the game in cinema sci-fi, and it is encouraging to see more filmmakers embracing the genre on the whole.

Yet there are so many, utterly brilliant SF books out there, just screaming out to be seen as well as heard. You can also argue that adapting novels is just another example of the lack of creativity in the industry. But many great films are adaptations, and I think there is a healthier relationship between books and film, than say video games or comics. Quite simply, when you see the time, effort and money poured into "original" sci-fi films with disappointing results, you just wished they'd adapted a book instead or done something more worthwhile with the money!

Then there's the matter of CGI. Arthur C. Clarke once said  his 1972 classic Rendezvous with Rama could never be realised as a film because of the limitations of technology. But we have it now, and we’ve even seen something of the like in Elysium (with Syd Mead’s torus designs actually dating back to a similar time to when Clarke penned Rama). In fact so many of Clarke’s books could now become stunning films, thanks to the technology available. 

There's too much CGI in films. It's becoming a dependency. Action, adventure, fantasy or SF, Hollywood films are now simply trying to be nothing more than a 3D feast for the eyes, with the importance of plotlines and performances coming secondary at best. Yet for all your breathtaking CGI work, a good model sequence is still somehow more convincing to the eye (just look at Moon, which was fantastic!). 

Granted, you can use CGI to create other worlds and places, and it does have its place. You can create drama otherwise unachievable. But at the same time it’s becoming predictable and above all it’s making filmmakers lazy.

But as far as science fiction goes, I accept CGI as a necessary medium (even if it all does tend to look the same). If only we had the writing to go with it. And it must be such a miserable experience for the actors, who instead of filming on location or with real sets and props, spend their days hanging around in front of green screen and things that aren’t there.

Perhaps the thing that annoys me the most, is the constant need to remake classic films. This is because sci-fi in cinema has lost its originality and Hollywood will always play things safe. The technology is clearly better, yet the re-writes are invariably inferior to the original. I can’t remember ever watching a remake and thinking that it was indeed a better film than the original beyond aesthetics – there’s always something to ruin it. I dread the moment when any of my favourite SF films – Westworld, 1984  and Logan’s Run – get the dumbed-down and sanitised remake treatment! Probably starring Tom Cruise or Will Smith.

Monday, 3 February 2014

2014 so far...

We’re already in February which means I’m already a year older. Where does the time go?!

In terms of my own projects, I’ve spent a lot of time so far this year finishing off the TRACES album. Stay tuned for a release date very soon, both on digital download and CD.

In addition to being a very personal project, this album also feels like my strongest work to date and in many ways, the album I’ve been working towards for a long time. Fingers crossed any regular listeners to my music will agree!

I’m still undecided about LonCon3, but I have to admit, I’m unlikely to be going for a number of reasons that I won’t bore you with here! I will however be going to Novacon 44, and I’ll be on the lookout for any other exhibiting opportunities throughout the year. This leads me on to artwork – despite all my best intentions over the Christmas period, I spent all my time working on Traces, so I’m looking forward to working on some long overdue new artwork very soon!

It's also high time I started sending new portfolio samples off to publishers. Above all I'd love to see one of my paintings feature on a book cover.

Meanwhile, momentum continues to grow with the Institute for Interstellar Studies, fas they prepare to launch a new website very soon.

Books. Lovely, printed, real proper books! I’ve recently read THE EXTREMES by Christopher Priest – as with all Priest’s work, this was an absolutely brilliant and gripping read. Unsettling, disturbing and unpredictable. I also read Graham Joyce’s THE SILENT LAND, which was a moving and haunting read. As I write this, I’m in the early stages of reading Orwell’s 1984, which despite being a big fan of Michael Radford’s film version with John Hurt and Richard Burton, I’d never actually read the thing!

Finally, Luke A Smith has given my last album, BEYOND THE BOUNDARY a very nice review, over on his blog. I had a good chat with Luke at last year’s Novacon and was genuinely thrilled when he won several of my pieces of artwork at the auction.