Sunday, 23 March 2014

Monday, 10 March 2014

The tracks of Traces: 1-6

While I'd like to think the music of Traces can be thrown open to interpretation, each piece does have its own mini-history, and here are some factoids about the first six tracks on the album...

“Awakening” was the first full song that I composed, and in my mind it was always going to be the first track. The title was initially just a working title, named after one of my own paintings, but it stuck. The song drifts in, like sinking into a deep sleep and subsequent dream – and we get the reversal of this at the end of the track, awakening to the sound of rain outside. This was the only track that I was still working on right up until the end of the process. I’d probably still be tinkering with it, had I not declared the album complete back in January!

“After Dark” was originally called “Round Every Corner” and is perhaps the most unusual track on the album. I wanted a very cinematic ambience to it, thinking about the blurred lights and colours of cities at night. It’s eventual title was borrowed from one of Haruki Murakami’s novels.

“Shadows Past” was another early composition, but was also the one that went through the most evolutions. As with many tracks, the title came first, and I experimented with several approaches until I found the right one. 

“Sea View” is the first track that reflects the coastal imagery of the album cover. As I previously explained, the sea is a common dream theme, and indicative of our emotions. It’s also one of my favourite places to sit and reflect, gather thoughts or just chill out. Hopefully that comes across in the tranquil air of this piece.

“Traces” is the most reflective song on the album. The first version was actually a short, abstract piece, but this wasn’t right for the title track of the album – which had been in my mind for a while. I was also working on a demo called “Dreaming Through Your Eyes” which was slow (painfully slow!), but I really liked the percussion and lead melody, so I merged the two and speeded it up – and the final track came into being!

“Autumn Colours” was written around the same time as “Awakening”. As a synaesthete, colour is important to my music, and the colours of this track to me were the warm tones and golden light of an autumn afternoon. 

Traces is out now on Bandcamp.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Where dreams and reality converge...

You can't beat a good book.

The album packaging and PDF booklet that comes with the full download of Traces list several books and authors in the credits. As an avid reader, particularly of SF, I’m always rooted in a book, and this inevitably influences whatever I’m working on, whether it’s artwork or music.

Taking a bit of a break from science fiction, I’ve found myself more interested in what is often referred to as speculative fiction.

Last year I discovered the work of Christopher Priest. I’ve become addicted to his books. Dreams and realities converge, usually in very mysterious, unpredictable and harrowing scenarios. Priest also created the “Dream Archipelago”, a series of islands in an alternative reality, which is a recurring setting in several of his works. The Affirmation, The Glamour, The Extremes and his haunting inter-connected short story collection, The Dream Archipelago were all brilliant reads, and perfectly reflected the sort of mood I wanted to project through my music.

My friend and renowned space artist David A. Hardy had referred me to Graham Joyce’s d├ębut novel, Dreamside. This book – sadly out of print – took some tracking down, but I eventually got my paws on a first generation copy at last year’s Novacon. And it was worth the long search!

Dreamside explores the concept of lucid dreaming and follows a group of young students engaged in a series of dream experiments. They manage to cohabit the same space, which they call the “dreamside” – but things soon turn dark and disturbing as elements of the dreamside begin to seep through into reality. A compelling and gripping book from cover to cover, and like Priest, Joyce’s exploration of human psychology is just superb. I followed this up with one of Joyce’s latest books, The Silent Land, a haunting and moving work, written in a similarly gripping fashion. I certainly look forward to reading more of Graham’s work.

Having enjoyed Jame’s Smythe’s nightmare-in-space novel, The Explorer, I was keen to read his next work, The Machine. Described as “a Frankenstein for the 21st Century”, The Machine is set in the near future and is unsurprisingly, a story about a machine - designed to restore memories but subsequently banned by the government. The novel follows a young woman, Beth, who has come into illegal possession of one of the Machines, in an attempt to re-build her traumatised husband who has been emotionally and psychologically broken by war. The Machine takes you on the downward spiral with the characters in a bleak and unsettling read.

Over the last few years, I’ve also become a fan of cult Japanese author Haruki Murakami. While his books often verge on the absurd and surreal, he creates such engaging characters and vivid scenarios, it’s impossible to but his books down once you’ve picked them up. Again, we’re propelled into parallel scenarios and dreamlike environments in contemporary Japan, every page full of questions and surprises. IQ84, Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Wood and Hard-Boiled Wonderland at the End of the World are just a few of his books really worth checking out.

With all of these books, the subtle transition between dreams and reality and reality/alternate reality was something that interested me and was the sort of atmosphere I was striving to create on Traces.

While my music isn’t a direct interpretation of any of the above (which, being instrumental, it would be difficult to do!), in my mind, it was almost like creating a soundtrack to what I was reading. Some of the imagery in the books, whether it was the sea view from the convalescent home in The Glamour, the fractured memories of The Machine or the blurred lines between dreams and reality in Dreamside really fuelled my ambition for the album – at least in my ears.

What I love about instrumental music is the fact that it can be thrown open to interpretation, aside from its initial or proposed premise. I’d love to hear from anybody who has bought a copy of Traces or streamed it online, and what kind of imagery it brought to mind.

Traces is out now on Bandcamp.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Making Traces... choosing a title

Before looking at some of the ideas behind the music, let's start with the choice of album title.

to follow the course, development, or history of…
to follow, make out, or determine the course or line of…
a surviving mark, sign, or evidence of the former existence…

to go back in history, ancestry, or origin; date back in time…
to follow a course, trail, etc.; make one's way…

Traces was a title I’d had in mind for a while. Not only did it sound great as an album name, but it was the most appropriate word to represent the reflective and nostalgic mood I wanted to portray.

It is quite an enigmatic and mysterious word that can be interpreted and associated in a number of ways. It’s also perfectly suited to the theme of dreaming and the subconscious that I wanted to explore through the music.

It evokes the mood of looking back through one’s path in history; the places you’ve been, the things you’ve done – and that of others. Those memories of times, places and people are heavily burned into our subconscious and make their way into our dreams, from vivid encounters to distorted familiarities.

As my music is instrumental, I like to think of the titles as starting points for interpretation – they’re often the starting points for me, determining a certain mood or atmosphere.

Traces is available now via Bandcamp, as mp3 and CD & digital download bundle. 

Monday, 3 March 2014

Following the Traces...

Today is release day - and Traces is finally out there!

I’ve said previously that when you’re composing an album, it takes on a life of it’s own. It evolves and goes off in directions you hadn’t originally anticipated. New ideas come in, old ones go out. Happy accidents happen. So it should be no surprise when I say that Traces isn’t quite the album I originally set out to make.

My original plan was to make a downbeat and minimal album; stripped of the dense layers and rhythms that had dominated my previous albums, creating something that was a lot more sparse and abstract.

But gradually the music evolved along with the ideas. 

When I produced the first version, it simply didn’t hang together well as an album. So I kept working on ideas, and over time it became more rhythmic and layered – but a very different soundscape to my previous works had started to form. I began to view it almost like a film soundtrack – it had actually become the soundtrack to some of the books I was reading over the course of the year, and in turn many of the themes of those books inspired the music, as the followed a similar theme to what I wanted to explore.

Another starting point was to make an album mostly using classic 80s and 90s synths. There’s been a lot of focus on analogue synths of the 70s and early 80s in the last few years, and while I absolutely love those vintage synths and get the appeal, a lot of the albums that had an impact on me in the late 80s and early 90s, used Korg’s digital synths – so to get my hands on some of those actual sounds was a real pleasure. This, combined with a different kind of approach to the drums and percussion, has given Traces a distinctive soundscape, perhaps with a nostalgic edge for those synth-geeks among us.

When I started the project, one particular word I had in mind for the mood of the music, was “reflective”. Despite the numerous changes the album went though, this still remained the dominant theme, but not in a depressing way – I’d prefer to think of it as thought provoking, and there is an underlying optimism that crept into many of the tracks. 

Although the finished album is very different to my original idea there still remains several short, sparse tracks. These are almost like segues or interludes, and retain the mood of my original idea.

I’ve realised that Traces is perhaps the album I’ve been working towards for many years. It’s also the most personal album I have ever made, in its own way.

Next time, I'll go into detail about some of the songs on the album and inspiration behind them.

Traces is available now via Bandcamp, as mp3 and CD & digital download bundle. The first copies of Traces on CD will come with a second disc, Traces: Abandoned, which contains 9 demos and outtakes from the making of the album.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Traces: the cover design

With just a day to go before I unleash my new album, Traces - almost a year in the making - I thought I'd explain my thinking behind the cover design.

The basic concept of Traces is that of dreams and memories – and their convergence in our subconscious. A common dream theme is the sea, which has often been described by dream analysts as the transition between the conscious and subconscious. It has also been suggested that a dream of the sea, water, waves, etc is representative of our emotions.

I’ve certainly had dreams in such an environment, and it was also a recurring setting in some of the books I was reading whilst making the album. And who hasn't felt totally at ease and relaxed when staring out into the sea? All of this made me think more and more that the album artwork needed to be a sea view.

It’s the first photographic album cover I’ve done in a while – and long overdue. Initially I had planned an entirely black cover with just the ‘TRACES’ lettering, and similarly typographic artwork for the booklet, leaving it completely open to interpretation. But the more the music evolved, the less I felt a black cover would represent it. I wanted muted colours and something dreamy. Plus, as a synaesthete, it was important at least to me, to get the 'colours' right across both the cover and the music!

After looking through my own photographs, I settled on one particular shot, which had just the right composition. I worked on the colouring for a subtle effect, with hues that in my mind matched the music. Through the colouring, I wanted to give an ordinary scene, just that gentle hint of something extraordinary.

Many of the images I used in the rest of the artwork convey the reflective and nostalgic mood of the album, but in a slightly more detached way. I had been experimenting with a video for the title track using some old archive film footage that made a nice juxtaposition with the music. So I took stills of these as complimentary images.

Traces will be available from Bandcamp on CD and MP3 from 3rd March 2014.