Monday, 22 September 2014

Back... to the Future (a science fiction symphony)

Orchestral soundtracks have long since dominated the film industry, particularly in science fiction, with classic scores such as Star Wars, Alien, Terminator or Total Recall. And you can enjoy a good film soundtrack as an album in its own right. 

I wanted to make an album that captures the essence of this kind of soundtrack, with an emphasis on drama and atmosphere. And I think I’ve achieved that with my new release, Future Worlds Redux.

Until now, I’d never been one to re-visit music previously deemed completed. When my favourite artists have released a new album of reworks of older songs, I often saw it as a disappointment or sign that they’re out of ideas. I was wrong.  With distance and hindsight, you can really see where your best bits are, and where you can expand your work to realise its full potential – stuff that perhaps wasn’t evident first time round. I guess we can call it artistic satisfaction. Sometimes you just need to put a bit of distance in to see what you need to do.

The problem many an artist faces, whether we’re talking music or artwork, is never quite knowing when something is finished. In truth, nothing is ever complete, not really. There just comes a moment when it feels right, and you stop. Otherwise you’d be niggling away at it for months or years and never get the thing finished!

I was really proud of my original Future Worlds album, which I started working on in Autumn 2012, and released in February 2013. It was made during a personally difficult time, and was a great cathartic experience as well as realising my ambition to make an album inspired by classic science fiction books and scenarios. 

But at the same time, something at the back of my mind was left unfulfilled – an annoying "unfinished" feeling, perhaps because I had originally intended to make an orchestral style album, following on from the Road to the Stars soundtrack I produced for David A. Hardy. But thanks to my love of synth sounds, Future Worlds ended up a fusion of the two styles, with the electronics taking centre stage.

Almost two years later, I felt enough time had passed to finally revisit the album and rework the tracks into symphonic versions as I had originally intended. I always wanted Future Worlds to play out like one of those great  science fiction film soundtracks. 

Not only was this a relatively quick process, but it was great fun, getting back in to the vibe of those songs and realising I still very much enjoyed them, and that there was still a lot of life in them. This was an opportunity to move things around and expand and change the arrangements to suit the orchestral approach, as I didn’t want to make the same album with different sounds.

In addition to changing the order and arrangements, I also went through my unfinished demo files from when I made the original album, and found one that I felt had some potential to work up as a new addition. The original album came with two bonus tracks which I liked a lot – in hindsight they should have been more than just bonus tracks, so this was the opportunity to give them a new home.

And that “unfinished” feeling has now been upgraded to “Complete”.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Graham Joyce

Last night I learnt of the sad passing of Graham Joyce. 

59 is far too young to go. Such a creative mind and truly brilliant writer. He had so much more to give.

I’d only just discovered Graham’s work in the last year. Even though I have only read two of his works – Dreamside and The Silent Land – both books had a profound effect on me. Such imagination and poetry; the kind of stories which really penetrate the emotions, make you think and ask questions. In those two books alone, it was evident what a master story teller Joyce was. Haunting, intriguing, beautiful and fascinating – those are books that really make their mark and stay with you.

I had no idea Joyce was battling cancer.  Looking online now, I can see that it was well documented in his blog, but in the interest of finding out more about his books, that had passed me by. That’s another example of how overloaded with futile stuff the Internet is, and that it’s so easy to miss, or not even see any genuinely important bits of information.

I had a few very friendly exchanges with Graham via Twitter, during my search for Dreamside (long out of print in the UK). And I had tried to contact him a couple of times by email, but never heard back. Silly, na├»ve me. Now I know why. 

Graham's final blog entry is such a moving piece of writing. And as it turns out, his final work. I dare you to read it and not shed a tear.

Although I never got to meet him, by all accounts, he was a great man as well as a great author; clearly a devastating loss to his family, friends and fans. And the literary world has lost a rare, great mind.

It's odd how we can so often strongly connect to writers, artists or musicians. Yet they're usually people we don't know or will ever get to even meet in some cases. Yet books or albums become intensely personal things; you take possession of a good book and treat it like your copy is the only one in the world. They take on certain meanings.

Dreamside really tapped into my interest in the world of dreams. The sort of book I’d always wanted to read. That book inspired some of the music on my latest album, Traces. I’m glad now that I credited Graham in the notes.

Graham, this one’s for you.

Monday, 1 September 2014

A short blog about art

I never got along with paint. Always liked the idea of it, but during my school and college days in fine art, my otherwise good pencil pieces would be ruined as soon as I started to paint over them or add colour. So I always used to, where ever possible, draw in ink, pencil or charcoal. Life in monochrome.

That’s why the humble pencil became my weapon of choice for a long time, and probably why many of my digital paintings started out as pencil sketches.

What I love about working digitally is I'm finally able to enjoy working with colour, in a non-messy way! I feel I've struck a happy medium here, especially for my science fiction artwork – which makes up the majority of my output!

Having spent the last 18 months working mostly on music projects, it’s been great getting back into the flow of illustration. I guess I always feel a little guilty of referring to a digital piece as a “painting”. OK, it’s a digital painting; a common term in the industry. I’m just applying pixels, rather than oils or acrylics. More recently I’ve been referring to my work as illustrations. But in truth, they’re both. 

Time for a quick flashback (pretend there's an echo there).

After completing courses in fine art and computer graphics at college back in the mid 1990s, my plans to go on to a course in illustration fell by the wayside when I was offered my first job in advertising back in 1997, and out of that my career as a graphic designer was born. Work and life took over art. I guess that’s why it took me over a decade to get back to creating my own artwork, which coincided with the rediscovery of my love of the science fiction art of the 1970s and 80s. 

By 2010 I was in my early thirties, and well aware there was a whole generation of genius young CG artists working away out there, alongside the ageist disclaimer on almost any given opportunity or competition that "entrants must be between 18–25". Cue confidence crisis.

While I’d previously had work published in books and magazines, it wasn’t until 2011 when my piece “Awakening” was chosen for inclusion in “Brave New Worlds”, an exhibition of utopian and dystopian art down in Richmond-Upon-Thames, that I found my confidence in this new age of digital art.

It's so easy to get hung up over whether your work looks realistic or is accurate, etc. It's not important! I would say most artists suffer a lack of confidence at most times. Creating a piece of art regardless of medium is such a personal experience (and often a turbulent journey!). Then you unleash it to the world. And thanks to the Internet, its easy to feel surrounded by other artists who are better than you. They're not – they're just different. Quirks or imperfections add to the personality and individuality of a piece, and the evident touch of an artist's hand still triggers an emotional response. If you feel interested, intrigued or moved by a piece of artwork, digital or not, then its done its job no matter.

The motto I've always stood by is, that if you're really fired up and into what you're doing, there will be hundreds of other people out there who love it too. Keep at it!