Sunday, 20 December 2015

Looking back...

It’s been another busy year at Light Dreams HQ.

Cover Artwork
Once again, I’ve had the privilege of working with several fantastic authors, with fantastic books.

While it is always exciting and an honour to be asked to create cover artwork, it is sometimes quite a daunting task. Somebody who has spent months or even years writing their book, now have to hand it over for me to do my best to take what’s in their imagination and written on their pages, and transpose that into a marketable cover. But that’s the thrill of the challenge, and it’s what I’m here to do, after all.

Every cover project has been rewarding in a different way, whether it’s the challenge of the cover or artist/author and publisher relationship. 

With a couple of exciting projects already on the horizon, I’m certainly looking forward to what 2016 may bring.

I’ve also had a very prolific year on the music side of things, having released three new albums on Bandcamp. The advantage of working independently is that I can release as much or as little as I wish. Ironically, I’d thought I may release one, maybe two albums at best this year, but when the muse strikes, you have to take advantage!

Sentient City was produced in the last quarter of 2014, and released in January 2015. I’d had in mind for some time to make an album with a “city” theme – with music inspired by working in or living in a vibrant modern city, or perhaps a glimpse of a future city, which is where the science fiction influence comes into play.

Panorama was released in July, and is my fourth release in association with the Initiative for Interstellar Studies. 2013’s Beyond theBoundary album was about space travel and exploration, so with that in mind, Panorama was about what lies at the end of that journey, and the discovery of new worlds. Whereas Sentient City came together in just a few months, Panorama took well over a year. I produced dozens of demos and ideas, shortlisting 16 tracks for the final album!

I’d only just released Panorama when I found myself working on some new music, of a different soundscape. Whereas Panorama had been a slow, building album, in contrast to that, I found myself putting together some heavier beats-driven tracks and in no time at all another album was in the works. 

I released Timeshift in November, and feel it could be my best album to date.

So with that in mind, just where my musical journey will take me from here, is anybody’s guess! But even so, I can't express enough gratitude for anybody who has supported my musical endeavours, whether it be buying an album or simply helping spread the word by sharing or retweeting.

So at least when it comes to art, music and science fiction, it's been a very rewarding year, and I've had the pleasure of meeting many great, likeminded people, whether on social media or in person at Novacon, which always feels like the culmination of everything, each year – and I'm already looking forward to the next!

Saturday, 12 December 2015


Today, I'm going to talk about the Doctor Who theme, and one version in particular. This is the obvious point of convergence between my love of science fiction and electronic music, and there's no denying the influence of Who's long history of electronic scores – both the theme tune and incidental soundtracks – in my own music.

One of my earliest musical memories is hearing the original Delia Derbyshire version of the Doctor Who theme, which my parents had on a record along with other popular television theme tunes. 

I like all the versions of the Doctor Who theme tune. Each offers something different yet unique and relevant to the era it represented. But the version I'm going to talk about is the seriously underrated 1986 arrangement by composer Dominic Glynn. Out of all the different versions, this is the one that has perhaps influenced me the most, musically.

So, let's cast our minds back to 1986. I was an eight-year-old, with a serious Doctor Who obsession (not much has changed, I admit). So when the series was given an 18-month 'rest' in 1985, I had to endure a long and torturous wait for the return of the Doctor. It seemed like an eternity had passed when the Doctor (then played by Colin Baker) finally returned to our screens in late 1986. Except somehow, the news that the series was even coming back had passed me by! And I still remember the day and the moment, having no idea whatsoever that it was returning.

It was a Saturday tea time in early September, and I had just finished watching and recording Roland Rat: The Series (yes, really...). I was just about to eject my video tape when I suddenly realised that the familiar Doctor Who titles were glowing out of the screen towards me. I hadn't realised what was happening, because there was also something unfamiliar about it – the music. 

Then it clicked. I almost combusted with excitement at the realisation that a new series was starting right then, as I quickly thrust the Play and Record buttons back in on the VHS machine, and sat back in amazement. But new Doctor Who AND new music?! This was a lot to comprehend in my post-Roland Rat haze!

The Trial of A Timelord season took the show in a very dark and unexpected direction. What was going on? How could my Doctor possibly be on trial? His own people turned against him? Almost everything about the new show felt different; new production values, new special effects, new ideas and most notably, new music, with composer Dominic Glynn handling the incidental music as well as the new theme tune.

This was perhaps the first time that the atmosphere and textures of the incidental music felt like a continuation of the actual title music. There was an icy edge to the music, an uneasiness and foreboding atmosphere, which accompanied the darker stories perfectly. Of course, as we all now know, Doctor Who was having troubles of its own behind the scenes at the time, but back then I was oblivious to all of that.

Glynn's arrangement perfectly matched not only this more menacing direction, but also the colourful, spacey aesthetic of the Sixth Doctor's title sequence itself. I also thought this new version of the theme music was an ideal match to Colin Baker's Doctor's often unpredictable persona – and it was great to see his Doctor finally get his own theme tune, rather than continuing with the hand-me-down version.

But after that first episode had aired, I distinctly remember talking to friends about the music more than the episode itself! It had evidently struck a chord with me.

Although it obviously had to follow the general arrangement of the classic Who theme, Glynn introduced drones, shimmers and various other nuances and atmospheres which gave his rendition a distinctive identity. It was very different to any version that had gone before, yet it was still very much the Doctor Who theme. What he achieved was a version that had the dynamic of the Peter Howell arrangement from 1980, combined with the haunting, unearthly atmosphere of the 1963 original. There's just something about Glynn's 1986 version, which still to this day, gives me goosebumps. 

The "scream" or "sting" (the bit at the very beginning) is also the most dramatic and piercing that the show has had to date, tearing perfectly into the cliffhanger at the end of each episode. I was already obsessed with the various arrangements of the show's theme tune before then, so when faced with a new version to digest, one of the first things I did was stuck my cassette recorder in front of the TV and taped the new the music (intro and outro, of course!). Then to my utmost excitement, BBC Records released an LP containing the full-length version! 

The LP came with an eighties-tastic holographic sleeve. And I vividly remember having a nasty head cold on the day it arrived, but that didn't stop me from hauling myself out of bed to get the thing on the record player. I remember sitting there with blocked ears, a blocked nose and a fuzzy, dizzy head, listening to the full-length arrangement of the new theme, not only in glorious stereo, but with all the exciting additional bits you didn't get to hear on TV!

This version of the theme music has also aged well, unlike Keff McCulloch's 1987 arrangement which followed. But in 2008 when the BBC finally released the whole Trial season on DVD, I was really impressed to find a brand new remix of the 1986 theme tune, sounding superb and bringing it bang up to date. I hadn't heard it in years, and I was instantly transported back to that exciting Saturday afternoon.

So while it may not be immediately obvious, the music of Doctor Who in all its forms has been a big influence on my own instrumental music. Maybe that's why there's nearly always a science fiction edge to it, somewhere along the way. 

But needless to say, that whenever I use the pitch-shift slider on my midi-synth to bend a note, Mr Glynn's Doctor Who theme is lurking there, in my mind!

My new album Timeshift is available from:

Dominic Glynn's new Gallifrey Remixes and Ravalox Remixes are available on Amazon.

...and Who, Where and When, my personal account of growing up with Doctor Who in the 1980s and beyond, is available for free download here.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Under observation...

I've been intending to post about my most recent piece of digital art, Observation Point for a while, so finally here we are.

One of the great things about bouncing ideas around for book cover projects is that there are inevitably ideas that come out of the mix that have potential to be pieces in their own right, and that's exactly what happened here.

This was my original mono sketch – which wasn't right for the cover in question, but I felt it had something about it which I was keen to explore further.

As I've said countless times, it was the science fiction and space art of the 1970s and 1980s which first caught my imagination as a boy and that ultimately inspired me to create my own art – and it continues to inspire me to this day. There is certainly a gentle nod to that special era of SF art in my work, and that was certainly starting to come across here.

A simple image, of an enormous space vessel, in orbit above a planet; a classic SF image. The planet was originally going to be the Earth. But then I had a last-minute change of heart, and decided to make a heavily cratered moon instead.

This was when I discovered that craters are not as easy as they look. It is all about the light and shade, and getting the shape right. Which at first, I didn't. My initial craters were very shallow and more resembled a large pitted orange than a moon!

If these were impact craters, then we needed to see that impact, and the build-up around the edge. But once I'd worked more on really giving the craters more of a three dimensional texture, the piece really started to come together.

When it comes to painting starships or other alien structures, I've started to adopt a much looser approach. Providing the style is consistent with the rest of the piece, and that the perspective is accurate, then I don't mind it looking a little more sketchy or impressionistic rather than something too crisp and clean, which has that evident "digital" look to it. 

The craft itself isn't massively changed from the original sketch, and despite the slightly rough and ready appearance, it still has a good deal of surface detail and texture:

Rather than showing a scene of a spacecraft in flight, I decided to have it floating in space, in an ominous Rama sort of way. And through that, came the slightly unsettling title of Observation Point.

And here is the finished piece...

...nicely rounded off with some text specially written by Richard Hayes:

A spacecraft orbits a heavily cratered moon, the distant sun of this star system casting its light across the scene. The vast size of this vessel’s engines tell us that it has travelled far to reach this point, but they are now cold and silent – it has reached its destination. Even so, there is still much activity aboard the craft. Lights appearing through windows show that its occupants are busy going about their work, and its surface is covered with sensors and antennae which suggest that its role is to measure and analyse data.

We are left in little doubt that these space travellers are here to observe something, but we are not certain what that can be. It might be some feature on the surface of the moon below, or on its parent planet which lies outside our view. What we can be sure of is that the civilization that sent this spaceship to this remote location had the resources, and the will, to dispatch a sophisticated mission – possibly for purposes of scientific research, or perhaps for some more sinister reason.