Monday, 28 March 2016

Music for the stars

I have associated a certain type of music with visions of space and other planets since I was a child. This is what led to me creating my own instrumental electronic music, despite having little in the way of formal training.

An artist at heart, when I first started experimenting with music a decade ago, I soon realised that for me, it was the same as painting – only using sounds instead of colours. But as a synesthete, for me, the sounds I use do have colours and textures. Of course, a degree of technical knowledge is required, as well as a basic musical understanding, but to me, making music feels very much like the same creative process, only with a different medium and result.

In 2012 when I was invited to become first Honorary Musician for the Initiative for Interstellar Studies (i4is), I jumped to the opportunity to be a part of an exciting new organisation with such a passionate and ambitious vision. To be able to promote such a forward thinking vision through my music was the ideal project brief.

To date, I have released four albums in support of i4is:

An album based around different visions of the future, from utopias to dystopias, deep space travel and a climate-changed Earth. This was very much an album inspired by classic SF writing such as Arthur C. Clarke, etc. I revisited the album creating the Redux version that was entirely symphonic.

This album was designed to tie-in with the Initiative’s book of the same name (to which I also contributed a chapter). I have always wanted to make a space travel concept album, and this is it; starting with the mission launch and culminating in a journey into the unknown.

If Beyond the Boundary was the journey, then this is the destination. Panorama is music for cinematic vistas and the exploration of alien landscapes. The subtle concept at the core of the album was the discovery of an Earth-like planet.

But how do you make “space music”?

The kind of music that evokes visions of space for me, may not do so for everyone. If you’re not keen on electronic music, then my stuff maybe isn’t for you. But if you’re keen to put styles and genres aside, then the music – being instrumental – should be totally open to interpretation. Granted, I present the albums with an initial concept, but once it is out there, the listener can take it as they wish. 

I’ve always been inspired by space art – hence becoming an artist myself. The work of artists such as David A. Hardy, John Berkey, John Harris, Chris Moore, Chris Foss and Tim White are some of my favourites. Their work takes you to places… the kind of pieces that make you want to step inside the frame and explore. This particular generation of artists have produced incredibly prophetic and visionary pieces, which still resonate and inspire today, and I always look to this work for inspiration – musically and artistically.

And I’m sure my version of synaesthesia helps me decide what sounds to choose; what colours they evoke in my mind, as I’m building up my soundscapes. And in the case of the albums I have produced for i4is, then I’ll look to their own mission statement.

I try to imagine the sights you might see on such a mission and the range of emotions experienced at gazing upon something you’ve never seen or even been able to conceive seeing before. This kind of feeling was particularly well presented in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar – that moment when we first lay eyes on the black hole Gargantua.

Another inspiration is how we’ve recently been able to see the surfaces of Mars and Pluto in vivid detail like never before. This sort of thing leads to me exploring various sounds and atmospheres, and seeing what seems to match whatever I’m looking at. It feels very much like creating a soundtrack in that respect.

But it also needs to play like an album of music to be enjoyed, concept aside. So the real challenge is trying to make something that is heavily atmospheric and thought provoking, at the same time as having some sort of musical integrity. And in the case of the above albums, they need to be worthy of their particular audience’s attention.

So with each album comes a new challenge, and also during each project, new things are learned and discovered. With every album I’ve produced, there’s always a sense of progression, whether musically or technically. So with that thought in mind, I very much look forward to starting work on the next album of interstellar music for i4is

All of the albums mentioned in this blog (and many more) can be streamed and purchased (in digital format) from my Bandcamp site.

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