Panic boy

The hands of a man playing the piano
Image by https://unsplash.com/@jamillejqueiroz

Piano boy

When I was eleven years old, I became obsessed with the piano. At the time, my best friend was taking lessons and I was captivated by his ability to play. Eager to learn myself, I asked my mother to enroll me with my friend’s tutor. To my surprise and delight, she agreed! However, there was one complication. I was living with my friend’s family, that year. Whilst he was allowed to practice on his grandmother’s beautiful old upright, I wasn’t. So, it was arranged that I would practice at a neighbour’s, which I did with enthusiasm! That poor household. Twice a week, I played the same little repertoire over and over: the mundane beginner pieces, the endless repetitive scales… How relieved they must have been when I finally got my own piano!

Progress boy

When the time came for the Royal Schools of Music examination, my tutor was confident that I would do well. Being a perfectionist, I was determined not to disappoint her. Thinking back on this, I never told my parents about my progress, chiefly because they never asked—and yet my tutor at the time was one of my mother’s oldest friends! Perhaps she didn’t ask because she learnt from my tutor, but I always assumed she wasn’t all that interested. As far as I was aware, her only involvement was buying my piano and paying for lessons. As for my alcoholic stepfather, he saw my talent as a source of entertainment for him and his drinking friends. Be that as it may, concerning my first examination, I had every reason to be confident in my ability to do well and it makes what follows all the more puzzling!

Panic boy

On the morning of the examination, I was overcome with misgivings. I experienced what I now think was a panic attack. It was without a doubt the most nervous I have ever been in my entire life. I was shaking, pacing about the house, dreading what was to come. When my mother told me to calm down, I burst into tears! In an effort to bring me to my senses, she instructed my stepfather to take me around the house and “surprise” me with an unexpected slap in the face! Unbeknownst to them, I overheard this exchange. My young mind was horrified! I was too immature to realise what was happening inside me, but subconsciously I must have wondered why my parents didn’t take the time to find out why I was stressed, why they were so dismissive of my feelings, why they made me feel like there was something wrong with me. By the time my stepfather walked me to the back of the house, I had collected myself, firm in my resolution never to lose it again. There was no need for a “surprise”.

Powerless boy

I passed the examination. But, that morning stayed with me. At my most defenseless, my mother had neither the instinct nor the capacity to reassure or comfort me. Her cruel and unsympathetic response left me feeling helpless, unprotected and worthless. Incidents like that litter the landscape of my childhood. My stepfather, an alcoholic for most of my life (now recovered), used to make me play the piano when he brought his drunk friends home. I cannot express how humiliating that was to me. My regard for him already hanging by a thread, these situations compounded my anger and resentment towards him. I came to despise him. Had he slapped me in the face that morning, he would not have violated me more than he did by all the insidious ways in which he (and my mother) damaged me psychologically.

Pearl boy

There has always been a distance between my parents and I. So much bitterness has built up in me towards them. It’s taken a long time to come to a place of forgiveness. Now that I am older, I am able to talk to them about how I experienced my childhood. I can allow myself to feel the anger and pain I suppressed, back then. It’s not easy to realise that there’s nothing wrong with you when you’re that young and in the thick of a dysfunctional family. But understanding and coming to grips with what happened to you, goes a long way towards healing the pain of a broken upbringing. It requires a lot of introspection and it’s exhausting, but at some point, it dawns on you: the people who treated you badly were the unworthy ones, not you. You were the pearl, they were the swine.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

An instrumental track… with lyrics

Areal view of green farmland fields
Image by Sylwia Pietruszka (unsplash.com)

Accidental lyrics

Even though the upcoming album is instrumental, I wrote lyrics for one of the tracks… by accident. A few weeks ago, I wrote a short poem on the theme of an airship in flight:

Silently you sail
As the daylight yields
Wondrous flying ship
To forgotten fields!

Fortuitously, the metre fit the melody of the fifth track on the album: “The View From Above”. I had no choice but to put the two together!

Incidental singing

However, I did not want to record vocals because it felt wrong for the album. So, I decided to include the poem as lyrics to the track, inviting the listener to sing. When Airship goes on pre-order, “The View From Above” will be streamable, and I hope listeners will quietly sing along, like a wistful passenger. (Listen for the melody from the 1:20 mark.)

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

P.S. A small gift: use the discount code THEVIEWFROMABOVE to get 50% off on the album. The code will be valid for one week after the album goes on pre-order (date to be announced).

Head trolls

A black cassette tape on a white reflective surface
Image by Markus Spiske (unsplash.com)

The curse of the crickets

Allow me to wrestle with a little reality. With the release of my first album on the horizon, I brace myself for the proverbial chirp of crickets. Of course, I would be over the moon if it got one listen (from someone other than my mum), but I’m one musician amongst millions. For some perspective, consider that a small record company receives hundreds of music submissions a week—to say nothing of the countless publications on the internet, every day! And here I am, making even more music; and weird music, at that. I mean, who repeats the same tune for eight minutes and has the audacity to call it music? And who writes music about airships, anyway?

Mental block

The thing is, I have chosen this path and I am happy to have crickets (and my mum) cheer me on. The possibility of failure is part of any quest. Winston Churchill said: “Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” What a great line! I embrace it, wholeheartedly. I love making music and I enjoy blogging about it. In Show Your Work—incidentally, the inspiration behind this blog—Austin Kleon writes: “… the worst troll is the one that lives in your head.” Any creative person who cares about what they do, will know how true that is. He suggests using the block button. Well, Mister Head Troll, consider yourself blocked!

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

Be true to your subject (and other good advice)

Piles of books
Image by Eli Samuelu (unsplash.com)

Ask Arden

I’m currently reading It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be by the late Paul Arden (1940-2008). It’s one of those books I’ve had for a couple of years and never got round to reading (The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks—I resorted to the audiobook—and How to Change the World by John-Paul Flintoff are amongst them). Arden’s book is, of course, full of gems directed at creatives in the advertising world, but many of them apply to creativity in general. Arden on mistakes is encouraging: “The person who doesn’t make mistakes is unlikely to make anything.”; on getting started he is forgiving: “… failures and false starts are a precondition of success.”; and on being stuck, unorthodox: “Do the opposite of what the solution requires.” But, Arden on doing your own thing has to be my favourite:

Do not try to win awards. Nearly everybody likes to win awards. Awards create glamour and glamour creates income. But beware. Awards are judged in committee by consensus of what is known. In other words, what is in fashion. But originality can’t be fashionable, because it hasn’t as yet had the approval of the committee. Do not try to follow fashion. Be true to your subject and you will be far more likely to create something that is timeless. That’s where the true art lies.

Forgotten Fields in six words (or less)

Towards the end of the book, Arden writes about the power of a slogan when communicating an idea. It got me thinking about a slogan for my music. Describing Forgotten Fields in a single phrase is tricky—it took more than 500 words just to explain the band name! Like an album cover, a lot must be conveyed in a single communication—and unusual ideas don’t help, they can even turn people off. But, Arden’s words reminded me to be true to myself, to make the music I have to make, and to describe it plainly and frankly. When I joined the Minds social network, I wrote the shortest profile description I could think of: Sad music to make you happy. I later changed it to: Sounds of wonder and loss. To me, both phrases encapsulate Forgotten Fields. When I read them, I think: Yes, that’s what I’m trying to create!

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

Creating cover art for Airship, Part III

 Rough cover art mock-ups for the upcoming Airship album
Rough cover art mock-ups for the upcoming Airship album

Sketches

I thought I’d share some of the rough sketches I’ve done for the Airship album cover. They were made in the past couple of months to help me visualise the layout. I’ve written previously about the concept, but briefly, it illustrates the inspiration for the album: the maiden flight of an airship.

Concepts

I pictured the crew preparing for the test, the crowd looking on in anticipation—an atmosphere of excitement and wonder! Over time, this idea evolved and took on an abstract feel. I thought of the flight itself and the ship moving through the clouds. But, I kept coming back to the idea of the airship looming overhead, imposing and terrible, a giant in the sky! I pictured myself standing on the ground as it passes over—a speck in its shadow, agape with awe! Just look at the size of a Hindenburg in relation to the Empire State!

A graphic size comparison between the Hindenburg airship and the Empire State building
The Hindenburg vs the Empire State

Reveals

I hope I headed in the right direction, in the end. I will reveal the final artwork with the launch of the Forgotten Fields Bandcamp page, in the not too distant future. I’m excited and nervous—mostly nervous—but, I tell myself that’s a good thing.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

Creating cover art for Airship, Part II

A screenshot of an airship photograph and vector rendering
A screenshot of the cover art design in progress

The fun

I officially started working up the Airship cover art layout, today. This is good, but I can’t help but feel a little sad when the creative process reaches this stage. When you’re still coming up with ideas, there’s an atmosphere of excitement: you’re looking, investigating, collecting and reinventing; there are doodles, collages, sketches and drafts—it’s messy and it’s fun, and anything is possible!

The doubt

But, once a final layout is in sight, there’s only executing the idea. You obsess over details and things take a more serious turn. On top of this, no matter how confident you are in your concept, you can’t help but doubt yourself, just a little. Suddenly, you find a dozen things wrong and you’re tempted to throw it all out and start again. Today, I found myself revisiting earlier concepts and asking all kinds of questions about the one I finally settled on. Like: did I choose the right idea?; would colour be better than black and white?; should the typeface be changed?; does the album even have the right title?

The pause

It helps to pause and take some time to calm down. If an idea is really that bad, it can be changed (or at least be embraced for its badness). I don’t think my concept is quite so terrible. But, you will be a more objective judge than I.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

Creating cover art for Airship

Black and white photographs of the Hindenburg airship
My moodboard for the Airship album cover art (Images: Wikipedia)

Finding a way to make it happen

Early on in the Airship project, I drew up rough ideas for the cover art. I thought the best solution would be to illustrate what I pictured when I conceptualised the music: a gigantic airship in midair, hovering above a crowd. Originally, I wanted the cover to have an illustrative feel, as if taken from a children’s book. But, the costs involved in commissioning an illustrator squashed that idea. I then thought of doing the illustration myself, but I am hopelessly out of practice and it will take a long time to develop a suitable style. Stock photography was another possibility. I thought I’d create a composite of various images. But, vintage imagery of airships are prohibitively expensive. So, I turned to the public domain and put together a collection of images I could use without running the risk of copyright infringement.

Mood board magic

I like working with mood boards. I even use them when I conceptualise music. It can be anything from a single image to an elaborate collection of pictures, music, sound clips and video—whatever sparks the imagination and sets the tone for the project. It informs my decisions and gives context to my ideas. And yet, as much as I like to work with mood boards, I didn’t create one for the Airship cover art. The concept grew out of impromptu digital “sketches”. Today, I essentially reverse-engineered a mood board using the public domain images. Even though I’ve already settled on a final concept and layout, the mood board helps me flesh out the idea, conceptually. It makes a big difference to how I think about what I am creating.

Abstract nostalgia

The best public domain images I found were of the Hindenburg; undoubtedly, the most famous airship of all time—a Titanic of the sky! Its proportions, shape and lines are the stuff of aviation dreams. When I look at the Hindenburg mood board, I am inspired! I look at the images and am filled with awe at its enormousness: 245 metres long and 43.7 metres high, it was the length of an ocean liner and the height of a 13-story building! That is something I very much want to convey on the cover. Then there is the black and white photography, symbolic of a bygone era, a nostalgic element I also want to include. I am going to take the cover art in an abstract direction. It leaves a little more to the imagination, which is better than being literal, at least in this instance—something I also tried to do with the music. I’ll post drafts of the cover, soon.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

There is sweet music here…

Album cover of There Is Sweet Music by John Rutter and The Cambridge Singers
The cover that caught my eye

… that softer falls than petals…

Whenever I am in low spirits, I turn to poetry and song. Years ago, I stumbled on a CD by John Rutter and The Cambridge Singers. The cover caught my eye—a colourful painting of fields in summer, and the title, There Is Sweet Music, begging me to listen. (I don’t know who did the painting, but the title is taken from The Lotos-eaters, a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson.) At the time, I was listening almost exclusively to classical music and art songs; but somehow, I picked this collection of choral works. To this day, I thank the gods that I did! There Is Sweet Music became one of my favourite records. If ever I am banished to an island, it makes my list of music to take. The songs—from composers like Edward Elgar and Frederick Delius—are perfectly sung. They make you want to run through the fields and weep on the hills! The wistful voices enchant you, transport your soul, uplift your spirit. I listen whenever I feel a little sad—or a little happy.

It was on the fifth of August…

One of my favourite songs from the recordings is “Brigg Fair”. It’s an English folk song arranged for choir and tenor by Peter Grainger, in the early 1900s. Here are the words, speaking of love and longing, and the melody and singing (Apple Music) are equally sublime:

Brigg Fair

It was on the fifth of August-er’ the weather fine and fair,
Unto Brigg Fair I did repair, for love I was inclined.
I rose up with the lark in the morning, with my heart so full of glee,
Of thinking there to meet my dear, long time I’d wished to see.
I took hold of her lily-white hand, O and merrily was her heart:
“And now we’re met together, I hope we ne’er shall part”.
For it’s meeting is a pleasure, and parting is a grief,
But an unconstant lover is worse than any thief.
The green leaves they shall wither and the branches they shall die
If ever I prove false to her, to the girl that loves me.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

Press release pressure (Asking for your feedback)

MacBook laptop and Magic mouse with spectacles on a wooden tabletop
Image by Craig Garner (unsplash.com)

Writing the Airship album press release

Whilst the Airship album is being mastered, I have turned my attention to album promotion. It is, by far, the most daunting part of self-releasing an album. I spent a little time writing a concept draft for the album press release, today. It’s not easy to be objective about yourself and your work. The challenge is to be accurate and honest, not presumptuous and pretentious. I don’t know if I’m succeeding, which is why I submit my draft here. I hope you’ll give me your impressions in the comments, friends? You are not caught up in this mess, the way I am. A fresh perspective is welcome!

The draft1

Airships have held a fascination for ambient electronic musician Ricardo Sauls ever since he first learned of their existence. Airship is his first release under the moniker Forgotten Fields. The album is a ticket for a [musical] trip through dark, abstract soundscapes, an invitation to be fascinated by the historic giants of the sky. It consists of six tracks inspired by the early days of dirigibles, taking the listener through a trial flight, described in a [soundtrack-like] instrumental experiment. The music has a strong ambient electronic [post-rock] influence. There are deep synths, mesmerising electric guitars, delicate glockenspiel and [even] a dignified French horn—all conspiring to fill you with a sense of awe [and a little nostalgia]. From the droning mechanical tone of the opening track (“In The Hangar”) to the graceful and soaring title track (“Airship”), Forgotten Fields’ first album promises a singular sonic journey.

Please tell me what you would change? It’ll be a great help. Thank you, all!

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

1 This is an unformatted, rough version of the core content of the press release. The final version will include necessary standard information, elements and formatting. Square brackets contain undecided or possible substitute words.