I discovered a Universal City Studios newsreel in the public domain, covering the Hindenburg disaster of 1937. For the Airship album trailer, I used video from the first half of the newsreel, showing the airship in flight, as the newscaster sets the scene for the accident. In the second half, the Hindenburg’s final moments are described in dramatic language, with footage to match. It is a moving film, telling the story of the world’s most famous airship disaster.
Accompanying the imagery is an excerpt from the album title track, a seven-minute instrumental piece describing an airship appearing on the horizon, sweeping overhead, and sailing into the distance. The music is slow and dignified, making for a somewhat dramatic trailer. But, I think it is appropriate. To me, airships are the most breathtaking things ever to grace the skies; the album is my attempt at conveying the awe they inspire. I hope I have succeeded.
This time, I have focused on the mooring mast. A mooring mast is a docking point for an airship. It is, essentially, an enormous tower fitted with a mechanism at its top to which the airship bow is fixed by a mooring line. I recently saw footage of this process and it reminded me of a kiss: shall we say, a finely judged procedure.
Airships and their battles
Winds and rain can cause an airship to lose altitude, especially in freezing conditions where ice forms on the hull. The airship is weighed down, making manoeuvering difficult or impossible, resulting in disaster. The poem describes the mooring mast as the lover of such an ill-fated airship. Like Silently You Sail and Sheltering Airships, it is short and sweet, but I hope it captures this fanciful romance:
The lonely tower waits in vain
In an icy field,
Unaware of what befell
The airship in the wind.
Earlier that fateful day,
Softly in the mist,
One last time the zeppelin
He had gently kissed.
When I submitted Airship to online music distributors, I had to choose a genre for the album. From the official options, it came down to either “Electronic” or “Rock”. I selected “Electronic”, the closest generic match, but my music actually falls somewhere in between. It falls under Post-rock, a genre that is somewhat difficult to define.
The problem with “post-rock”
Its exclusion from the available options is, perhaps, not all that surprising because as a descriptor of a creative category, it tells you almost nothing about an artist’s sound. It includes so vast a range of musical styles that it is rendered just about meaningless. For purposes of classification, this is a nightmare, but for all others—particularly the creation and discovery of music—it is positively heaven sent. I could, for example, describe my work as “experimental post-minimalist ambient electronic progressive rock” (or something equally absurd and pretentious), but how practical is that melange of identifiers to me, or a listener who hopes to discover it? “Post-rock” is a neat, necessary and welcome contraction. Whilst in its “strictest” sense it is essentially non-traditional rock music made with rock instruments, that definition only considers bands such as Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You, whose music epitomises post-rock in its “purest” form. But over time, through a kind of osmosis, the term has come to encapsulate a host of sub-genres, making up a particular body of experimental music. Today, it includes ambient bands like Hammock, experimental projects like Jónsi & Alex, shoegaze bands like Jeniferever and even dream pop groups like Kyte.
In praise of post-rock
Post-rock is therefore almost a necessarily nebulous term. In his Treblezine article “10 Essential Post-Rock Albums“, Jeff Terich describes post-rock as follows: “It’s a genre in which texture, tone and atmosphere has a more prominent role than hooks or verses and choruses. Its song structure can vary widely, or in some cases be nonexistent. There is both more improvisation and more complex editing techniques. Sometimes it’s all instrumental, and in other cases it’s built on samples or spoken word passages. The rules are pretty pliable, as long as it’s not really a straightforward rock song.” You can tell by his description that there are hardly any rules; and post-rock artists break whatever rules there are in every conceivable direction, rewriting them in their own image. This creates a treasure trove of musical experimentation, a genre that introduces music lover and maker alike to a plethora of ingenuity. It delivers everything from the clean, natural compositions of Balmorhea, to the texture-laden, synth-driven depths of Belong; it embraces the vast, rock-instrumented symphonies of Mono and the sublime, cinematic soundscapes of Eluvium; but it also celebrates the melancholy strings of Stars of the Lid, to say nothing of the aching lamentations of Sigur Ròs. It is a universe of the new, the interesting and the strange.
A post-rock novice
A newcomer to the field, I tentatively describe my music as “ambient electronic post-rock” because those are key themes I can identify. Within these parameters I can explore and develop rules of my own. The process is challenging, even intimidating, but that is the nature of exploration—and I would like to think that I am here to explore.
I’ve written about hangars before, the large industrial structures built to house airships. To me, these sheds are just as impressive as the crafts they protect. I tried to convey their incredible size and reverberating interiors in “Hangar”, the opening track of the upcoming album, Airship. In addition, I have written a little experimental poem on the theme. (Who knows, perhaps I’ll publish a little booklet of dirigible poetry!) I wanted to describe the airships as reluctant occupants of the colossal buildings, their soaring spirit of freedom as earthbound and restless within:
Steadfast sheds of metal,
Structures proud and bold
Sheltering the zeppelins,
Splendid to behold!
Silently they loom
Safe within the walls
Spirits of the boundless blue
Sheltered in their halls!
Inspiration from Cardington
The genesis of Sheltering Airships was the poetry of airship enthusiast, Trevor Monk. A resident of Bedfordshire, England, home to the ex-RAF Cardington sheds, Monk has written a number of informal poems about lighter-than-air flight. Favourites amongst these include a comical limerick about a scatterbrained blimp named Billy, and The Cathedrals of Cardington, a dignified ode to the local landmark hangars. I particularly enjoy the latter for its imagery—the scale of the doors, the vastness of the interiors, the vision of the buildings as industrial cathedrals:
The Cathedrals of Cardington
By Trevor Monk
They stand looming from the fields of Bedfordshire,
Proud structures of a time long passed—
Their mighty doors on tracks move steadily.
A beacon of home when travelling—
The sound reverberating from their cavernous halls,
Airship engines roar under test.
Their vast bulk impressive from afar,
Unbelievable whilst close;
Girders of steel like pillars
Supporting the roof of unbelievable height.
These are truly ‘Cathedrals of Cardington’,
Standing almost Gothic in industrial form.
More than just a box,
More than a collection of girders and sheets,
Elegant giants of old.
Long may those cathedrals of Cardington echo
To the choir of airship engines!
In response, I wrote Airship Hangars, borrowing heavily from Monk, the first draft of what eventually became Sheltering Airships:
Airship Hangars (working title)
They stand looming in the fields,
Structures proud and bold.
Their mighty doors on tracks of metal,
Sentinels of old.
Within, the airship engines roar,
Echoing off the walls,
Chanting an industrial tune
In the stately halls.
I am pleased to announce that Airship is now available for pre-order on iTunes and all other platforms, including Amazon MP3 and Spotify. Delivery is still pending in some stores, but it won’t be long before the album is available everywhere. (Please note that the liner notes are only available via the Forgotten Fields Music page.)
It was rather wonderful seeing Airship in the iTunes Store, today. I celebrated with a big smile.
After countless rewrites, the liner notes for Airship are complete. They give a brief overview of the album concept, as well as track by track explanations of the music. I may have been a little baroque in my descriptions, but it can’t be helped, I am beyond redemption in that respect!
The liner notes are now included with the album pre-order.
Special thanks to my friend, A. Scott, for reigning in (some of) my adjectives.
This is one of my favourite airship and hangar photographs. It shows LZ 129 Hindenburg moored at Hangar No. 1, NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey, United States. The Hindenburg was headed for this hangar when it crashed and burned whilst landing (6 May 1937).