New Year, New Music

“The Early Ploughman”, circa 1860, an etching by Samuel Palmer (1805–1881). Source: Tate
“The Early Ploughman”, circa 1860, an etching by Samuel Palmer (1805–1881). Source: Tate

Story

Whilst it is possible to enjoy ambient music without any context, an album concept can transform the way one experiences the music. Depending on the objectives of the musician, the concept will lie somewhere between elegantly explained and deliberately obscured. My approach is nearer to the former. I enjoy telling stories and music allows me to do so in words, pictures and sound. This year, I want to give context to my music using words in the form of poetry and pictures in the form of unique album artwork.

Poetry

To me, words are inextricable from music, whether they are the lyrics to a song or the title of an instrumental track. On my first album, I experimented with this word-music relationship, adding lyrics (to be sung by the listener) to “Silently You Sail”, and I want to further explore this idea by using poetry as an integral part of new music. There are currently two projects in pre-production which will be built around poetry. They draw inspiration from many poems but two stand out as being most influential in developing the concepts behind the music: the untitled verses for the rabbit Silverweed by Richard Adams in Watership Down chapter 16 and “Winternag” (Afrikaans, “winter’s night”) by Eugène Marais. Richard Adams captures the wistfulness and Eugène Marais the melancholy I want to express in my own poetry and music.

This is the first stanza of the Richard Adams poem containing my favourite opening line in poetry:

The wind is blowing, blowing over the grass.
It shakes the willow catkins; the leaves shine silver.
Where are you going, wind? Far, far away
Over the hills, over the edge of the world.
Take me with you, wind, high over the sky.
I will go with you, I will be rabbit-of-the-wind,
Into the sky, the feathery sky and the rabbit.

And this is the first stanza of the Eugène Marais poem describing a landscape scorched by fire:

O koud is die windjie (O cold is the slight wind)
en skraal (and spare).
En blink in die dof-lig (And bright in the dim light)
en kaal (and bare),
so wyd as die Heer se genade (as vast as the grace of the Lord),
lê die velde in sterlig en skade (lie the fields in starlight and ruin).
En hoog in die rande (And high in the ridges),
versprei in die brande (scattered in the fires),
is die grassaad aan roere (are the grasses astir)
soos winkende hande (like beckoning hands).

“The Weary Ploughman”, circa 1860, the companion piece to “The Early Ploughman”, an etching by Samuel Palmer (1805–1881). Source: The British Museum
“The Weary Ploughman”, circa 1860, the companion piece to “The Early Ploughman”, an etching by Samuel Palmer (1805–1881). Source: The British Museum

Artwork

It may seem premature to think of artwork this early in pre-production but it is a defining feature of an album and one of the chief ways in which an ambient musician can communicate the main theme of his music. I want to use artwork to augment the overall concepts of my new projects, so I think it makes sense to develop the artwork in tandem with the music. This is how I approached the artwork for my first album. By making it part of the process from the outset, the result feels like a natural outcome of the process rather than an arbitrary afterthought.

I have approached a number of artists about developing artwork for upcoming projects. I am particularly interested in the idea of presenting machine-made music in a handmade medium. It introduces an element of contrast in the production process, which I like for its complementary quality. This is why I am investigating traditional methods of creating artwork. Etching is one possibility—the highly atmospheric prints of Samuel Palmer are great examples of what it can produce—but whatever the final method, this will be its underlying philosophy.

Music

The music will build on the idea of repeating musical phrases but will incorporate new elements. My tracks typically start out as piano sketches which I then reinterpret digitally, adding elements that suit the theme of the music. On my first album, this included a combination of digital keyboards and synthesised classical instruments, such as the French horn in “Airship” and the bassoon in “Giant in the Sky”. This really appeals to me and hence all the tracks currently in pre-production will make use of this combination in some form.

In addition to the solo material, I will also work on two separate collaborations with Krzyzis and Astoria Sound. (There may be one other collaboration with Ghost Signs but nothing has been decided.) I am planning a two-track EP with Krzyzis as a kind of preview of what is to come but in collaborative form; and my work with Astoria Sound will be for a dedicated collaborative album of theirs. I am excited to see how these projects influence my solo music and I am truly grateful for this opportunity to work with these very talented musicians:

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

Apple | Spotify | Bandcamp | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube

It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s an Airship!

Catharsis through repetition

Music has always been my recourse whenever I need to reflect on life and process my experiences. I make experimental music in the ambient electronic genre because it is inherently meditative and I want my music to have that quality in some form. In pursuit of this, I build my music around loops, using repeating melodies like mantras. Each repetition distills some things and crystallises others, whether they are thoughts, ideas or emotions. This cathartic cycle directly informed my approach to the music on Airship. I methodically assembled layers of musical phrases around a central refrain, which either plays throughout the track or emerges at a key moment.

Airship origins

I first came across airships in Hayao Miyazaki’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Kiki’s Delivery Service. In “Laputa”, an airship is a mythical machine dominating the sky, and in “Kiki”, a majestic but fragile giant. However, it was the song “Airships” by VNV Nation that planted the seeds for what eventually became Airship. Its lyrics describe an airship as a symbol of humanity’s hopes and dreams, a theme that resonated with me, very powerfully. I wanted to create something similar in experimental music and this concept album was the result.

An unconventional soundtrack

Airship is an unconventional soundtrack to lighter-than-air flight. Each track describes an aspect of airship travel: the preparations before departure (“Hangar”, “A Good Day for Flying”); the impressive scale of the aircraft (“Giant in the Sky”); its stateliness in flight (“Airship”); the romance of its journey (“Silently You Sail”); and its arrival (“Destination”). I wanted to inspire nostalgia and to convey wonderment and awe, but I also wanted to communicate the risks involved: bad weather and mechanical failure were ever-present threats that could spell disaster, and I express this reality in the sombreness of the music.

Just one track

If you only had time to listen to one track on the album, I would recommend the title track, “Airship”. It describes an airship as it appears on the horizon, sweeps overhead, and sails into the distance. The music is slow and dignified—almost cinematic. It is my best attempt at capturing my fascination with airships in music. It was also an opportunity to use a French horn, one of my favourite instruments. I hope it resonates with you as it does with me and that it inspires you to hang on to your own sense of wonder.

Airship is available at music.forgottenfields.co and on all music platforms, including Amazon, Apple, Google, Spotify and Tidal.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

Airship on iTunes

A screenshot of the Airship pre-order on iTunes
A screenshot of the Airship pre-order on iTunes

iTunes and just about everywhere else

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.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

Airship liner notes

A screenshot of the introduction to the Airship liner notes.
A screenshot of the introduction to the Airship liner notes.

Track-by-track descriptions

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.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS
Special thanks to my friend, A. Scott, for reigning in (some of) my adjectives.

“Silently You Sail”

Airwaves to airships

With the pre-order of Airship available, I am happy to share “Silently You Sail”, the fifth track on the album. “Silently You Sail” began as a sketch piece about radio airwaves. I imagined them traveling through the air, delivering sounds from tower to tower. But when I started working on the album, it seemed to work just as well as a description of an airship in flight.

The music

The track has three melodies. The first is a bass synth humming throughout. It is accompanied by “drops” of sound, gently counting out the pace. The second melody is the main theme, joined in time by an accompanying third melody. They weave unhurriedly along, with an occasional rush of synths, until the conclusion of the track.

Lyrics and a title change (or two)

The track started out as “Recording I”, then became “The View From Above” when I adapted it for Airship, and finally changed to “Silently You Sail” when I introduced lyrics. The lyrics are to be sung by the listener at the 1:20 mark, where the second melody starts. It is a little unusual to expect the listener to do the singing, but I like the idea. The lyrics come from a poem I wrote that fortuitously fit the melody:

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

Listen

You can listen to the track on the Music page. If you sing along, let me know! Comment on this post or tweet @forgottenfield? I would be honoured!

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

The Forgotten Fields Music page has launched

Poster announcing launch of Forgotten Fields Music and Airship album pre-order
To pre-order Airship, visit http://music.forgottenfields.co/releases

Airship is now available for pre-order

I am pleased to announce that the Forgotten Fields Music page is live at music.forgottenfields.co, and that the upcoming album, Airship, is now available for pre-order. I have done this because I am eager to start sharing music, and whilst I am doing all kinds of administrative work related to the album release on 12 December 2016, the pre-order gives me an official opportunity to do so. For the time being, track two (“A Good Day For Flying“) is streamable on the Music page and also on Soundcloud and YouTube. I will add track five (“Silently You Sail”), soon. I hope you like what you hear. Why not give me your impressions in your own review (please share the link with me in the comment section below), or comment on the track on Soundcloud or YouTube, or tweet @forgottenfield? I will definitely read it.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

Airship tracklist edits

An abstract, geometric view of the sky
Image by https://unsplash.com/@davideragusa

Last-minute changes

It is now a matter of days before the Airship album becomes available for pre-order. At the last minute, I have decided to make changes to the tracklist. Nothing major, just changes to three track titles to help refine the narrative of the album.

“The View From Above” becomes “Silently You Sail”

The biggest change was to the title of track five, “The View From Above”. When I paradoxically added lyrics describing a view of the airship from below, I faced a dilemma: do I change the lyrics or the track title? I decided on the latter. “The View From Above” is now titled “Silently You Sail”, after the first line from the lyrics.

“Return” becomes “Destination”

The next change was to the title of “Return”, the last track on the album. Originally, this track described the return leg of a round trip flight. But in the light of “Silently You Sail”, it became clear that I was actually describing the conclusion of a voyage. It made sense to change “Return” to the more appropriate “Destination”.

“In the Hangar” becomes “Hangar”

The final change was the least significant, but I wrestled with it for over a month! I removed “in the” from “In the Hangar”, the title of track one. It’s unforgivably overscrupulous, but I think you will agree that it looks neater!

The revised tracklist

  1. Hangar
  2. A Good Day For Flying
  3. Airship
  4. Giant in the Sky
  5. Silently You Sail
  6. Destination

The album will be available for pre-order this Sunday (25 September 2016). I am beyond excited!

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

More Mixing Madness

Airship album tracklist
The exported audio files. “Airship” (singular) will be the final album title and the title of track three (currently, “Maiden Voyage”). The title of the last track will change to “The Return”.

The listening game

I finished mixing the last track for the Airship album, today. I worked on each track in the order it appears in the tracklist. I do this because it gives me a feel for the final album, how it will sound and how it will develop for the listener. I can tentatively say that I’m pretty happy with the mixes and the tracklist as they are, right now, but that will probably change, as the listening game begins. I have exported the mixes to audio files, so I can play the tracks in their proper order. This way, I can listen for any inconsistencies or issues with the tracklist or the tracks themselves. I will go through this process, again and again, listening to the tracks on different speakers and headphones, looking for weaknesses in my mixes, testing them to see how well they hold up in different sound environments. By the time the album is released, I will have listened to it more than a hundred times, I’m sure!

My mixing process, briefly

I do my first mixes through my iPad speakers, at fairly low volumes. Because the speakers are limited in their capacity, it requires me to listen very carefully. I manage to create a pretty good preliminary mix this way. Because I can only hear the major parts of the track (hardly any of the subtleties are translated by the speakers), I usually end up with a simple, straightforward mix. When I then move to my desktop monitors (nothing fancy, just midrange Logitech speakers that are nearly a decade old), I can begin to pick out subtleties in the music. For about a week, I’ll mix and listen, mix and listen, moving between the desktop monitors and a pair of fairly decent Sennheiser headphones. The headphones let me know if anything is seriously wrong with the mix. They also help me refine panning levels. Panning is basically sending a sound to the left or right speaker, like a swoosh sound moving from your left ear to your right ear. It gives a track a spacial dimension, as if you’re “in” the music. Headphones translate this best, in my experience.

The final mixdown

I am now in the final mixing phase. I’ll be listening for how well the tracks perform on speakers other than the ones I use, primarily. I’ll be playing the tracks in cars, on small headphones, on laptop speakers, etc. I’ll also check how well the tracks work together as an album. If I’ve done my work right, there won’t be any major edits required, but there’s no guarantee. Sometimes a track sounds great on your headphones, but terrible on someone else’s, or the tracklist might need to be reordered (but, I’m confident that won’t happen). Once this phase is done, the tracks will be sent to the mastering house for final touches. As I write this, I am nervous and excited. I cannot wait to put this out into the world!

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

Putting Together an Album Tracklist

Airship Album Draft Tracklist

Decisions, Decisions…

With any album, the songs should have a natural relationship with each other, from beginning to end. They should take the listener on a journey, telling a story in rhythm, mood, arrangement and meaning. This is especially true for instrumental albums. There are many decisions to be made. For example, how do you tell your story? Do you start with a big introduction, mellow out and go big again with the ending? Or do you start quietly and gradually build up to a big finale? Do you end on a high or do you ease the listener out of the experience with a calming piece towards the end? There are many different approaches.

Telling a Story with Music

In my case, things have been made somewhat easier. You see, I went into this album with a concept in mind. I wanted to tell a story, to compose a kind of “soundtrack”, something to accompany a mental image. My story is simple: the first flight of an airship. The image above is a screenshot of my notes on possible track titles. They’re all still working titles, but they follow the narrative of the story. (“Come Take a Trip in my Airship” is a song from the early 1900s, which I may or may not use in some way.)

A Good Day For Flying

It begins “In The Hangar”, where preparations are made. The mood is somewhat serious, everything needs to be perfect before the flight. Then the doors of the hangar open. There is excitement mixed with tension. It is “A Good Day For Flying”, but will everything go according to plan? At last, the magnificent craft emerges. The moment of truth finally arrives as the airship takes to the skies. “Airship” tries to convey a sense of awe at the majesty of the craft as it slowly sails through the air. Some of this wonder continues in the onlookers on the ground, gazing up at the “Giant in the Sky”. The view from below is followed by “The View From Above”. The craft is running smoothly, the air is crisp. There is a sense of calm as heaven and earth drift by… At length, it is time to make “The Return”. Once again, there is a sense of excitement and anticipation as the airship approaches. The pilot is confident the landing will be a success and it is! He makes a graceful landing.

The Next Step

And there you have it, a tracklist of six songs that starts a little tense, rises to a high point and gently comes to a conclusion. At least, that is the general idea! Many of the tracks already exist in demo form, some of them uploaded to SoundCloud. The next step is to refine the music, editing each track so it works on its own as well as in the context of the tracklist. I’ll be asking questions like: should I add or remove an element?; how can I best improve the sound of an instrument?; should a track be self-contained with a start and finish, or should it merge at either point with the track that goes before or after? There’s a lot to be done. But, it’s a very exciting part of making music and I can’t wait to get started!

Forgotten Fields