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.
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.
When I look back at the music that inspired me to compose in the ambient genre, three tracks stand out, each representing an aesthetic or concept that informs my music:
“Dlp 1.1” by William Basinski
“Dlp 1.1” is an hour-long track from The Disintegration Loops, a series of four albums released between 2002 and 2003 by avant-garde composer William Basinski. For one hour, you hear a cassette tape looping a short fragment of ambient music. With each cycle under the player’s head, the magnetic tape deteriorates. As the quality decreases, the anomalies and distortions increase, until only the ghosts of the original recording remain. The result is a poignant, immersive, void-gazing drone. It is simultaneously outrageous and mesmerising. To me, this approach to musicmaking was a revelation. Basinski opened my eyes to what music could be. Through “Dlp 1.1”, he introduced me to experimental music and specifically, the power of repetition, distortion and texture.
“Container Ships” by Loscil
“Container Ships” is the fourth track on Sketches From New Brighton (2012) by Loscil (Scott Morgan). The album is a series of ambient electronic “sketches” inspired by scenery surrounding a Vancouver shipping port. Throughout the track, a pulsing bass theme surges and recedes like an enormous engine. This is joined by an optimistic tune in a higher register, animating the piece. There are distinct, contrasting layers that seamlessly blend together—methodically assembled, yet unfolding naturally. This is what makes Loscil so impressive: the ability to make the calculated feel organic. His minimal soundscapes are pristine but personal, and their warmth draws you in. “Container Ships” pushed me into making ambient music, and for that I owe its composer a debt of gratitude.
“Repose In Blue” by Eluvium
“Repose In Blue” is the finale of Eluvium’s 2007 Copia album. Matthew Cooper, the man behind the moniker, is known for his cinematic ambient compositions, and this nine-and-a-half-minute track does not disappoint, expertly employing the element of surprise. For the first five-and-a-half minutes, an unassuming, string-laden stream of synths passes unhurriedly along—later joined by the laziest horn imaginable—when all of a sudden, a series of deep, unsynchronised drums begin to randomly explode beneath the surface, like subterranean pyrotechnics! This interruption is nothing short of sublime, given the placid expanse he so carefully constructs, up to that point. If I could convey a fraction of such drama and emotional content in my music, I would be delighted!
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.