Yesterday, I bought three books from my favourite second-hand bookshop1 on subjects of particular interest to me: maps, Ancient Greece and the Romanticists. I was especially pleased with the atlas2—to date, the second in my possession—which shall be a source of endless fascination (I wrote about my love for atlases in “This October”3.)
Presently, I am reading Modern Art and the Death of a Culture by H. R. Rookmaaker, which gives a Christian perspective on modern art. Though I am an atheist, I find it most insightful. After I have finished it, I shall read The First Poets: Lives of the Ancient Greek Poets—writers from a culture I hold in the highest esteem—by Michael Schmidt.
Wordsworth is the finest Romantic poet. Whilst I own several digital copies and one softcover of selections of his works, Wordsworth: Poetical Works “contains every piece of original verse … published by the poet himself, or of which he can be shown to have authorized the posthumous publication”4—a treasure to a Wordsworth devotee!
Quirk & Leopard in the seaside town of Hermanus in the Western Cape province of South Africa; all hardcovers, for less than 400 ZAR (South African rands, approximately 24 USD, 21 EUR or 19 GBP)—a steal.
The Times’ Concise Atlas of the World: Ninth Edition.
In the “I bought an atlas” section.
An extract from the front flap of the dust jacket.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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!