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.
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.
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.
I have been collecting airship images for nearly a decade. Truth be told, I know very little about them, historically and technically. I am just a simple fan. They fascinate me. My imagination is captivated by their scale. The idea of them slowly sailing overhead, like an enormous leviathan… it makes my heart beat faster!
Marvel with me…
I attempt to capture such an overhead flight in one of the tracks I have written for the Airship album. The track is titled “Giant in the Sky”. I cannot wait to share it! When I wrote it, I pictured myself gazing up in awe as the ship passes over, blocking out the sun—imposing, awe-inspiring! Just look at the size of the USS Los Angeles (above) and the USS Macon (below). How small the people are in comparison—the airships are mind-blowingly massive!
The music I wrote for Airship is nothing more than an invitation for others—for you—to marvel at the giants with me. Join me in the fields and we’ll look up in wonder, forgetting our sorrows, for a moment…
Today, 132 years ago, French army airship La France made a historic trip. It was the first airship to successfully return to its starting point. It flew for 23 minutes, covering a distance of 8 km. Hurrah!