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

Thoughts and Things of Autumn 

Pastoral bliss

Autumn is a time when the earthy beiges of summer turn verdant green. In the countryside, where I am fortunate to reside, this change in the landscape marks the beginning of my favourite time of the year. As the season progresses, the wheat stands tall enough to blow in the wind. Their wavelike movement always reminds me of Winternag (Afrikaans for “winter’s night”), a poem by Eugène Marais. In it, he likens the grasses blowing in the wind to beckoning hands. And that is exactly how I experience them. They invite me; the fields call out to me! I am compelled to stand in their midst and revel in their beauty!

A poem

In the autumn of 2012, I listened almost exclusively to the music of July Skies. Their gentle blend of disarming instrumentals and melancholy vocals made me fall in love with my surroundings, over and over again. So much so that I was inspired to write Autumn, which I humbly share with you, here:

Autumn

I smell the wispy, rising smoke as autumn fires burn,
I feel the crispness of the air as shortened days return.
How the sky seems clearer,
Bluer in the cold;
How the green hills dearer
Than all of summer’s gold!

Mornings come with gentle mist that quietly greets the day,
All about the countryside the brightest hues are grey.
I need only wait a while
Before the hills appear;
I need only see them smile
My heart to fill with cheer!

I wonder at the long, thick grass that won’t give up the dew,
Midday finds them glistening still, in gentle sunlight, new!
Soon the day is ending,
Already evening falls;
To the moon ascending,
I hear a nightjar calls!

When the rainfall comes, the shallow rivers flood
Drizzle turns to torrents and moistened soil to mud.
Now and then the sun will show
Through heavy cloud to shine;
Now and then, the winding road
To make a silvery line!

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

Words, Wonderful Words!

An illustration by Ernest H. Shepard from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
An illustration by Ernest H. Shepard from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Whether they are spoken or sung, words can reach into one’s very soul and do wonderful, terrible things. Words inspire me to write music.

Sometimes, it is a lyric:

“The fire of maples in autumn is how I remember you.”

— Michael Franks, “How I Remember You”, Dragonfly Summer (1993)

Sometimes, a verse:

And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to father time
As I stared at my shoes in the ICU that reeked of piss and 409
And I rationed my breaths as I said to myself that I’d already taken too much today
As each descending peak on the LCD took you a little farther away from me
Away from me…

— Death Cab For Cutie, “What Sarah Said”, Plans (2005)

Sometimes, a passage:

The Mole waggled his toes from sheer happiness, spread his chest with a sigh of full contentment, and leant back blissfully into the soft cushions. “What a day I’m having!” he said. “Let us start at once!”

— Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (1908)

Sometimes, extracts from a play:

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.

— Caliban, Act 3, Scene 2, The Tempest, William Shakespeare

Oh, it is monstrous, monstrous.
Methought the billows spoke and told me of it,
The winds did sing it to me, and the thunder,
That deep and dreadful organ pipe, pronounced
The name of Prosper.

— Alonso, Act 3, Scene 3, The Tempest, William Shakespeare

Sometimes, a poem or two (I regret they are not English):

Et je ne sais vraiment
Où peut s’être posé
Le moineau que j’entends
Si tristement crier.

(And I honestly don’t know
Where it can have alighted
The sparrow that I hear
So sadly calling.)

— From Le Brouillard (“The Fog”), Maurice Carême

En hoog in die rande,
versprei in die brande,
is die grassaad aan roere
soos winkende hande.

(And high in the ridges,
scattered in the fires,
are grasses astir
like beckoning hands.)

— From Winternag (“Winter’s Night”), Eugène Marais

FORGOTTEN FIELDS