The Zephyr and the Swallow

The Zephyr and the Swallow

A collaboration

I am a Krzyzis fan—pronounced “kr-zh-iz-uh-s” (“zh” as in “azure”) or alternatively, “crisis”. When I first heard Sustainability (2016), I knew that I wanted to work with him. There is a rawness about his music, a sound I admire that does not come to me naturally. Krzyzis creates deep, dark, droning soundscapes whilst I have shifted my focus to tranquil, quiet and tuneful compositions. His melodies are subtle and spectral, whilst mine are distinct and expository. In a collaboration, I saw the perfect opportunity to borrow his genius and in The Zephyr and the Swallow, our two approaches come together.

A meditation

Living in the Overberg, a predominantly rural region in the Western Cape province of South Africa, I am surrounded by vast stretches of countryside. There are mountains, rivers, valleys and hills, but my imagination has always been captured by the fields. They are like oceans of grass that change colour with the seasons. Early in life, I learned to appreciate their beauty and in an attempt to express my admiration, I turned to poetry and music.

The idea of using these two art forms for this purpose took shape around the time I first spoke to Krzyzis about my vision for new music in 2016. I had in mind a project that would take advantage of the unique opportunity track titles presented for poetic exploration. I wanted to treat them as lines of verse and set their poetic content to music to create a vignette of rural beauty, a meditation on a pastoral theme, and so the collaboration was born.

An ode

For this reason, the project began with poetry. The lines had to be descriptive and of a contemplative nature, setting the tone for the music whilst also functioning as track titles. I drew inspiration from traditional Chinese music where the titles often have an illustrative, even lyrical, quality. Examples of these are “Fei Hua Dian Cui (Floating Petals Decorating the Green Leaves)” and “Ping Sha Luo Yan (Wild Geese Descend on the Smooth Sand)”.

Filled with a Romantic adoration for the pastoral, I turned to a poem by Richard Adams in Watership Down in which he describes the wind blowing over the grass. It brought to mind the summer when barn swallows visit the Cape from Britain. They dash across the fields, diving into the grass to catch insects disturbed by the breeze. The grass itself blows like waves in the wind, full of movement yet strangely restful.

I perceive in such imagery a visceral beauty and wanted to reproduce it in verse; and so the EP was conceived as an ode, an ambient idyll in verse and music, celebrating the loveliness of a fleeting, familiar moment in the countryside. With this in mind, I wrote The Zephyr and the Swallow—a simple verse describing a simple scene in simple language:

Over the field the zephyr blew,
Into the sky the swallow flew.

A synthesis

The music became an extension of the verse and in spirit illustrates the scene with melody, mood and lyric content, attempting to preserve in a soundscape the transience, tranquillity and ordinariness of the moment. It drew from the verse not only its theme but also its character, including the addition of vocals—for in describing the EP as an ode and having written a lyrical poem, setting the words to music followed almost naturally.

The verse also inspired the simplicity of the composition and its arrangement. We went so far as to remove the strings I had written, once Krzyzis delivered the pad sections. They rendered strings superfluous, perfectly occupying that space and providing the obbligato part of the instrumentation. His drones rise and fall like the wind, gently transporting the narrative tunes upon textured echoes, sweeping the music along.

Thank you

It has been a wonderful experience working on this project with Krzyzis. We hope you enjoy the outcome as much as we did the production and I wish to thank everyone who made this project possible, namely: Krzyzis for his mesmerising drones and generosity, Lofthill for his creativity and incredible voice, Taylor Deupree for his insight and mastering expertise, Mike Langman for his exquisite illustration of the swallow, and everyone who will hear this music for their quiet contemplation.

The Zephyr and the Swallow is available on all music platforms, including Apple Music and Spotify.

On Collaboration

Road with Wildflowers by Francesco Gallarotti

The value of a vision

Over the past few months, dark ambient musician Krzyzis (rhymes with Pisces) and I have been working on a collaboration. We first spoke about the project at the end of 2016 when I began outlining an idea for new music which I knew would benefit from his atmospheric approach. I presented my vision to him at the beginning of this year and was delighted when he announced that he was on board. Once production started, we found that having a clear vision was extremely helpful, especially in making key creative decisions. Not only did it keep the project on course but it also kept us in check: it encouraged Krzyzis (who can be surprisingly feral) to practice a little restraint and me (restrained to a fault) to be a little more adventurous.

Creative room

Collaboration added an interesting dimension to composing music, especially in the initial stages, because it meant creating an incomplete work. There had to be room for Krzyzis to occupy. Conceiving of music in this way was an intriguing experience. As a solo musician, I compose every aspect of the music but as a collaborator, I had to imagine what my collaborative partner would add to the composition and forecast what arrangement would best compliment that addition. I had to be flexible but clear, true to my ideas but mindful of his. Ultimately, the challenge was to combine the themes that define our individual styles into a cohesive whole and we learnt a lot about ourselves as musicians in pursuit of that goal.

We look forward to announcing our collaborative EP in the weeks to come and in the meantime, I invite you to listen to Krzyzis’ haunting body of work at krzyzis.bandcamp.com

Image by Francesco Gallarotti

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:

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Looking ahead

A screen shot from Limbo, the game by Playdead
A screen shot from Limbo, the game by Playdead: http://www.playdead.com

In limbo

I find myself in an odd position. In the period between the completion of Airship and its release, I have been itching to start work on a new album. The thing is, I imagined Airship would “run its course” (to quote a fellow musician), before I moved on to new material. But, I could not help myself, I had to start composing again. In fact, I have two albums’ worth of ideas waiting to be developed into finished pieces.

A new direction

As far as style is concerned, I am interested in adding distortion and including more variation. I am a great lover of the drone genre, in which repeating phrases play a major role. Airship is heavily influenced by this idea. Repetition is at the front and centre of every track, everything is built around a looping melody. But the more I think about new music, the more I want to de-homogenise the listening experience.

A fresh perspective


One exciting development is the possibility of collaborating with dark ambient artist Krzyzis. His Sustainability (2016) made a big impression on me. He has developed a way of working with distorted sound, which allows him to create incredible textures in his music, giving it an immersive depth and mass. He has expressed interest in giving his input on new material, so I am really looking forward to the months to come.

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