A New Album, Part One: The Poem

The rural beauty of the Western Cape of South Africa, the inspiration behind my work.
The rural beauty of the Western Cape (South Africa) inspires my music and poetry.

Rural Inspiration

Over the past few months, I have been working on a new album. It began at about the same time as my collaboration with Krzyzis in late 2016. Early on, I knew that both projects would share a theme and have a similar concept. These were first explored in The Zephyr and the Swallow—the collaborative EP with Krzyzis—a combination of poetry and ambient music inspired by my love for the countryside. The EP was built around a couplet, a short poem of two lines I wrote to inspire the music; but for the album, I wanted to expand on the idea and write a larger work, a series of verses for a ballad.

The Zephyr and the Swallow EP illustrated a pastoral scene—the wind blows over a field and a swallow dashes into the sky—an idyllic moment of beauty set in a rural landscape. In my youth, at the height of summer, I would spend hours in the fields watching the wind making waves in the grass and the swallows flying overhead. Even now, I find this simple pastime a most enchanting and vivid experience. It is just such a scene I describe in the couplet I wrote for The Zephyr and the Swallow—“Over the field the zephyr blew, / Into the sky the swallow flew”—lines I set to music to create an ode.

Writing the Poem

I started writing the poem for the album in late 2016, going through numerous drafts until I eventually found a form and approach that felt appropriate. In much the same way one agonises over the notes of a musical composition, one pores over a poem—every syllable of every word carefully chosen to exquisitely articulate a meaning or express an emotion. After three months of assembling and dismantling verses, I finally produced “Forgotten Fields”, a self-titled ballad with six verses. In the poem, a daydreamer nostalgically recalls a happy moment in time, surrounded by fields and swallows.

Central to the theme of the poem is the feeling of wistfulness—a longing tinged with regret—conveyed by the imagery. It describes a world of endless fields, swallows impossible to catch, a memory forgotten and rediscovered. The lines are gentle and flowing—the musings of someone lost in thought. They are beautifully read by English narrator Chris Lateano for the compact disc release. “Forgotten Fields”, the all-encompassing title, is alluded to in the final verse:

Far away and left untrodden
Under summer skies
Lie the fields I had forgotten
Where the swallow flies!

This is part one of a three-part series about the new self-titled album. Read part two, “A New Album, Part Two: The Music”, next. Forgotten Fields will be released on 17 November 2017.

A million faces gazing upwards in wonder

Skyscrapers in the fog
Image by https://unsplash.com/@matthewwiebe

Early inspiration for Airship

Many years ago, I was introduced to VNV Nation. The album was Futureperfect (2002). From the first minute, I was hooked. The track that captured my imagination most was “Airships”, the final track on the album. It planted the seeds for what ultimately became my own Airship, nearly a decade and a half later. Their lyrics describe someone watching an airship as it flies above a city, reflected in the skyscrapers, “splendid and graceful”. The onlooker joins a host of others, amazed and rejoicing at the sight:

I was not alone, I think it was the first time
Watching you rise splendid and graceful.
I cheered as you sailed, a greatness unknown,
I laughed as I waved, imagined you saw me.
In the streets of the city, the windows of buildings,
A million faces gazing upwards in wonder,
A million faces together and cheering and smiling!
You were the warmth of their hearts, you were the sum of their dreams.
In the coldness of morning you brought warmth to their lives,
Giving this feeling of wonder I could not imagine,
You unlocking these thoughts no book and no picture could ever convey.
This feeling and morning had opened a door.
I stepped into a new world, I watched you fly,
Saw you as a friend, the spirit of dreams,
Imagined a new world, lands far away,
And imagined those faces as you hung in their sky.

— From “Airships” by VNV Nation, Futureperfect (2002)

I breathe a sigh of longing whenever I listen to that song; it is otherworldly and inspiring. It describes what I felt when I wrote the music for Airship. I wanted to capture and convey that feeling of wonder. I hope I have succeeded.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

“Silently You Sail”

Airwaves to airships

With the pre-order of Airship available, I am happy to share “Silently You Sail”, the fifth track on the album. “Silently You Sail” began as a sketch piece about radio airwaves. I imagined them traveling through the air, delivering sounds from tower to tower. But when I started working on the album, it seemed to work just as well as a description of an airship in flight.

The music

The track has three melodies. The first is a bass synth humming throughout. It is accompanied by “drops” of sound, gently counting out the pace. The second melody is the main theme, joined in time by an accompanying third melody. They weave unhurriedly along, with an occasional rush of synths, until the conclusion of the track.

Lyrics and a title change (or two)

The track started out as “Recording I”, then became “The View From Above” when I adapted it for Airship, and finally changed to “Silently You Sail” when I introduced lyrics. The lyrics are to be sung by the listener at the 1:20 mark, where the second melody starts. It is a little unusual to expect the listener to do the singing, but I like the idea. The lyrics come from a poem I wrote that fortuitously fit the melody:

Silently you sail
As the daylight yields,
Wondrous flying ship
To forgotten fields.

Listen

You can listen to the track on the Music page. If you sing along, let me know! Comment on this post or tweet @forgottenfield? I would be honoured!

FORGOTTEN FIELDS