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

Remember the fields…

A colourful field of wildflowers with pools of water and drifting clouds
A scene from Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) by Hayao Miyazaki

Isolation

I prefer to be alone. Growing up, I felt as if there was no one to defend, protect, value and recognise me. Early on, I learnt the benefits of separation as a way of coping with this reality. But, the emotional stuntedness, detachment and isolation I began to experience as a result, left me feeling disconnected from others, especially the people who were “supposed” to love me. I don’t pretend to speak for all people with dysfunctional backgrounds, but we tend to feel numb and consequently unable to form healthy relationships. Because we feel like aliens, the best we can do is to imitate behaviours that help us pass off as human. Even when we are besotted with someone, we struggle to connect on anything more than a superficial level because we are afraid of exposure.

The wasteland within

To me, love is an unattainable ideal, an experience I must be denied. Somewhere, in the recesses of my soul, a siren sweetly sings of how hateful, shameful and worthless I am. My relationships fail because I subconsciously engineer them to do so. My inner landscape is so devastated that I am incapable of inviting anyone in. In fact, I dread visiting there, myself! If they saw what a wasteland it is, they would run for the hills! I don’t invest much of myself in a relationship—I dare not! Too many forbidden forests would have to be visited and too many treacherous tombs excavated in order for me to open up in any meaningful way. And so, I play along until the relationship comes to its inevitable end. With the self-sabotage complete, I can retreat again to the familiar places.

Beautiful barrenness

One gets used to the wastelands. So much so that the barrenness becomes beautiful. Any green is regarded with suspicion. How can there be green when there is no rain? When the storms bring only darkness and howling winds, blowing up disorientating clouds of dust? Surely, there are only thorns and weeds to choke the ruins of what could have been? Aren’t all the landmarks hills of anger, pain and sadness, the constants we learn to love over time? They seem inextricable from the landscape, how can one ever abandon them for happiness? Is happiness not just an unexpected flower that wilts and withers the moment it is seen? (And what a relief when it does, no longer there to remind us of our loss!)

Finding the fields

And yet, there is hope! Occasionally, I come across fields of wildflowers, miraculous and wonderful. I discover them in the wastelands when music, like an irresistible siren song, draws me to where they are. Once there, I can destroy myself on the rocks of beauty to be reborn for a moment into something free, hopeful, vulnerable, honest, unspoilt and untamed! I wish I could remain there, but as I wander the wasteland, traversing vast stretches of everyday life, the fields are soon forgotten. I even forget that music is who I am, it is what I should do. Distracted, I stumble aimlessly along. And that is why I created Forgotten Fields. It is like a map and compass, reminding me that the fields exist, that I must not forget them, that music is the way to find them. Dear reader, what is your music? What is your map and compass? May you find it, soon!

FORGOTTEN FIELDS