On the 6th of May, 1937, airship LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and exploded during its landing procedure at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey. The airship was completely destroyed in the explosion, killing 36. Destination is based on a 1937 newsreel covering the disaster. At the 3:17 mark, you can hear the dramatic recording of radio journalist Herbert Morrison reporting as he witnesses the crash. It is a heartbreaking narration by a man shaken by what he sees.
The end of an era
The explosion of LZ 129 Hindenburg had a devastating effect on public confidence in lighter-than-air travel. As a direct result of the incident, LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was decommissioned and retired; and although LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II was completed and operated until 1939, the golden age of airships had passed. Destination, named after the final track on Airship, commemorates the end of an airship and the end of an era.
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.
This time, I have focused on the mooring mast. A mooring mast is a docking point for an airship. It is, essentially, an enormous tower fitted with a mechanism at its top to which the airship bow is fixed by a mooring line. I recently saw footage of this process and it reminded me of a kiss: shall we say, a finely judged procedure.
Airships and their battles
Winds and rain can cause an airship to lose altitude, especially in freezing conditions where ice forms on the hull. The airship is weighed down, making manoeuvering difficult or impossible, resulting in disaster. The poem describes the mooring mast as the lover of such an ill-fated airship. Like Silently You Sail and Sheltering Airships, it is short and sweet, but I hope it captures this fanciful romance:
The lonely tower waits in vain
In an icy field,
Unaware of what befell
The airship in the wind.
Earlier that fateful day,
Softly in the mist,
One last time the zeppelin
He had gently kissed.