Destination

The end of an airship

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.

Airship is available at music.forgottenfields.co and on all music platforms, including Amazon, Apple, Google, Spotify and Tidal.

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It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s an Airship!

Catharsis through repetition

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.

Airship origins

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.

Airship is available at music.forgottenfields.co and on all music platforms, including Amazon, Apple, Google, Spotify and Tidal.

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Mooring Mast, a poem

USS Los Angeles does a spectacular nose stand whilst tied to the mooring mast at Lakehurst, New Jersey (1926). The 200-metre (660-foot) airship was upended by a turbulent wind, but slowly righted itself. There were no serious injuries to the crew of 25.
USS Los Angeles does a spectacular nose stand whilst tied to the mooring mast at Lakehurst, New Jersey (1926). The 200-metre (660-foot) airship was upended by a turbulent wind, but slowly righted itself. There were no serious injuries to the crew of 25. (Images: Navy Lakehurst Historical Society)

Airships and their lovers

A hopeless romantic—at least, when it comes to lighter-than-air flight—I have written my third airship poem. The first was Silently You Sail, on an airship in flight (the words became lyrics to the track by the same name on the Airship album), and the second, Sheltering Airships, on airships in their hangars.

Airships and their masts

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.

Left: British MPs walk onto the R101 airship gangplank, in Cardington, England, in the 1920s. (Image: Library of Congress) Right: A close-up view of an airship being prepared for undocking. (Image: Unknown)
Left: British MPs walk onto the R101 airship gangplank, in Cardington, England, in the 1920s. (Image: Library of Congress) Right: A close-up view of an airship being prepared for undocking. (Image: Unknown)

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:

Mooring Mast

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.

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The Hindenburg at Hangar No. 1

LZ 129 Hindenburg moored at Hangar No. 1, Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst in Manchester Township, Ocean County, New Jersey, United States.
LZ 129 Hindenburg moored at Hangar No. 1, Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst in Manchester Township, Ocean County, New Jersey, United States.

This is one of my favourite airship and hangar photographs. It shows LZ 129 Hindenburg moored at Hangar No. 1, NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey, United States. The Hindenburg was headed for this hangar when it crashed and burned whilst landing (6 May 1937).

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Creating cover art for Airship

Black and white photographs of the Hindenburg airship
My moodboard for the Airship album cover art (Images: Wikipedia)

Finding a way to make it happen

Early on in the Airship project, I drew up rough ideas for the cover art. I thought the best solution would be to illustrate what I pictured when I conceptualised the music: a gigantic airship in midair, hovering above a crowd. Originally, I wanted the cover to have an illustrative feel, as if taken from a children’s book. But, the costs involved in commissioning an illustrator squashed that idea. I then thought of doing the illustration myself, but I am hopelessly out of practice and it will take a long time to develop a suitable style. Stock photography was another possibility. I thought I’d create a composite of various images. But, vintage imagery of airships are prohibitively expensive. So, I turned to the public domain and put together a collection of images I could use without running the risk of copyright infringement.

Mood board magic

I like working with mood boards. I even use them when I conceptualise music. It can be anything from a single image to an elaborate collection of pictures, music, sound clips and video—whatever sparks the imagination and sets the tone for the project. It informs my decisions and gives context to my ideas. And yet, as much as I like to work with mood boards, I didn’t create one for the Airship cover art. The concept grew out of impromptu digital “sketches”. Today, I essentially reverse-engineered a mood board using the public domain images. Even though I’ve already settled on a final concept and layout, the mood board helps me flesh out the idea, conceptually. It makes a big difference to how I think about what I am creating.

Abstract nostalgia

The best public domain images I found were of the Hindenburg; undoubtedly, the most famous airship of all time—a Titanic of the sky! Its proportions, shape and lines are the stuff of aviation dreams. When I look at the Hindenburg mood board, I am inspired! I look at the images and am filled with awe at its enormousness: 245 metres long and 43.7 metres high, it was the length of an ocean liner and the height of a 13-story building! That is something I very much want to convey on the cover. Then there is the black and white photography, symbolic of a bygone era, a nostalgic element I also want to include. I am going to take the cover art in an abstract direction. It leaves a little more to the imagination, which is better than being literal, at least in this instance—something I also tried to do with the music. I’ll post drafts of the cover, soon.

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An invitation to wonder

A black and white photograph of an airship flying past a landmark in 1920s Berlin, whilst an onlooker waves his cap.
This photograph is from my airship image collection. It is one of my favourite pictures. It was taken as an airship passes near a Berlin landmark in the ’20s when sightseeing by airship was popular. The ship is saluted by an onlooker (perhaps me, in an alternate world).

Airship fanboy

I have been collecting airship images for nearly a decade. Truth be told, I know very little about them, historically and technically. I am just a simple fan. They fascinate me. My imagination is captivated by their scale. The idea of them slowly sailing overhead, like an enormous leviathan… it makes my heart beat faster!

US Navy airship Los Angeles in the giant Hangar at Lakehurst, New Jersey
US Navy airship Los Angeles in the giant Hangar at Lakehurst, New Jersey

Marvel with me…

I attempt to capture such an overhead flight in one of the tracks I have written for the Airship album. The track is titled “Giant in the Sky”. I cannot wait to share it! When I wrote it, I pictured myself gazing up in awe as the ship passes over, blocking out the sun—imposing, awe-inspiring! Just look at the size of the USS Los Angeles (above) and the USS Macon (below). How small the people are in comparison—the airships are mind-blowingly massive!

The music I wrote for Airship is nothing more than an invitation for others—for you—to marvel at the giants with me. Join me in the fields and we’ll look up in wonder, forgetting our sorrows, for a moment…

Construction of the USS Macon
Construction of the USS Macon

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