Cover art – previously unseen!

Here is a piece of artwork which until now, has never been displayed online. I’ve titled it “Longing” but it was in fact a book cover commission from 2015. I’m hopeful that the book it was intended to grace will eventually see the light of day, but I’ve always been particularly pleased with this piece as it is one that really epitomises my style and approach.

AI Art

AI-generated artwork has come a long way in a very short space of time. It certainly exceeds what I can do as an artist, and many others – needless to say it has caused endless debate. The results now being spewed out by the likes of Midjourney are absolutely outstanding. While it is technologically amazing, it is also quite unsettling that a computer can generate in seconds something a human would slave over for days or weeks. It’s mind-blowing stuff.

Is it a valid art form? I don’t believe so – not yet, anyway. I dare say it won’t be long until we’re seeing endless book covers created on the cheap using AI art rather than actual artists and designers. We’re also going to see “prompt wars” with people claiming ownership of the text prompts they used for the image generation, since they cannot claim copyright of the image itself. Yet such is AI at present that if two people input the same prompt in the same software, the results are always going to be very different.

At the moment, the results are often a gamble. It may produce exacty what you want, or it does its own thing and the results are not what you expected. Nothing can ever replace the touch of an artist’s hand or the workings of their mind – plus if we’re talking artwork commissions, any client would want to establish a good rapport with their artist. You can’t do that with a machine.

Of course, the obvious way forward is for digital artists to take their AI-generated images into Photoshop and work over it – no different to “photo bashing”, a method widely used by concept artists of working over photographic elements. The question of whether it is truly their work is a debate for another day. Even so, fraudsters will be inevitable, passing off AI-generated imagery as their own creation, since they came up with the text prompt. We’re likely to see a rise in “AI artists” who can’t actually draw by hand for toffee. There’s another interesting debate for another day!

I do see value in AI artwork, but I see it with more potential as a creative tool for inspiration or ideas, rather than finished work. Why let a machine suck the life, artistry and enjoyment out of something you love doing and make a living from?

In some respects it reminds me a little of David Bowie’s “cut-up” lyrical technique, which in later years he used software for. He’d feed a magazine article into the software and it would spit it back out in a new order, which he would then re-arrange into a song. This is part of the conceptual and creative process, perhaps if you’re stuck for an idea, an AI-generated image could help give you the direction for a project whether is is composition or colours.

Perhaps the biggest cause for concern is the fact most, if not all AI art pulls its styles from human artists, both living and dead. Quite simply, artwork generated in the style of say, Syd Meade for example, is still plagarism and will in some cases be in breach of copyright. We’re yet to hear of legal cases concerning copyright and AI art, but it’s likely to be a long and messy can of worms when we do.

I do not regard AI art as ‘digital’ artwork. Digital is a medium – replacing paper and paint with pixels. Digital art is still created by hand, using a stylus or finger-painted and still comes from the human mind. AI art is exactly that, and its own category which I believe will be more widely recognised as such in time.

I do accept that AI art is here to stay, and it will find its place – and it’s only going to get better. However, despite its brilliance, I’m already growing tired of it – the majority pieces have a certain look to them whereby you can just tell it’s AI – even moreso on closer inspection.

Interestingly, some conventions are now banning the display of AI-generated artwork, and I totally understand why. You want to see an artist’s work at an event like that, and in many cases, also meet the artist. Meeting somebody who came up with a text prompt isn’t quite the same.

However especially concerning science fiction artwork, this is a medium of advanced technology – science fiction in action – so it has a place. However it needs to be clearly, honestly labelled as AI-generated artwork regardless of whether the image has had any post-production.

Honesty will be key to the success of AI art.

Doctor On Display

Over the past year, I have been working with Reeltime Pictures on their new series of documentaries, Doctor On Display. Each film looks in-depth at a different classic Doctor Who exhibition. As well as being an interviewee in some of the films, I also have the pleasure of creating the DVD cover design.

The first two titles, The Museum of Classic Sci-Fi in Allendale and Longleat are now available via the Time Travel TV online store. Forthcoming titles will focus on the exhibitions in Llangollen and Blackpool. Having been heavily involved in two books on the Blackpool exhibitions, Blackpool Remembered and Blackpool Revisited, it is an absolute joy to see this series of documentaries come into being!

Decade

I never thought I would produce over 25 albums in the space of a decade. As well as a rich and rewarding creative endeavour, for me making music is also a constant learning curve. As an entirely-self-taught artist, you’re only ever as good as you can be in that moment, and what you learn in one project, you feed into the next. Every album is an adventure – a progression in skill and knowledge as well as an expansion of the musical worlds I aim to create.

I first dabbled in making music between 2006-2009, producing several rough demo albums, and a couple of slightly more accomplished works which I regard as my first ‘proper’ albums. Then I took a break for three years. My inspiration returned in 2012 and with it came a newfound direction. Having rebooted myself musically with the album Inferno, I wanted to know if I had any kind of audience out there, so I chose Bandcamp as the platform to launch and sell my work. People listened, and liked it enough to buy the album – I knew right then, my music had found a home and an audience.

As a celebration of the ten years I’ve been on Bandcamp, I thought it was time to reflect on each of those albums. I am immensely proud of many of these albums. Others would have benefited from being worked on for longer; some could do with a better mix and there are one or two I’m less than keen on. But, I guess we are always our worst critics, and it is too easy to hear flaws in our work that might only be apparent to our own ears. Sometimes I can remember making a piece of music or toiling for hours over one particular moment – yet others, I have little or no memory of creating; almost as if it came into existence by itself. Once you make an album and put it out into the world, it finds its own way, while you move on to the next project… 

Into the Light (2007)

This was the album where I established my own sound and style. This album was the result of years of being a music fan and absorbing the influence of various artists. The biggest influence of this project through, was our honeymoon in Spain; the tranquility of the Andalusian mountains and the majesty of the Alhambra Palace… that special moment in time provided something unique that I channeled into the music. It does sound like somebody just starting out; the production isn’t great and there are many flaws in the performance, but that also adds a human touch to what is otherwise a very electronic album.

Mechanical Drive (2009)

My work usually drifts between lighter, more ethereal works and darker, heavier cinematic pieces. I’m usually most content creating dark, heavy synth-laden music with a science fiction edge and Mechanical Drive was really the first in this style. I had a lot more to learn, but there are some interesting ideas on this one.

Inferno (2012)

Inferno was my first release on Bandcamp in August 2012. Returning to music with a renewed interest, this is really where my work started to come into its own. Everything felt fresh and exciting again and I can still hear that in the music, although listening to it today, it would benefit from a remix and some more refined production. Despite that, its success on release really drove me forward.

Future Worlds (2013)

Following the loss of my father, I immersed myself in making music – strangely, this darkest period of grief also became my most creative. Future Worlds was a heavily science fiction-themed album and also my first release in association with the Initiative for Interstellar Studies. Each track was inspired by a different scenario or a classic SF book. It was perhaps a little over-ambitious and musically it could do with better production and less going on, but it remains one of my most popular releases on Bandcamp.

Beyond the Boundary (2013)

Following the release of Future Worlds, I started working on two new projects simultaneously during the summer of 2013. Beyond the Boundary was my second release in association with the Initiative for Interstellar Studies, and this time the concept of the music was all about space travel. It built on the style of Future Worlds, combining orchestral and electronic and was released to tie-in with a book of the same name published by the Initiative later that year.

Traces (2014)

This was the one. At the time, Traces was the culmination of everything I wanted to achieve musically, and its popularity on release affirmed that. It was a very personal project, reflected in the melancholic and nostalgic tones of the music. There was also nostalgia in the sound – it makes heavy use of the Korg M1 and Wavestation synths heard on so many albums in the late 1980s and 1990s. A lot of influence also came from the books I was reading at the time, with authors such as Christopher Priest and Haruki Murakami. I also released a free companion album, Traces Abandoned, comprising the other tracks I was working on which didn’t make it to the final album.

Future Worlds Redux (2014)

This was a fun project – I decided to rework the majority of Future Worlds into an orchestral/symphonic album, not unlike a film soundtrack. Some of the tracks really benefitted from the new arrangements.

Sentient City (2015)

Another science fiction album – this time with a dystopian edge, the concept being about life in a futuristic city. Yes, we’re firmly in Blade Runner territory! I really like this album, but feel I should have spent longer on it, with better mixing/production and perhaps included fewer tracks.

Panorama (2015)

My third release for the Initiative for Interstellar Studies was based around exploring alien planets. I was trying for a slightly different approach with Panorama, and in hindsight, it doesn’t work quite so well despite having some nice moments. Again, I had been working on two different projects simultaneously and this one maybe suffered a little through that.

Timeshift (2015)

Timeshift was my unofficial follow-up to Traces and was based on the theme of time passing. I really like this one and think it contains some of my best pieces. This was the project where I really elevated my production and mixing.

Dark Corners (2016)

Dark Corners is a collection of demos and leftover tracks from recent projects. This is very much a musical sketchpad than an album; ideas that had potential for further development. I offered it as a free download.

Legacy (2016)

This project was my way of dealing with the death of David Bowie. It was so hard to believe he was gone. I just sat down and started playing and within a few weeks had enough for an album. This was a quick but cathartic project. Legacy is a very dark album with its own distinctive mood.

Remnants From A Lost Time (2016)

Another very quick album – this one was a series of improvised ambient pieces, recorded in just one week. It was conceived as music to play while out walking in the woodlands and countryside, but one that also looked at the passing of time (another recurring theme). There’s something really unusual about this one and is my most ambient and experimental work to date.

Infinity of Space (2017)

My fourth and final (to date) album in association with the Initiative for Interstellar Studies. This was a difficult album to mix and I’m still not happy with how it sounds. By the end of the process, I really didn’t like it at all. However it does include two tracks featuring a friend on guitar, and his work really takes the music somewhere else – I’ve always felt very proud of those two tracks although I can’t take any of the credit!

Back Into the Light (2017)

Another personal favourite and one of my most accomplished albums. I composed this album to celebrate ten years since Into the Light. I wanted to return to the world I created with that first album and explore it some more. Back Into the Light is an album of dark and light shades, but with a more optimistic, mysterious and worldly feel.

Crossover (2018)

This album really represents my love of artists such as Mike Oldfield and Jean-Michel Jarre. In a nod to the instrumental concept albums of the 1970s, I wanted to create an album of continually evolving music which also tells some kind of story. The end result was three 15-minute long tracks. I was very happy with the overall sound and production and flow of the music. I wanted Crossover to play like a dream; crossing from one realm to another and something not unlike a video game soundtrack. Video game music has always been a big influence on my work, so that is celebrated here. Crossover is my most ambitious and complex work, but sadly one that never received much attention.

Prototype (2018)

Prototype is unusual in that it is an album mostly made of ideas leftover from previous projects. Unlike Dark Corners, I gave the tracks more of a polish (though still leaving the production quite raw, mistakes included, so not to lose the spontaneous energy) and also composed some new tracks to fit in. I think there are some really interesting ideas on here.

Mutate (2019)

Created during another period of grief, Mutate is another dark and cinematic album with a sci-fi influence. Fusing together rock, electronica and industrial styles, I was trying (perhaps too hard) to make a heavy, angry-sounding album, and it was very difficult to mix, and I’m still not happy with the first half of it. However the second half of Mutate has some strong material I’m really pleased with.

Chiaroscuro (2020)

Another one of my personal favourites, and an album largely inspired by traveling through European cities. Travel has always been a big musical inspiration for me, and although it was another difficult project to mix, I regard it as one of my best works, and also one where I tried out some new musical direction. Chiaroscuro is one of those albums that sounds best played late at night.

The Ministry of Machine Building (2021)

Another dark science fiction concept album, but for me, this one really succeeds conceptually, musically and in the mix. Right down to the red/black cover art, Ministry sits perfectly alongside Prototype and Mutate. Maybe this was the album I was working towards in this kind of style and concept.

Aspects (2022)

An artist’s latest work is always their favourite and that is certainly true of Aspects. Although not composed with any kind of concept, the songs all came together during different points of the various lockdowns at the height of the pandemic – yet they had a common sound and worked well together. I also wanted to return to the world of Traces a little, so I used some of the same sounds that had created that album’s distinctive atmosphere and the result was something that really affirmed this is where I want to be, musically and perhaps what I do best.

Although my music is on streaming services, I still regard Bandcamp as the main platform for my music, and that’s where you will find my full discography – although frustratingly in recent years, the rise in popularity of Spotify et al, has more or less sucked the life out of Bandcamp. The albums I have chosen to distribute on streaming services are those that I feel are my best work, but that should be at no detriment to the others – there’s something to discover on every one, and on the rare times I do listen back to my older work, it’s always rewarding when something surprises me.

Glacier Heart digital single

Glacier Heart, my first vocal collaboration with rising star Ren Faye, has been reissued as a two-track digital single. I originally released the song in July last year, but it soon got lost in the quagmire of independent music on streaming services.

The new single features an updated mix of Glacier Heart and also comes with an instrumental b-side. We are incredibly proud of this song, and this time, it also seems to be getting heard – if you enjoy the Glacier Heart, please help spread the word!

Glacier Heart is available now via Bandcamp, as well as Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Tidal and Deezer – see https://linktr.ee/thelightdreams for streaming options. Spotify users can also hear the track as part of Joe Tavano’s Relaxing Indie Moods playlist.

Glacier Heart also has a video, which has recently been picked by by Angel in the Dark’s popular YouTube channel.

Limited edition CDs

I have produced a limited quantity of CD-Rs of my latest album Aspects and last year’s The Ministry of Machine Building. Both albums are presented in professionally produced quality gatefold packaging. They are available via the Merchandise section of my Bandcamp page, where I have also added remaining stock of my previous CD releases: Crossover, Back Into the Light and Traces. My music has rarely been available on physical format, so now’s your chance to get a copy!

https://thelightdreams.bandcamp.com/merch

Up Close with Doctor Who

Up Close, my new ebook project will be available for free download from the Blackpool Remembered website on Friday 29th April.

Following the success of Blackpool Remembered and Blackpool Revisited, I felt the need to keep writing and reminiscing about life in Doctor Who fandom. I wanted to expand on some of the things covered in my 2010 publication, Who, Where & When as well as opening up my personal photo archive from various Doctor Who events and conventions over the past couple of decades alongside other musings and a recent visit to Neil Cole’s Museum of Classic Sci-Fi. 

Check back this time next week to wallow in a feast of nostalgia!

Aspects – release round-up

Aspects has been out in the world for just over two weeks now, and it has been streamed, downloaded and playlisted. As an independent musician working outside of the usual spheres, it is always so gratifying and rewarding to know that somebody in another part of the world has taken a moment to listen to my work.

Aspects was composed during 2020–2021; strange years for all of us. 2021 began with the tightening of pandemic restrictions, slowly followed by the (short-lived) hope that we would be returning to some kind of normality. A somewhat premature optimism, given the unprecedented circumstances. I had been working on new music at various points, for different projects – my vocal collaborations with Ren Faye, other potential collaborations and several tracks just for the simple love of making music.

I’ve often felt the best material often creates itself. Those moments when an idea for a piece of music seems to fall from the sky and comes seamlessly together, are the most satisfying – not because it doesn’t mean hours of toil, but because it is a fine example of creativity in action. It’s almost like some kind of magic. My normal process for recording an album is to begin with a title and concept, and work backwards from there. The process for Aspects was the complete opposite. Towards the end of last summer, I reviewed the music I had made over the course of the past year and discovered they all fitted perfectly together. I realised I had a solid album in the making.

As I worked on the tracks, I found various consistencies between them; common themes, moods and atmospheres. I had the music in mind when I took the cover photograph, on the west coast of Scotland in September 2021. I knew as I framed the shot, it was going to be the cover art.

Aspects is an album I am very proud of, both musically and from a production perspective, which is always the most taxing part of the process. It is an album for reflection and meditation; to allow one to travel in the mind and temporary escape the worries and uncertainties of the world around us. I had already set a release date when the dreadful, devastating situation in Ukraine unfolded. Although it felt insensitive to be releasing and promoting this project when a country is being destroyed – homes, families and livelihoods wrecked – but releasing the work or not wasn’t going to change what is going on. If anything, I might hope that anybody listening to the album enjoys a moment of escape and distraction.

Aspects is available to download via Bandcamp, and also comes with a digital booklet. You will also find it on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Deezer and Tidal for streaming.

Below are videos for Aspects and Breaking Surface

Art for Ukraine

Creatives for Ukraine is an open platform for creatives from around the world to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine, via artwork. The idea being all submitted works are freely available to be downloaded and used in any way in order to support Ukraine.

I created a piece called Lament; a simple abstraction of the Ukraine flag on first glance, but on closer inspection, an explosion. Lament is now due to be used in a nationwide outdoor advertising campaign in Finland, as a show of solidarity and support.

If you are reading this post, ukrainetakeshelter.com is an independent platform connecting Ukrainian refugees with potential hosts and housing. Please share the URL far and wide – you never know who you might be helping.

Lament