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.
My new album Aspects is released today as a digital download on Bandcamp and across popular streaming platforms.
Aspects was composed and recorded between December 2020 and February 2022. I wanted to return to my roots a little, with longer, flowing instrumental pieces with shades of dark and light. Aspects has a reflective and contemplative mood, but an overall tone of optimism. Music has the power to keep certain memories alive and fondly remembered times and places in check. Either as a listener or creator, music allows us to travel to many different junctures, and during troubles and worrying times like the present, that escape is vital. Why not take some time out for a journey…
I’d like to say a big thank you to Colin Spencer who has premiered three of my tracks on his show Electrocurated over on Artefaktor Radio over the last three weekends.
Electrocurated show #151 included the title track from The Ministry of Machine Building played in it’s eight-minute entirety; show #152 featured Undisturbed (also from Ministry) as the penultimate track and this weekend, show #153 saw the exclusive first airing of Glacier Heart, my first track with vocalist Ren Faye (we’re currently working on more material for an EP release; watch this space…).
From classics to underground acts and emerging artists, Colin’s show brings together a vibrant mix of electronic music including synth pop, synth wave, instrumentals and dance/trance. I couldn’t ask for my music to be in better company.
The Ministry of Machine Building can be found on major streaming platforms and is available for download on Bandcamp.
I’m pleased to announce a new electronic album, The Ministry of Machine Building.
Starting points for musical projects often come in the most unexpected places.
Back in 2019, I watched HBO’s excellent – if harrowing – miniseries, Chernobyl. Arguably one of the most gripping and unsettling depictions of any real-life event I’ve seen, as well as being interesting, technically and politically. I still remember the Chernobyl disaster happening – in April 1986, I was eight years old, and recall how it dominated the news. My young mind couldn’t quite comprehend the reality of what was going on in that other part of the world (I’d witnessed enough tragedy already that year with the Challenger explosion in January), but I knew it wasn’t good. I was hearing certain words for the first time, such as “Reactor” and “Radiation”… and when you learn words that way, they stick forever.
I was so compelled by the dramatisation, I immediately bought Serhii Plokhy’s detailed book on the subject, Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy for some long overdue education on the matter. An absolutely fascinating read, but it was in Plokhy’s book that I first saw reference to The Ministry of General Machine Building – an impressive title if ever there was one! The ministry was a Soviet government organisation based in Moscow and was responsible for overseeing all aspects of USSR space exploration. Another ministry, the Ministry of Medium Machine Building, was country’s secretive bureaucracy which supervised the Soviet nuclear industry, hence the link to Chernobyl.
Sometimes the words or phrases on the page of a book will stand out, and I’ll repurpose them into a song title, but on reading about the two ministries, I knew there and then this had to be an album title! Of course, making an album about a nuclear disaster would be neither cheerful or tasteful, but a slight shortening of the title gave way to a whole new creative scope and allowed me to reposition the Ministry into a science fiction context. Thinking back to the scenes in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, I was soon imagining a dystopian factory-city in a state of perpetual nightshade; shift workers clocking on and off as they collectively work toward the creation of huge machines and sentient creations they did not understand. This needed to be like the soundtrack for a science fiction film yet to be made, and carry a story through the tracks.
So this was the spark that led to the composition of The Ministry of Machine Building over the past couple of years. The title track was one of the first pieces I worked on, but it laid dormant for many months before being resurrected, once I found a suitable direction for the album. While generally dark and moody, I wanted there to be a balance of heavy, layered industrial electronica, evoking assembly lines and thundrous mechanical processes, alongside some lighter contrasting pieces, almost like a brief moment of repose from the immense factory world.
When called upon to write some sleeve notes for the album, Richard Hayes has delivered a fantastic piece of writing – not sleeve notes in the traditional sense, but almost a short story; or an excerpt from a diary, leaving the reader curious for more…
I was not free. I knew that well. Building the machines that dominate our world was the focus of my life, and there could be no escape from that role. The machines of the modern age would bring coercion to our society, which was no less a constraint for those who constructed them.
The Ministry of Machine Building will be released on Bandcamp on 2nd July 2021. Previews to follow!
A selection of my albums have been available on streaming services for a while, however on Spotify, my releases were getting confused with an artist of the same name! I have now been able to correct this and finally got my own artist profile on Spotify. I have made a special playlist, an introduction to The Light Dreams, which you can stream here:
We are living through a strange time, and none of us know for how much longer this uncertainty will continue. Music has been a constant companion for many during this period. Whether discovering new music, listening to or creating music, our personal soundtracks provide an escape, which in the current climate is more valuable than ever.
It is eight years since I first tested the water with the idea of selling my music online. Bandcamp offered the most flexible and economic solution for an independent, unsigned artist. Since 2012, I have released 22 albums through Bandcamp, including five albums in association with the Initiative for Interstellar Studies, a compilation of early demos and the release of my first two fully-fledged albums, dating back to 2007 and 2009 respectively.
Having released Chiaroscuro – my most accomplished album to date – earlier this year (right at the start of the lockdown period, by coincidence), it felt like the right time to take a look back over my discography.
Synthesis: The Light Dreams Anthology is a new compilation comprising some of my best work and most popular tracks alongside overlooked pieces and those which epitomise my sound and style.
Compiling a selection of your own work is never easy, especially when it comes to instrumental music – I design every album to flow; each has a specific sound palette and atmosphere. So extracting individual pieces of music can feel somewhat sacriligeous, and the challenge lies in finding the pieces that can work as standalone tracks, but that also sit comfortably alongside pieces from different projects. With the help of Richard Hayes – my second pair of ears and sleevenote scribe – we established a selection of fourteen tracks which both take the listener on a journey through my discography, but that also work together to form an album in its own right.
I set myself the constraint of only choosing one track per album, though not necessarily from every album. I wanted to single out the moments I’m most proud, tracks which represent a specific project or simply pieces that I feel deserve to be more widely heard – this led to some unexpected choices, but also some other favourites being left out.
As well as giving all the tracks a “polish,” in many instances I have created a new remix or edit, especially where some longer pieces were concerned. I felt that most of the tracks ought to have something new or different to the originals in order to make them unique to this collection, whether it was a shorter edit or an extended coda to help with the flow. This process also resulted in the creation of a brand new bonus track, Worlds Apart.
A natural order began to emerge, and the science fiction influence, which has always been a predominant feature in my music, really began to work its magic, forming a new narritive resulting in a cinematic collection of atmospheric instrumentals.
This compilation not only celebrates the music I have released on Bandcamp since 2012, but also works as a perfect introduction for anybody hearing my work for the first time. The full album download comes with two bonus tracks and a digital booklet.
Synthesis: The Light Dreams Anthology is available exclusively from Bandcamp as a ‘name your price’ release.
Synthesis – The Light Dreams Anthology is a new compilation of my music, due for release later this month.
I have had a compilation project in mind for some time, and have finally been able to go through my work and pick out a combination of most popular tracks, favourite pieces and some overlooked tracks. Most of the pieces have been remixed or edited specially for the compilation with the track choices and running order carefully selected to form an album in its own right.
More details will follow, but in the meantime, here is the cover art.
I am pleased to present a brand new track and video – Berlin Stratum.
This instrumental piece was inspired by my stay in Berlin last year and evokes the atmosphere, history, architecture and music of the city. It is a track tinged with melancholy and nostalgia, but also one of progression.
Berlin Stratum is the first track on my upcoming album, Chiaroscuro. More details soon…
(Yes, that is a photo of David Bowie, framed in the window of the iconic Hansa studios, where he recorded the Heroes album.)
Novacon is the UK’s longest-established science fiction convention. It started in 1971 as the Birmingham Science Fiction Group’s annual meetup, then expanded and moved around over the years, eventually finding its spiritual home in Nottingham. Novacon is a little different to your bigger conventions; there are no costumes or that sort of thing, and has a stronger emphasis on the literary side of SF&F, but all aspects of fandom are covered – film, television and comics, etc. As you might expect, there’s a rolling programme of panel discussions, science talks, art talks and a whole range of other things alongside book launches, author readings and of course, the busy dealer’s room, fantastic art show and art auction. Every year offers something different and a Guest of Honour whose presence, interests and work form a central point to many of the discussions.
This year’s Guest of Honour was Mike Carey – perhaps now best known as author of The Girl With All the Gifts. Needless to say, the film and book were regular talking points, as were Carey’s Felix Castor series and his work in the graphic novel industry. In fact, the discussions around comics and graphic novels was refreshing and really interesting for me, as a one-time wannabe comic artist! Mike also gave us several engaging readings from his forthcoming novel, The Book of Koli.
I have been going to Novacon since 2012 and have met a wide range of amazing people – many have become good friends and others I’ve gone on to collaborate with on cover art. During Sunday’s closing ceremony, Mike Carey described Novacon as “warm hearted”, and I couldn’t have put it better. The bulk of the membership is made up by many familiar, returning faces. It is an easygoing and welcoming convention and refreshing to be able to casually chat with renowned authors or artists without any sense of celebrity or ego. This year, Christopher Priest attended with his daughter Elizabeth – now also a published writer. It was great to have the time to catch up with him, as I have admired his writing for many years.
The convention drink of choice is Black Sheep ale, which tends to start flowing early on and continues throughout the weekend. It may result in people falling asleep during talks and snoring loudly (the point at which a polite reminder they’ve also paid for a bed wouldn’t be a bad thing). But loud nasal interference aside, it is always nice to have the flexibility that the con offers; some folk attend all the talks, some are more selective, while others simply seem to go purely for the social side of things and set up camp in the bar, catching up with old friends and making new ones.
While the crowd ought to (and deserves to) be a little larger, what I do like about this convention is its size, as you can find the time and space for proper conversation; and if you want to find somebody again, you can – unlike at bigger events such as Eastercon where everything is so packed and frantic, and simply trying to track somebody down or have a conversation in more than passing is quite difficult.
I mainly attend Novacon to be a part of the art show. It is always an honour to be able to exhibit my work alongside renowned space and science fiction artist, David A. Hardy (who has been at every Novacon since 1973!). The art show brings in a vast range of styles and genres, from new artists to well-known names. The art room – or in this year’s case, rooms – are brimming with science fiction, space and fantasy art and illustration in all media, plus various other arts and crafts, such as jewellery, needlework and even knitwear! Serena and John always work tirelessly to make sure their artists are looked after, and we can never thank them enough! Most of the art on show comes with a bid sheet for any potential buyers, and the pieces with bids are entered into the art auction on the Sunday.
The dealers’ room mainly comprises booksellers and independent publishers, such as PS Publishing, NewCon Press and Elsewhen Press – all of whom are putting out some of the most exciting and original titles in science and speculative fiction, fantasy and horror.
It’s not all about science fiction though – Novacon doesn’t forget the science bit! Although this year, there was no British Interplanetary Society presence, David A. Hardy gave us a whirlwind visual tour of the planets, via his excellent presentation To the Stars – On A Paintbrush!, and as always, there were two science talks. I missed the first, but astrophysicist, Dr Rachael Livermore gave an excellent insight on the Sunday morning into Dark Matter – a fascinating and fun way to start the day (even though I tend to find science talks first thing in the morning a little too much for my convention brain!).
I took part in the panel which followed – a great discussion on working with artists, alongside Mike Carey, Manga expert Zoe Burgess and Peter Buck of Elsewhen Press – all chaired by Patrick McMurray. I have obviously attended enough Novacons now to have progressed from audience member to panel participant!
Novacon for me is also about those great connections. Two such examples are Elsewhen Press, whom I met during my first Novacon, and have since illustrated several of their book covers; and a couple of conventions later, I met Helen Claire Gould, who after seeing my art display, invited me to produce the cover art for her début novel, Floodtide – it was great to see Helen back at Novacon this year, promoting the book as well as her more recent titles.
The Sunday afternoon sadly comes around so quickly, and it doesn’t feel like a few minutes have past since installing the art show on the Friday, when the time comes to reluctantly disassemble it. However, with not one, but four Guests of Honour booked for next year – Novacon’s big five-o – it will certainly be an event to look forward to.
After all, what more could you want, but to share a hotel with several hundred likeminded people?