Friday, 7 April 2017
Wednesday, 15 March 2017
The latest news on my new album for Clay Pipe Music, Autres Directions; vinyl pre-orders will be taken from the 7th of April, with the release date of May 5th. As always, go to the Clay Pipe Music site for pre-orders and mailing list. On release day, there will also be a digital version available through my Bandcamp.
I have a natural affinity with France, which seems to span a large proportion of my adult life. This album is based directly on experiences, feelings and emotions garnered from times spent fairly recently in Brittany and Normandy, on different occasions.
There’s a certain feeling, when you enter a rural French village on an Autumn mid-afternoon. It’s a slower pace of life than we’re generally used to; the Centre Ville can feel deserted, as many of the inhabitants are, ironically, away on holiday. As the village church clock tolls, it strikes home a simplicity, a purity of existence that couldn’t really exist elsewhere.
There’s a feeling of unabashed romance upon waking up in the early morning, opening a window onto a field of fog, as the sun hasn’t quite started to rise; with the only real movement belonging to a car headlight in the distance, making a journey to somewhere undisclosed.
Whenever I’m travelling, I take with me a means of recording ambience and constantly listen out for interesting situations where sound can be captured and transformed. Field recordings play a significant part in the tapestry of the album. The textures underpin, envelop and frame the work, adding a sense of context and grain.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted the textures and atmospheres to be on an equal footing to the melodies. The ‘wake up’ music which begins the album, I composed as a piece that could, theoretically, be played by a ferry company to wake passengers upon their early morning arrival into dock, over the small speakers installed in ferry cabins. To create the atmosphere, I took the recorded piece onto a ferry, bound for France, and played it back in the cabin over a speaker, capturing the playback with a microphone, allowing the sound and reverberant space of the ferry cabin to influence the ambience of the piece.
Other ways of bringing the ambience of situations into the recorded pieces involved playing back textures (that I’d created electronically in the studio) in various places (disused barns, country lanes etc) and capturing them again on a microphone and building pieces around those atmospheres. I also noticed that, preparing to leave the ferry, there were various metallic pitched drones that just seemed to hang in the air, combining naturally with idling car engines - these became music and it was from these distinct pitches that I added complimentary electronic textures around them.
I also liked the idea that various people that I encountered on my travels could be featured on the record. For example, the woman who owned a Boulangerie in one of the villages probably didn't realise that she would become part of a recording, but fragments of her voice can be heard, contributing a distinct texture.
All of this leads to, for me, an interaction between the studio and the elsewhere; bringing two distinct worlds closer together, to form an impressionistic aural painting that lives and breathes in a manner that hopefully puts the listener in a situation where they can feel these experiences in quite a tangible way.
I also made a video painting for the track Lanverec. Shot and edited in Brittany, France.
Wednesday, 11 January 2017
It’s actually quite difficult to compose music in a storm. There are many strands of uncertainty to contend with, not to mention the ambient noise of wind and rain battering the structure in which you’re working. It’s certainly exhilarating, I’ll say that.
I spent the last couple of weeks or so of December 2016 making music in one of the remotest corners of the Isle Of Skye. An experience unlike any other, island life is truly inspiring when it comes to art, especially if you remain open to the subtleties of the culture and landscape; the geography and weather, the wildlife and farming. Each element inspires and enriches; an emotional nourishment that could only really happen on a remote island.
The trip from the cityscape of Glasgow to the Isle is astonishing; the sheer scale of the mountain terrain as you get closer becomes quite overwhelming - there’s a sense of vulnerability in the presence of the volcanic landscape. The seasonal weather adds a brutal, yet familiar edge - a reminder of how we are supposed to experience nature at this time of year.
Storm Barbara was just being announced and forecasted when I travelled over the Skye Bridge. Sometimes in adverse conditions, the bridge is closed, by the decision of BEAR Scotland. I had visions of an actual bear making these decisions, but as I found out, it’s merely an acronym. In the relative calm before the storm, however, it was eerily serene. Only when making the approach to the remote hamlet where I was staying, did the squally showers begin to make themselves known.
One of the first things I noticed about the island is how well the infrastructure is implemented. Snowploughs, snow gates, very sturdy-looking pylons and even buildings all seem oblivious to the elements, as if they’ve all stood there for centuries, braving storm after snowfall for pretty much eternity. It seems that Skye’s default weather position in Winter could be billed as ‘wild’.
Before I had even set up my instruments and recording gear, it had become apparent that central to the community on the island was its one (fairly) large supermarket, based over half an hour’s drive away from where I was staying. From my first visit, I became fascinated by the interaction of shoppers with the staff, the things they discussed, the questions they asked, their concerns (home deliveries on the island had been cancelled for the week, which had thrown some people completely; understandably so). I’m under no illusion that part of this feeling was ascribed to the situation by myself, but the sense of community was unmistakable. I began to wonder who these people were - what their stories were, where they had come from. The woman on the checkout, who told anyone who would listen, about her history of wearing enviably eccentric Christmas hats each year, since she moved to Skye - each years’ choice more outlandish than the last. The toothless chap behind me in the queue, who, after noticing both my wine carrier and the fact that I had neglectfully left behind the accompanying Ibuprofen near the till, handed them to me with a look of knowing. The mischievous-looking blonde woman in the car park, peering over her glasses at her partner, who was struggling to bring several bottles of wine back from the shop. Who were they all?
What’s your story?
Words fall where they stand.
Fragments and images.
Lives without a biography.
I wrote seven pieces of music while I was on Skye, with the first being written just as Storm Barbara was approaching. After being warned that I may lose power at any time, I had to make compositional decisions relatively quickly. This feeling, combined with the visual cues of the constantly changing skies through the huge window from where I worked, formed a powerful creative environment.
Barbara put on quite a show. The massive window physically caved and contorted with the gusts of wind, as they reached over 100mph. I recorded the sound of the storm as it battered against the glass and walls. The storms continued long after ‘Barbara’ had moved on, with storm Connor arriving two days or so later - even more fierce than before, as I continued to work at the window, looking out into nature. Luckily, I didn’t lose power, or get struck by lightning, but the risk of frying the instruments, recording gear, or myself, was ever-present.
Listening back to my recordings now, there is a naturally occurring underlying tension in the work; very apparent in some places and more subtle in others, but it’s there - a product of the inspiration I felt on the island, its’ weather systems and culture. Those pieces couldn’t have been composed anywhere else, in quite the same way. They need some arrangement and mix work, which I’ll attend to later in the year, but overall I’m really happy with the way they’ve turned out. They’ll make a good album at some point.