Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year!

Two words: THANK YOU to everybody who has visited my website, this blog or social media pages, and most of all, huge thanks to any of you who've bought an album or taken an interest in my artwork. Your support really is appreciated.

Looking back, I've had a busy year, having released two albums, illustrated 5 book covers, produced 3 new pieces of SF artwork AND exhibited at Loncon3 and Novacon 45. A year to be proud of, I think!

Thanks again, and best wishes to all for 2015!

Happy New Year!!

In the meantime, here is the first teaser for my new album, Sentient City, which will be released on Bandcamp in early January.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

Dark Designs

As my cover artwork for Alice Sabo's forthcoming book Dark Deeds has now been revealed I can go a little deeper into its origins and how we arrived at the final version.

The book's protagonist, actor Asher Blaine is making a comeback after getting over an alcohol problem. But from wildfires to rockslides, everything is against Blaine and it seems that somebody is out to try and kill him.

Alice was particularly keen on one scene in the story where Blaine's life hangs in the balance (again), as he finds himself dangling from a cliff.

Here are two of my initial mono draft sketches. The first shows just Asher's hand as he's about to vanish into oblivion; the second is his striking silhouette hanging on for dear life – which was the one we went with.





I had originally envisaged this as a night scene, but it actually takes place late afternoon, as a dark and heavy storm is closing in.

This led to me exploring several options, from a rain storm to vibrant, fiery sunsets and ominous, threatening weather...




After several variations in colour, light and even the kind of clouds, the final illustration came about, complete with the addition of the sea below.


 Alice Sabo will publish Dark Deeds in early 2015...

Monday, 24 November 2014

Looking to the stars...

For my latest piece of artwork, I finally decided to create something inspired by my favourite SF novel – The City and the Stars by Arthur C Clarke. Not only was this the book which sparked my obsession with reading science fiction, but it also re-ignited my passion for SF art, thanks to Chris Moore’s amazing cover artwork.

I had always been hesitant in doing an illustration based on The City and the Stars, as I feared it might never be as epic or stunning as Moore’s cover to the Gollancz paperback, nor do justice to such an awe-inspiring novel. But then I decided to ignore any artistic inferiority complex, and simply make my version – a piece in my own style that embodied the concept of the book, while looking at another angle of visualising the it. 

Version 1...
The joy of working digitally meant I had a great deal of flexibility. Taking the novel’s protagonist Alvin, and the domed city of Diaspar, the first version I created showed a silhouetted figure staring back towards the city.



Version 2...
From this, I tried a second version, without the figure, instead adding a starship (which if you’ve read the book, you’ll know its relevance). The addition of a planet in the sky was more metaphorical, suggesting the notion of other worlds beyond our own. Overall I didn’t think this worked as well without the human element – it’s key to the book after all!




I looked at the dozens of covers the book has had over the decade – some better than others; some brilliant, some completely irrelevant! So I was pretty confident my interpretation was going along the right lines, but I wanted to create something that would also work as a piece in its own right, outside of the original inspiration. 

The finished piece – "Last City"
All the elements were in place, and it was simply a case of finding the right balance. So here’s the final version, now titled Last City, which was derived from a tagline on one of the early editions, “It was the last city built on Earth”. 



This takes the piece into its own, especially viewed with Richard Hayes’ accompanying text, which you can read on my website

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Post-Novacon blues (again)

So another Novacon is over – only my third Novacon experience, but I think I’ve got the hang of this convention lark now and settled in. Novacon is a great SF convention – no silly costumes, but a wide range of fans of SF in film, television, art and literature in particular. There is really a strong literary edge to Novacon which is what I personally like the most. If you're an avid SF reader, an aspiring or published writer or a fan of science fiction art, then this is really the convention to be at. 

Novacon is the right size – big enough to be busy and bustling, small enough to have a comfy community feel. The regulars are passionate about their SF, classic and modern, and you'll always find a common point and something to chat or debate about. I'm not the best conversation starter – I need a good day to warm up  – but you do feel that you can just about walk up to any given conversation and join in. As well as always having a packed and superb program of talks and panels, there is a vibrant social side to the convention, which it seems, is the highlight for many fans – often helped along by the convention drink of choice, Black Sheep!

There are always treasures to be found in the dealer's room. If you're looking for rare or vintage SF books, then you'll find it there, more often than not.

However for me, Novacon is mostly about displaying my artwork, as it’s a perfect opportunity to be seen by the right people – likeminded fans, other artists, collectors, writers and publishers.

This does mean I have to select which panels I will leave the art show to attend. Of course, you can depend on it that as soon as you escape briefly into daylight (well, the hotel foyer, on the way to the main room), somebody will come into the art show looking for you! That’s the way it goes.

At my first Novacon in 2012, I found the prospect of putting so much of my work on show for the first time a little nerve-wracking. Of course I shouldn’t have, as everybody had lovely and encouraging things to say about it – and once you see your pieces going under the hammer and selling in the art auction, well, you know you’re doing something right! Two more events later and my work has found a home there. I've even managed to sneak my music in!

Exhibiting gives you greater confidence in your work and being up there on the wall, you see your pieces really come to life and become part of the event. And it’s incredible how they come into their own; your perception of one of your own works can change, and through the (great) conversations with the other artists in residence, you pick up tips, comments or criticism and it all helps, leaving you feel encouraged and inspired.

Sometimes when the con-goers visit the art room and look at your work, if they don’t know who you are (or might not be aware you are there), you can often overhear a comment or criticism which might not have otherwise reached your ears, and that is interesting in itself.  The people visiting the art show often fall into two categories – those who will stop and chat, maybe ask questions about your work and have a general conversation, and those who gaze in silence, keeping their thoughts to themselves. Quite often they’ll return for a second round.

It's also interesting to see which pieces do get bids on, and how many. This of course varies from year to year and you'd just don't know how it will go, but you can get a rough sense for what people like. Of course the real fun starts when the auction begins on the last day.

So a big thank you to the Novacon committee for once again putting on a great event (despite the hotel's best attempts to intervene!). I should also thank the art show organisers, Serena and John for their hard work, dedication and the continued support and encouragement they give to all their artists. You couldn't ask for nicer people to work with.

Until next time...







Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Beneath the surface

A couple of posts ago, I talked about the value of the opinions or contributions of others towards your work. Case in point, Richard Hayes – a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Interplanetary Society – has kindly contributed some specially written text to accompany the science fiction artwork on my website.

Not content with my own descriptions of the background to the pieces, I wanted something more evocative and interesting to accompany the artwork – something to perhaps raise questions. Richard’s text does this and more. His narrative sheds new light on some pieces, hits the nail on the head on others, and poses new doubts or questions as to many of the subject matters. This reminds us that on the surface, not everything is always as it seems...


Here is Richard’s text for my latest piece of artwork, First Light:




“A red giant star dominates a planet’s sky, and a city spreads out before us in its unearthly light. We ask ourselves whether the city is in its dying days as a result of an expanding sun - perhaps the remnants of a civilization are surviving in its domed structures. Obviously whoever lives there needs the domes as well as the buildings - presumably the atmosphere is toxic, or has perhaps recently become toxic. Are we witnessing the last stages of a once-great society?

Or could this be the civilization’s normal existence and its inhabitants have learned to survive in what simply looks to us like a hostile environment? It may be thriving within the structures that we see. After all, it’s not a dead city – there are two clear signs of life: a rocket and a land car. It might merely be an image of the time of day when little is going on, and the city is awakening. Or could these be the last inhabitants trying desperately to make their escape from a doomed existence?”


If you enjoyed this, then come and take a look at the rest of the SF gallery pages

Friday, 24 October 2014

Living in the past… present, and future

Despite being generally forward thinking and a fan of works that depict futures, I do find I spent a lot of time looking back, in the comfort of nostalgia. 

There’s often a weird mentality out there which seems to dictate that you should be enjoying the very latest bands and albums, films, TV shows or books. Yet all of these things were made to last through the ages. Take films or music as leading examples; some innovated and made their mark; became timeless and still as relevant and exciting today as they were at their time of release. Some may be slightly more dated, but in a good way that evokes the feeling of the particular time it was released, yet manage to stand the test of time and still work today. In other words, age shouldn’t matter. And that applies to creative people too. If you’re inspired or still in awe of something from yesterday, that’s absolutely fine – whatever works for you. 

It’s important to not to forget the places or people that over time, all helped shape what you’re doing today. I was lucky enough to have some great art tutors at college, many of whom helped push me in directions I may not have normally taken. But more often than not, I think about Mr Crooke – my art teacher from school. During those formative years, his art lessons were the thing I looked forward to the most, every week. As a typical 15 year-old, I was bursting with ideas and enthusiasm which needed his expert eye to refine and critique. I learned a lot from him. Over twenty years later, I still think of so those classes with a certain fondness. And he’s still at my old school, teaching a new generation of budding artists. I did try and contact him by email recently, just to say a belatedly acknowledge my appreciation of what I gained from his tuition.

Creative people – artists, writers, musicians etc – are the ultimate recyclers. We spend years absorbing all these influences and inspirations from all times and places, and we repurpose it in the guise of our own contemporary works. Our creations are made up of the past and present, and will go on into tomorrow.

In short, looking back is just as healthy as looking forward.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Novacon is coming / listen to your feedback



As an artist, it’s always difficult to choose pieces of your own work.

I have recently produced a limited-run publication, Escape. Copies of which have been popping through letterboxes around the country, but it will also be available from me in person at next month’s Novacon.

When producing a small booklet of your own material, it really is a hard task to select what works to include. I decided to focus on my science fiction artwork for Escape, as it is primarily what I do, and also what I have done most of my best work in. But it also requires some variety, so I had to choose some non-SF pieces to go in too. Eventually with the help of my wife and feedback from friends, the shortlist was made.

One particular piece of art – and I’m not going to tell you which – was one that I had never felt was particularly good; mainly because it was essentially a quick sketch; more of a rough concept for a piece rather than a finished thing. Yet this rough affair has become the final piece of art, simply because of the comments I regularly receive on it, which never cease to pleasantly surprise me. 

Which basically reminds me that we are not always the judges of our own work. Feedback is invaluable. Your audience are your best critics.

From having little confidence in this particular piece, I’ve now featured it in Escape, and it will be on show at Novacon.

This year’s Novacon art display will feature mostly new and recent artwork, as well as a some older works which haven’t been displayed anywhere before.

In addition to artwork, I’m hoping that the art room will also have some of my music floating through the airwaves, and copies of Traces and possibly Future Worlds Redux will also be on sale. 

Once again, I really look forward to talking all things SF with fellow fans, artists, writers etc. Come and say hello!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Cover art insight: Lethal Seasons

Alice Sabo's brief for Lethal Seasons was clear from the outset – a tornado set against the Blue Ridge Mountains and a landscape devastated by storms and an overgrown, neglected infrastructure.

This was Alice's first foray into science fiction, but in a post apocalyptic setting, so it was important to get the right atmosphere and feel – you should be able to look at a cover and know what you're in for.

Having looked at the landscape, I thought of a perspective scene, following a road covered in fallen trees, with the tornado looming in the distance. Here are my preliminary sketches:



To inject an additional element of horror into the cover, I vignetted the image with splattered blood and virus cells. With the cover art worked up, the next stage was looking at the typography and how to really integrate the title into the cover. While I tried out various conventional approaches as well as graphical treatments of the text containing virus elements.

And the end result:


...available now in print and ebook from Amazon, iTunes, Kindle, Kobo, Barnes & Noble etc.




Monday, 22 September 2014

Back... to the Future (a science fiction symphony)

Orchestral soundtracks have long since dominated the film industry, particularly in science fiction, with classic scores such as Star Wars, Alien, Terminator or Total Recall. And you can enjoy a good film soundtrack as an album in its own right. 

I wanted to make an album that captures the essence of this kind of soundtrack, with an emphasis on drama and atmosphere. And I think I’ve achieved that with my new release, Future Worlds Redux.

Until now, I’d never been one to re-visit music previously deemed completed. When my favourite artists have released a new album of reworks of older songs, I often saw it as a disappointment or sign that they’re out of ideas. I was wrong.  With distance and hindsight, you can really see where your best bits are, and where you can expand your work to realise its full potential – stuff that perhaps wasn’t evident first time round. I guess we can call it artistic satisfaction. Sometimes you just need to put a bit of distance in to see what you need to do.

The problem many an artist faces, whether we’re talking music or artwork, is never quite knowing when something is finished. In truth, nothing is ever complete, not really. There just comes a moment when it feels right, and you stop. Otherwise you’d be niggling away at it for months or years and never get the thing finished!

I was really proud of my original Future Worlds album, which I started working on in Autumn 2012, and released in February 2013. It was made during a personally difficult time, and was a great cathartic experience as well as realising my ambition to make an album inspired by classic science fiction books and scenarios. 

But at the same time, something at the back of my mind was left unfulfilled – an annoying "unfinished" feeling, perhaps because I had originally intended to make an orchestral style album, following on from the Road to the Stars soundtrack I produced for David A. Hardy. But thanks to my love of synth sounds, Future Worlds ended up a fusion of the two styles, with the electronics taking centre stage.

Almost two years later, I felt enough time had passed to finally revisit the album and rework the tracks into symphonic versions as I had originally intended. I always wanted Future Worlds to play out like one of those great  science fiction film soundtracks. 

Not only was this a relatively quick process, but it was great fun, getting back in to the vibe of those songs and realising I still very much enjoyed them, and that there was still a lot of life in them. This was an opportunity to move things around and expand and change the arrangements to suit the orchestral approach, as I didn’t want to make the same album with different sounds.

In addition to changing the order and arrangements, I also went through my unfinished demo files from when I made the original album, and found one that I felt had some potential to work up as a new addition. The original album came with two bonus tracks which I liked a lot – in hindsight they should have been more than just bonus tracks, so this was the opportunity to give them a new home.

And that “unfinished” feeling has now been upgraded to “Complete”.



Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Graham Joyce

Last night I learnt of the sad passing of Graham Joyce. 

59 is far too young to go. Such a creative mind and truly brilliant writer. He had so much more to give.

I’d only just discovered Graham’s work in the last year. Even though I have only read two of his works – Dreamside and The Silent Land – both books had a profound effect on me. Such imagination and poetry; the kind of stories which really penetrate the emotions, make you think and ask questions. In those two books alone, it was evident what a master story teller Joyce was. Haunting, intriguing, beautiful and fascinating – those are books that really make their mark and stay with you.

I had no idea Joyce was battling cancer.  Looking online now, I can see that it was well documented in his blog, but in the interest of finding out more about his books, that had passed me by. That’s another example of how overloaded with futile stuff the Internet is, and that it’s so easy to miss, or not even see any genuinely important bits of information.

I had a few very friendly exchanges with Graham via Twitter, during my search for Dreamside (long out of print in the UK). And I had tried to contact him a couple of times by email, but never heard back. Silly, naïve me. Now I know why. 

Graham's final blog entry is such a moving piece of writing. And as it turns out, his final work. I dare you to read it and not shed a tear.

Although I never got to meet him, by all accounts, he was a great man as well as a great author; clearly a devastating loss to his family, friends and fans. And the literary world has lost a rare, great mind.

It's odd how we can so often strongly connect to writers, artists or musicians. Yet they're usually people we don't know or will ever get to even meet in some cases. Yet books or albums become intensely personal things; you take possession of a good book and treat it like your copy is the only one in the world. They take on certain meanings.

Dreamside really tapped into my interest in the world of dreams. The sort of book I’d always wanted to read. That book inspired some of the music on my latest album, Traces. I’m glad now that I credited Graham in the notes.

Graham, this one’s for you.

Monday, 1 September 2014

A short blog about art

I never got along with paint. Always liked the idea of it, but during my school and college days in fine art, my otherwise good pencil pieces would be ruined as soon as I started to paint over them or add colour. So I always used to, where ever possible, draw in ink, pencil or charcoal. Life in monochrome.

That’s why the humble pencil became my weapon of choice for a long time, and probably why many of my digital paintings started out as pencil sketches.

What I love about working digitally is I'm finally able to enjoy working with colour, in a non-messy way! I feel I've struck a happy medium here, especially for my science fiction artwork – which makes up the majority of my output!

Having spent the last 18 months working mostly on music projects, it’s been great getting back into the flow of illustration. I guess I always feel a little guilty of referring to a digital piece as a “painting”. OK, it’s a digital painting; a common term in the industry. I’m just applying pixels, rather than oils or acrylics. More recently I’ve been referring to my work as illustrations. But in truth, they’re both. 

Time for a quick flashback (pretend there's an echo there).

After completing courses in fine art and computer graphics at college back in the mid 1990s, my plans to go on to a course in illustration fell by the wayside when I was offered my first job in advertising back in 1997, and out of that my career as a graphic designer was born. Work and life took over art. I guess that’s why it took me over a decade to get back to creating my own artwork, which coincided with the rediscovery of my love of the science fiction art of the 1970s and 80s. 

By 2010 I was in my early thirties, and well aware there was a whole generation of genius young CG artists working away out there, alongside the ageist disclaimer on almost any given opportunity or competition that "entrants must be between 18–25". Cue confidence crisis.

While I’d previously had work published in books and magazines, it wasn’t until 2011 when my piece “Awakening” was chosen for inclusion in “Brave New Worlds”, an exhibition of utopian and dystopian art down in Richmond-Upon-Thames, that I found my confidence in this new age of digital art.

It's so easy to get hung up over whether your work looks realistic or is accurate, etc. It's not important! I would say most artists suffer a lack of confidence at most times. Creating a piece of art regardless of medium is such a personal experience (and often a turbulent journey!). Then you unleash it to the world. And thanks to the Internet, its easy to feel surrounded by other artists who are better than you. They're not – they're just different. Quirks or imperfections add to the personality and individuality of a piece, and the evident touch of an artist's hand still triggers an emotional response. If you feel interested, intrigued or moved by a piece of artwork, digital or not, then its done its job no matter.

The motto I've always stood by is, that if you're really fired up and into what you're doing, there will be hundreds of other people out there who love it too. Keep at it! 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Post-virtual Loncon

So Loncon 3 is over – and by all accounts it has been the highest-attended Worldcon event to date, with over 10,000 members at the last count. Recently described in a news article as an “art form”, it seems that science fiction has never been healthier. A lot of people enjoy SF for escapism, and you only need tune into the news for a daily plethora of distressing and misguided events in this world to realise why people crave for temporary escape.

While I did not attend Loncon 3 personally, I had a display of SF-themed art in the main art show and a couple of large prints on display as part of the Initiative for Interstellar Studies (I4IS) stand. I also designed several flyers, t-shirts and art postcard packs for I4IS recently, so it was great to have that presence too. By all accounts, the I4IS stand received the attention it deserved – perhaps helped along by their giant 2001-esque monolith with moving images projected on to it, and special guest speaker, renowned SF author Alastair Reynolds.

So it’s interesting to have been a part of this enormous event, even though I wasn’t actually there. Personally, I’m not a fan of large events, so aside from missing the chance of meeting several of my favourite artists and authors, I was quite happy to have been a non-attending member.

So what’s next? I’m currently working on new artwork, and my next project will be another music album for the I4IS. I’ve got a lot of ideas I’m quite excited about and keen to develop further. Event-wise, the next big thing will be Novacon 44, where I plan to have a display of brand new and recent artwork, totally different to what was on show at Loncon.

What I do love about Novacon is its more literary and scientific slant – no costumes in sight! However it does have its share of film and television SF, and it’s a great place to chat about Doctor Who or any other cult SF show for that matter. But Novacon does feel like a family – many familiar faces each year alongside new faces. Novacon is just the right size for me - big enough to be busy but small enough to be able to talk to people more than once. And I’m really hoping that many folk who attended Loncon will also attend Novacon this year. Hopefully there’s enough time between the two events for it not to seem like SF con–overload!

See my website for a photo of my Loncon 3 art display as well as general news round-up.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Back Into the Light


This was my view. Well, one of many breathtaking views. Out of shot to the right, you’d eventually see the sea. Nobody else for miles around, epic views and that kind of special-smelling warm air and sea breezes that you get from being high up. The atmosphere up there in the Andalusian mountains was tranquil to say the least.

This was 7 years ago now, and round about this time of year. I’m always frustrated by the seemingly fast passing of time in such circumstances. You want to hold on to and preserve certain memories as much as possible and keep them close, as if they were yesterday.

I fondly recall reading Mike Oldfield’s autobiography Changeling – a revealing and inspiring book, well recommended. Reading the stories behind the making of his albums whilst looking at those mountains, with music drifting out from the villa was a great source of inspiration. It was here that I always claim my album Into the Light was born.

While I didn’t actually compose the music there, that place was where many of the ideas came and gradually filled up my head. I’d make mental notes of ideas for riffs or arrangements. The real challenge was to remember everything and try and capture it all once I returned home! It's rare to be able to describe something as perfect, but that really was, and I wanted to somehow bring that essence and optimism into the music.

Into the Light remains a very personal album for this very reason, as I feel I did capture what I wanted in the music. Every time I hear it, I’m transported back there.

Of course, this was just one small element of that stay in Spain, but the one connected to my music. A few of the album's tracks were made before this however, and had very different backgrounds! Two examples being "Beyond the Clouds", which was composed the day after a rather unpleasant stomach upset(!), and the title track came about after having a rather harrowing dream where I'd been shot, and was suddenly traveling towards, and into a blinding light.

And that's how the title came about.

So Into the Light really is an album inspired by travel and dreams. Yet it also has an other-worldliness to it, which is perfectly reflected in David A. Hardy's beautiful cover artwork.

This particular painting caught my eye in 50 Years in Space: What We Thought then… What WeKnow Now, the wonderfully illustrated book Hardy co-produced with the late, great Sir Patrick Moore.

As an artist, I usually have quite a clear idea about how my album cover should look, and that it should also be my own work, as an extension of the music. But in this case, Hardy's painting leapt out of the page at me, and was just perfect. A few emails later and the album cover was there!

I regard Into the Light as my first proper album. My real début. I'd made several demo albums prior to this that were basically my exploration of sound and what I could do. But with this album, everything came together and fell into place, as a culmination of all those ideas that I’d experimented with over the previous year. As an early work, I guess it has its shortcomings and imperfections, but it wouldn't be the same without them.

In the autumn of 2007, the initial version of the album was up on MySpace for streaming and briefly on one or two other sites for download.

I didn't make another album I was happy with until 2009 with Mechanical Drive, but shortly after completing that project, I took my music offline and didn't make any for almost three years.

When I returned to making music in 2012 with Inferno, knowing I was going to have a go at actually selling my work online, one of my priorities was to return to Into the Light and give it a bit of a remix before putting it online, especially since several software upgrades had rendered some of the original sounds useless, so substitutes had to be found. As I was firmly back in the mindset of the album, I wrote a brand new piece of a similar style entitled “Cyclic”, which comes as a bonus track with the full album download.

Initially it felt too soon to be revisiting the album - but then it occurred to me, that I was in fact, finishing it off!

I'm still incredibly proud of Into the Light and it remains very special to me, almost like a bookmark of a certain point in life. It's also where the music of The Light Dreams really begins...






Friday, 20 June 2014

Lethal Seasons trailer

Nowadays, it's the norm for a book to have it's own visual trailer or teaser in the same way movies do. And why not?

So when I was designing the book cover to Alice Sabo’s Lethal Seasons, I started to imagine how I could use elements of the artwork for a simple trailer that would bring it all to life. So I gave it a go, with text and guidance from Alice – and here are the results:



I had originally set this to the somber tones of my track “Souvenir of Earth” from Future Worlds, and tried a second version with “Outsider” from Traces for a darker, more menacing atmosphere. Then it occurred to me that I ought to compose a new piece especially for the trailer – something with an ominous, threatening atmosphere, gradually building... and the Lethal Seasons theme came into being!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

You still can't beat a good book...

These days, I’m an avid reader. An overnight break between two books tends to be all I allow, before impatiently starting the next. But despite growing up a science fiction fan, I didn’t start reading SF until I was in my early twenties, just after the turn of the millennium. The first SF book I got my teeth into, was Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars, which remains my favourite SF novel to this day. But despite subsequently reading several of Clarke’s works, I didn’t become a regular reader until relatively recent years, when I became absolutely immersed, obsessed and addicted to the genre (focusing mostly on Gollancz’s “SF Masterworks” range).

However, one day my wife unexpectedly bought me After the Quake, a book of connected short stories by Japan’s best-selling author, Haruki Murakami. I’d never heard of him, but was instantly drawn into Murakami’s juxtaposed worlds of contemporary Japan and dream-like scenarios and alternative time streams. This proved to be a welcome break from classic science fiction – metaphorical, hysterical, sexy, dark, harrowing and generally fascinating, Murakami’s stories are works of wonder with characters you get to know much more intimately than you might expect.

And it was around the same time that a friend recommended the work of British author Christopher Priest (you may have seen his name crop up in several of my recent blog entries). Priest’s 1981 novel, The Affirmation (part of the Gollancz range, complete with an Escher-esque cover) explores the merging of worlds and identities, and also introduces The Dream Archipelago, which would go on to be a recurrent setting in his books. Like any great novel, The Affirmation doesn’t show its age, and still reads as a contemporary masterwork. But as with Murakami’s work, I really enjoyed the blurred lines between dreams and reality that the book presented. Similar crossovers into seemingly alternative realities (often in the form of the Dream Archipelago) are the focal point of many of the author's later works; two particular favourites of mine being The Glamour and The Dream Archipelago; a series of short stories set around the different islands, with some pretty disturbing and thought provoking moments! And Priest’s latest book, The Adjacent (which I’m still reading, at the time of writing this) has certainly lived up to expectations.

This is the kind of writing which makes you stop, think and ask questions.

As somebody fascinated with dreams and the subconscious, and as a believer in fate and coincidence, this kind of writing instantly appealed to me. It is also harder to categorise, if you’re into such things; some call it fiction, others speculative fiction, or even fantasy. But in this, I feel I’ve really found the kind of book that I connect to, and which really fires up my imagination – in a different way to how futuristic SF novels do.

As I have previously mentioned, it was books such as these which provided additional inspiration for my latest album of electronic music, Traces. It’s much harder to illustrate such themes via instrumental music, but as my work is all about mood and atmosphere, I was more concerned with trying to capture that; almost like writing a soundtrack to the books I was reading at the time. 

So at present, the main source of inspiration for my music and artwork comes from whatever I’m reading. I’ve found that you can appreciate and respect an author and their works in just the same way as you can a musician and their albums. Books, like albums can become quite personal experiences. You can re-visit and re-discover albums and books, and never tire of them.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Let's go interstellar...

An exciting momentum is gathering with The Initiative for Interstellar Studies (I4IS). Within the last week, I4IS became incorporated in the United Kingdom as a not-for-profit company, and also launched a fantastic new website at i4is.org.

I4IS will have a strong presence at this year’s Loncon3 in August, so be sure to find their stand – and trust me, you won’t miss it!

As an honorary artist/musician for I4IS, one of my aims is to promote the Initiative and reflect its visionary values through my artwork and music. My latest release for I4IS is Beyond the Boundary, a musical journey beyond the stars (released as a digital download via Bandcamp in December).

Beyond the Boundary also shares its title with a forthcoming I4IS book, to which I also contributed, due for publication this summer. The book features contributions from members across the organisation on diverse subjects such as the scientific and societal benefits of interstellar exploration, defining the fundamental requirements, the use of wormholes and faster than light travel, interstellar communications, launch vehicles and many other chapters – my own being focused on the relationship between music and the stars.

As well as the website, you can also follow I4IS on Twitter and Facebook to keep up-to-date with all things interstellar.


Thursday, 29 May 2014

Oxygène... remastered

Jean Michel Jarre's pioneering album Oxygène has just been remastered and reissued along with half a dozen of his other albums. Anybody who has followed my work or read my website will already know my adoration for Jarre's music – without this album, I probably wouldn't have ever attempted making my own music.

Everybody has a particular album that they grew up with, and that had a particular influence or even life-changing effect – for me, Oxygène is one of those albums. It slots right into my creativity and way of thinking.

Although it doesn't cater for every taste, for me, it is one of those timeless, tireless albums. In a strange way it sounds both of its time and ahead of its time – at the same time! Though the album may be pushing 40, I still get the same excitement, inspiration and escapism from it as the first time I heard it in the early 1980s. The 2014 remaster comes with new liner notes and faithfully restored artwork (and a slightly bolder typeface if you want to be really picky!), but the music sounds as fresh as ever – in fact I even heard some bass notes that I'd never noticed before.

A feast for both the ears and imagination, there's an almost organic quality to the music through its evolving textures and atmospheres – hard to believe it was recorded on a mere eight tracks!

While Oxygène is the album that propelled Jarre to superstardom and defined an era of electronic music, it's easy to overlook the fact that it very nearly didn't get released at all.

In 1976, the 28-year-old Jarre's small Parisian apartment was a mass of analogue synthesisers, keyboards and drum machines, spilling through into his kitchen where an eight-track tape recorder would capture the burbles and swirls that would be part of the defining and distinctive sound of Oxygène.

Having composed and recorded this electronic opus of six movements all by himself, Jarre was repeatedly turned down by the French record labels on the grounds they could not market music with no vocals or that was not radio-friendly. French publisher Francis Dreyfus eventually saw potential in Jarre’s work and tentatively pressed 50,000 copies. Nobody was quite prepared for the global success of the album, that would go on to sell in excess of 15 million copies!

That little story in itself always inspires me - as it should inspire any musician or artist. When I listen to the album, although part of my mind wants to drift away with the sounds, I think about Jarre's struggle in 1970s Paris; surely one of the first home-based "D.I.Y" electronic musicians, of which I am now one, among countless others, thanks to the wonders of modern technology.

But this is the one album I always turn to when it comes to making music. The fact I can still gleam something new from it after hearing it thousands of times and that it still somehow drives me to make my own kind of music is something I'm constantly grateful for.




Friday, 16 May 2014

Convergence

It’s been extremely rewarding to see how well my new album Traces has been received – by my standards. It’s even been reviewed, which is great! As an unsigned, purely independent artist, you never know whether you’re doing the right thing or even making the right music! But as I’ve always said, if you’re doing something that you’re really fired up about, there’s bound to be likeminded folk out there who’ll also love it. The hard part is reaching them, and that is perhaps one of the main things that the internet has made easier (in theory). That’s when the real hard work starts!

Traces took just less than a year to make. Granted, my work doesn’t go through the various mixing and mastering or even production processes that a signed artists’ work would. It’s entirely the creation of my home setup, as technology has allowed artists to work that way these days. But making music is like doing sculpture – it’s an intensely private and personal process – you spend ages chipping away and shaping it up… and one day you unleash it. To simply have the ability and facilities to do that is brilliant – and one of the reasons I prefer Bandcamp as a platform. I would certainly encourage any independent musician to give it a go.

As I’ve said before, the over-arching theme to Traces is dreams and the subconscious – and a look into that crossover point between dreams and reality. If you buy the album as a download or on CD, you’ll see in the artwork reference to several books, which I read during the making of the album. Two of these are The Glamour and The Dream Archipelago by Christopher Priest; both works which perfectly captured the essence of what I wanted to convey into the music (whether you take that into account as the listener or not). I’m currently reading Tourmaline by James Brogden which is of a very similar theme. 

I often talk about there being a convergence with my music and artwork - this seems to happen whether I like it or not! The combination of reading those books and making the album inspired me to paint a scene from one of my own dreams, which I had a good 15 years ago now. But Scene from a Dream could easily have been the cover art to the album, had I not already designed it.

That dream was so vivid. Feeling the warm sunrise as I stood on the edge of some sort of dam or wall, with the city perimeter around me and the sea out in front. And not long after, I was taken straight back into that same dream when I heard the lyrics to "Quiet City" by John Foxx for the first time, from his 2001 album, The Pleasures of Electricity.

Convergence seems to be inevitable!


Monday, 12 May 2014

News round-up...

I’m currently working with author Alice Sabo on the cover to her forthcoming science fiction novel. More details and tantalising glimpses will follow in the near future, but so far, this has been a great project and quite a challenge too. Stay tuned for more details.

Sadly, I’m unable to attend Loncon3 in August, however my work can! I’ll be virtually joining a whole host of absolutely amazing SF&F artists in the Loncon art exhibition. The Initiative for Interstellar Studies will also have a stand (and much more) there, so do keep an eye out for them.

I will however, be attending Novacon again in November, and am already looking forward to it. 

In other news, “Traces – Abandoned” has now been added to my Bandcamp page. This name-your-price compilation is made up of nine demos and outtakes from the making of the Traces album. It has a much darker feel than the overall mood of the final album, and gives an insight into both my creative process and how the album almost sounded!


Friday, 25 April 2014

The places of Traces

When describing Traces as a reflective album, one of the many elements that influenced that mood was the idea of following the traces of your own past and the places you've been.

When you live or work in the same city for a long time, you gradually see it evolve. Places come and go, new buildings shoot up to the sky, old buildings get cleaned up and ruins come crumbling down. But even with all the changes that a city undergoes, you can still always pick out traces of the past, whether it's a poster stuck in an abandoned upstairs record shop window or a bit of graffiti that always seems to have escaped erasure.



And when you start looking closely, traces of history start to emerge – the imprint of old signs, remnants of old brickwork, a rusty street sign, old factory names still adoring buildings that now house flats and cafés, and bits of architectural detail high up at the tops of the buildings which have survived wars.

Once you start observing these things, you end up constantly noticing what used to be. A childhood cinema that’s now a clothes shop. A place where you bought your favourite albums that’s now an opticians or a place you enjoyed many meals that’s now long boarded up. 

It’s inevitable that you end up picking up your own traces of the places you’ve been and the memories of the people you were with. You walk past the office of your first job; now no longer in use, and think about the 20-year-old version of yourself that used to frequent there. The music you played at the time, the faces you knew and the life you had then, which has evolved along with the city in the intervening decades. It’s not that you wish to spend your time chasing ghosts but almost by default there’s a part of our brains that enjoy these reflections, triggered by our own invisible footprints and little fragments of personal history.

Traces is out now on Bandcamp.