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


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!