Monday, 19 October 2015

Review: Electronica 1 – The Time Machine

I've cited Jean-Michel Jarre countless times as a major influence on my own music, so its only right to dedicate a post to my first impressions of Electronica 1 – The Time Machine, his first album of new material since 2007.

The Time Machine is the first part of a double album collaboration project, Electronica, with the second volume due for release in April.

On the one hand, it's easy to wonder why, after eight years Jarre has decided to return with a collaboration project, rather than a new album all of his own creation. But when you consider his long career – which took off in 1976 with the pioneering electronic opus Oxygène – the one thing he hasn't really done in that time, is teamed up with other artists he admires, and that's exactly what we have here.

Whether you paint or make music, this is usually a solo venture. Yet, put a likeminded person in there with you, and you soon find new ideas emerge and you bounce off each other's creativity, with fruitful results.

Jarre hasn't simply teamed up with artists currently in vogue, or your stereotypical cult figures of electronic music, but those who are important to him; artists whose music has influenced his own, or those currently on his own musical radar. This makes for a truly fascinating country-spanning album. The album is almost a travelogue in its own right, as Jarre physically travelled around the world to meet up with each and every artist in the project, to discuss face to face and actually work together – a refreshing move, when by today's standards, a musical 'collaboration' typically evolves around a lot of emailing of files, and not actually meeting up with the other artist.

When you look at the list of names on the album – which includes Vince Clarke, M83, Air, Little Boots, Laurie Anderson, Moby, Pete Townsend, Massive Attack and Tangerine Dream, to name just a few – it would be easy to assume this album might sound like a mixed bag or a compilation, but how wrong you would be to take such a viewpoint! Despite the wide variety and styles of artists on the album, there is a consistency in approach and in sound. Each track is after all, built around an original demo by Jarre, so his musical stamp runs coherently throughout. You'll hear sounds from across Jarre's back catalogue, including a welcome return of his iconic laser harp.

After only having had the album for a few days, it's still too early to pick out firm favourites, but instant standout tracks include the title track (with Boys Noize), Automatic pt1 & 2 (with Vince Clarke), Suns Have Gone (with Moby), A Question of Blood (with horror maestro John Carpenter), The Train and the River (with Lang Lang), Glory (with M83) and Zero Gravity with Tangerine Dream.

Zero Gravity is perhaps the most poignant track on the album, being recorded just a short time before Edgar Froese sadly passed away – and Jarre has respectfully dedicated the project to Froese.

The combination of Jean-Michel Jarre and French electro-duo Air will no doubt please fans of both artists, as not only is it a perfect match, but a huge technological achievement, in a recording that spans the history of electronic music technology; starting out with a sampled drum loop assembled on a continuous analogue tape loop (sellotaped together!), going through a range of different analogue and digital synthesisers and culminating with a melody played on an iPad!

There is an enormous amount of work and talent on this album, and this is evident right from the first listen – it's a truly epic experience, musically and sonically. Even with so many contributing artists, it still holds together as a Jean-Michel Jarre album, and arguably his best release in a long time. Certainly well worth the wait.

But this is just the first half of the Electronica journey. With names such as Gary Numan and Hans Zimmer on board for Electronica 2, next Spring simply won't come quick enough!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Book review: The Art of Guy Erma and the Son of Empire

When designing a book cover, the author has the challenge of finding the artist who is right for them, and that can bring their book to life. The artist has the task of taking what's in the author's mind and transposing it for the artwork, while putting their own style and identity on the design.

The Art of Guy Erma and the Son of Empire goes behind the scenes of the artwork to Sally Ann Melia's popular series of books. It brings together concept art and designs as well as rough sketches for all the book covers and associated artwork.

Sally Ann Melia worked with Belgrade-based company Sugarbricks to create the artwork – proof of how the Internet has really enabled creativity and collaboration no matter where you are. 
It takes you through the journey of each cover, from rough drafts to final designs. You really get a feel for the amount of work, effort and dedication that has gone into the project.

As an artist and cover designer myself, I found The Art of Guy Erma and the Son of Empire an interesting insight into a vital part of today's vibrant self-publishing industry. It is also the first time I have seen such a book produced to accompany a series of novels, and that in itself is refreshing – clearly a must for fans of the series.

It does make me cringe when I see websites offering free or cheap book cover resources for authors, such as pre-made covers. Not only are they putting artists out of work, but you have a cover that isn't necessarily unique to you.

With so many authors putting their work out there today, good cover art has never been more important in the marketing of your book. Your cover has to be as unique as your writing, and The Art of Guy Erma and the Son of Empire is a fine example of how to do it properly.

Sally Ann Melia's The Art of Guy Erma and the Son of Empire is available now on Amazon.

Monday, 5 October 2015


I was delighted to return to the environments of Alice Sabo's Changed World Series, for the second book, Scattered Seeds. 

Although the cover for the follow-up to Lethal Seasons was to show a very different kind of scene, being part of a series, it was crucial to retain the same atmosphere, via a similar colour scheme.

Having discussed the cover with Alice, it was clear from the start that a scene showing derelict factory buildings, an abandoned cart and children hiding in the shadows, would best represent the second instalment of A Changed World.

This was my initial sketch. 

However for a while, I was unsure if this was going to work as a "cover" image, as to me it felt more like an interior illustration. But once Alice suggested including her character Wisp in the scene, it all came together. 

Initially, I put Wisp in the shadows with the children, but the illustration still lacked a focal point. So I brought him right out into the edge of the scene as an onlooker, and instantly the cover had direction and a journey for the eye to travel, from the view over Wisp's shoulder through the buildings, following the children to the water's edge. 

Here's the early version featuring Wisp hiding in the shadows (note that he's also holding a gun, which was incorrect!).

And here is the final illustration.

Keeping the same typeface that I used for Lethal Seasons, I incorporated subtle graphic “seed” elements into the typography of the title. 

For Lethal Seasons, I had only created the front cover, however with Scattered Seeds, I was creating the front, back and spine. The back cover was a more of an impressionistic sketch, looking back at the factory buildings and ruined landscape, from across the water. Essentially, an opposing view of the cover scene. 

And here's the final artwork of the front, back and spine.

Scattered Seeds is now available as an ebook via Amazon, and is coming soon in print!

Visit Alice's website at for news and updates.

Saturday, 3 October 2015


I met writer Helen Claire Gould at last year's Novacon (the UK's longest-established SF convention). I was there as (as usual) exhibiting and promoting my artwork, and Helen was promoting her SF novel, Floodtide, which she had then published as an ebook. 

The Floodtide flyer which Helen gave me contained an intriguing excerpt from the book, which sounded right up my street. Great title, too. I remember at the time thinking that this was just the kind of story that I'm keen to illustrate. 

After the convention, we kept in touch and although Helen had painted her own cover for the ebook, she told me that she was planning a print version that would have a different cover, and asked me to produce the artwork. Perfect!

Floodtide could have easily conformed to your Hunger Games style of iconic graphic design, or being a complex story, a more abstract, typography-led cover, but Helen was clear that she wasn't interested in a cover that could easily get lost among other current trend/samey covers, instead favouring an illustrated scene from the story. 

Floodtide is a pretty chunky book, with a lot of characters and environments. However the majority of the story takes place in a complex of interconnected lava tubes and caves on the planet Naxada. Helen's expertise in geology forms the basis of the science in the story, so it was important to show this setting in the artwork.  We decided that a general view of this mysterious underworld would work for the back cover, with more of an action scene on the front, which was to feature Jordas, Soolkah and Yado, the story's three pivotal characters. 

Helen's writing has a very visual quality to it, and I soon found myself imagining Floodtide as a graphic novel, so I wanted to give the cover a slight pulp sort of look, through the vibrant palette, the composition and typography. 

One of my original illustrations for the back cover was based on an ice cave, but it wasn't right for the book. However I really liked the piece, so developed it further to an individual piece, which I entitled Void

While the front cover is a scene from within a lava tube (and illustrates one of the chapter cliffhangers in the story), the back cover shows an almost chamber-like scene featuring the entrance to the lava tube we see on the cover as well as a cluster of "glowcakes", fungus-like growths on the cave walls, which emit light. 

After the cover artwork was complete, we set about creating a teaser and trailer film for the book. This we decided to deliberately make in a mono comic book style, ad both the teaser and trailer comprised various characters, scenes and scenarios from the book.  Helen's son Jason provided the recording for the voiceover, and Helen put together the screenplay. My job was to illustrate everything, which I rendered in ink and finished digitally. I then edited the whole lot together and composed an original piece of music for it. 

The original idea was simply to have a series of static, illustrated frames, like the pages of a comic. Then it occurred to me that we could animate many of these very simply, using a parallax shift style effect. This really brought the scenes and characters to life and gave the Floodtide teaser and trailer a very distinctive look. 

Watch the teaser!

Watch the full trailer!

Watch the promo video!

Here are some of my original illustrations from the teaser and trailer:

Helen will be promoting and selling Floodtide at this year's Novacon, and the artwork will be included in my own display. A very appropriate time to celebrate almost a year's collaboration!

The ebook version of Floodtide was re-christened with the new cover art, and is available on Amazon

The paperback edition of Floodtide is exclusively available via Helen's website - - and at various local outlets in her home town of Peterborough. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

When inspiration strikes...

I hadn't planned to make or release another album this year, having released Sentient City in January, and Panorama (in support of the Initiative for Interstellar Studies) in June. But, when inspiration strikes, you just have to take the reins, and see where it leads you!

That was very much the case with this unanticipated new album. As I've mentioned countless times, one of my all-time favourite artists is French electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre. It's really my love for Jarre's music that led to me making my own. So earlier this year, when Jarre announced a new album of collaborations - Electronica (Vol 1), due out later this month - I was naturally very excited!

However, it was during one of the track teasers a few months ago, that I recognised a digital synth sound that I have used in my own music countless times, since I began my own musical journey, nine years ago. 

My immediate reaction was: "That's my sound!!" This was the first time I'd heard this particular synth used in anything outside of my own compositions, and it reminded me just what a great lead it is, so I decided to dust off the midi keyboard, plug in and play. The last time I had used this particular sound was (I think) on my 2012 album, Inferno

That was really the genesis of this new album project, which then came together very quickly. Before I knew it, I had 8 tracks in the making - the ideas and music just flowed, which is the most satisfying sensation. 

I soon rounded it up to ten tracks, including a reworked piece left over from the Traces album, that I'd been wanting to complete for a while. I've some ideas for one or two possible bonus tracks, too.

What started out as just a bit of playing around, has resulted in what I feel to be some of my best work to date. Although that's not really for me to decide... 

But that's all for now. I'll be writing more about the album soon, revealing track names, cover artwork and of course the album title. 

Watch this space!