The Anatomy of an Album

Any music is really a network of ideas. At the heart of Launchland is the deep influence of the music of Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis. Also, many songs have been directly influenced by film music and classical music.

“Row Row Row Your Boat” references a scene from (yes, I know the movie sucked but anyway) Star Trek V where Kirk and Bones are singing the song and Spock is wondering about the ritual. The song itself goes way back to stuff like Brian Eno’s Apollo and Jarre’s Waiting for Cousteau. It’s also a hat tip to Joel Goldsmith’s outstanding Stargate Universe score, which I loved to death. (It’s funny but I just realized that you can hear tones from that score on “Tau Ceti Center” too, which was directly influenced by Goldsmith’s dad Jerry.)

“Aldebaran” began with playing with a Top Gun-ish sound on the Yamaha SY99, which led to this amalgam of the “Top Gun Anthem” by Harold Faltermeyer, “Main Sequence” from Albedo 0.39 by Vangelis and “Chariots of Fire” by the same.

“Quantum Thief” – a nod to my countryman Hannu Rajaniemi’s mind-blowing novel by the same name – steals or borrows (you name it) from the second movement of Beethoven’s seventh symphony and from Clint Mansell’s Moon soundtrack. The flute melody is a nod to Ennio Morricone’s mindblowing and chilling soundtrack for The Secret of Sahara. (Which I last saw as a little kid and loved back then.)

“Stella Maris,” another name for the VIrgin Mary, is of course an obvious nod to Charles Gounod’s “Ave Maria,” which is in turn based on Bach’s “Prelude no. 1” from the Well-tempered Clavier. Another Bach song is also a direct influence, namely the “Air on a G string” (which is actually an adaptation by August Wilhelmj, but anyway). The bassline turnover between verses was actually a carbon copy of the Air at first (going G, A, B, C, D, F, E, D), but then I changed it to a straight G major scale since… I don’t know. To make it slightly different after all. Why do you make these choices in music anyway?

To complete the circle, “Approaching Delta Pavonis” nicks a synth comp from Jarre’s “Magnetic Fields I” (an amazingly majestic song), one that the impOscar’s default preset just cries out to play with a little added portamento. (And yes, while tweaking is amazing, there is nothing wrong with playing with default presets when they fit. Ask Vangelis.)

I know a musician should not write analyses like this about their music. The music should speak for itself. But really: this is almost as much fun as writing the actual music. And anyway, there is so much left to discover in the songs even with this anatomical study that I think I haven’t spoiled all the fun.

To wrap up, Igor Stravinsky once said, talent borrows, genius steals. The rest of us, we just make music we love to listen to.

(And yes, my musician friends always told me I think too much. So there.)

Music from the Future of the Past: How a 15-Year-Old Melody Became the Key to Launchland

The main melody for the track “Tau Ceti Center” is something I wrote around fifteen years ago. For some reason I could never quite grasp how to get this theme sorted out, though. I think I have tried in one form or another to make a publishable song from this theme from at least the late 1990’s. I guess I had already given up on it, when all of a sudden early last year, it just clicked.

Playing with an impOscar, I stumbled upon the dual arpeggiator lines that carry the song along, with the theme played on a Mellotron woodwind. The secondary theme came soon after, and with that the orchestration also clicked into place. The rhythm track, though, was harder. Bear McCreary’s soundtracks for Battlestar Galactica and Caprica have been a huge influence for me in the past few years. Drawing from that inspiration, the first version of the song had a very ethnically influenced rhythm track (something like “The Wild”, but wilder). The song was too hectic, though.

I remember listening to a concert by Jerry Goldsmith (of Star Trek fame) in Oulu in mid-90’s. I had paid attention to how Goldsmith often used a drum kit with the orchestra only to play out a straight beat comp. I tried out this basic rhythm, and things clicked into place: at this point, the rest of the music practically wrote itself.

After 15 years and I don’t know how many versions, it certainly felt weird to have this song sorted out. It still does.

Launchland: Music for the Science Fiction Imagination

This album is about books. Books and movies, really, but mostly about books. Books are a world I live in, and out of all the worlds of books, the world of science fiction has stood paragon for me ever since I was twelve years old or so.

I must confess: I have not written the songs to the books they refer to. Rather, I have sought in the endless worlds hidden in my bookshelf for those moods and emotions that best fit the music in my mind. So it’s not like these songs were created as soundtracks for these books. But rather, they have come to be out of the same endless depths of imagination as the books and stories they are named after.

One song reminds me of the oceanic vistas in Léo’s amazing graphic novel, and is dubbed after it: Aldebaran. Another one was written when I was starting to read Hannu Rajaniemi’s outstanding Quantum Thief. It always propels my mind to the plaza in Mars where time beggars try desperately to extend their lives for one more moment of ordinary life. (Insofar as life on a futuristic transhumanist Mars can be called ordinary to begin with.)

Perhaps most significantly for this particular album, two of the songs are linked intricately to two novels by Alastair Reynolds. House of Suns may simply be the best science fiction novel I have ever read. Its outrageous scale and courage left me dumbstruck turning page after page, and the story still has not left me, some two years after reading it. The bizarre galaxy-spanning love story of Campion and Purslane is in many ways completely unique – quite a feat for a fictitious book in the 21st century. The second song, the album finale “Approaching Delta Pavonis,” links to a progression of events in Reynolds’ debut, Revelation Space. When the lighthugger Nostalgia for Infinity approaches the star Delta Pavonis, things are only beginning to happen. And a beginning, I believe, is as good a place to end as any.

At the end of the day, this music is about imagination. The worlds where my mind has wandered have left their mark, and that mark is stamped on these songs. I hope that these songs go some way to propel you too to new worlds beyond anyone else’s imagination – your own private worlds, with a shared genesis in these stories.

I hope this album gives you the odd chance to launch at the stars – and land at worlds never before seen by anybody else.

You can buy the album at iTunes or Amazon. You can also download it free of charge here.

La Mantrisse, créature fabuleuse et étrange

There are strange things under the stars.

There are bigger things, stranger things, things that simply escape understanding that wait to be discovered. Yet what strangeness is such strangeness that we can already imagine? And what strangeness could we ever hope to experience that we could not imagine?

Songsworth: Aldebaran

Tau Ceti Center Kalle K. remix

This is a remix of “Tau Ceti Center” by the Finnish composer and keyboard player Kalle Kovisto. The mix moves in the moods of ’80’s alt pop and Trentemøller with a dash of early Chemical Brothers.

Check out also the original track.

The Universe is a Many-splendored Place

We set out to seek one thing and find another.

Given that the colonists had been here for more than half a century, it was striking how much they had managed to live without. There were no large structures in orbit; no evidence of local spaceflight within the system. Only a few comsats girdled the planet, and given the lack of large-scale industrialisation on the surface, it was doubtful whether they could be repaired or replaced if any were damaged. It would be a simple matter to disable or confuse those that remained, if that fitted in with the as yet unformulated plan. (Alastair Reynolds 2000.)

Songsworth: Approaching Delta Pavonis