Tag Archives: hannu rajaniemi

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.)

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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.