To say I was excited about this gig would be an understatement. Rhian Sheehan’s album Stories From Elsewhere is one of my favourite records. It helped me zone in as I wrote countless essays throughout university. It sets a calm and playful tone as I teach toddlers every day. It helps me unwind late at night, and makes me happy to be alive on sunny weekends.
Not to mention his other works. As a composer, Sheehan is prolific. I guess you have to be, if that’s what you do for a living. From his early electronica albums, to ambient soundtracks, to vivacious planetarium scores, to brand new album, A Quiet Divide, Sheehan’s works have never failed to inspire.
Arriving at my seat in the Michael Fowler Centre only increased the excitement. First off, it’s a great venue, known for brilliant acoustics, and especially suited to a show like this. Secondly, I’d bought tickets as soon as they came available, so had front row seats. Looking upon the stage sparked my imagination: drums, synths, a row of guitars, a grand piano, timpani drums, percussion rigs and an area for the string section. Such an array of instruments told of infinite possibilities.
As well as being a musical concert, it was also billed as a visual spectacular. The first thing that stood out was a prismatic disco ball hung above the stage. Three sheer mesh screens were draped from the ceiling, making a triangle around disco ball. A range of lights and multiple projectors were at the ready, and the room was slowly filling with atmospheric stage fog. Sheehan has been working with local special effects company Weta on a few projects recently, and in turn they’ve helped him to develop a visual show worthy of his music for these performances.
At 8pm the string section took their places, soon followed by Rhian Sheehan and the rest of the musicians. I recognised a few faces: Sheehan’s wife, Raashi Malik (formally of Rhombus), Steve Bremner from the recent The Adults show at Meow, Jakob guitarist Jeff Boyle, Ed Zuccollo with his signature mini-moog. A veritable star-studded line-up.
Golden lights bathed the stage in misty warmth. Strategically placed projectors shone images onto the mesh screens. The music – ah, such brilliant music – plays. Houston, we’ve hit Nirvana!
Of course it all looks incredible. The imagery varies greatly from song to song – sometimes as basic as geometric shapes, lines, boxes, pyramids… but always interesting. Images of spectral figures dancing about, of bustling cities; scenes of serene nature and of man-made destruction. Vast landscapes befitting of epic soundrack compositions. Ethereal animations alternate with powerful time-lapse footage. My favourite was “Soma Dreams”, which was similar to the video clip, with a flying whale, dancing woman and splashes of vibrant colour towards the end.
Of course the music was everything you’d hope for. Many of these songs have soundtracked my life for the past few years, and hearing them played live is electrifying. I write about mostly instrumental music on this blog, but seldom venture to the ambient or neo-classical end of the spectrum, so seeing a string section in a setting like this is a rare treat. And all the more interesting, with the electronic elements marrying the classical elements. Glitches and samples sat alongside harmonious swells. We heard wildly different versions of piano – with the traditional grand piano, and then the digital counterparts like synth and moog adding their own unique timbres. I appreciated little touches that deviate from the recordings – like Zucollo adding improvised solos on the moog, or the intense bass swells from the pedal-boosted cello – that made songs sparkle more in this setting.
This is evocative music. Songs that sweep you off your feet, grab you by the hand and tug you along on an adventure. Songs that explore the emotions that lie deep within the human psyche. Songs of beauty and joy. Samples of children’s music boxes and trickling streams, and busy traffic interplay with the music, grounding it and adding depth. This is the sound of magic.
The show was split into two sets, with a 20 minute intermission between. The first showed more new material, with fresh unseen visuals. The second set included more old video clips. The selection of music was diverse, with a good mix of old and new, studio songs and soundtrack work, and a few electronic tracks to spice up the sets. All up the show lasted two hours.
Rhain Sheehan is not a performer. He’s a studio musician who creates soundtracks for a living. But somehow he managed to bringing his other-worldly music to life in an unforgettable way, creating a audio-visual spectacle that completely enveloped the Michael Fowler Centre last night. I went in with high expectations, and left completely in awe.
Floating In Space sets sail upon the solar winds with the new release Dreamland.
Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot is a significant picture. Taken by the Voyager 1 from a record distance of 3.7 billion miles, it shows Earth as nothing more than a tiny speck in an endless blanket of space. It puts things into perspective. Earth is such a microscopic part of the greater expanse. I understand man’s obsession with discovering what’s out there, but sometimes we miss the forest for the trees. There’s plenty of wonder and beauty right here on Earth. Perhaps we should cast our eyes more inward?
I often ponder the beauty that is the impossibility of me. Around 14 billion years ago there was nothing. Imagine that. Nothing. How do you even wrap your head around nothingness? We’re virtually incapable of truly understanding such a terrifying thought. Then, inexplicably, there was something. Depending upon your belief structure an event occurred and the Universe was birthed. At least in reductive terms. What exactly triggered this “big bang” has been the question hounding our existence since time memorial. In all honesty, I don’t even think this question is relevant. What’s relevant is that after the first second of this “bang” the size of the universe was expanding at such a rate that even the math can’t fully do it justice.
Fast forward 14 billion years and you have us. From all the chaos and violence this planet has seen from its planetesimal stage up until now you get, impossibly, you and I. This almost feels laughable. After the first second of creation had things been off or different by even the most minuscule amount, none of this would be. You’re a blessing…an absurd, inconceivable blessing.
Credit: Yera Espinosa
The earth heaved and groaned for millennia. At some point in time during all the anarchy of creation events began transpiring that would eventually lead to the birth of a single thread. This thread would whirl, loop and flutter through the winds of time and stop somewhere in Spain. The story of the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind Floating In Space, Ruben Caballero, began 14 billion years ago. He’s another infeasible creation of an event too far back for any of us to really, fully discern. The odds that you even share a space in time with him are astronomically beyond your scope of understanding. But space and time have a different story to tell. Here you are. And here is Floating In Space. You both share the same blink of an eye in time. Let us rejoice at the absurdity that bites at the edges of possibility.
On the 2016 debut “The Edge of the Light”, we were introduced to just a small portion of what Floating In Space was capable of. It was a superbly tranquil journey through Caballero’s experiences and feelings as he viewed his life as if they were but mere sequences in a larger movie. “The Edge of the Light” was to showcase the potential of the band. The sophomore effort, “Dreamland”, is the realization of that potential.
“Dreamland” is a 12 song effort released by proverbial indie powerhouse Deep Elm and co-produced by its owner/founder John Szuch. Floating In Space’s new release expands upon the piano driven cinematic motif. Every song is brilliantly structured and realized. There isn’t a track on the record you won’t find yourself humming along with after just a few listens. “Dreamland” is a purpose driven record. Every note has a purpose. Every angelically choir-like vocal cadence is well measured. I can’t help but feel that Floating In Space set out to create an album that deigns to set fire to every butterfly in our stomach.
What is it that you think we’re all searching for? Even when it appears we have everything in life we could ever possibly dream of having, still we search. We search to fill the voids. Voids as far reaching and depth-less as space. “Dreamland” is about letting go. Stop searching. You have everything you could ever hope to have in a million lifetimes right here in front of you. This is an album about recognizing the beauty you see before you instead of tearing at the remaining threads of your soul to find what it is you think you’re looking for.
Floating In Space is a gifted artist. A band not afraid of baring its soul. You can hear love and inspiration come through in every flourish of the guitar and syncopated beat of the drum. But the real beauty of “Dreamland” is that the band isn’t afraid of letting you in. Of sharing that grey area between dreaming and fearing. Between utter solitude and warm fellowship. We tend to drive distance between ourselves and our fellow man. Distances measured in time. “Dreamland” closes that gap and makes us believe that we’re going to be OK. Floating In Space dares you to dream again, but asks that you appreciate what it is that you already have.
Fans of labelmates Lights&Motion , U137 and Inward Oceans will feel right at home with “Dreamland”. It’s truly uplifting and enlightened songwriting. Floating In Space fits in so beautifully with the Deep Elm musical aesthetic. This is a relationship forged in the fires of the big bang. “Dreamland” is, from the opening notes to the last, filled with so many astoundingly gorgeous frames of optimistic grace that your heart is fit to burst.
If you find yourself adrift searching aimlessly for that next fix to fill whatever void it is in your life that haunts you, an album like “Dreamland” could aid in reminding you what it is that makes all of this so damn worth it. Mathematically speaking you shouldn’t even exist.
Lights & Motion began in the dark recesses and buried corners of insomnia. Without much sun to speak of in the Scandinavian winters of Sweden, Christoffer Franzen took to sequestering himself in a studio to help battle his condition. I’ve suffered from small bouts of insomnolence as well in my life. It is difficult to find a more lonely and helpless feeling. Thankfully, Christoffer was in great company. Through his project, which began in 2012, Lights & Motion has at once been an escape and a release not only for him but for those lucky enough to listen to his music. Franzen has an incredible capacity to write truly inspiriting and somber music. The most incredible part is that it seems to come so easily for him. It may sound like I’m gushing here but with this latest five song EP, entitled Bloom, Lights & Motion is marking its second release and Franzen’s third in just a little over a year. In January of this year Lights & Motion released the spiritual Dear Avalanche while in October he wrote the score for an imaginary movie called Phenomenon under his own name.
I’ve written in length on the influence one’s surroundings have on creativity. Being able to stand at the edges of town with your arms spread out wide and your head tilted back as you gaze at a million points of burning light twinkling in an endless expanse has to play some role in your creative process. The mind behind Lights & Motion admits that the surrounding panorama and dark winters have had a strong influence on everything he’s done…even if he didn’t know it at the time. The seemingly eternal winter brings with it an urge to create. Through this creation it’s as if Lights & Motion set out to will the changing of seasons.
With Bloom, Lights & Motion comes out of hibernation with hopeful eyes ever set on the promise of Spring’s clement touch. It’s about rejuvenation and being born again. It’s about bursting from the sodden, stark loam of winter to blossom anew. I can’t help but think the song Lion wasn’t so named because of the old adage that ‘spring comes in like a lion’. You can hear a sort of revival present in each of the album’s five songs. Light, airy strings swirl around like a soft, vernal breeze accompanied always by glimmering piano or guitar that tiptoe through the songs as if through a puddle after a spring rain. With each lullaby on Bloom you can almost hear the sleepy staccato of rain dreamily pitter-pattering the tin roof of the shed in your backyard. Franzen states that Bloom, like a lot of his music, was written during the darkest months when he’s longing for the changing of seasons. This longing is the catalyst that enables him to write music with a lighter feel, even while the sky outside is a never-ending blanket of grey. Bloom encapsulate perfectly that longing. Or as Franzen puts it ‘a hopeful melancholy’.
My only gripe with this album is that I want more. From the opening piano chord of the first track ‘Overture’ to the final chord of the last track ‘Lion’, Lights & Motion has created something here that truly transcends sensibility. Many of the tracks are full of lilting phrases that get your heart pumping new, enlivened blood, but there are moments when the weather changes. Lights & Motion won’t flip the script on you with the kind of abrupt crescendo we all know and love/hate with instrumental music. Instead, the tonal aura changes. Franzen relates that the piano and string textures ‘sound very blue-ish in color and tone’ on his newest mini album. This blue-ish tone portrays the quiet battle between a ceaseless winter and the ushering in of the new blessedness of promise.
Lights & Motion is nothing if not consistent. Every release is consistently beautiful. Consistently gut-wrenching. Consistently full of melancholic hopefulness. Franzen just gets it. On the micro-level he’s growing as an artist by experimenting with sounds and textures. You have to admire how unfailing his creativity is with release after release. The guy is pumping out music at an alarming pace and there are no signs of any kind of artistic lull. It’s difficult enough to try and be consistently creative with short gaps between albums, but Lights & Motion finds a way to do it with a faithfulness to his artistic conviction that I adore. At this point, my only advice to Lights & Motion is that if the landscapes of Sweden have as much influence over your writing as you claim – never move.”
It’s quickly clear that Gregory Tan usually writes soundtrack music when listening to his latest album, The Sky Threader’s Journey. While 2016’sFar and Away was an ambient/post-rock styled release, The Sky Threader’s Journey sounds more like a video game.
As you could expect from the album title, Tan tries to take the listener on a journey with his music. We watch as soldiers prep for a grand battle; take in the grandeur of the bustling courtyard in King Arthur’s Camelot; feel the air rush past as we fly through the sky, riding on giant eagles. Or at least those are some wild interpretations… To quote Tan: “each piece takes the listener on a thematic adventure of sorts.”
“As a composer, it is just my desire and dream to capture emotions and transform them into music,” Tan writes, “but I would also want for this music to serve a purpose that goes way beyond the celebration of an individual’s creativity.”
Electronic tones on this album give it a dated feel, like a polyphonic ringtone, which probably explains why I imagine computer games when I listen to it. Plus the drums feel tight and rigid, making me guess that they are also programmed. This is offset by more traditional instruments. The blend of orchestral instruments like violins juxtapose against the inorganic computerised tones.
Tan is a prolific musician, a composer by profession. I find it intriguing when people who write soundtrack music decide to compile some of their works for release as an album [examples include Brad Couture, Rhian Sheehan, Christoffer Franzen]. Why choose these particular songs? What message are you sharing? Is there a cohesive theme that sets these tracks apart from the many others you’ve written?
Regardless of his reasonings, Tan is clearly proud of his work. It is tight, intricate and detailed – certainly more fleshed out than his last EP. Simultaneously going classical and modern, Tan has created an epic listen.
We Stood Like Kings are a Brussels-based post-rock quartet who specialise in re-imagining scores for silent films. Their upcoming album, USA 1982 (out 22 September 2017 on Kapitän Platte), was written to accompany American cult movie Koyaanisqatsi, directed by Godfrey Reggio. The film explores the imbalance of nature when mankind takes over. The original film was scored by Phillip Glass, so Judith Hoorans explains why her band decided to write music to fit something that already has a soundtrack.
Hi Judith. How are you?
Hi Joseph. I’m absolutely fine, thank you. Happy to be here!
Tell me about your personal musical journey. How long have you been playing piano and when did you first discover post-rock?
I started playing piano as a child. My parents really wanted their three children to have a musical education, so we didn’t really have a choice. I first learned violin, before figuring out it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I remember being very afraid of my teacher. Then I switched to piano. It’s only later, in my late teenage years , that I became conscious of how much music meant to me and that I could do something worthy with it. It’s about at the same time that I discovered post-rock through a good friend of mine. The first band I really enjoyed was Caspian.
How did We Stood Like Kings come to exist?
I’ve known Mathieu, our drummer, since a very long time. We were both students at the same boarding school in Aalst, a little Flemish town located between Brussels and Ghent. Our supervisor loved music a lot and even provided us with a rehearsal room. We started writing pop songs, playing covers. A few years later, we had lost sight of each other but met again by chance, almost literally bumping into each other at university. That’s when I let him hear some post-rock, and he was totally up for it. We started a new band, and over the years, We Stood Like Kings took shape with Colin on bass and Phil on guitars.
Who is your favourite film director and why?
I don’t really have a favorite film director. I’m not a movie know-it-all, I like to enjoy good movies and I don’t really watch them the way that I like listen to music (which I do in a more professional way, you might say, paying attention to meter changes, tonalities, etc.). The best movies for me are the ones which make you forget all the things you have to take care of.
What process does We Stood Like Kings go through when deciding which films you’d like to cover?
Of course we watch a lot of movies, and at some point, it becomes obvious which one we should choose. I guess we discussed the choice of Koyaanisqatsi for like, 5 minutes. Our second project for Vertov’s A Sixth Part of the World was a bit more tricky, because we knew that the movie was a difficult one and would raise many questions from the audience due to its political nature.
One your website you include a quote from Godfrey Reggio that includes the sentence “Copies are copies of copies”. How well do you think this applies to your current project?
The way I would interpret your question is that in my opinion, nothing is ever really new. We are all different but identical at the same time. Though I would say that we have consciously chosen a musical direction that was different from Philip Glass’ approach. Bands are always inspired by other art forms, be it music or other kinds of art, and there are always many others doing stuff that’s close to what you do. The only way to make it really personal is to put all your soul in it. Trying to create something to really resonates within you. Therefore you have to find what’s yours and not someone else’s and use it as your strength.
You’ve covered Berlin, USSR – two lost empires. And now you’ve chosen the USA. Was that a conscious decision?
Yes definitely. We had the idea of making a kind of trilogy on the subject of fragile empires. BERLIN 1927 is like a snapshot of Berlin right before the outbreak of World War II. USSR 1926 shows a glimpse of the Soviet empire at the height of its power. It was only logical to focus on the USA, the Western lifestyle and how it came to its actual form thanks to the technological evolution of the last decades. How knows how it’s going to end?
How does copyright factor into what you do, seeing as you are playing music to match other artists works?
We certainly have to handle copyrights. The two movies from the 20s are still protected by what you call “screening rights”, which we have to pay for each screening of the movie to the Film Museum who has restored to movie and commercialized it on DVD. For Koyaanisqatsi, we have made an agreement also. Of course it’s never free to use existing movies and one should be really careful about this to avoid bad surprises.
Have you ever received feedback from people who were involved in the films you write soundtracks to? And were you in contact with Phillip Glass at all during this process?
Well, not for our first two albums obviously, because the people who made them are dead now. We have not been in contact with Philip Glass. But we have recently sent our soundtrack to the directing team of Koyaanisqatsi. We are eagerly awaiting their feedback, that’s the least we can say.
Last year was the anniversary for the battle of Somme. I watched a documentary about it which was filmed during the the battle, and a live orchestra played the score in time with the film. Do We Stood Like Kings do something similar?
Yes, it’s what we do. We play live, below the screen, while the movie is playing and we are synchronizing our music with it. Of course there’s just 4 of us and not a whole orchestra!
This work has taken We Stood Like Kings a whole year to write. Talk me through the writing process.
Of course the first step is to choose a movie to work on. That took us quite a long time, as we had to watch tons of silent movies before finally coming across Koyaanisqatsi. But it was love at first sight. Once the choice is made, the next step is to watch it over and over again while trying to decide which overall mood fits in which part. Of course you have to split it up in different parts, and that might be a bit tricky as we have to take into account the fact that the album’s going to be released as an LP (which can’t hold more than around 20 minutes per side).
The musical writing process itself has taken us about a year. It’s a kind a puzzle really. You’ve got ideas and you have to make them match the length of the movie scene you are working on. We can’t just let ourselves be carried away by the music. Some songs were very easy to write, other have taken us months. I think one of the oldest songs we started working on, “Night Owl”, was one of the last songs to be finished. We just tried out dozens of different versions of that one before we felt satisfied.
The album features 11 songs. Had you considered writing a seamless, feature length track instead?
In fact, the album is divided into 11 songs but live, they flow seamlessy into one another. I think it’s much easier to fit in today’s standards to have separate tracks. Movie soundtracks released on CD are also always divided into tracks.
You recently featured one of your songs from the upcoming album on the Open Language Volume II comp that our friends at A Thousand Arms put out. Has this help you reach a new audience?
Yes, we definitely reached new people by being on the compilation. We were also thrilled by the review from Heavy Blog Is Heavy. They seemed to have enjoyed the track a lot.
How are you feeling about the upcoming tour you have planned?
Obviously we are incredibly excited. We just came home from the first 6 shows of the tour. These shows were a kind of test because we’ve added a new light show to our set. Technically, there were a lot of new things to take care of, but it was a success and we’ll carry on that way for the whole tour. We’re super happy to visit a few new countries and cities we’ve never been before, like Ljubljana in Slovenia for instance. We’ve planned several shows in Eastern Europe too, for which we got help from Colossal Bookings. Were looking forward to these as well.
The message of this silent film is implict, rather than overt. Post-rock and instrumental music in general is also often up to the listener’s interpretation. Do you feel confident that your music matches the themes of the film well enough?
Of course, you can’t discuss taste and it’s up to every single person to decide whether our music fits the themes of film. Obviously, we hope that we succeeded to give the movie, which we love so much and has influenced so many directors, a new breath and approach. Our goal is not to try to replace Philip Glass, we simply were so touched by the images that we wanted to express musically the feelings that the movie had stirred in us.
After a show, a woman has written us that she felt our music was more hopeful than the original soundtrack. That it made her believe that our world might still as well be saved. Because if there is no hope, there is no point, right?
You are planning on releasing this album on CD and vinyl, as well as digitally through Kapitän Platte. Do you think the music is best listened to on its own, or with visuals supporting it?
I think we wanted to make music that both would stand on its own and mix up with the screening in a way that wouldn’t be too disturbing for someone wanting to “watch a movie”. For me, the ideal setting for this project is a venue with comfortable seats, a big screen and a nice stage. It’s really meant to be half-concert, half-screening. If people just want to see a movie, they should go to the movies, not the a movie concert. I guess the balance changes in every venue but we definitely don’t hide behind the screen.
We Stood Like Kings are currently touring Europe to promote USA 1982. Head along to www.westoodlikekings.com and click “shows” for more information regarding dates and locations.