Inspiration is an odd beast. It arrives when all hope is gone, coming in at the last possible moment on its trusty steed and acting like nothing is wrong. I suppose I should learn to trust that Inspiration will make its appearance right on cue, as it always does. But until it arrives, I’m nervous.
Let me give you an example.
In March 2022, I was fishing around for new ideas for my next album. I really wanted to do another ambient album that would be a good follow-up to my 2021 release Lamentations. What I liked about Lamentations was that it had a purpose. In this case, helping people cope with psychological and spiritual damage resulting from COVID. For my next project, I was searching for another good, solid central idea that would give me an emotional framework to tie all the music together.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for concept albums.
Dark Side of the Moon? Yes! Oxygene? Absolutely! Thick as a Brick? More of that! Tales from Topographic Oceans? Bring it on!! I love them all. But when it comes to creating my own concept albums, sometimes finding a unifying idea that is compelling without being pedantic can be tricky.
Ever since finishing Lamentations, I had been unsuccessfully exploring a bunch of concepts. Nothing was sticking. Or rather, I had some ideas that I really wanted to explore, (and probably will explore), but the timing seemed off. That’s one of the biggest problems with creating art that revolves around a central idea. In order for it to be effective, the timing has to be spot on. In some ways, that was the problem with Lamentations. I love the album dearly, but I released it right smack in the middle of the lethal Delta variant. People were—and, I suppose, still are—too shell shocked to want to deal with grief and loss.
I needed to find a concept that was both timely and urgent. I also needed something that would fit into my general aesthetic. That’s when I found out about Olympic National Park’s Terminus Project. The Terminus Project is a 10-week virtual artist residency that Olympic National Park created for a small number of artists to memorialize Park’s glaciers. Each selected artist would be assigned a different glacier in the park to create a work of art that will be featured on the Olympic National Park’s website.
The Terminus Project does not use the word “memorialize” lightly. While Olympic has more glaciers than any other National Park outside of Alaska, all of the park’s glaciers are rapidly disappearing. In 1982, there were 266 glaciers in Olympic National Park. By 2009, there were only 184. It is estimated that all of the glaciers in Olympic National Park will be gone by 2070. Global warming has come home to roost.
That’s when Inspiration finally decided to make an appearance.
The idea that I pitched to Olympic National Park was to write a piece of ambient electronic music that would provide a glacier’s eye view of climate decimation. I would work with Park scientists, using datasets to create a sonic portrait of a glacier’s dying days. Numeric data over a set period of time would be matched to various musical elements—pitch, amplitude, harmony, melody—to allow people to track the glacier’s decline as the piece progressed. In May 2022, the idea was accepted, and I was now an official Terminus Project artist.
When the music is complete, it will be posted on the Olympic National Park’s Terminus Project website along with work by the other selected artists. A map will show the locations of the memorialized glaciers. When you click on my assigned glacier, you will be able to hear the music I’ll be writing, and you can read more about the glacier, the science, and its history. It will be the same with the other artists participating in the Terminus Project. Once the music is written, it will become the centerpiece of a full-length album that I’m planning to release in 2023. The tentative title for the album is Glacier.
Here’s the catch: I have ten short weeks to complete the piece for the Terminus Project. That’s not a lot of time.
Under normal circumstances, I like to introduce a new piece of music only when I feel it is ready. But this time, instead of presenting the music from Glacier in its final polished form, I’m inviting you to follow me down this long and twisting path as the Terminus Project and the Glacier album take shape. I’ll be including music, images, video, and the like as I document the composition process along with my thoughts on the music, the subject matter, and life in general. You’ll be able to read my essays on several platforms, including Medium, Substack, Facebook, and here on my own website. I’ll also be sharing samples of some of the music that will make up the Terminus Project as well as the final Glacier album so that you can watch it as it slowly takes shape.
I’ve never done anything like this before, and I know it’s going to be messy. To be honest, I’m approaching the process of sharing incomplete work with a good amount of trepidation. But I hope that you’ll find it interesting and compelling.
On your marks…get set…
September 4, 2022
I’ve decided that after each of my essays I would give you a peek into everything else that’s going on around me. Why? Because the mundane elements of life nearly always influence the creative process in one way or another.
What I’m reading:
I always have several books I’m reading at any given time. It’s really not the best thing for me to do because I’m slightly dyslectic and it takes me longer to get through books than most people do.
Snuff by Terry Pratchett
I love Pratchett’s Discworld series. This one is a bit different in that it deals with a more serious subject than a lot of his other books. It’s a fascinating and quite touching exploration of racism and fear of the other.
Twentieth Century Harmony by Vincent Persichetti
Yes, yes, I know. Sound the Nerd Alert. But this book relates directly to the Glacier project as I’m working to extend my harmonic language into new realms.
Early Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Edition of the Texts, ca. 1425 to ca. 1600, edited by Thomas H. Ohlgren and Lister M. Matheson
This is for a possible future project I’ve had rolling around in my head for the past year or so. The texts are all in Middle English, but I’ve found that if I read it phonetically, I can usually read and understand it. And if you weren’t sure of my nerd status before, it’s now completely confirmed. I’m not sure I’m actually going to do the project I have in mind, so it’s not worth detailing here.
What I’m Listening to:
I’m on a Jeff Beck binge at the moment. I love his seamless melding of classical harmonies, jazz sensibilities, and gut bucket rock and roll. That and he’s one hell of a guitar player.
I’ve also been listening to Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. They’re great lessons on harmony and structure, but also in creating a sense of a journey as Beethoven moves you through the tones, melodies, harmonies, and structures. Beethoven’s music is in constant motion.
Even though I’m working steadily on the Glacier project, I also have a commission to write music for Parson’s Nose Theater’s podcasts of classic plays. I wrote music for their production of The Madwoman of Chaillot, and now I’m working on music for Moliere’s The Mi$er. In a move that’s the polar opposite of Glacier, I’m giving François Couperin’s Concerts Royaux the Spike Jones treatment.