May 13, 2017

Using music as a world-building tool

My novel's soundtrack orbits around two simple ideas :
- creating soundscapes allows me to travel through my imaginary world, like an explorer.
- rendering the important scenes into musical themes allows me to strengthen the concepts that are behind the story, and to appropriate the emotional and cognitive background of my characters.


I often use music to explore places that challenge my envisioning capacity.
The idea is to get another perception of the said places, through the feelings they inspire to the characters.
"Esmelin" is a pure world-building track. It matches the scene where the heroes enter a narrow pass in the massif of Esmelin, then climb the "impossible stairs" that the almighty Alassirs carved in the rock when they waged war on Angkur in the olden days.
In my novel, the forces of nature are omnipresent. The characters regard their environment as alive, and "spirited". Esmelin has not forgotten the war, and has not forgiven the wounds that were inflicted on her. Therefore, she is hostile to intruders, and demonstrates her anger by rumbling and trembling.
Wrathful rocks, awe-inspiring marks left by the Demiurges, and the unwavering determination of the heroes : blending all that into a soundscape enabled me to see the big picture, then to render it with words.

The song is built upon two musical themes :
- Esmelin, which depicts the broad massif of sandstone rocks, and then the awe-inspiring stairs, as seen through the eyes of the young Glenen.
- Lubnis (to evoke the Alassirs), which enters at 2:38.
Then the two themes merge, and the first part of Esmelin comes back at the end of the song.

Scenes (and associated concepts)

"The Garkhor" is a good example of how I approach a specific scene, while including background knowledge, history, cosmology...

In the olden days, Angkur disrupted the balance that the Anaveth had created, and the world was changed. New forms of life appeared, some fragile, some robust and terryfying. That was the time when Undo, "the Dark Light", was born. Angkur made his Veil out of it, so as to cover the world with Darkness.
Lubnis managed to thrust back the Veil in the depths of the world, but the Dark Light endured, sometimes appearing under other guises.
Its most redoubtable manifestations are the Undoveth, dreadful servants of Angkur, that arise out of nowhere at the behest of their master, and that only the Pahiran, heirs to the Demiurges, can defeat.
The day is dawning when Sindeahn, Asendehl and Garahn halt, at the end of a senseless run in the wild. A gust of wind shakes the big oak near them, and suddenly, he is there : the Garkhor, colossus of shadow, coming out of the void to kill them. The three companions have no choice but fight.
Sindeahn of Aand has spent the past twenty years manipulating the ancient forces to come up with devastating weapons. He lures the Garkhor away from his friends, and smashes it to pieces with a single sling-bullet.

All this is rendered into distinctive themes :

Intro : Dark Light (In this part, it's more about sound than about melodies.)
1:32 => 2:09 : Anaveth
3:05 => 3:41 : Pahiran
4:00 : Dark Light + Sindeahn's Artifices

Cultural elements

I love exploring my civilizations through music. Composing "Funeral" allowed me to look deeper into the Alaendirs' mortuary rites. 

In the beginning of my novel, the House of Ganmor holds the funeral of two members of their elite corpse, who have been killed in an attack at the frontier.
The Alaendir do not die of natural causes, therefore this kind of event seldom happens. It is the first time that Nohindel (Caeniehl's fourteen years old son) is confronted with death.

During the War, cremation was mandatory in the Five Houses, but now that peace reigns again, only the Houses of Aand and Surien carry on with incineration. The House of Ganmor allows people to choose the rites that will be held when they die.
One of the dead has opted for a burial in the forest. At the end of the ceremony, three achenes are planted in the earth, above his body.
The other one has chosen to be exposed to the elements. His body is taken on the heights, for nature to decide what she will do with it.
The day after the funeral, Caeniehl comforts his son. He explains him that death is ineluctable, even for the Alaendirs, and that the dead have rejoined Vaeros. As for their bodies, it is their last gift to the Earth, that has sheltered and cherished them while they were alive.

The theme I have used in this song is the lament that the mourners sing to say farewell to their dead. Basically, it says : "Goodbye, children of Armon. Rise towards Vaeros, in the Great Forest, rise towards the Light, in the infinite skies."

May 6, 2017

The Twelve Pahiran Part I & II

By the end of 2014, I undertook to write a fantasy novel taking place in the secondary world that had been growing inside my head for nearly half of my life.
Connecting my music to the novel felt like a natural move, so after writing the first draft of the story, I started to record songs to match the important scenes, concepts, places...

I regard music as a powerful world-building tool. It allows me to delve deeper into my world, to visualize it more clearly, and to put myself in my characters' shoes, so as to understand what they feel.
When I want to explore a place, I plug my instruments, and let the vision (and any associated knowledge) arise from the soundscape. Then, I describe what I saw with words. This approach also makes it easier to identify ill-defined concepts (and thus, to enrich them), and to structure the story. Besides, I develop my Con-Lang (Vaerin) almost only through singing.

This soundtrack is by far the biggest musical project I've ever had. I've never put so much time and effort into anything (apart from the novel itself). So far, it has required two years of intensive work, and I have yet to bring Part III to completion.

Time and effort aside, I've put a lot of myself into these pieces. At some point, I regarded them as a personal project, that nobody but me would understand or appreciate, and I didn't even consider sharing them.
I'm very grateful to my listeners on Thesixtyone for making me change my mind, and for supporting me while I was working on Part I and II. Since this soundtrack and my world-building endeavours are closely related, forging ahead with the music also helped a lot with the writing process.

May 5, 2017

In The Eye Of The Cyclone

I started this project by the end of 2016, after Mojo passed away.

In the course of years, making music with him had become as important as working on my other projects, if not more. He was the reason why I ventured into unknown musical territories, and made it easy to renew my songwriting approach. When he left, I found myself deeply destabilized, just like anyone who's lost an influential collaborator.

Besides, Mojo was not the only beloved one who departed last year. Repeated bereavements made for trying times in 2016 and early 2017, and burying myself in my novel and its soundtrack didn't help in regaining a balance. Therefore, I undertook to record pieces that would allow me to create and maintain an inner peace. In a way, this project could be regarded as dynamic meditation.

Although the album is available on Bandcamp, it's still a work in progress. I'll add tracks to it as we go along, while keeping working on my bigger project, The Twelve Pahiran.

There is a lovely story behind the song Lucky Star : I wrote it for one of my listeners on, va7sdf, after he adopted a star for me.

Aandrala (The Keys)

Aandrala was my first attempt at rendering in sounds a story taking place in the seconday world that had been growing inside my head for nearly half of my life.
At first, I released it with accompanying texts, but removed those ones from the download when I started working on my fantasy novel - because I couldn't make this story fit in the larger plot I developped in the novel.
It was about extraodinary crafters who had the ability to breathe powerful magic into the objects they created. They made mighty weapons (the Keys) to fight their enemy, and eventually paid a high price for it, despite their uncommon wisdom.

After The Battle

I recorded this album during FAWM 2013, while undergoing a severe episode of hyper-acute hearing.
A frustrating session, which basically consisted in finding ways to bypass the obstacles : constant ear fatigue, loss of bearings, physical pain... I couldn't tell if something was out of tune, too loud or not enough, many sounds hurt my ears...
Fortunately, I was also FAWMing with Mojo, and the songs we put together that year marked a turning point in my musical approach. Without the little fellow, I'm not sure I would have persisted.

Interstellar Travel

I recorded this album during FAWM 2012, improvising while viewing slideshows of Hubble Telescope pictures.
I experimented a lot with sounds, to render the feelings aroused by each theme, and focused on textures and ambiences rather than on structures.
My own favourite in this one is the eponymous track, Interstellar Travel, in which I built a spaceship with sounds.

Tritte Soundtrack

Songs written for, or inspired by Chicken Chris's short film.

"While blending elements that belong to theater and music video, TRITTE tells the story of two Conquistronauts looking for glory, and of a Valet who strives to warn an indifferent King against the impending threat.
A spellbinding journey into strangeness."