New space music CD: The Way to the Stars
In November 2017 I released my new space music album The Way to the Stars. It has an “analog synth meets orchestral choir sci-fi soundtrack” feel. Some say it ventures into psybient-dark ambient. Easiest thing is to listen for yourself. All the album tracks are on YouTube. Below are the tracks and a short description of each one.
One of more song-like and up-tempo tracks on the album with with drums, bass, deep solo vocals, choir and theremin-style lead. It’s a homage to all the great 1950s space exploration movies. They were all about being bold and taking risks, so this song attempts to capture that energy and confidence. I love sci-fi radio chatter, so it gets a good run at the start and end. The chatter is an amalgam of several different early movies which have dropped into the public domain.
The Planet Hunters
The vocal line says ‘we are the planet hunters’. This whole field has a fascinating history and is important also in the history of our species: since the early 1990s we’ve gone from mere guesses at the probabilities of exo-planets to a catalog of more than 3,000. In the track I’ve tried to evoke the idea of intersecting rhythms being orbits and calculations, as well as periodic discoveries and waiting while data crunches. In saying that I’m reminded of wine reviewers discussing (undetectable) “hints of vanilla and truffles”, but it’s there for me. This track also has one of my favorite endings.
Ode to Yuri Gagarin
I imagined a somewhat mournful slavic church choir singing a requiem for Yuri Gagarin with an old radio transmitter set fizzing in the background replaying his reports from space. I discovered it’s surprisingly difficult to find good audio of the early Soviet space program – if anyone has a good source please let me know. The bass sound here is a modified piano while the choir was played in live then edited over weeks note by note to get the right timing and feel. Fun fact: very early Soviet launches didn’t use countdowns, so you just get a bit of chatter and then when everyone agrees they’re ready, launch!
Main B-bus Undervolt
I didn’t want to call this song ‘Apollo 13’, but that’s what it is: all the radio samples are actual mission control and astronaut audio. It’s been edited and cleaned up by me but the chronological order is correct, taken from the first couple of hours of the crisis. ‘Main B-bus undervolt’ is the reported initial problem. At the start the talk is split into left and right channels to get a better real-time feel. Most of the audio is from the controllers’ loop, not the direct loop to the astronauts. The dissonances in the metallic bell-like theme are deliberate to add to the tension, and there are lots of interesting little effects that come out well with good headphones. There’s also a very slow breath-like undercurrent. For a great read on the early space program and how NASA was able to react so brilliantly to the crisis I heartily recommend “Failure Is Not An Option” by Gene Kranz.
The Long Sleep
A song about suspended animation. There’s a somewhat sinister implication in the song that after an initial fanfare and launch the sleepers eventually become part of some deeper linked dreamland world and could choose to cross over and never be awakened. I used overlapping choir lines and a dreamy arpeggio to set the mood. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Dark Star” then think of Commander Powell being consulted while in the cryo compartment (but without the comedy aspects!). The wind effects may seem odd for suspended animation theme but I thought it helped convey the ideas of isolation and cold.
If you’re looking for the ‘pop song’ on the album, this is it. All the audio quotes are of course from Elon Musk. I happily declare myself a huge SpaceX fan: what other company has such an incredible corporate vision? The stated aim is to create a self-sustaining city on Mars to help ensure the future of humanity. It doesn’t get bigger or better than that. No wonder SpaceX has re-energized interest in space. For me the importance of SpaceX and the greater space program is summed up in one of Elon Musk’s quotes in the song: “There’s a fundamental difference if you look into the future between a humanity, a space-faring civilization, that is out there exploring the stars on multiple planets; compared with one where we are forever confined to Earth until some eventual extinction event.”
A 1950s nostalgia track. I try to evoke the paranoia and confusion of the abductee inside the alien ship as well as the pressure from authorities to label him as mad. If it’s the 1950s then you’ve just got to have a theremin sound – which I love anyway (I’m trying to learn to play a theremini but it’s tricky!). The gurglings and squishy alien noises are all high-resonance, low octave effects from the excellent little TAL101 vst synth. I used to play the hardware version years ago. In case you can’t make out the words in the middle he says: “When I regained consciousness I was on a table. Next thing I knew they were coming at me. People, their eyes … those horrible eyes. What is this place? Who are you? What are you doing to me?”
In the early 20th century most popular songs would have a 50:50 split – music in the first half then all the lyrics in the second half. This is the form here, although in this case the lyrics are the words of a funeral service, heavily modified from the original. Add some very low orchestral brass, solo bass voice and some careful timing to amplify the mood. Is it wrong for a composer to have a favorite track? For me this is it. It’s not really sad or ominous for me, more contemplative and melancholy.
A Dream of Proxima-B
A beautiful and delicate dream of the far future on another planet. The arpeggio-like high sound is designed to be somewhat hypnotic yet not entirely predictable in length or pattern. This track went through so many versions! Ones with bass sequences, an entirely different middle section, and completely different pads and leads. Left it to cook for many months before I found the exact mood I wanted. A great track to relax to and contemplate the stars. I especially like the ending on this one. And the far-future hope of colonizing distant systems is also the right place to end the album.
Years ago I made an audio slideshow of Hubble images and wrote a “space music” track to go with it. YouTube didn’t exist back then, but the show got loads of hits and I received many requests for the music. Shamefully it took me a long time to release an album with the track on it. An extended version of the music is below, called “The Good Earth”. You can sometimes hear a few tracks on the Space Dreams channel, a station I heartily recommend. “Worlds Beyond Number” was released in 2007.
I’m a composer and audio tinkerer. As a kid I used to mistreat the family piano and play with shortwave radio; as a youth I played ‘synth punk’ music on the live circuit; now I write semi-ambient ‘space music’ and do sound design. Have a browse around, send me an email, download some free stuff. Some of my music is on YouTube, one track was used in a zombie movie 🙂