My interest in music and science fiction go back my childhood.
We had Paper Tiger’s 1977 book, Space Wars, Worlds and Weapons – every page contained amazing images by the SF&F art greats of the era. The images in this book utterly fascinated me and instantly captured my imagination. My parents also had a framed art print of a planet scene (which I would find out decades later, was Stellar Radiance by British space artist David A. Hardy), which to me was like looking through the frame into another world.
At the same time, my father would be playing albums such as Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygène or Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Compared to the other music I was hearing at the time in the early 1980s, these experimental instrumental albums were more than just music – they were an experience. It really sent my imagination someplace else. Somehow, I made an instant connection with this music and the artwork I was so captivated by – I had no idea at the time, but a lifelong obsession had started.
So it comes as no surprise that, fast-forward to present day, I’m creating my own science fiction artwork and composing instrumental music, often with a science fiction concept behind it.
To me, making music is no different to painting a scene. One uses colours, the other, sounds. The challenge in both cases is to transpose what’s in your mind into the end product, whether it’s a piece of artwork or music.
There has been a long-standing relationship between electronic music and science fiction – a large part of SF evolves around technology, as does electronic music, whether it’s the instruments or recording techniques. The two simply go hand-in-hand. Take the original Doctor Who theme and opening titles for example – you simply can’t find a better example of the fusion of science fiction and electronic music.
It’s difficult to actually point out direct SF influences in my music, as they come from all over, whether it’s the film soundtracks or scenes in films, and of course, books.
Alex’s new album, Timeshift
When making music about space, or any SF concept, the main challenge is how to create a piece of music for something you can’t actually experience – a place you cannot visit, see or even know exists. Especially when the music isn’t even going to have any lyrics! This is where the vision and influence of both science and science fiction come into play. Our space missions are taking increasingly stunning photographs of things like planet surfaces and comets – things we can now see in such vivid detail, giving us the first taste of a real alien landscape. That is one half of the inspiration – the hypothetical worlds and technologies envisioned by science fiction writers, film directors and musicians provide the rest.
The main focus of my music is atmosphere, and creating the right kind of atmosphere. I like to start off with a track title, and work backwards from that. Whatever images the title brings to mind, I’ll think about what kind of sounds I’d associate with it. If it were a film, how would it be shot? What kind of music would accompany it? What sort of beat and tempo? Strings or piano sounds? Clean or distorted? This opens up a lot of questions! When it comes to making music, I’ve only ever really been interested in making instrumental music, as I think it is much more thought provoking and open to interpretation by the listener. I’d certainly hope that if what I’m creating works for me, then like-minded folk will also find it interesting.
In 2012 I was invited to join the newly established Initiative for Interstellar Studies as an honorary musician and artist. The agreement was that I would release a series of albums in association with the initiative that also helped promote their vision. I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect opportunity and ‘home’ for my music.
This of course came with the dread and realisation that other human beings might be subjected to my music. They might even want to buy it. No pressure, then!