Q: What was it like working on the Northern Film Orchestra EP?
GIFTS FROM CROWS: Whilst my original recordings of these pieces were created using samples and electronic instruments, the compositions themselves however were always conceived with orchestral performance in mind. It was just that, with the ongoing covid situation, I didn’t know if it would be possible.
Meeting the NFO was transformational in that sense and, whilst the social distancing was a challenge, just hearing your music played back to you by such wonderful musicians was an incredibly moving experience. I can only liken it to breaking into heaven.
The recording itself took place at Stoller Hall in Manchester which is a stunning acoustic space and was performed by a 20 piece ensemble. With the video we created for ‘As Nature Returns’ we really tried to give people a real sense of what it was like to be there amongst the musicians. The videographer actually moved between them on stage whilst they were playing in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if an audience had been present and has captured what I think is quite a unique perspective.
There are actually 2 versions of the video on our YouTube channel. One of them includes a couple of minutes of documentary footage of the musicians coming into the hall, setting up their instruments and tuning up whilst wearing their masks and maintaining social distance. In a way, I think it will become quite interesting historically as it documents what it was like for musicians trying to work during the global pandemic.
Recording an orchestra is a fundamentally different process than either making electronic music or working with a band. In the studio you can isolate each instrument and have complete control but in a concert hall every microphone captures something of the whole performance and so you are really just blending these different perspectives into what you hope is an authentic representation of the sound.
You also have to bear in mind that the recordings are essentially a live performance and so the secret is in the preparation. I loved the discipline of it actually and found the process strangely addictive. So much so that there are plans for 2 further sessions during the year.
Q: Tell us the inspiration behind “Holding a Thought Forever”?
GIFTS FROM CROWS: There were a number of pivotal moments that contributed to the creation of this album. The story really starts with an ancient upright piano, 140 years old, passed down from generation to generation. It stood in the front room when we were children and I would sit on the music stool slowly caressing the keys whilst my foot permanently pressed the sustain pedal, letting its rich sound envelop me – my own private cathedral.
A few years ago the same piano found its way back to me and, although I hadn’t played for years, the muscle memory of scales and chords almost instantly re-awakened and the magical patterns of self-made music were once again filling the rooms of our house.
The story however also includes a bereavement. Three years ago now, my younger brother Damian sadly passed away and the experience of losing someone so close and before their time affected me in ways that I struggled to come to terms with.
Grieving is a process that everybody goes through in their own way. I would describe it as a long journey with many roads and music is the road I took to find some kind of peace, to restore a sense of balance.
Composing has always been a cathartic process for me, a way to resolve internal conflict, to find meaning to unanswerable questions. And so the habit of composing music returned with a fierce urgency and, over the next six months, I wrote many pieces, 8 of which would eventually become the album, ‘Holding a Thought Forever’.
The final piece to the jigsaw was the coronavirus pandemic. When the world went into lockdown in the spring of 2020, I found myself with a lot more time on my hands and that really gave me the impetus to actually record the music that I had written.
Q: What was your favorite moment behind the creation of “Holding a Thought Forever”?
GIFTS FROM CROWS: It is really hard trying to single out any 1 moment as the 12 months since launching Gifts From Crowsreach t have been one revelation after another. I suppose the eureka moment was discovering just how far the technology had come since I last experimented with digital recording. The quality of sample libraries has come on in leaps and bounds and you can literally create film soundtrack quality work without even leaving the house.
The other huge difference of course is social media and the streaming platforms that enable independent musicians to reach their audience wherever they are in the world without being beholden to radio stations, record companies or record shops stocking their CDs etc. There is a genuine revolution going on here. I call it the disaggregation of distribution and I am absolutely loving the journey of exploring how I can get Gifts From Crows music out into the world and to the ears of people who really appreciate it.
Q: How would you describe the transition from the music you first put out as an artist versus the music you put out now?
GIFTS FROM CROWS: In the past I have often written guitar-based songs and I still love the confessional narrative of that approach. This time though I was exploring some bigger themes such as bereavement, the importance of finding our true selves whilst re-evaluating our individual and collective relationship with nature and, for this, the abstraction and grandeur of neoclassical music was much more fitting. It gave me a wider palette to work with and express what I was feeling.
Q: What projects are currently in the works?
GIFTS FROM CROWS: I am currently collaborating with artist and photographer Helena Whitten and I have composed a whole album of music inspired by her wonderful images.
Helena uses the technique of slow-shutter exposure to capture the beauty and fragility of life in unexpected places. In her own words, “When the shutter on a camera is left open, there is the opportunity to capture a substantial segment of time. The action is then trapped in a two-dimensional image and can be viewed in its entirety, in an instant. The shutter rises like the curtain on a stage. A drama is played out and then the curtain falls. In that time, I see an opportunity to tell a story.”
All the compositional work is complete and I am just about to start the recording sessions. It is quite a departure from the first album, mixing a lot of electronics and samples along with real orchestral instruments. I am very excited about the music that is coming out and can’t wait to start releasing it.
I am also preparing 3 more pieces to perform with the Northern Film Orchestra so there will be plenty of new Gifts From Crows music out in the latter half of the year.
Q: What would you like to tell your supporters out there?
GIFTS FROM CROWS: I think you have covered a lot of ground with the questions above. If people have listened to the music but not yet seen the videos then I would urge them to head over to our YouTube channel. ‘Holding a Thought Forever’ is also a video album and we made a beautiful film to accompany each piece.
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Check out the music video for ‘As Nature Returns’ down below
Interviewed by Stephanie Pankewich
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