EARTH TALES Q&A
Drin talks about his Earth Tales album, the YouTube videos for some of the album’s tracks, and his early musical influences…
Q: How did the Earth Tales project come about?
A: I’ve been creating musical stuff since my teen years, but some of the most recent ideas have been inspired by natural history, while also gravitating towards ambient and folktronica music styles. The album evolved out of all of that stuff. I had around 50 pieces, and that number eventually dwindled down to a concept album’s worth of 24. I wanted to keep each piece short and concise, and the gaps between them as short as possible, so that playing them in succession would give the impression of being on a journey, looking out at each of the different musical terrains as you pass them by.
Q: How was the first track Earth composed and what is the purpose of your YouTube video of it?
A: I tried a musical experiment with modes back in 2009, and played a bunch of improvisations on a physically modelled guitar into Logic Pro on my computer. Each improvisation was based upon a different scale or mode, and this particular one was using the Aeolian mode. It was the only improvisation I really liked, and it seemed to possess a sort of natural purity that reminded me of the Earth and nature. I realised it could easily be tweaked into a complete piece – so it was an improvisation edited to become a composition! The YouTube video was an attempt to use the tune to visually celebrate some of the beautiful things about our planet, in contrast to some of the less pleasant things highlighted in the Earth Has Changed video.
Q: So Earth Has Changed is a reworking of the Earth track?
A: Yes, it’s an alternate version of Earth with a more hesitant intro section, and some notes of the scale in the second section are altered to give it a very different flavour. It implies that Earth is still there, but has changed in some way: for example, the planet changed after an asteroid hit the Gulf of Mexico 66 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs; and another example would be how it is currently changing because of contamination by pollution, and global warming. The movie for this piece is a contrast to the serene Earth video in that it illustrates some of the ugly ways in which we have contaminated our planet. I see it as a reminder that we must take care of this wonderful place we call home.
Q: So you have no doubts that climate change and global warming is happening?
A: No doubts at all. Most of the top scientists have been in agreement about this for years. It’s obvious that the Earth is a finite place, despite its size, and if we keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and polluting the rivers and seas, it will change – and not for the better. The current crop of politicians don’t seem to be taking much heed of what the scientists are saying, so I think it’s great that a lot of people are now voicing their opinions on the issue louder than ever before. Something has to be done about this, and sooner rather than later. I have a low carbon footprint compared to many, but I know I can still do better!
Q: And is the track Extinct also about humankind’s impact on the earth?
A: Yes. Although we all know that many creatures and plants became extinct long before we arrived on the scene, the video focuses on more recent extinctions – such as the Tasmanian tiger and the passenger pigeon – that came about as a result of human activity. I didn’t want to go back further in time and include the likes of dinosaurs or trilobites, as they disappeared millions of years before our ape ancestors were around.
BIRDSONG, DRUMS AND ELECTRONICA
Q: Some of the tunes feature real birdsong. Have you always been interested in incorporating natural sounds into your music?
A: Not always. I got a MiniDisc recorder back in 2001 and went around recording a whole bunch of natural (and unnatural) sounds. I got a couple of dawn choruses, seagulls by the sea at Weston-super-Mare, a little stream in a remote place called Dole Wood in Somerset, and other things. I’m also very grateful that the author and field recordist Geoff Sample gave me permission to use some of his excellent birdsong recordings for the tracks Dawn and Meadow Moment. I liked the idea of synchronising some of the birdsong to a piece’s tempo to integrate it further into the music. There’s also a nice SampleTank piano preset on Dawn. The wind sound was modulated white noise created on a little old Jen SX1000 synthesizer. I used a cool app called Aura, made by a company called 3Z Software, to blend in some additional stream sounds.
Q: Into The Jungle is the most dynamic piece on the album. But it’s also unusual in that it is based around drum sounds, in contrast to the other tracks, which feature little or no drums. What instruments were used to create it?
A: For this piece I used a dozen instances of Stylus RMX, mixed in with a bit of Stormdrum 3, u-he’s Zebra 2 synth, and some jungle effects. It’s a mixture of African, Afro-Cuban and Brazilian rhythms, and it’s split into two sections: the first part is dominated by the Stylus RMX loops; and the second section is based around a 9/16 rhythm played by the Zebra 2 synth – it doesn’t sound like it, but that sound is a synth, not a drum!
Q: Thunder and Ionisation sound a lot more electronic than all of the other tunes. What inspired these tracks?
A: Thunder and Ionisation both started out as synth sequences I was playing around with, but they instantly became album tracks after I added the violin/FM8 lead combination that I’d been using throughout the project. They’re definitely more “electronica” than all the other pieces, but they seem to fit in. Thunder alternates between 7/8 and 15/8 sequences. Ionisation has a bunch of different time signatures going at the same time. The female voice in the last section of Ionisation is Shevannai by Best Service – I really love that plug-in!
CONTEMPLATION AND LOSS
Q: A few of the Earth Tales tracks feature simultaneous melodies that seem to go in opposite directions. What’s going on?
A: Some call it “mirroring”, while others refer to it as “negative harmony”, but it’s essentially the same thing: if you invert the scalar step sequence of a tune you can create a “mirror image” that has the same rhythmic structure but a completely different character. Ascending melodies end up becoming descending melodies, and vice versa. I won’t go into all the details here, but the pieces Lost and Unexplored feature both “regular” and “mirrored” melodies played at the same time. I like that effect because it can produce a really deep, contemplative vibe if it’s done right – if done wrong, you end up with a dissonant mess! The tune Extinct adds a twist by introducing a staggered two-way mirrored melody. Another piece called The Brook is just a simple mirrored version of a traditional folk tune called Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair. I prefer it to the original tune because it sounds brighter and sweeter. I’ve been playing around with mirror music since 1996, when a creative musician called Luigi Di Martino first introduced me to it. None of the other tunes on Earth Tales feature any mirroring: they were all played the right way around!
Q: Echoes Of The Departed is perhaps the most conventional track on the album?
A: In a way Echoes is conventional, although its structure is a bit odd. It has an ABCAB structure and goes from a 5/4 intro section via an ethereal 4/4 bridge to a 3/4 folk tune, and then back to 5/4 and 4/4 again. It’s the most personal track on the album as it was composed after my mother passed away. She was from Ireland, hence the tune’s Celtic flavour. The folk tune in the middle was something I came up years earlier while playing around with a Uilleann pipe sound – somehow it just seemed to slot in with the other ideas I had for the piece, which sways from sadness to happiness and back to sadness again. My father also passed away after the piece was composed, so I also dedicated it to him, and everyone else I met or was related to who has since left this Earth. I added Jaco Pastorius and Frank Zappa to the list of musicians as I’ve always been profoundly influenced by their music, even though I never met them!
Q: Heat Haze and Twilight are two very atmospheric, ambient sounding tracks. How did these two pieces come about?
A: I’ve been inspired by ambient albums like Eno’s Ambient 1 (Music For Airports) and Harold Budd’s Lovely Thunder for decades, and have often poked around with ideas based on that kind of vibe. Many of my earlier attempts didn’t really work out, but I really like the shimmering in Heat Haze and the calmness of Twilight – they’re two of my favourite tracks on the Earth Tales album, and I intend to do some longer ambient pieces in the near future.
INFLUENCES AND LIKES
Q: Who were your earliest musical influences?
A: I was influenced by everything in my parent’s record collection: from Irish reels and jigs to Jamaican calypsos; and from classical symphonies to folk music. I got into pop during my early teens, and then switched over to rock, prog and jazz-rock. As a teenager I was lucky to have close friends who were creative and knowledgeable, and they introduced me to all sorts of stuff – from freeform jazz and experimental music to composers like Messiaen, Hindemith, Mahler and Shostakovich.
Q: How did you get into electronic music?
A: I first heard synths in a couple of pop singles: Stevie Wonder’s Living In The City and the Bee Gees’ Jive Talkin’. I didn’t know what instruments they were as I didn’t know what a synthesizer was at the time, but I just loved that sound. Then I heard Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon and Switched-On Bach by Wendy Carlos, Synergy’s Electronic Realizations For Rock Orchestra, John Carpenter’s film music, and stuff by Jarre, Vangelis, Klaus Schulze and Kraftwerk. I was hooked!
Q: What have you been listening to recently?
A: There aren’t many new bands I’m into these days, although I really like Knower: they combine electro-pop with virtuosity in unique and inventive ways! I also like MoeTar: they have some interesting rhythmic displacement stuff going on, and they’ve got a great singer. I also like Wintergatan, from Sweden, who combine traditional, electronic and mechanical instruments in ways I haven’t heard before. Classicalwise, I’ve been listening to piano music by Glinka, Martinu and Goossens, and I recently re-acquainted myself with Elliott Carter’s Variations For Orchestra, which I think is a fabulous piece!
© March 2020 Drin. If anyone would like to republish any part of the above Q&A anywhere else online, please get in touch via the Contact page.