The Phantastes Project

This is by far the most ambitious project I’ve taken on musically. I realize that more clearly 4 weeks into the composition and recording process. I had the idea quite a long time ago, and it’s been stewing in the back of my mind for a while now. I wrote the bridge to the song of the Beech tree shortly after reading the book for the first time, and then decided that I wanted to do a concept album on the book shortly thereafter. Whenever I had the opportunity to do another album, which happens to be now. Phantastes is an absolutely magical book, and I was completely enthralled the first time I read it (and the times thereafter). To me it is one of the most beautiful pieces of literature that I’ve ever read — the imagery, feelings, moods, characters that MacDonald evokes do nothing less than get me high on pure beauty.

It’s certainly a challenge to capture the magic that I get from reading MacDonald in music and poetry, though he makes the task easier by being so poetic in his writing. I’ve encouraged a number of friends to read the book, and oddly enough many have been baffled by the book. Maybe on deeper thought it’s not so puzzling that the book would not appeal to many, because MacDonald I will admit is not the best of writers in terms of style outright. But the underlying current of the river! On the surface it may not be much to look at, but the power with which it flows is to me amazing. One of my hopes is to make the book a tad more accessible by presenting some of the things that I see in it — interpreting MacDonald with a modern sensibility.

Writing an album inspired by a piece of literature has been quite different from my normal practice of introspective philosophizing, and there are parts that are both harder and easier about it. On the one hand, I don’t sit around for several days trying to pin down the theme or topic for a song, on the other hand, I have to try and craft the songs to match the story and fit the music into a semi-predefined structure. On the whole I think it’s a bit easier, as I can always go back to the book for inspiration, which I find helpful. I think the scope of the project has lent an epic sort of tinge to the music, which I find quite pleasing. I’m trying my hand for the first time at a pretty orchestral arrangement for the intro, and I am quite pleased with the results. Starhymn from Somewhere Along the Way was one of the most popular songs (along with Till We Have Faces) and I think the intro here takes a queue from the really big spacious feel of Starhymn. Except on steroids. Which is pretty awesome if you ask me. The choral part for the intro is turning out superbly epic and I think will do fair justice to introduce MacDonald’s story. In general I am loving the sort of orchestral approach to composition, and look forward to delving deeper into it in the future. I’m not sure how much more room I’ll have on this album to work it in, but at least for the ending as well as the intro.

Choosing the styles and genres of music to bring in for different parts of the story has been rather fun as well. I’ve always enjoyed synthesizing different styles of music into mine and this time around I’ve got a pretty great Delta Blues song, a pretty jazzy song (with a lot of cool major 7 voicings on the piano xD), an alternative rock song, and an electronic pop / vocal trance inspired song thus far on the tracklist. I’m trying to pull in a little bit of a middle eastern sound at some point, and I’m shooting for a prog / art rock Tool-inspired rock song for the Ash. There are also three songs with guest singers that I’m in the process of getting worked out. All in all, an experimental mish-mash per my usual.

I’ve also been seriously considering making this album into one track for a while. Not as much because I think my album should be listened to as a whole (though I certainly do think that), but because I feel that people are inclined to listen to music on a song-by-song basis. And to me that destroys ones ability to appreciate a truly great record. Albums in general should be listened to as a whole. You should take the time to sit down and carefully listen to a collection of music that an artist has compiled, because otherwise it just becomes background noise. And don’t get me wrong, I use music as background noise a lot, and I think there’s a place for that, but one should also take the time to sit down and appreciate music as art. And in order to do that you need to sit down and listen through an entire album as an experience. So, not as a statement not so much about my music in particular, but about a lot of artists music in general, I’ve been contemplating making my album into one track so that it’s not as easy to just listen to a few songs here and there. There are, of course, many downsides to this decision, and lately I’ve been leaning more towards going the traditional route of dividing the album into individual songs (which is the way it’s written). But on still torn on the matter. I guess I’ll leave that decision until I finish the album and I have to make a choice in order to get the thing printed. Ah well.

Well, there you have nearly a thousand words of me rambling on. I don’t suspect anyone will ever read this anyways (unless I become famous… but that will never happen because I don’t write popular worthy music), but there you have it.

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