Behind the Music – La famille du solénoïde

Whatever daily concerns dominate our minds at the dawn of the present century, the ongoing discovery of extra-solar planetary systems defines our moment in history. And our own Solar System, rather than shrink in importance as one among many, proves the template for comprehending a plethora of other worlds. Even as the planets reveal themselves to scientific investigation, and repeat themselves across the universe, they retain the emotional weight of their long influence on our lives, and all that they have ever signified in Earth’s skies. Gods of old, and demons, too, they were once— they still are— the sources of an inspiring light, the wanderers of night, the far horizon of the landscape of home.” Sobel, Dava (2006-10-31). The Planets.

TFOS Cover - Video Cover

Behind the Music – The Story of La famille du solénoïde

I originally started drafting up this as a post I was going to share amongst the various music groups I’m a member of on Facebook.  I knew it would be a lengthy one, but only after a couple of minutes did I realize this was going to be WAY too long for a Facebook post, so I decided to do this blog post instead, and share the link amongst the groups.

Note: The intention of this article is to have you listen to each song as you read it’s description. The appropriate song is listed just under the title of each track so you can hit play; listen to the song; and read the story/description about it.  I understand that you may not have the time to listen and read through the whole article in one sitting, or just prefer to read the stories themselves, so don’t fret as you will find links to the entire album on the various digital streaming and download sites where it is available at the end of the article.

The Music of La famille du solénoïde A musical tour through our solar system inspired by the book “The Planets” by Dava Sobel.

Following is a break down of each song on the album, along with my notes and thoughts on each.  I decided to start at the center of our solar system, much like the book had, and work my way out.  As if residing within your own spacecraft as you explore our system from the center outwards.  It’s also an introspection of my emotions at the time.   Follow along with me on this journey.

Giver of Life (Sol)

Click the Play button above to listen to this song now through Bandcamp as you read it’s story.

Just as they feel the Sun’s attraction more or less keenly, according to their distance, so too do the planets partake of the Sun’s light and heat. Solar energy diminishes in intensity as it radiates through interplanetary space. And so, while parts of Mercury bake at five hundred degrees, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto remain perpetually deep-frozen. Only in the Solar System’s milder middle section, called the habitable zone, have conditions supported the flourishing of ‘great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and… cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth….’” Sobel, Dava (2006-10-31). The Planets

The album starts with “Giver of Life (Sol)”.

I wanted to start the album expressing a great void.  A great void with our sun “Sol” at the center of the perceived known universe at the time.  Our journey begins with our minds trying to grasp the sheer size of the giver of life in our solar system. I wanted this song to sound “Grand” and symphonic, yet have “sci-fi” element to it.  You hear a soft piano melody, angelic bells and ghostly ambient pads in the background as our view is widened and Sol is staged in the center. A peaceful arpeggio is introduced and we are then presented with a grand series of electronic pads. Majestic yet beautiful was what I was shooting for here.   I felt I was in my element.  With the starting song completed, I was ecstatic at how this album would evolve.

The song continues and we travel farther away from the mother of our solar system.

Thief in the night (Mercury)

Click the Play button above to listen to this song now through Bandcamp as you read it’s story.

“‘Mercury was the god of thieves,’ quipped French observer Camille Flammarion. ‘His companion steals away like an anonymous assassin.’” Sobel, Dava (2006-10-31). The Planets

Thief in the night begins with a bit more “interstellar” type sound as our craft moves in towards a chase of Mercury.  The passage above, from the book, gave me visions of the planet whipping around our sun avoiding capture. The little assassin in the night.  The song still has some elements of a “Symphonic” nature I was shooting for, but elements giving the feeling of “pursuit” within. The fast and constant woodblock sounds provoking that feeling as well, yet layered with some hopefully fitting pads to continue the element of being in deep space.  Our chase ends, and our craft leaves the vicinity of Mercury and we are once again returned to a “sonar” like sound as we leave.

Goddess of Love (Venus)

Click the Play button above to listen to this song now through Bandcamp as you read it’s story.

I stopped to compliment you on this star

You get the beauty of from where you are.

To see it so, the bright and only one

In sunset light, you’d think it was the sun

That hadn’t sunk the way it should have sunk,

But right in heaven was slowly being shrunk

So small as to be virtually gone,

Yet there to watch the darkness coming on—

Like someone dead permitted to exist

Enough to see if he was greatly missed.

I didn’t see the sun set. Did it set?

Will anybody swear that isn’t it?…” —Robert Frost, “The Literate Farmer and the Planet Venus”

A moving, sweet, hopefully beautiful piece of music is what I was shooting for with Goddess of Love (Venus).  As our craft arrives within orbit of Venus, I wanted to express a bit of mystery and beauty.  A grand sound of orchestral drums and strings yet still layered with sounds and pads that expressed that “sci-fi” feel to it.  And as we explore Venus, we are introduced to majestic trumpet sounds to show her majesty within our solar system.  Our twin planet within our system.  Other than Sol at this point, this was one of the more “Symphonic” pieces I put together on the album.  I wanted to keep that style throughout the album.  Interlacing symphonic elements with classical electronic soundscapes.  It is one of my favorites from this album.

Terra (Earth)

Click the Play button above to listen to this song now through Bandcamp as you read it’s story.

“Doesn’t this new planet deserve a name? If Champlain can christen his lake and Hudson his bay, why must the newly mobile globe labor under an old, inaccurate term?” Sobel, Dava (2006-10-31). The Planets

And now we arrive to our home world, Terra (Earth).  This song begins with what I wanted as a rolling set on the timpani followed by grand orchestral percussion and electronic brass introducing us to our home world teaming with life.  We are then introduced to an electronic arpeggio to remind ourselves that this is an electronic album.  A soft clarinet plays providing the primary melody, with supporting pizzicato strings as we orbit earth and view upon it’s continents teaming with life.  A solar sound reminds us we are still in space.  I wanted the song to express beauty yet “busyness” .  As I listen to it for the first time in a couple of years, I’m reminded of how much I truly enjoyed creating this piece for the album.

God of War (Mars)

Click the Play button above to listen to this song now through Bandcamp as you read it’s story.

“Even supposing that only Earth alone among all the planets ever gave birth to life, it is still conceivable that at least one archaeobacterium left Earth, sealed in a spore-like state of suspended animation inside some meteoroid, and arrived at Mars by the same train of circumstances that delivered me here. Surely sufficient time has elapsed in the life of the Solar System for such a sequence of events to have played out, perhaps even repeated itself.” Sobel, Dava (2006-10-31). The Planets

Mars. The God of War. I can’t say that The Planets was the total inspiration for this track, but it was really the books “Mars” and “Return to Mars” by Ben Bova.

As the synopsis for Mars states:

Jamie Waterman, a Native American geologist, is chosen at the last minute for the first manned exploration of the planet Mars. On touchdown, he is so overwhelmed with the emotion of the moment that he utters a Navajo phrase instead of the political statement he is supposed to read. This sets off a chain reaction among the leaders and politicians on Earth. Thus starts Bova’s sprawling space opera. The expedition, seen from Jamie’s point of view, is really the protagonist here. The story is filled with lots of characters of different nationalities and there’s plenty of political intrigue. Of course, there are obstacles to overcome: a meteor almost destroys the lab, the doctor neglects his duty and nearly kills them all, crew members come down with mysterious “Martian flu,” and through it all is the never-ending search for evidence of life on this planet

Also, the discreet listener will realize that this is a version of “Part II – Movement IV (Redshift)” from my album The Maestoso Interstellar Suite.  When I originally wrote that song, it had a bit of “tribal” sound to it.  When I started working on La famille du solénoïde, and needing a song for Mars, I felt it was truly fitting for placement here.

God of War (Mars) is one of the more “Electro Pop” songs on the album and another favorite of mine.  As noted above, it has that “tribal” sound to it that to me reflected the main character in the Mars book by Ben Bova.   When I think of this song, I think of that book.

Our craft has arrived at Mars.  We view it’s grand features such as Olympus Mons, and the Valles Marineris.  We search because of our beliefs that life may in fact exist on it’s barren wastelands. We look for those ancient cave dwellings that some believe may exist.

Although not symphonic in nature like the rest of the album, I believe it fits nicely within the album as a whole, and truly expresses my visions of Mars.  The song continues with it’s tribal “war” sound until near the end, when we are returned to it’s softer cool down as we leave the Martian orbit and continue our quest through our solar system.

Optimus Maximus (Jupiter)

Click the Play button above to listen to this song now through Bandcamp as you read it’s story.

“The whole mammoth bulk of Jupiter rotates in just under ten hours, faster than any other planet. Its massive body honors the memory of the Solar System’s earliest beginnings as a spinning disk, and none of Jupiter’s attendant moons can slow it down. As to the giant’s rate of revolution in orbit, however, its far remove from the Sun relaxes its pace and adds many miles to its annual travels.”

Sobel, Dava (2006-10-31). The Planets

Jupiter.  The grand beast of our system. Our craft on this journey is now approaching this massive gas planet, and I wanted to song to express just that.  This is probably the only song on the entire album that doesn’t sound like an electronic piece at all, yet a large symphony playing a majestic and hopefully beautiful piece of music.

The song DOES start out with a bit of a rumble, but immediately leads with it’s signature Trumpet melody providing the primary tone of the song.  Soft sonar sounds to remind us that this is a planetary journey.  Our trumpet melody is joined with a lead flute to express the grandeur. A harp arpeggio is added to signify the beauty that Jupiter holds.

An interlude of soft oboe, as our craft approaches the grand throne of our solar system.  Visions of kings within a royal palace.  Galileo thanked god for granting him these sights.

“’It was Jupiter, I say,’ Galileo reminded Cosimo, ‘who at Your Highness’s birth, having already passed through the murky vapors of the horizon, and occupying the midheaven’— by which he meant Jupiter had risen to the dominant, most auspicious position in the sky according to Renaissance astrology—“’and illuminating the eastern angle’— that is, affecting the ascendant sign—’ from his royal house’  (Jupiter being considered king of the planets), ‘looked down upon Your most fortunate birth from that sublime throne and poured out all his splendor and grandeur into the most pure air, so that with its first breath Your tender little body and Your soul, already decorated by God with noble ornaments, could drink in this universal power and authority.’” Sobel, Dava (2006-10-31). The Planets

It was this passage that inspired the song.  I wanted to express royalty within our system, and I believe I did.  The song ends with us leaving the grand hall of royalty onwards to Saturn.

Ring Resonation (Saturn)

Click the Play button above to listen to this song now through Bandcamp as you read it’s story.

“’I feel carried away and possessed by an unutterable rapture over the divine spectacle of the heavenly harmony,’ said Kepler. ‘Give air to the heaven, and truly and really there will be music.’” Sobel, Dava (2006-10-31). The Planets

Our craft has now placed us within the vicinity of Saturn, and we witness the resonation of its rings.

This song moves more into the realm of what I would classify as possibly being labeled as Krautrock.  Like previously stated, this album contains a variety of styles, and this song is probably more electronic than others. “Give air to the heaven, and truly and really there will be music”.

A sonar type element however reminds us that this is a “space music” type of album. A light electronic rock rhythm surrounded by elements that I tried to express as possibly playing songs on the rings of Saturn.  Some say this song is ill placed on the album, but I disagree.  If the album is listened through in order of the songs listed, it’s not far from the mark of what my overall goal was.  It was certainly an expression of how I was feeling at the time. However, you be the judge.

Ouranos the Progenitor (Uranus)

Click the Play button above to listen to this song now through Bandcamp as you read it’s story.

“As years passed in watching William’s planet creep about the sky, the deplorable difficulties with its orbit worsened. The more we accumulated new observations, and the more we extracted ancient sightings from observatory files, the less these could be reconciled. It was proving impossible to predict where Uranus would be even a year or two hence, though most astronomers could assess the future whereabouts of Jupiter or Saturn to within a hair’s breadth till the end of time. Thus the great beauty of the great Newton’s contribution seemed tarnished by the recalcitrant behavior of Uranus.” Sobel, Dava (2006-10-31). The Planets

As our craft continues across the solar system and eventually arrives within the vicinity of Uranus.  The distance between Jupiter to Saturn is approximately 1 billion miles.  It is over twice that between Saturn and Uranus at an approximate distance of 2.55 billion miles.  It was also at a time in my life where I felt very distant from almost everything in life.

Due to events in my life, it was probably a year between when I finished drafting up the song for Saturn and returned to complete the album starting with Uranus.  I had entered into a serious bout of depression, and I think the remaining songs on the album show that.   We left Saturn on a very up beat and happy song, but Ouranos The Progenitor (Uranus) expresses sadness, and then anger.

This song begins with a melancholy sound to it. A bit dark in some ways.  The lead trumpet tries to real us back in to a majestic state.   A slow harp arpeggio tries to bring sweetness back to our listening ears, yet the sadness can still be heard through it’s oboe melody. The harp is brought back to show there is still beauty in the world, yet anger surfaces as the orchestral percussion begins, and the plucked pizzicato strings come in. We are then presented with a set of tremolo strings expressing anger and frustration.  The emotions in this song truly express how I was feeling at the time.   I was angry.  I was remorseful.  I was saddened.  Even as I listen to it now while trying to describe it, I feel tears whelping up from my eyes.  The symphonic elements remind of the size and scope of Uranus, but how it is one of the outcast planets within our system.

“As years passed in watching William’s planet creep about the sky, the deplorable difficulties with its orbit worsened. The more we accumulated new observations, and the more we extracted ancient sightings from observatory files, the less these could be reconciled. It was proving impossible to predict where Uranus would be even a year or two hence, though most astronomers could assess the future whereabouts of Jupiter or Saturn to within a hair’s breadth till the end of time. Thus the great beauty of the great Newton’s contribution seemed tarnished by the recalcitrant behavior of Uranus.” Sobel, Dava (2006-10-31). The Planets

Much like the passage above, it was impossible to predict where I might be as time went on.  In retrospect, the song truly does express the feelings of the astronomers at the time during their attempt to prove out the existence of Uranus.  But they pushed on.

I pushed through as well, much like our craft on this journey pushes through our solar system.

God of the Sea (Neptune)

Click the Play button above to listen to this song now through Bandcamp as you read it’s story.

“With hindsight, it is easy to understand why Uranus began accelerating at an ever-growing rate from about the time of its discovery in 1781 up until it reached conjunction with the UNSEEN and much SLOWER Neptune in 1822. After Uranus overtook Neptune in that year (the same year that death overtook my William), the gradual deceleration commenced, and precipitated the crisis in prediction that brought Adams and Leverrier, each for his own reasons, to consider THE PROBLEM WITH URANUS, which they proved to be THE EXISTENCE OF NEPTUNE.” Sobel, Dava (2006-10-31). The Planets

Neptune.  The God of the Sea. The sonar sound starts off the melody to remind us that we are in our craft exploring the solar system. A sad harp arpeggio is introduced . An oboe lead takes us into a sad yet sweet progression as the song builds.

“Very little light or warmth from the Sun reaches across the two billion miles to Uranus, and even less arrives at Neptune, another billion miles farther away. Yet the high atmospheres of both planets register the same low temperature, and this likeness exposes an important”. Sobel, Dava (2006-10-31). The Planets

Dealing with depression is not an easy task.  There were days when I reminded myself that the future could be VERY bright, and what I was feeling at the time would pass.  However, I still felt cold and lonely.  Much like the passage above, I felt like very little light was shining upon me.  It was a struggle to finish a song for Neptune, yet I reminded myself of what I set out to do.  To create a “Symphonic Electronica” album about the planets.  The song became a waltz of sorts.  I personally felt as if I was traveling to the left, then to the right in life.  Forwards and backwards, missing my footing at times. I reminded myself of what I had done for the song for Jupiter, and tried to bring back some of the Majesty in my life and the song.  In the end, I truly love the piece.

The song ends with us continuing our journey into the unknown.

Gone but not Forgotten (Pluto)

Click the Play button above to listen to this song now through Bandcamp as you read it’s story.

“The campaign to drop Pluto from the planet registry, although widely perceived as a shameful demotion, in fact salutes the greater diversity of an expanded Solar System. Pluto and its ilk fill a donut-shaped “third zone” that extends outward from Neptune to at least fifty times the Earth-Sun distance. Since all the objects in this territory differ fundamentally from the terrestrial worlds in the first zone or the gas and ice giants in the second, they have been given their own new designation of ‘ice dwarfs,’ or ‘Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs).’” Sobel, Dava (2006-10-31). The Planets

A song for Pluto was not originally planned for inclusion on this project since it was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

However a few fans insisted that I include one, so I came up with “Gone but Not Forgotten“.

In fact, it was primarily added because of one favorite fan stated that I just couldn’t release an album based on the planets in our solar system WITHOUT a song for Pluto.  Let’s just call him Captain CAML.  And yes, those of you fellow associates in the SharePoint world take note… It IS the CAML you’re thinking of..

Additionally, it’s one of the first songs where I utilized a Vocoder, and the lyrics are an absolute dedication to this one very important fan of mine.

Our craft has arrived on the outskirts of our solar system, and my emotions were spread wide as well.  Gone but not Forgotten starts with an ethereal, out worldly sound  reminding us that this album is topically a space music album.  A spacey arpeggio lays the foundation and a crystal like melody overlaps with sounds of expanse behind it.

The vocoder piece reminds us of the following:

Gone, but not forgotten.

How could we leave you, out in the cold

See, oh can’t you see

Captain CAML, would never forsake you.

Because of this fans statement to me, that I could NEVER leave Pluto out in the cold, I just had to incorporate that into the song Smile.

The song repeats this verse a few more times, and we are returned to the main body of music.  Introducing the lyrical content into this song, as a bit of an easter egg for that one fan, turned out in all honesty quite nice.

You can still feel the emotions I had when writing it.  I STRUGGLED to finish this album.  I was experiencing so much heart ache in my life, yet I tried to continue to find the light in things.  To find the joy in life, the mystery of what lies in store.  And the album technically ends at this moment.  We have reached, and left, Pluto behind us. The distances we have traveled within the expanse of our solar system.  Realizing that this is just a small grain of sand on the beaches of our own Milky Way galaxy, within the unimaginable size of our universe.

At this moment, I felt the album was complete.  I started working on the album artwork.  Through initial joy and happiness, leading into depression and pain as I traveled further away from the center of my own universe, I had completed my quest. I had finished what I set out to do.

Or did I….

Beyond the Kuiper Belt

Click the Play button above to listen to this song now through Bandcamp as you read it’s story.

I was noodling one day in my digital audio workstation.  I had started this track which seemed fitting into the mix of work for La famille du solénoïde.  I had already completed songs for each planetary body.  Yet what was beyond?  What was beyond the Kuiper Belt.

And that’s pretty much it.  A bit of a bonus track for the album.   What was beyond the Kuiper Belt?  What discoveries lie in store for us.  That was my own thoughts, what lies in store for me next.

Another bit of an electro-pop techno song, and was just frankly fun to create.

Gone but not Forgotten (Captain CAML AB Overdose Mix)

Click the Play button above to listen to this song now through Bandcamp as you read it’s story.

Oh but one more.   I had fun creating “Gone  but not forgotten” for my favorite fan.  Even though it’s truly a sad song, I enjoyed creating it for Captain CAML.  And so… I decided to create a remix of it.  But this time, it was a sort of “Dance/Trance” mix.  And so you have, Gone but not Forgotten (Captain CAML AB Overdose Mix).

Yeah, I know.  Totally different than anything else on the album, but as I worked on it to give as just a gift to him only, and not include on the album at all, I felt as a bonus track, this would make a nice little surprise at the end of the album.  I also needed something uplifting myself.   Like I noted, this album was HELL for me to complete.  The first half of the album was created in late 2006, early 2007.   And it wasn’t until a year later that I STRUGGLED to pick it back up and complete it.  I needed something that was a big pick me up from everything I had experienced.  And you know what? A lot of people have told me they like that this is a bonus track on the album, and that they found it quite catchy.  I hope you do as well.

Epilogue

I had just completed my album “The Maestoso Interstellar Suite”, and started work on my next album. I had also just completed reading “The Planets” by Dava Sobel. . I picked up the book in an airport terminal on a whim as I was traveling and needed something to read on the flight. After completing it, I was truly inspired.

Sobel explores the origins and oddities of the planets through the lens of popular culture, from astrology, mythology, and science fiction to art, music, poetry, biography, and history. It’s a fantastic read and highly recommend the book.

I had already started working on some songs, and decided that I wanted shift my direction and do a musical interpretation of the planets in our solar system after reading the book, and away I went.

The songs on the album resulted in a mix of different styles, and this review on Amazon sums it up nicely. “The tracks flow relatively freely between a combination of quasi-classical, new-age, and mellow electronic forms

I hope you have enjoyed this journey, this “Behind the Music” story  through my album La famille du solénoïde.  If you would like to see more of the “Behind the Music” stories on my other releases, please let me know.

I’m just Keeping the Dream Alive!

– Keith Richie


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