Aural Emotions: Soundscapes and Storytelling
The final question will be: is the soundscape of the world an indeterminate composition over which we have no control, or are we its composers and performers, responsible for giving it form and beauty?R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World
Aural Emotions: Soundscapes and Storytelling
Welcome to a journey where sound and story intertwine, a realm where each note tells a tale and every melody paints a vivid scene. In ‘Aural Emotions: Soundscapes and Storytelling,’ we’ll explore the captivating synergy between music and narrative, delving into how my compositions aim to tell a story or evoke a rich tapestry of emotion. Music is not just an auditory experience but a narrative force, a storyteller in its own right. Join me as we unlock the storytelling potential of sound, discovering how each piece I create aims to take you on an aural adventure that is as emotionally resonant as it is melodically compelling.
In many respects, this article serves as a complementary read to my previous post on The Old Bard, titled ‘Insight Check: Soundtracks of Adventure – Finding Musical Inspiration in TTRPGs.’
The Power of Narrative in Music: From Soundtracks to Concept Albums
As a passionate fan of soundtracks and concept albums, I’m always captivated by music that doesn’t just entertain, but tells a compelling, complete story from start to finish. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that my own albums are crafted in a similar vein, whether they consist of diverse compositions or are directly inspired by narratives I’ve created or books I’ve read. These Aural Emotions are the foundation of all my creative endeavors.
I’ve often attributed my musical identity to the influence of two pivotal Johns: John Williams, renowned for his extensive soundtrack contributions over the past seven decades, and John Carpenter, the multifaceted filmmaker, actor, and composer also hailed as the Master of Horror.
From the tender age of 6, I was acquainted with John Williams through his iconic Jaws score. However, it was his work on Star Wars in 1977 that cemented my lifelong admiration. I can vividly recall playing the Star Wars soundtrack on a loop, to the point where it felt as if my ears were overwhelmed by its majesty.
The music allowed me to mentally replay the film in vivid detail. Each scene, each emotional nuance, ignited a fervor within my soul.
This admiration has endured through the years, as I’ve found myself enamored with each composition he’s created—from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Superman” to “Indiana Jones” and “Schindler’s List,” among countless others.
In addition to John Williams, John Carpenter has been another defining influence on my musical style and taste. I was captivated by the fact that he not only directed but also scored his own films. This multi-faceted approach to filmmaking and music was something I aspired to emulate in my own work.
I’d be doing a disservice to my own musical journey if I didn’t acknowledge the indelible impact Tangerine Dream has had on me—as they have on countless other artists. My earliest recollection of being captivated by their work was with their soundtrack for the 1984 film, “Firestarter.” The ethereal sounds and synthesized melodies not only set a new standard for film scores but also served as a formative experience for me, encouraging me to explore the endless possibilities of electronic music.
When it comes to concept albums, there are some true masterpieces worth mentioning.
- Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” is a rock opera that tackles the intricate themes of solitude and the dark side of stardom.
- “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles was an early pioneer in the concept album arena, breaking genre norms and integrating unconventional instruments.
- Queensrÿche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” tells the compelling story of a young man disenchanted with society, who joins a radical movement.
- And then there’s “American Idiot” by Green Day, a rock opera that centers around the character “Jesus of Suburbia,” navigating life in the aftermath of 9/11.
In the album’s narrative, a young King, his mother, and sister welcome home their grandmother from a mental asylum. Soon after, King discovers his grandmother engaging in supernatural activities, including a floating tea party. Grandma introduces King to “Amon,” a magical teapot that holds dark powers and seems to require blood sacrifices to function. King’s mother becomes the first victim, her blood added to the teapot, which results in her falling under “their” control and becoming seriously weak.
Under the influence of the teapot and “their” voices, King’s judgment is clouded. When his sister Missy tries to intervene and help their mother, she ends up breaking the teapot, angering “them” to the point where they gruesomely kill her. This snaps King out of his altered state.
Realizing that “their” power is weaker outside the house, King lures his grandmother outside and kills her. Despite his actions, he ends up incarcerated in an asylum, haunted by the voices of “Amon.” Years later, he returns home only to find that both his grandmother and the ominous voices are still very much alive.
The joy I feel in crafting a storyline across an entire series of tracks in my concept albums is immense, a sentiment I also hold for outstanding concept albums like “Them.” It’s quite possible that “Them” was the catalyst that inspired me to produce my own Original ‘N’otion Picture Soundtracks.
Crafting Melodic Narratives: How My Music Tells Stories
You may not find it surprising that much of my own music echoes the principles of these masterful concept albums and soundtracks. Each song is a narrative thread, contributing to a broader story or theme when woven together. While “March of the Inanimate,” “Mister Stichs,” and “Dawn” most closely align with this concept-driven approach, the storytelling isn’t confined to them. “Infinity Volumes I and II” offer a sonic journey through the cosmos, while “Epica” explores the various facets of otherworldly realms. Each album serves as a distinct chapter in a wider anthology of auditory storytelling.
March of the Inanimate: Repossessed
A compelling re-mastered and extended edition of the original 2014 album, March of the Inanimate offers a deep-dive into the unnerving narrative of a man ensnared by his own insatiable greed. The man finds himself hunted by supernatural entities as he delves into an abandoned home, searching for a treasure that he believes could give him mastery over death itself. Somewhere, in One of these Rooms he knows he will find it. Yet, what he discovers is a force far more terrifying than he had ever conceived.
Drawing inspiration from iconic horror film composers like John Carpenter and Alan Howarth, this 2016 edition enhances the original work with three additional tracks. These new inclusions are intricately woven into the re-mastered version of the original story, enriching the auditory landscape and heightening the sense of imminent dread. The album captures not just the attention but the imagination, serving as a haunting, textured tapestry of sound that lingers long after the final note has played.
Critics have highlighted the adeptness at pushing the boundaries of electronic music, creating a soundscape that feels far more organic and cinematic than one would expect from the genre. From pulsating dark-electro rhythms to haunting piano melodies, “March of the Inanimate” has been described as “musically menacing” and a remarkable feat in aural storytelling. It’s not just a collection of tracks; it’s a comprehensive narrative experience that invites listeners to conjure up movie scenes for films yet to be made.
“Mister Stichs” serves as another mesmerizing Original ‘N’otion Picture Soundtrack, inviting listeners into a harrowing tale of a family’s descent into terror. Relocating from Downey, California, to a seemingly idyllic rural home in Texas, the family soon discovers that their new abode harbors a malevolent presence, one that not only haunts the house but also the land around it. Their unnerving encounter with this dark force propels them into a maelstrom of insanity, putting their unity and sanity at risk.
Not only is “Mister Stichs” impressively reminiscent of a John Carpenter film score, the album also greatly reminds me of Tangerine Dream (whom Keith is likewise admirable of). He makes fantastic use of modern and vintage synthesizers, along with riveting and realistic-seeming surround-sound effects that boasts continually alternating intervals of serenity and suspense. Proving once again that Keith Richie easily ranks among today’s best electronic music composers.Candice Michelle – New Age/Ambient/World Music Reviews (zonemusicreporter.com)
The album’s complex tapestry of sound is created using a mix of modern and vintage synthesizers, adding layers of emotional intensity and profound depth. It oscillates seamlessly between moments of calm serenity and nail-biting suspense, making it an unmissable auditory experience. Critics have praised it as a “sophisticated and unrelenting journey into darkness,” lauding the skill in conjuring vivid, emotionally resonant images through his compositions.
“Dawn” is an enthralling Original ‘N’otion Picture Soundtrack, inspired by the seminal first book in Octavia E. Butler’s “Lilith’s Brood” trilogy. The album encapsulates the poignant story of Lilith Iyapo, who wakes up centuries after a nuclear apocalypse wiped out humanity to find herself aboard an alien spacecraft. The beings that have taken her are the Oankali, a complex and empathic race with an innate need to heal others through genetic amalgamation. Their plan to save Earth and its remaining human survivors is as controversial as it is revolutionary.
The soundtrack, much like Butler’s intricate narrative, is an emotional odyssey touching on themes of love, despair, hope, and existential conflict. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the source material, the music resonates on a deeply emotional level, drawing you into the enigmatic world of Lilith and the Oankali. It provokes a gamut of emotions: from sorrow over humanity’s self-inflicted demise to awe and skepticism towards the well-intended yet unnerving Oankali. The listener is also treated to a complex emotional experience through the intriguing relationship between Lilith and Nikanj, characters who struggle for the survival of a genetically-integrated future.
A captivating auditory exploration of Butler’s narrative world. It does more than just pay homage; it allows you to journey through a landscape filled with conflicting emotions and ethical quandaries. The music beautifully captures the text’s depth, complexity, and tension, making it a must-listen for both fans of the book and newcomers to the story.
“Epica,” an awe-inspiring Original ‘N’otion Picture Soundtrack, takes the listener on a grand emotional and sonic journey. A musical universe that feels as vast and multidimensional as the worlds described in fantasy and science fiction epics. Drawing inspiration from his idols like John Williams, a sonic tapestry emerges that evokes feelings ranging from jubilation to dread, from melancholy to exhilaration.
The album commences with “Remote Isolation,” a piece that combines Enigma-like female vocalizations with a lush melody, whisking listeners off to a far-off realm or perhaps another planet altogether. It sets the stage for what’s to come—a musical narrative steeped in complexities, teetering between the familiar and the otherworldly. Tracks like “Rebirth” pay homage to the Berlin-school of electronic music, whereas “Dawn” and “Jade” explore different tonal palettes, from meditative to chill-out.
“Epica,” the title track, stands as the album’s moment of reckoning. Mimi Page’s vocals add an ethereal layer, contrasting sharply with the war drums and intense synth leads that ensue. The scale feels cinematic, as if it could easily score a blockbuster film.
The album concludes on a high note with “There Are Other Worlds Than These,” a track filled with a complex layering of textures and tones that simultaneously convey a sense of victory and underlying tension. It aptly serves as a tribute to Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series and encapsulates the essence of the album—multifaceted, grand, and intensely evocative.
The whole experience is a mere 36 minutes long, but every second is dense with emotional and musical complexity. It’s an album that begs to be revisited, revealing new layers upon each listen. “Epica” isn’t just incredible for its musical virtuosity; it transcends into a realm of storytelling that’s as large as life itself. This New Age music release of 2021 is not just a collection of tracks but a universe unto itself, challenging and enchanting the listener to take the journey again and again.
In an era where singles often overshadow albums, I try to revive the art of storytelling through music. From the haunting corridors of “March of the Inanimate – Repossessed” to the unsettling confines of a rural home in “Mister Stichs,” from the emotional exploration of a post-apocalyptic world in “Dawn” to the grand tapestry of cosmic themes in “Epica,” each album serves as a narrative unto itself. These aren’t just albums; they’re sonic experiences that take listeners on journeys through unique worlds, each with its own atmosphere, drama, and emotional impact.
Conceptual albums like “Infinity Volumes I and II” go beyond the story of individual lives or settings to capture the essence of the cosmos itself, all while maintaining a human connection. The fusion of vintage and modern synthesizers, intricate layering, and rich textures imbue each piece with a sense of depth and dimension, making the experience akin to reading a well-crafted novel or watching a thought-provoking film.
Paying homage to greats like John Carpenter, Alan Howarth, Tangerine Dream, and John Williams, but it doesn’t stop at mere imitation. These musical narratives stand as unique entities, inviting the audience into worlds of his own creation. These aren’t just songs; they’re chapters in ongoing tales that stretch the boundaries of what music can achieve as a form of storytelling.
In a world saturated with fleeting moments and short attention spans, I invite you to pause, listen, and delve into intricate narratives that unfold not in pages or on screens, but through the rich language of music. It’s a call to journey into the unknown, to explore the depths of human emotion, and to ponder the mysteries of the universe—all from the comfort of your headphones.
- Keith Richie – March of the Inanimate: Repossessed
- Keith Richie – Mister Stichs
- Keith Richie – Dawn
- Keith Richie – Infinity, Vol. I: The Maestoso Interstellar Suite
- Keith Richie – Infinity, Vol. II: Singularities
- Keith Richie – Epica | New Age Music Guide
- Keith Richie – Ambient Highways