Audio Network have released Paul’s album ANW2350 Uplifting Strings on their website. Here are some of the composer’s thoughts on the project.
The term rock is both a broad and confusing one. We all sort of know what it is but how do you really define it. The sound canvas is often if not exclusively dominated by guitars and drums with attitude, but actually once one gets past mere instrumentation and starts composing within rock’s rhythmic template, many approaches are possible. If you are writing a purely instrumental rock track, the first question that arises is what’s going to carry the melodic information? Often it will be guitar, piano, keyboards, but what would happen if you have a string section and effectively let it run the show melodically and harmonically. The guitars, keyboards, drums are still there of course providing the rhythmic impetus and groove behind the whole thing, but letting the strings dominate in this way obviously creates a different vibe: a big, less raw but luxuriant, cinematic, warm and at times more emotive sound. This is effectively the starting point and premise behind Uplifting Strings.
Four of the tracks on this album were recorded with the strings of the English Session orchestra with the other, Affirmation (the first of the set to be composed) recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra strings. All the string sessions were at Abbey Road. Other sessions followed with Pete Callard and Ralph Salmins laying down the guitars (lots of them) and drum parts respectively. The intention was for everything to have a really ‘live’ organic feel. Simon Allen engineered these rhythm section sessions and also mixed the tracks.
I tend to be drawn to musical structures where the listener can travel on a journey through different sections. In these tracks, I adopt traditional song structures where the melody & harmony move through a verse, bridge, chorus form a number of times rather than constructing everything on a repeating single 8/16 bar harmonic section.
In Affirmation, the strings have a distinct classical almost reverential tone. Broad and chordal at first, the melodic counter lines start to weave as the track builds in intensity. Forever Upwards is a straight-forward up-tempo feel good piece, with a C section after the 2nd chorus. I like C sections in songs – it always feels like fresh air, visiting pastures new! Eternal Flame is a big lyrical uplifting building track, less classical in feel than Affirmation and with the strings more emotive, nostalgic perhaps. Tipping Point is altogether more strident and muscular in sound and groove. There’s a lot of melodic counter play between the different string lines (surprisingly classical in style) in this one. Finally, we have Leading Light, another uplifting one, which is underpinned by a guitar riff throughout and more building melodic strings with developing counterlines.
This album was demanding and exhilarating to write and produce in equal measure. How to bind the strings and rhythm elements into a cohesive unit, how to achieve clarity throughout? As for the stylistic questions, does it matter where the music fits into the pantheon of rock, or whether indeed they are rock tracks at all. It’s been an interesting musical experiment, and I’m genuinely pleased with how the tracks have turned out. I’m confident that each track has a clear mood, identity in a media sense with a real music weight behind them, whatever style that may be. Writing production music is like having children and seeing how they fare in the wide world. It’ll be interesting to see how this brood gets on.