Future Concept Albums (ELIJAH, part 16)

by Dave Skipper

PREVIOUS: Track Notes 14: Seven Thousand Saints

If you’ve read all the Track Notes, congratulations!

Explaining noise, and describing what it may be intended to represent, is for sure not every noisehead’s cup of tea. But I wanted to lay bare my own thinking and interpretations of this album for anyone who would find it interesting. If you prefer to leave it as a pure sound listening experience, then you’re probably not even reading this!

Elijah is my first concept album. But what is a concept album? Definitions vary, and the term can have a negative association with bloated 70s rock operas, but here are some helpful general descriptions:

  • “An album whose tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually.”
  • “A project that either revolves around a specific theme or a collection of related materials.”
  • “A thought-through journey, which compels to be heard in one sitting.”

(These quoted definitions are taken from the Wikipedia article “Concept album”)

Here are five dimensions that I think, taken together, would probably apply to a bona fide concept album. This is all open to interpretation of course, and there is some overlap between these categories.

  • Conception. What is the concept? The album might tell a story, or explore or represent a specific theme, possible from different angles. Or the composition or recording of the album might take a particular approach, for example conducting a sonic experiment or using narrowly-defined sound sources or instrumentation.
  • Calculation. There must be clear intent behind the genesis or execution of the album, some kind of purpose or plan. But sometimes the concept will only be recognised or applied retrospectively during the compiling or editing of the material, and that is totally legitimate too. The purpose might be just to make something fresh with no preconceived plan (a common approach in noise), and then the concept (if there is one) might be stumbled upon later.
  • Composition. The content and form of the album should fit the intent and concept. The sounds and textures, the methods used, the layering and transitions, the overall arc. Whatever the blend of deliberate and accidental along the way, in the end all these components should serve the whole.
  • Correlation. Ultimately, if the concept is to be there at all it must find convincing expression in the final outcome. The theme(s), or whatever it is that is being sonically conceptualised, must correlate to the music/sounds. And if the connections are not readily discernible to the listener, then they ought at least be somehow justifiable and describable by the artist themself (in some cases this might be no more than the artist stating the concept with no explanation, not even using the word ‘concept’ in the process).
  • Cohesion. Finally, everything must hang together as a whole album. A concept album is not a disparate collection,which is not to discount that the particular concept may well involve deliberate juxtaposition and confusion.

Depending on how far you stretch your definition, there can be a lot of noise releases that might be described as concept albums. But does it really matter? I’m not at all bothered if a great album is conceptual or not, whether defined by the artist or by someone else. The concept of concept albums (!) is something that appeals to me personally, but fashioning a concept album is only one among many valid approaches to creating an album. With all that said, I really enjoyed the focus and intent of recording Elijah, and am eager to follow it up in due course with other concept albums.

I currently have three more album releases in the pipeline, one of which is a concept album. These are the culmination of having gradually worked through and edited my archive of 150+ live recordings (2010-2020) into the best material:

  • A collection of 4 tracks covering some of my more ambient/drone-oriented noise performances. Digital release planned, date undecided, details TBA.
  • My first full-on straight-up harsh noise album, easily my heaviest and most punishing material to date. Physical release planned, date undecided, details TBA.
  • A detailed soundtrack to an imaginary sci-fi story, a complex concept album that attempts to showcase along the way the incredible diversity and depth of noise possibilities via modular synthesis. Physical release planned, date undecided, details TBA.

Once these albums are out of my hands I will start to think through what to work on next. I have a long list of potential Bible passages and themes that I would love to explore and express through the medium of noise. Without giving away any of my specific ideas, some of the broad categories that Bible-based concept albums could delve into include:

  • Narrative passages. This is what I did with Elijah. There are many exciting and extraordinary stories to choose from! I have an idea of what I might choose next, which is a particularly dramatic episode from the life of Jesus that I think would translate into a noise album perfectly…
  • Poetic or prophecy passages. There is a huge amount of noise-worthy material in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament. Most obviously there are prophecies of decline, destruction, war, and judgment. But there are also abundant passages describing creation, renewal, and freedom for the oppressed. And then there are psalms (songs) expressing the whole of the human experience from life to death: joy, terror, wonder, hatred, passion, despair, hope. Some of these passages could be tackled more literally (using sound sources that are mentioned in the text, like I did with sections on Elijah), while some lend themselves to more creative sonic approaches to generate correlative atmospheres or to track the structure and undulations of the text.
  • Focussed themes. This might involve exploring in-depth just one verse or phrase or idea from the Bible text that can form the basis of extended contemplation and expression. It might be a recurring Bible theme, or a one-off nugget tucked away somewhere. Again there are countless possibilities here!
  • Biblical symbolism. One of the richest veins of Biblical literature is the depth of imagery and metaphor consistently woven throughout. Whether fire, trees, the stars, or a plethora of other elements of the natural (created) world, all find a multifaceted role in the Bible’s revelation of the spiritual meaning of all reality. Opening up the different meanings and angles on any of these symbols would be ripe territory for the concept album treatment. And some passages are so overflowing with a whole array of overlapping images that they could have dozens of completely different concept albums by themselves (now there’s an idea…!)

Well, plenty to work on before I die! And I’m up for making more non-concept albums and non-Bible related concept albums too. But the key for me is quality and clear intent, not rushing anything just because I could. I don’t care for creating quantity for the sake of it.

I’m also open to discuss suggestions and invitations. So if there is something you’d like me to make to:

  • release through your label,
  • commission as a soundtrack to your film project,
  • use for private meditation,
  • integrate in your creative church event,
  • etc

then get in touch! If my vision and interest and time coincide with something you’re interested in then maybe something cool could come out of it…

To close this series, I just want to acknowledge again my deep thanks to Jun Morita and the φonon record label for inviting me to create this album, for choosing the topic, and for releasing and promoting the resulting CD. It has been an inspirational project for me, and a catalyst to drive me forward into creating further concept albums. You can order the Elijah CD direct from me at: https://daveskipper.bandcamp.com/

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1 Response to Future Concept Albums (ELIJAH, part 16)

  1. Pingback: Track Notes 14: Seven Thousand Saints (ELIJAH, part 15) | The Word on Noise

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