My name is Simon Richmond and I’ve written a concept album. There. I’ve said it. I feel better already. OK, there’s more to it than that. ‘Set In Stone’ is a double album, the central conceit of which is six standing-stone sites in Dorset, and a set of perfumes that were inspired by these stones, the landscape around them and the earth beneath them.
Oh, and there’s a duet on there between an upright bass and a burrowing seabird.
I was originally commissioned to write the music for an outdoor installation in a field, featuring speakers hidden under a circle of six huge scented standing stones, representing the six Dorset locations. The music brought together the stones and the perfumes, evoking each of these special sites along with the emotions the scents conjured up.
Right from the beginning I wanted to collaborate with John Metcalfe on this. Over the last 10 years or so we’ve worked together on various different projects, from my Palm Skin Productions remix of John’s 'Otoma', to playing together in the John Metcalfe band, not to mention John’s stunning, real-time onstage live orchestral scoring in my band The Bays’ improvising orchestral project.
I knew John would be at home with my methods of blending orchestral composition with harmonic and melodic content created from less traditional sources – here I wanted to use natural sounds and outdoor field recordings and to mix the orchestral together with the electronic to convey the vast range of experiences the standing stones have been part of and witness to. It’s an attempted synchronicity of the ancient and the technological, nature and artifact, the present moment and the recorded past. It’s also kind of what happens when you smell something - memories and sensations rush into focus in your inhabited present moment. In a similar way, as the commission developed into a more involved recording project, the music moved from the atmospheres of actual, physical locations and into areas these places seemed to point to - the imagined textures of what lies beneath the stones.
In doing that we ended up taking the music underground, via the myth of Orpheus, the structure of mycelium and the sound of subharmonic bass. As the record reaches its conceptually deepest point below the earth, I wanted to evoke a moment both beautiful and contemplative whilst also suggesting the strange enclosedness of the subterranean. On this particular piece it was a great honour and pleasure to be able to collaborate with Richard Barbieri. I’d got to know Richard from his work with us in The Bays, and, in a very direct way, Richard has been a massive influence and inspiration to me: as a teenager first hearing 'Ghosts' by Japan, that eerie opening cadence affirmed my fledgling instincts to make music using sounds and textures that weren’t instantly recognizable or familiar.
From a hillside in Dorset to Abbey Road Studio 2. Not a bad journey, really. Having the budget to write for a 45-piece orchestra and a 24-piece choir - and a Bulwer's petrel - is a rare privilege, and I’m grateful to ECC records for having given us the resources and creative space that made this record possible.
So it is an unashamed Concept Album, but then what record isn’t? Anyone making music demands of the listener a conceptual leap.
We all write emotional stories into the music we hear, whether it’s a pop song that evokes the excitement of a Saturday night party or an instrumental suite with the stones and earth of Dorset at its heart. That is the enduring compact made between composer, music and listener. You could say that it is set in stone.
'Set in Stone' is out now on ECC Records