Thursday, 20 June 2013

Apsilene - Ian Eccles-Smith (2003) w/ interview

This time last year I wrote a post on a great album called Expanse written and produced in 1984 by flautist Andrew Richardson and keyboardist Ian Eccles-Smith. Ian actually said hello in the comments of the post (which was a first) and suggested that I check out an album he recorded in 2003 called Apsilene. I only got around to listening to this atmospheric concept album about a month ago and it’s a very well developed, cohesive instrumental set with a wealth of musical textures and range. I had a chat with Ian via the magic of email about this project and some of his other musical endeavours.

UB: Based on the song titles and the intro on your site, there seems to be a fairly dense but unexplained conceptual element to Apsilene. Did you deliberately intend for this to be ambiguous, or am I just missing some background information?

IES: There is definitely a conceptual element to Apsilene in that it’s a tribute to all the concept albums I've ever enjoyed. Extended solos, complex time signatures and a sound mix that emphasizes the technical prowess of the band (more on that later). To really drive the concept I invented a simple and silly storyline that follows the adventures of a Victorian London gent called Professor Goldstemm who uses the new invention of the London tube system to try to find the lost City of Atlantis, gets lost deep in the bowels of the world and along the way goes mad only to realize in the end that his world is in fact ruled by gigantic lizard kings...well, you get the idea.  I still have the narration floating around somewhere and if I could just get Jeremy Irons people to call me back, I can get it vocalized by him and I'll re-release.

However, as with so many concept albums, though the concept itself doesn't hold up under any scrutiny, the ideas for the music itself were extremely focused and were something I spent over a year creating and crafting.

UB: How did you record Apsilene? Was it primarily a solo project? Could you give me an idea of any particular artists or albums that were influential on the songs and/or the production techniques?

IES: Apsilene was recorded in London - though much use was made of digital recording and editing techniques, all of the music was played and recorded live. Apart from three or four very small sampled loops, every note was a real performance.

Although I played everything, I first had created an imaginary band with each player having their own stylistic characteristics and as I created the parts, I had to stay true to each of these styles (and had no idea of how the combinations would work.)  Drawing on inspiration from people like Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, Chris Squire, Bill Bruford, John Evan, I envisage my own super band playing just as I needed them to - an exercise in power hungry self delusion certainly but one that served a purpose in that it gave me a strong basis on how to craft each musical line.  The resulting tracks which all have their own inner logic and hang together as a coherent whole, despite the fragmented steps that I started with.

Parts were recorded in no particular order, in some cases I created the solo first, and had to then work backwards to ensure the backing parts all worked to support the lead. Working to a nine to five schedule, 5 days a week I created around 30 draft compositions, the aim being to then trim these down based on the quality of each and then further refine.

Being the only person creating this music meant that I lacked an objective view and so to help keep the project on track, Paul Schutze was drafted in to co-produce with me. As one of the only people I know who could understand the complex styling I was trying to capture he helped steer me through the process so that we were able to keep our 70's prog indulgences firmly under control.  After a few months we had all the tracks recorded and mixed and I was able to begin working on the track order and the album edit. Apsilene was designed to be listened to as a seamless experience and our final edit ran for the full length with no gaps. However, as I planned to release this only on the Internet, I then had to slice it up into smaller chunks so that the downloads would be a little more manageable. From there it went onto the Internet, I let a few people know about it and it all grew from there, downloads, interviews and reviews worldwide.

UB: I did a post this time last year on Expanse, an album on which you collaborated with flautist Andrew Richardson. Could you tell me about that production and your part in recording that LP?

IES: I co-wrote Expanse with Andrew over the course of a week, in his house in St. Kilda. We created a simple studio in a couple of rooms, had an 8-track tape machine, a couple of keyboards (seem to recall Andrew had a Roland Jupiter 8, whilst I dragged in my Memory Moog and DX7).   Some of the music we wrote together, a few tracks were things I'd already written prior and rearranged to include Andrews flute work (i.e. Brolga, Tiddalik) and a few were Andrews compositions that I added the keyboard parts to.  The concept was entirely Andrews, I was simply enjoying the writing /arranging on what for me aged 22, was a pretty exciting project. At the time my style wasn't as ambient as Andrews and I recall trying to add in a lot more edgy samples and field recordings, whereas Andrew was after something simpler and more true to his concepts (and quite right he was too).

UB: Are there any other recordings that you have worked on that we should keep an eye out for (particularly vinyl releases)?

My only other work (apart from some film soundtracks) that may be interesting is Clubbed to Death, my first solo album (a selection of dance tracks featuring vocals from the leading serial killers of our time): oddly, and in hindsight, it’s a good companion piece to Apsilene, and certainly worth a listen.

You can download Apsilene for free on mp3 here or wav here. The other bits of music mentioned in the post can be found at Ian's website.