Monuments of Man started with the working title of “Temples”. While I really liked the idea of making tone poems based on temples (and other religious buildings) I also had some problems.
Number one was that as an Atheist it seems slightly off-kilter to be making music about something that I don’t believe in. That said, the buildings clearly represent something important or no one would have invested so much in building them.
I couldn’t wander the world to find cool places to write about so I used Google Images to turn up ideas. It wasn’t long before I saw the Mormon temples. I like them because they are striking but also modern. They don’t carry the weight of history and romance that older temples do. This reminded me that temples can be about worshiping God just as much as they can be about letting humanity express itself. Man expressing himself is, in essence, an expression of God. I think that while that works for me, it works for most religions or philosophies just dandy too.
Number two problem was that while it would be so easy to only cover the usual cliches. I wanted to do something that spoke from me. To do that I wanted some classic, some modern and some unexpected. While scanning those pictures on Google (and doing a bit of research on the place itself) I only chose what spoke to me. If there wasn’t an image I felt I could express in music I moved on no matter how dramatic the building or obvious the choice.
I think I managed my aims. If you feel that I need to cover some other places then message me and maybe there will be a Monuments of Man II.
Not everyone wants to know this stuff so if you are one of those people then feel free to bail right now. If not; here are my ideas, reasons etc for every track.
01. Start – Actually the last track written and is a cut-down & re-voiced version of the out-take track “Holding Space”.
02. Waterfall In The Clouds
Seiganto-ji Pagoda Japan
A cool thing about this temple is that it is equally for Buddhists and Shinto alike. That sense of balance is important. I start the track by trying to set the scene with the waterfall and the clouds along with the temple bells. I deliberately try to make the natural water sound equal to the synth sounds – the noise is the waterfall overall and tinkles are the sparkles of each water droplet – each can’t exist without the other. Overall I want the piece to bring a sense of peace and separateness whilst still feeling of-this-world.
03. Ascending Detail
Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple India
These gates into the Indian Hindu temples are amazing. They are so tall and so detailed all at once. Approaching these gates must be awe inspiring and overwhelming; the brain can’t take in so much detail all at once. The intro tries to represent that with increasingly complex rising arpeggios and filter sweeps. I swap to a really clear harmonium sound; after the assault of detail there is peace. I can’t write anything approaching Indian music so I made something that I hoped would work as a parallel. I used a very limited scale for most of the piece and then brought in the rest of the notes on the “snake charmer” solo in hopes of giving the feeling of the micro-tonality of Indian music as the extra notes appear. Don’t worry if you don’t notice.
04. High Columns & Stained Glass
Canterbury Cathedral England
This is the only place I have been. We used to go there on family trips when I was about 4 years old. I loved it and clearly recall announcing to all that one day I would sit in the Archdishhook’s stone chair. This piece is written as a twin to the Bali piece. Some ideas are even echoed between them like the intro choir sound and the birds. In this piece birds appear as the flapping wings of trapped pigeons. The intro is deliberately dark as some dark things have happened in this place; Thomas Beckett’s murder for one. The organ figure repeats to remind us of the formal size of the space and to contrast with the airiness of the upper ceiling. The organ particularly appealed as it was my Father’s chosen instrument and what he was trained to play. I doubt I do the instrument or his playing justice.
05. Ice Castle
Salt Lake Temple USA
I also have some association with the Mormons as my parents took us to the local Mormon gatherings. While I found some things interesting, they never gelled with me (or probably any of us). I also lived about two blocks from the temple being built in Brisbane Australia. While I know many oppose Mormon temples being built and find them too brash, I think they are one of the few organizations really building stunning temple buildings today. Even if you don’t like them, they are dramatic and speak to the expression of life (God) in man. So many of their buildings exhibit a sort of coldness that I wanted to make the the sound a little icy, and detailed, whilst still being grand.
06. Passing The Split Gate
Candi Bentar Bali
The first track written. I had half the track and no sense of where I was going with it. Someone I know was going to Bali for a Yoga retreat. Being me I had to Wikipedia Bali as all I knew was the whole drunk-Aussies-in-Kuta thing. Took about ten seconds to see the temples and that many are pretty spectacular. While the temples in the lakes seemed like the obvious choice, it was when I saw the Candi Bentar or Split Gates, that the photos spoke to me. There is something truly magical and transformative about these unique gates into the temple complex. The birds and wind remind us that this place is open-air. The monk chant reminds us that even though this place is open to the sky, there is a formality inside. While likely not accurate as these buildings are Hindu and not Buddhist but it turns out I know nothing about Hindu musical practice – that and I really liked the odd choir sound already laid down.
07. Slave of Power
The Temple of Ramesses II Egypt
Not the first time I have written about old Ozymandias at all, but the first in quite this way. While technically a temple, this building is partly a monument to one man and his sense of power. I attempt to merge several ideas and styles here as we walk under this amazing entrance and bask in the achievement (and hubris) of this place. The wind reminds us that this place takes us back across a lot of time. The bass figure represents the great stone legs striding across the world, conquering and commanding. The horns represent the regal nature of a king against the guitar and drums which are raw aggression. I have been working with this fusion of my earlier Metal attempts with my current style for a few albums now with “guitar” lines creeping in. I deliberately wanted to roll in some things borrowed from the Derek Riggs cover for Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave” album which is clearly influenced by the same place and ideas. Leaning (again) on Percy Shelley’s poem I take time as a great part of this story and the electronic interlude at about 8 mins reminds us that time passes and things change. But Ozy’s power slams right back in to remind us of his magnificence. Deliberately it is cut off and made into an echo, which is all he is now.
08. The Melting Face
Temple Beth Shmuel USA
In looking for modern buildings, I found this dramatic facade (with a story to go behind). I love bold and kooky buildings, and this is definitely one. That facade is wonderfully “droopy” & “melted” looking – a complete opposite to the sharp majesty of the Mormon style. Interesting thing; not sure why I chose a piano, maybe something subliminal from my Father teaching piano to Jewish kids before I was born. It seemed so perfect though when I later found this 360 degree interior of the temple and there was a piano pride of place – like I planned it that way.
09. The Unwanted
Baphomet Monument USA
In reading a Horror novel (“The Magic Cottage” by James Herbert), it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen any Satanist temples in my searches. Christianity etc. get to display their sacred buildings, but do the other side get to display theirs? Well it turns out I wasn’t the only one to think such a thing as The Satanic Temple in Detroit USA had noticed that too and set about to even things up a bit with their own monument. Of course many people didn’t want it around.
Being inquisitive, I had to read a bit and understand who these people were. Interestingly their Tenets read just fine to me. Can’t really see how they conflict with any of the core tenets of any of the major religions – actually seem very deliberately peace, freedom & personal responsibility oriented. I have already read about how in pre-Christian societies, the Horned God was a teacher, and we commonly hated him because he held us back till we learned the lesson presented; fully in keeping with the classic image of Hell being a place where we are tortured by doing the same things over and again.
That meant I had to play this one two ways. I start with the expected scary noises, backwards tapes and pulsing drums. I then split and start again with a much prettier take that seeks to bring light (reason) into the discussion.
Album done. Well not quite. I was really happy with listens but every time I felt that there was something missing after “The Unwanted”. It finishes on a high but the album didn’t seem to have the right sense of ending. It called for a little something else and this is it. No name, no monument, just a pleasing ostinato to ease us out.
Oh and by the way ALL sounds on this recording are 100% synthesized. If you think you hear something “real” then I am chuffed but there are no samples or recordings here.
For the synth-spotters who have read this far, as usual everything is 100% Propellerheads Reason with most sounds coming from Thor and Subtractor. There are a few instances of other synths (REs) but they are in the minority as I like Thor best and find the more I delve the deeper I can get. The biggest technical influence was that part way into the writing I updated to version 9 of Reason and that brought the Players. I am not strong in theory so they helped a lot with some chords. Interestingly they also get me into using notes in sound design which turns out to be a great thing.