❉ The third album in veteran singer songwriter Tim Arnold’s Sounds to Pictures series, featuring violinist Jonathan Hill.
Tim Arnold’s multiple roles as singer, songwriter, showman, composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer famously led godfather of punk Iggy Pop to compare Arnold’s pick and mix creative style to the late David Bowie. Although Arnold’s latest project ‘Sounds to Pictures’ covers a unique creative process for the veteran singer songwriter. Constellations is the third album in Arnold’s Sounds to Pictures series and features a collection of priceless and historic instruments used in the recording, performed by violinist Jonathan Hill.
In a new creative process exploring dreams, synchronicity and what Arnold terms as ‘action composing’, the ten compositions were each written on ten different nights, over the space of ten weeks. Arnold started to write each new piece after finishing a telephone conversation about dreams with collage artist and dreamer Kate Alderton.
As Alderton entered sleep and dreams on the south coast of England, Arnold, would begin to compose a new piece of music back in London, while she dreamt. At the end of the ten-week process, violinist Jonathan Hill joined Arnold to build on the musical arrangements and record the violin passages.
Once Arnold and Hill completed the recording of the album, Alderton listened to the album and began responding to her dreams by creating collages, resulting in the original album artwork.
The album is led by Hill on violin, with all other instrumentation performed by Arnold, and Alderton joining for two tracks on Singing Bowls. Plans are now in place to push the collaborative project even further by evolving the artistic call and response approach of Constellations by inviting dancers to choreograph short films with each of the compositions. All three artists hope to eventually expand this collaboration into live events, to continue the journey of Constellations in a social arena…
We Are Cult‘s James Gent recently caught up with Tim to chat with him about the album…
Tim Arnold: Interview
Hi Tim, it’s great to welcome you back into the ‘pages’ of We Are Cult. Constellations is the third in your Sounds to Pictures series, tell us a little about the series…
I used to listen to instrumental music when I was a child. A lot of Mike Oldfield, Steve Reich, anything over ten minutes by Pink Floyd, Stephan Micus and other artists like Jan Garbarek from the ECM label. I think one might term a lot of it as New Age music (and some Prog Rock of course) To me it all sounded like world-building, and that was what I was in to. Before music, I was always making maps for imaginary lands and creating new languages. That was Tolkien’s effect on me. So that’s the kind of music I began writing and recording when I was 12 or 13. Music that sounded like new worlds being built. But of course, I ended up going into prototype singer songwriter indie rock mode when I got signed, so those worlds never got built. Until now. I think that’s what the Sounds to Pictures series is about for me.
This album is a collaboration with violinist Jonathan Hill, how did you guys first come to work together?
Jonathan is a dear friend and making music together has become like a family event to me. It’s a well-oiled routine we’ve been running for 15 years that so far has produced some treasurable experiences. We first worked together on my third solo album Secrets of Soho in 2005. It was my first proper DIY album on my own label. I was lucky that my first experience of hearing my string arrangements was with the London Symphony Orchestra (Jocasta’s No Coincidence), but that was with a major label. With Secrets of Soho, I had to try to replicate the epic sound with a couple of players. Jonathan is well known for being a one-man orchestra. When we first started working together, creative fireworks went off and we haven’t stopped daring each other to create something new ever since.
The album is built on the concept of dreaming, which directly influenced the way yourself, Hill and artist Kate Alderton collaborated on these pieces. What initially inspired this line of thought and the creative method you applied – ‘action composing’ as you call it?
Well, my process is something I called ‘action composing’ which follows the Jackson Pollock technique with a piano instead of a canvas. But the method Kate applied to her process could certainly be described as ‘action dreaming’. I’ve worked with Kate in her capacity as an actress and as a theatre producer, but with Constellations, I worked with her as an artist and a dreamer. Dreaming is part of the way she works, and I’ve been thrilled to be able to work with her in that way. Making creative choices from what we’ve seen in our dreams can produce startling results. I think it’s conventional for analysts and therapists to work with someone who regularly explores their dream life, but my background is rock n roll, so this was beautifully unplanned and we both had to keep hold of the beast that was to become this album as the journey unfolded. It had its own agenda and we were but passengers along for the ride.
This working method, exploring the idea of synchronicity, seems to me to tap into Carl Jung’s rather esoteric ideas of the collective subconsciousness, was that a conscious (pun intended) influence?
I was reading about Jung and archetypes when I was in my early teens, and I think some of that might have been down to Sting who made no secret of his interest in Jung and dreams. But I had really forgotten about all of that in later years, until Kate introduced me to a podcast called This Jungian Life and all my fascination for dreams came flooding back. And yes, absolutely, I believe in the collective subconscious and that has been a big influence in making this album and the ways that we’d like to involve more people in the creative process. When I was writing this music, I felt like I was getting to know everything in my consciousness that was unthought. I wasn’t even aware of the synchronicity side of this project at first. It only dawned on me after writing the first few songs, that, at about the exact time that Kate would have been asleep, dreaming far away in her home, I was composing the music at the same time in my home. I think whenever two artists come together, there’s the possibility of building a new world to explore new ideas in. Writing these songs was just my way of beginning that, as a response to the dreams we talked about.
Can you tell us about Kate Alderton’s contributions to this album? Even in the download age, for self contained works such as this the visual aspect of an album is still a significant part of the whole package.
I think of my work with Kate as a collaboration, but if there is a contribution, it’s the same contribution a music producer or a member of the band usually bring. For example, back in ’65, George Harrison says, “can we try a Sitar on this track?” Or Brian Wilson asks for a Theremin. Or 10cc decide to make infinite tape loops out of their voices on I’m Not In Love/ Kate came into my studio one day and said “Let’s use the dreams” and I said “Yes please”. Dreaming was one of the instruments on this album, and we both got to play it at different stages of the creative process, particularly with the narrative that the sequencing of the songs was based on. I believe every listener interprets music in the way they want to, but Kate and I worked very hard together to make the ordering of the songs to really feel like a story. Our dreaming played a big part in those choices.
Also, (and this is always a big contribution for me personally when I make an album), Kate was the first person to hear the music. She was the sounding board for each new composition. That’s a huge contribution to me, which is why I batted it all back to her so she could explore the imagery for the music. Creatively, I worked with Kate in the same way I worked with Jonathan. They’re both virtuosos. Just with completely different instruments.
There’s a lot of ‘found sound’ on this album – waves, breathing, etc – providing additional ambience to the pieces. Are you much of a sound collector?
I am an avid sound collector. I’ve been collecting sounds for years, but I rarely used them on my albums. I’m not sure why, but somewhere along the line, a producer made me feel that these were effects and I should concentrate on ‘the song’ without frills. But this album is different in that I wanted it to be experiential for the listener. I wanted it to feel like a journey through different environments. I like using any sounds I can to stitch the pictures together.
Tell us a little about the timescale of this album, from conception to completion?
From conception to completion, Constellations took 9 months exactly. When truly beautiful things happen in your life, you try to hold on to them, because you don’t want them to end. Music was always my first tool in being able to immortalise a feeling that I wanted to last forever. And more than any other album I have made, I love listening to Constellations. It’s the sound I’ve always wanted to capture, without ever knowing I wanted to. It took a lot of dreaming, and trust in the dreaming to make this record. I’m humbled by just how powerful and kind dreams are when you get to know them.
How do you feel about the finished project, was it a satisfying creative experience for the three of you?
I’ve never been one to strive for satisfaction. When yearning and striving ends, I always feel like I am not intuiting whatever it is that wants to leap out of the collective imagination. I think we all feel very, very happy about it though. Kate’s artwork is perfect for the music, and Jonathan’s playing is exquisite. I’m not surprised how beautiful this project became, but I am grateful.
To me, the album’s sonic palette put me in mind at times of the likes of Philip Glass, Brian Eno, Kronos Quartet and Steve Reich and to a lesser extent Public Service Broadcasting – while also having its own flavour. Is that a fair comparison, what if any artists influenced your approach to the textures of this album?
I’m a self-taught musician without any formal training, so musicians like Glass, Reich and Kronos Quartet are like Gods to me.
Philip Glass is a massive influence on this album and I was moved to learn to play ‘Opening’; when Kate and I saw him perform in the Tao of Glass in Manchester. There’s a lot of his ‘mood’ in Constellations which is a mood that captures the cosmos and humanity in one single motif.
Eno I have always carried with me, and I am just starting to get to know PSB and I love what I have heard. There’s a few minimalists in that list aren’t there? But more than anyone else, the meditative piano approach was influenced by Kate Bush albums like Aerial and 50 Words For Snow. I explored ‘pause for thought’ on Constellations more than any other album I’ve made. And that is very rare for me, in music and in life.
What’s next for Constellations, will you be bringing it to a live audience?
Truly, after recording on my own in the middle of the night tuning into dreams, performing live is what I love the most. If the dream wants it to be, it shall be.
Have you got any other upcoming projects or live dates you’d like to tell our readers about?
When I read this last question, the biggest smile spread across my face. I’ll be sure to tell you why when I can, but that’s all I can tell you at the moment!
❉ Tim Arnold (feat. Jonathan Hill) – ‘Sounds to Pictures, Volume Three: Constellations’ is available from 9 February 2020 via CD and Streaming via TA Music.
❉ James Gent is the Editor of We Are Cult, and is the co-editor of Me and the Starman, (Chinbeard Books, 2019) Available in paperback from Amazon: All profits from this book go toward supporting the work of Cancer Research UK.