Richard Ackrill being interviewed by Morgana, about his debut album with MG Music – The Lightness of Being.
(Morgana) First of all Richard, welcome to MG Music and congratulations on the release of your first album with us – The Lightness of Being.
(Richard) Thanks Morgana.
(Morgana) You’ve been away from the New Age music scene for 10 years now, what has inspired you to write this album?
(Richard) I had been a professional musician for over 20 years and after lots of travelling and composing I felt in need of a complete break from the music scene in general. So I got a ‘proper’ job where I could develop my other interest of computer programming which I really enjoy. It sounds dramatic but I felt so devoid of musical inspiration I wasn’t sure if I would ever write music again, and it took a full 10 years before I started to feel the familiar creative urge. The real catalyst for the album’s creation was MG Music. I was obviously aware of Medwyn’s music, as anyone remotely involved in the New Age music scene would be, but when I discovered through youtube that he had started his own music company it inspired me to send some demos just to see if there was any interest. I thought that at the very least I would receive some helpful and sympathetic advice and when Medwyn asked me to come aboard the MG Music bus I was absolutely thrilled. That gave me the encouragement and focus I needed to invest in some upto date gear and throw myself back into the music again.
(Morgana) As a concept, the album title is pleasantly dream-like. This is portrayed nicely by the spaceous feel of the musical arrangements throughout the album. How important is it for you to have a strong concept in mind when you write?
(Richard) Although I did have a working title I have to be honest and say that Medwyn came up with the name after hearing my demo. It was far better than my working title and I agree it does capture the spirit of the album. I suppose that answers the second part of your question as well. I have always been inspired by sounds and so the writing process for this album was constantly being influenced by discovering different sounds as I became familiar with my new equipment. 10 years out of music is a lifetime in technology terms and things have moved on at an incredible pace. The only limitations now are in your imagination. The real challenge is mastering the technology so it does what you want it to do and not vice versa. The most important aspect of any piece is the overall feel and so I choose the sounds very carefully so they sit well together. Although strong melodies will always play a big part in my music I have become very interested in creating multi-layered ‘soundscapes’ or ‘textures’ for those melodies to exist in. Musical worlds the listener can be drawn into.
(Morgana) What’s your favorite track on the album and why?
(Richard) This is a tricky one as I like different tracks for different reasons. I like Infinity as the opening track as there is a real vibrancy about it and I also like Beyond the Clouds as the final track as it seems to bring the listener safely and gently back into the ‘real world’. Rain Walking started with the idea of creating a piece around one constantly evolving note and I think it works well. Prescence has a nice gentle reassuring quality and Closer to the Light always makes me smile – not sure why.
(Morgana) This album incorporates an imaginative choice of sounds as well as some stunning expansive effects. Can you say a few words about how you go about selecting sounds and putting a track together?
(Richard) As mentioned in a previous answer I find my inspiration in sounds. Sometimes this can be a beautiful acoustic guitar or one of the awesome truly original sounds in Omnisphere. I usually start by creating some core musical elements or ideas that can later be expanded and evolved. They usually consist of a chord sequence and a melody or a pattern that has the feel I am looking for. It’s then a case of extracting the maximum musical value out of the core material, either through different instrumentation or introducing variations on the main themes. It’s quite different to writing the traditional 3 minute pop song where you already have a basic framework. When I first started writing instrumental music I felt a bit lost at first but now I love the freedom of allowing the music to dictate it’s own structure.
(Morgana) Some of the production techniques you have used sound pleasantly hypnotic and very similar to those found in the type of music that incorporates psycho acoustics to enhance the relaxational effects? Is this a theoretical area that interests you?
(Richard) I haven’t done any research into it, I just go with what feels right to me. I found myself utilising echo and reverb effects on quite a few of the tracks. This creates a very satisfying and comforting rhythmic backdrop so I’m sure it does satisfy some basic human need, in the same way as that certain combinations of notes have a natural affinity such as the first and fifth of an octave.
(Morgana) What is the hardest part of producing an album for you, the writing, the arranging, or the final mixing and mastering? Do you enjoy any one part of the process more than another?
(Richard) I think every stage has its challenges and rewards. The writing can be quite daunting. The equivalent of the author’s blank sheet of paper. I just start fiddling with sounds and ideas and hope that the required gust of inspirational wind appears to get things off of the ground. Although sometimes all that appears is just wind:) I think I enjoy the arranging best as it is the equivalent of an artist filling the sketch with colour and bringing it to life. The mixing and mastering have proved a real challenge. In my previous life as a musician the software had nothing like the capabilities of my current equipment and so mixing was basically a case of getting the levels right. Now I am in the world of spectrum analysers and multiband compressors I have had to spend a lot of time researching the true art of mixing and mastering and although I still have a lot to learn, I have gained a thorough appreciation for how complicated it really is. I opted to buy Ozone 5 Mastering software and although it is fantastic, I was all too aware that it has the potential to totally mess up the mix if used inappropriately. It took me about 4 weeks to mix and master the album as I had to constantly change things after listening on different equipment and speakers. I think it has turned out surprisingly well all things considered:)
(Morgana) What message or feelings would you like to leave your listeners with after hearing this album?
(Richard) The best feeling music can give me is to take over my consciousness and carry me up and away into a different world so that when the final notes fade away I feel revived, refreshed and inspired, and happy to rejoin the ‘real world’ again. If this album could provide listeners with that experience I would be very pleased.
(Morgana) In the interests of balance, here’s a question especially for the nerdy types out there – what favorite software packages did you use in this album?
(Richard) After many years of using Cubase I decided to opt for Sonar X1 recording software and I am very pleased with it’s functionality and sound quality. On Med’s advice I also invested in Omnisphere and have never regretted it. The sounds are so inspiring and original.
(Morgana) We touched on technology earlier and I’d like to pick up on something you said a few minutes ago. You must have found a huge difference between today’s technology and the studio kit you were using 10 years ago. Has this been a help or a hindrence to you?
(Richard) As mentioned previously I am absolutely thrilled by what technology can do today but I am also aware that it is increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd as it is so easy for anyone to produce a professional sounding recording just by using loops and stock sounds. Even in Omnisphere it is possible to produce a great sounding backing track by holding down a single note. Therefore I go out of my way not to take the easy option but to create original sounds wherever possible or use stock sounds in an original way. I am certainly not someone who hankers for the ‘good old days’. I opted for a PC with an i7 processor and I have never come close to using 50% of the processing power no matter how many plug-ins I use. It’s fantastic!!
(Morgana) Finally, is there a question you’ve been burning to answer that I have failed to ask? Anything you would like to say to anybody who has helped you, a dedication or a message to your listeners perhaps?
(Richard) I think you have asked me an exhaustive (and exhausting) list of questions. What is the pass mark?
(Morgana) -laughs- Rumour has it that some of the folks at MG respond well to Toblerone when dealing with borderline cases.
(Richard) -makes a note to buy some Toblerone just in case- I would like to thank my wife Jayne for her constant and unwavering support and also Medwyn and all at MG Music for taking a chance and giving me this wonderful opportunity. Any company that cares so much about their employees deserves every success! My only hope is that the album gives some pleasure to those who listen to it.
(Morgana) Thank you Richard. The Lightness of Being is a beautiful album and I wish you every success with it on behalf of the whole MG Team.
(Richard) Thanks Morgana.