CLARA - Setting The Scene

'Complete Logistics And Research Automation'

About four years ago I was busy working on a project for my degree, something that led me down a number of different paths and learning curves I wasn't expecting but thoroughly enjoyed. Part of this was the design of motion graphics and typography to go along side the main focus of the piece, and provide context and a world in which it could be set. This lore and background to the main idea became something I took great pleasure in devising, and I was soon spending almost as much time on these peripheral indulgences that they began to take on a life of their own. 

This mindset has been continuous in many of my pieces, and you'll notice an ethos or design aesthetic that punctuates much of my work, whether this be sound, motion or graphics. In my forthcoming album 'CLARA' I had a strong idea for the background and narrative of the piece, but I also wanted to set the scene for listeners in other ways, and to provide that extra context that I enjoy.

'CLARA' has been inspired by a number of films, stories and games - most notably 'The Expanse' TV series and the Greek mythology surrounding Amalthea, a nurturing goddess and mother figure, from which Jupiter's fifth moon takes it's name. The story of CLARA is influenced by many science-fiction films and ideas, but in particular I have always been interested in the relationship between humans and artificial intelligence, so this plays an important role in the narrative.

Synopsis

'CLARA' - (Complete Logistics And Research Automation) a fully autonomous scientific research station tasked with studying and transporting a large suspended populous across vast distances in space.

CLARA is discovered adrift in low orbit around Amalthea, Jupiter's fifth moon, all non-critical systems have been suspended, and no contact can be established. A research team is dispatched to investigate the station and it’s important cargo, which left Terra over 5 years ago.  After successfully gaining entry through a maintenance airlock, the team discovers the remaining human population have been subjected to a number of experimental neuroscience procedures during suspended animation. As events unfold, it becomes clear that CLARA is critically unstable and highly possessive of her human cargo, an unnerving maternal connection that must be severed in order to preserve the countless lives onboard... 

Graphics

The graphics you can see around this page form part of the story - here I've tried to represent one of the many control panel displays you might find on a ship such as CLARA, though this in itself is a subtle contradiction, since the ship is designed to be autonomous and rely solely on it's computer system for general operation. The graphics and video I have created here were heavily inspired by the set design of Alien and the deep dive into it's computer displays and typography by author Dave Addey. I was also really impressed with the way Alien Isolation (the first-person survival game that follows on from the first Alien film) created that aesthetic within it's interface design, and I'd like to thank Jon McKellan for his twitter post talking about how they achieved this.

One of the first things I designed whilst composing the album was this initial logo, which eventually went on to inspire the motion graphics you can see at the top of the page. As Dave Addey mentioned in his book 'Typeset The Future', Eurostile Bold Extended has become synonymous with science-fiction over the years, with it's use in countless films and television series. With this in mind, I wanted to adopt a similar aesthetic for the 'CLARA' logo, so Bold Extended was used in both lines of text here, albeit with a thick outline instead of a fill above, and regular text below. I have also adjusted the kerning ever so slightly to bring the characters closer together on the lower line, and further apart on the upper.

The choice of colour I used for the logo and motion graphics was also important to me, as I felt I wanted something that would be suitable for a CRT display that might be found on-board CLARA and in keeping with the retro-futuristic aesthetic. Orange seemed to work well, however I also have a set of red graphics that I have been working with too, though they feel a little more sinister overall and perhaps less accessible being quite dark and grainy. 

The Music

The idea behind CLARA is relatively new, and I started work on writing the album in December 2020, but I've been experimenting with similar themes for many years. I wanted to create something that would be equally at home as a film score or game soundtrack, but that also worked on it's own and developed some intrigue and curiosity in the listener. I'd started working with a mix of orchestral sample libraries and designed sounds, as I wanted to create something quite cinematic yet futuristic and unsettling. CLARA also benefits from a range of analogue synthesised sounds created using an AE Modular system I've been putting together over the last 18 months, which has been a big change in the way I compose, lending itself to creating a new sound each time you start working with it.

As the album is designed for a cassette release, it was also important to have two sides that felt cohesive, so the narrative is split subtly to allow for this, and it also helped when composing each of the songs and how they fitted the story I had in mind. 
For the 15 songs on the album, I wanted to hint at the story in a way that film and game soundtracks so often do, with their titles and narrative. I didn't want to set anything in stone however, and I hope the listener can make up their own mind as to the precise outcome of events and the way they unfold.