Alan Case: Of physics and music

DURP - eZine from the progressive ocean

Interview

You are an graduated physicist- helpfull for writing music?

I believe that becoming a physicist has had a profound effect on my attitude towards life in general and music in particular. In my view there are many parallels between (natural) science and music. In both fields the same sort of creativity is required to be successful. Of course one could argue that in Bach's days not much was known about modern physics and that didn't prevent him from writing his timeless masterpieces, but I'm convinced that minds of this magnitude have a special relationship with nature; they "know" about the laws of the universe without having to be taught all the details the way simple mortals like myself have to.

Is it a strange feeling, if the own music is an Japan more popular than in the home country? Have you an idea why?

First of all, I was very happy with the opportunity given to me by Marquee, the Japanese label that signed me. But, on the downside, it was certainly pretty frustrating to see the field of action being confined to a country at the other side of the world. At such a large distance it's very hard to keep track of everything that's going on around the project and so, despite the exotic element of a contract in Japan, it made me wish to have my next record out closer to home, which has now become reality.

Do you really think that the mood of the songs is so different that you have to work with five singers?

Actually the number is six, myself included. Yes, I believe the atmosphere of the songs calls for different approaches, instrumentally as well as vocally. Although there's certainly an underlying unity in the song material in terms of abstract musical ingredients (I hope so anyway), the texture at the surface is quite diverse, which justifies the approach I've chosen, I believe. Acts like Alan Parsons Project and Ayreon have worked like this for quite some time now and to me there's nothing unnatural about it. However, I don't exclude the possibility that somewhere in the future I might adopt a different musical course, inducing another way of handling lead vocals.

How would you describe your music?

Pff… That's a tough one. Bee & Bee Records, my record company, denotes my music as "a crossover between pop, rock and sympho(nic rock)". I think that's a fairly accurate description of the genre I fall into. But that's not the whole story, of course. It's always very difficult, or rather impossible, to explain in words what can only be experienced through listening. Music is a language of its own which, to me, enables the most direct communication imaginable. So maybe the best way to "describe" my music might be to name a few references like Kansas, Styx, Gentle Giant, Kayak, Magellan. But that's not the whole story either…

Why did you change the name for this release from Wide Awake to Dark Matter?

There's a significant difference between the contents of Dark Matter and Wide Awake and I didn't want any confusion to arise. Nearly all the material on Wide Awake underwent changes, edits and/or additions and three new tracks were added onto Dark Matter. So this really feels like a new album to me, justifying a new title. Besides, Dark Matter was the title I originally wanted to give to the Japanese album, but the people at Marquee preferred Wide Awake.

What about the cover artwork?

I'm extremely pleased with the cover artwork for this album. The focus is not as much on the person, but on the music, the way it should be. The basis was a painting by Katelijne van Oudenaarde, inspired by the music on the album, which you find as a whole on the backside of the booklet. And then Dolores Bremer, one of the main figures of Bee & Bee records and a musician/composer herself, processed it further and took care of the design and layout. All in all the atmosphere of the music is wonderfully reflected in the appearance of the package.

I miss the lyrics in the booklet - don't you care about lyrics?

Yeah, I miss them too. I do care about lyrics, even to the point where I spend weeks getting them exactly right for a particular song. Weak lyrics, to me, are absolutely devastating to the impact of a song. So, although my first talent lies in the music, I take great care to make the package music/lyrics into an inseparable unity, make them fit together like lock and key. The reason they were not included in the booklet is a very down to earth one. With 15 vocal tracks there was a lot of text involved and the booklet would have simply become too large to still be able to be comfortably squeezed in between the tags of the CD-box. It would have required a totally different concept for the design. It's possible, however, to request copies of the lyrics at my record company. They can also in their entirety be viewed on the Alan Case web site (www.geocities.com/alan-case).

How did you come in touch with your current label? It's very small....

In fact, they came in touch with me and they're not all that small (and still rapidly growing) and pretty powerful, given the amount of media exposure they've already generated for my project in the early weeks after the release (national TV, radio & newspapers). Moreover, they're now the largest distribution company of this genre in the Netherlands. They found me through the reviews the Wide Awake album received in several European media (even though it was never available in Europe). They immediately made a positive impression on me and I'm strongly convinced I did the right thing signing with them.

"Fast Asleep" is more like neo prog, not like the other songs of the record, is it a little bit out of charakter

I have to disagree with you here. As I stated earlier I believe that - beneath the surface - all the songs on the album share a common ground. Of course, each song has its own specific qualities and indeed you could say that Fast Asleep has, of all the material on Dark Matter, the highest density of explicit symphonic elements. However, these elements are also prominently present in other songs, like for instance I Don't Need a Lover, Nighteye, Celebrate Your Life and Wide Awake, so I don't think Fast Asleep is out of character on this record. By the way, I agree with your observation that Fast Asleep is vaguely reminiscent of some of the Arena material, be it then that it's actually the other way around, because Fast Asleep (first released in 1995) was there before the Arena album in question!

How would you like to develop in the future? Do you think about changing your style?

Like I said in response to your question about the lead vocals, I could imagine working with only one singer at some point in the future. I don't think, however, that changing my style would be a conscious action. As you go through life you constantly change and develop towards higher states of mind (hopefully, anyway). This will unavoidably have an effect on your creative output, but I see this more like a natural, gradual evolution than a sudden leap into an opposite direction. I don't care about trends in music and I certainly will never allow myself to be guided by some insignificant hype that happens to coincide with my existence, even if I'd have to pay for that attitude with lifelong obscurity. I hope I will always be able to keep looking in the mirror and never reach a point where I start disowning previous work like for instance Peter Gabriel who calls his Genesis period "a healthy part of growing up", thereby making everybody who's into old Genesis music feel stupid. I do have some artistic goals set for myself, like for instance writing a number of classical style pieces, next to the ones I've already completed.

Is there a most important event in the history of the artist Alan Case?

Ask me that question again on my death-bed. Hopefully my answer would then be: the moment I signed my first contract with Bee & Bee Records. It's a little early now to talk about the most important event for the artist Alan Case. So far the event I consider most important, artistically, would be the completion of my Suite for Strings, a piece for string orchestra which has never yet been performed.

What do you think about the situation of your musical genre in the presence and what will change in the future?

Obviously the genre of progressive rock has known better days, though I do believe we might witness a growing tendency towards melodic and harmonic structure again in the early new millennium after all the musical poverty we've had to endure in the last decade. I feel sorry for the generation of kids who've had their teen ages in the nineties and consider myself lucky mine were a little earlier. Predicting the future remains a very hazardous business, for it tends to behave rather chaotically, like the weather. A small alteration at some point might have enormous consequences later on. If for instance some genius emerges in a particular musical genre, this might herald a revival of the whole genre. We'll see. Positive surprises in the past decade to me have been Valensia and Valentine and Vandolor from the Netherlands and Magellan from the USA. Undoubtedly I should name a whole lot more, but I'm ashamed to say I'm not all that well aware of everything that's going on inside the prog scene.

Are you satisfied with your career so far?

Through the years I've learned to formulate my goals not in terms of career or success, for then I'd probably have turned away in frustration by now. In this business you either have to sell your soul to the devil and follow a relentlessly commercial course, or retain your artistic integrity and at the same time accept that you've got a long hard road ahead. I've chosen the second strategy. Of course, commercial success would be welcome, but it's not a goal in itself. So the answer to your question would be: yes, I'm satisfied with my "career" so far, because I consider this to be the musical output I've achieved up till now.

Where did you get your inspiration?

It's very hard to tell where I get my inspiration. It's a very elusive subject. Of course I've been inspired by the works of great composers like Bach, Ravel, Lennon/McCartney, Kerry Livgren and countless others. But when you become a composer yourself, you have to digest all these influences into something of a personal style. This process is probably shaped by personal experiences, events (not necessarily involving myself), people or phenomena that make a lasting imprint on your soul (whatever that may be). In this context the awe at nature and the incomprehensible diversity of existence can also be (and are) a source of inspiration to me.

Is it more difficult to write an 15 minute epic than an three minute radio hit?

It's definitely more time-consuming to write the 15 minute epic. When I add up all the time I've spent over the years creating Fast Asleep, it might well amount to six months full time labor. And of course you have to take more factors into account when writing a complicated piece. The degree of complexity tends to increase exponentially with the number of interacting musical voices. Having said this, I still don't think it's "easier" to write a compact radio hit, for this requires the talent to create something which is both immediately appealing and has a lasting value, although this last criterion has of course been totally abandoned in most of today's hit music.


© 05/2000 Renald Mienert
DURP - eZine from the progressive ocean
http://www.durp.com/