Veteran sonic sculptor Simon Posford has used the last several months of global separation to craft one of the most innovative albums of his illustrious career—and the first album to be released under his own name—Flux & Contemplation: A Portrait of an Artist in Isolation.
While the new album marks Simon Posford’s debut as a “solo artist,” he’s been mystifying listeners for decades under a variety of pseudonyms—from his dance music persona Hallucinogen to his iconic collaborative psybient project, Shpongle.
On this new project, rather than framing the new compositions in structured arrangements from a computer, Posford created loops and mixed them in real-time to capture an organic, in-the-moment snapshot of his headspace in quarantine. Using the loops he created as paint colors on his palette, Posford made daily attempts at producing, sculpting each song until he landed on a take that he felt best expressed his personal experience in lockdown.
With this back-to-basics, spontaneous production technique, Simon Posford crafted an enthralling suite that simultaneously ruminates on the realities of isolation and reaches out from the void to grab hold of listeners’ full attentions—examining and, ultimately, celebrating the unprecedented nuances of this moment in history.
“When lockdown hit, I was sort of overcome by … inertia or a sort of inability to do anything really, especially anything creative,” Posford remarks to Live For Live Music via phone. “But I’ve had this idea that I wanted to try with a piano and this plug-in that I got recently, and I was sort of curious to try something as a method to make a sound and after a few weeks of sort of not going near the studio, suddenly it all came out very quickly. It didn’t feel like an album to me when I made it. It was sort of more of a meditation here to pass time, if anything.”
While the global quarantine left a lot of events unexperienced, individuals have had more time to focus on exploring and improving their own minds and reacquainting themselves with what it means to simply “be.” As Posford explains, “Each song title conveys a definite meaning relayed to feelings of quarantine. It sort of summed up my lockdown experience, I guess, the sort of the bewilderment and the everyday feeling the same, but slightly different. It’s meant to be listened all the way through from start to finish. It’s sort of a whole thing. It wasn’t made as separate pieces. It was sort of made all as one thing, but mixed in sections. Really, it’s one big track.”
The album begins with a dark swell of sounds on “Lockdown”, which resonates through eight minutes of eerie sonic spaces and hypnotic circus carousel melodies. Posford is a master of incorporating unique sounds and audio elements into his projects, and this album showcases his unmatched abilities in that department. Madness is among the prevailing themes of isolation, and Posford conveys that cognitive dissonance with samples of short wave radio stations, leaving the listener to explore static inputs of numbers and code over the unnerving soundscapes.
“These stations have been broadcast on shortwave radio for many years, in some cases, since World War II,” explains Posford. “And I think there were quite a few of them during the Cold War and no one really knows what they are. There’s a lot of speculation. Some people think they are communication spies, for operatives out in the field. I just had a load of recordings of shortwave radio, of these numbers stations. And there’s something about the sort of the repetitiveness of them, combined with the human element of words and numbers, but without sort of imparting meaning necessarily. If you had someone saying phrases or whatever with meanings, it would change it entirely. And so it just seemed like a good sort of symbol of the continuing of the madness of the world outside, but without being too intrusive somehow on one’s thoughts.”
The album continues to inspect the loneliness of isolation as the album progresses into “On A Rainy Day” and “Cyclical Ruminations”. A more meditative mood settles in on “Germination” as Posford adds nature’s melodies into the mix. The final tracks of the album hear Posford express the introspective feelings experienced in lockdown through the wistful tones of his piano, while “The Ripening” combines all themes explored on the album to tie a bow on the set.
“The room where my piano is has got these big doors that open out into the garden, and I’d sit there and you can hear the birds quite clearly,” Posford reflects. “It’s one of the great things about lockdown… the birds are loud and the planes in the sky are not. And so I just sit there playing and sort of notice sometimes a bird would be in tune with the piano, sort of almost jamming with the birds. And when we recorded the piano, in fact, there was bird sound on the recording, but not enough to be useful. So we then added some more.”
While he was one of the many musicians affected by the pandemic in terms of touring, Posford revealed that his time spent in lockdown has caused him to think differently about his career as a musician. “You get these statements from Live Nation and stuff that don’t look too promising about slashing fees. It seems hard to imagine gigs with social distancing and that going on,” he muses. “But I did find myself for the first time in my life thinking seriously about another career, about what other things could I do. The top job I think would be racing driver and then the next job would be best-selling author, best-selling writer would be great. But I say best-selling because to be an unsuccessful writer would be quite miserable. It would be like being a musician. If I could find something that I could do to pay the bills, then I would seriously look at it because certainly the music industry has a very uncertain future at the moment.”
Posford has been holed up at his London home, and it seems as though that won’t change for the time being, as his U.S. visa has now expired and renewals are on an indefinite pause. An upside of the absence of a global touring schedule? More time to focus on new music, which Simon said is already in the works.
“It’s unlikely [Shpongle live band] will come back. You know, Raja Ram is 80 years old this year and he’s in quite a lot of pain with his legs. But I’ve got Raja coming to the studio in a couple of weeks, and Benji [Vaughan] coming over as well to work on some Younger Brother. And I’ll certainly be doing more stuff on my own as well. I might even do some more Hallucinogen.”
As Simon Posford sees it, the “new normal” is a blessing, a chance for a regenerative pause, a moment to reflect on and evaluate the systems we’ve built in both our society and our own minds. In short, a time for change is upon us if we use this opportunity wisely.
“I hope that we can create our own new normal. If we’re not careful, we’ll miss a very good opportunity we’ve been given here to make some really big changes perhaps to society, to the environment, to business and how capitalism works,” Posford notes. “It’s been interesting to have everything locked down, literally the planes not even flying in the sky. It’s had a beneficial effect on the environment. And people working from home, I think a lot more companies will realize that many more people can work at home and it will be better for the environment and for society in general. Everyone has been affected by this. It shows we’re all in it together, and yet it shows even more the importance in your local community.”