Welcome to Issue 31!
Welcome to the “Sci-fi Rocks!” issue. When you say ‘sci-fi rocks’ most people think of meteorites, astronauts tapping on dusty moon rocks, and huge dinosaur-killer asteroids. But that’s not what this issue of our free magazine is about. This month we look at the intermingling of music and science-fiction, much of which was culturally transferred from sci-fi to rock by art and imagery (rather than directly, from literature straight to musical notes). We’re pleased to have an interview with a leading historian of the topic, Robert McParland — and we make sure to ask him about the influence of album cover art, paperback covers, wall posters, comics, and all the other visual culture that zipped back and forth at light-speed between music and sci-fi in the 1970s and 80s. Nor does this issue neglect our usual digital artists, with the excellent Darius showing his music-inspired sci-fi art, and a long interview with professional album cover designer 3mmi who caters to the metal / fantasy-horror end of the rock music spectrum.
Sadly we can’t get the music itself on the page — Querranng, Thuda-thuda-Thuda, Roorrrch!! doesn’t translate well to print. But at the end of this magazine we are able to offer our readers our free Spotify album titled Space Patrol, for your listening pleasure as you make your digital art. In this you can hear in chronological order the evolution of the core sci-fi elements in the British electropop sound from 1977 to 1983. It’s still heady stuff, even today. The title comes via a trad-rock critic on the second-ranking weekly music paper Melody Maker, who once derided the whole emerging electronic-based synth genre as ‘the Space Patrol’.
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We talk with Robert about his new book Science Fiction in Classic Rock, and about the heady mix of myth, art and music.
WRITER | RESEARCHER
“Sometimes bands fall apart, and then give it a go again. But the work is who they are; it is what they do, like a half-crazy kind of vocation. They are committed to the music and are still able to hold onto a sense of wonder.”
Darius, aka ‘The BakaArts’, makes stylish music-oriented pictures with Cinema 4D and Photoshop.
PS | CINEMA 4D
“My big breakthrough was a YouTube tutorial, actually, rather than a picture. It exploded in terms of the traffic it had, and made me popular, to the tune of thousands and thousands of subscribers a month.”
‘3mmi’ is a leading professional album cover artist from France, popular in the metal genre of heavy rock.
“[When I first began] I was thinking that I would be able to sell any image for an album cover, but in this case the band came to me and did just love the image, and that was my start. It helped me to trust my art and myself.”
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Part Interview text with ROBERT McPARLAND
DAL: Robert, welcome to the Digital Art Live “Sci-fi Rocks!” issue.
RM: I’m pleased to be here. DAL: Spotting early news of your book was actually the trigger for this themed issue of our free magazine, so thanks! You seem to have got in ahead of a whole pack of interest in the topic, which has emerged strongly in the last six months. Later in this issue our ‘Imaginarium’ section features no less than four major books on the topic, including yours. Firstly, can you set the scene for our readers, by telling us something of your own background in relation to this fascinating topic, please?
RM: Sure. Connections always exist between our arts and our sciences, between our humanist concerns and our philosophies and technologies. Since my father was a chemist, I was drawn toward the sciences, or at least toward Scientia, the Latin root word which means ‘the quest for knowledge’. But I moved away from the natural sciences and toward art, especially music. When I was about thirteen or so, I was writing short stories, often with science fiction or mystery themes, and songs that were innocuous pop ditties that I’d record in the bathroom (great echo!) on a Panasonic tape recorder. A couple of years later there was a band. We called ourselves “The Commercials” and decided to be non-commercial. Vinny DeNunzio, the drummer, introduced me to bands like Roxy Music, The Move, and a whole array of other sounds. He went on to work with Richard Lloyd of the band Television and some other people. His brother Keith played bass for a new-wave band called The Feelies who were on Stiff Records in the UK and later were on A&M.
I went off to college, had a roommate who was fascinated with Star Wars, played solo acoustic gigs, and read Poe and Wells and later science fiction, along with Flaubert and Dostoevsky. I listened to more classical music and prog-rock and some funk, R&B/soul, and jazz.
My friend Doug Yeager, an avid sci-fi reader, introduced me to the work of Thomas Disch, C.J. Cherryh, and others by passing along some of his paperbacks to me. We even met Isaac Asimov, at a lecture/reading sponsored by a local science fiction association. I was always amazed by how prolific he was.
DAL: Yes, a great writer and great man. Even his autobiography was a fascinating read. What are your memories of your own first personal experiences of the melding of rock music and science fiction?
RM: It was ‘in the air’ around me. I play guitar more than piano, and I wasn’t really at first into the prog-rock then associated with the early room-sized synthesizers and science fiction imagery. My interest was in ‘British Invasion’ blues-based bands, from The Kinks and The Yardbirds to Cream and The Who and pop music from The Beatles through Bob Dylan and folk-rock. At 12 to 14 I was pinned to the radio daily, listening to pop music and was starting to write songs. ‘Prog rock’ was unavoidable and some people around me, especially the keyboard players, liked it and tried to play it.
DAL: Yes, I think that’s the angle of which appeals to be most. Under the influence of a certain podcaster I have tried to listen to some bits of prog, one supposedly all-time classic of the 1970s and another supposedly the very best of the 90s — Transatlantic, The Whirlwind — and I just couldn’t get more than three or four songs into each before I was reaching frantically for some Pet Shop Boys. Syd Barratt-era Pink Floyd, some Hawkwind songs, and synth– symphony stuff like Heonig’s Departure from the North Wasteland, are all about a far as I can go to even get near it. Instrumental psychedelic space-rock has its moments though. I remember I was once quite fond of a compilation of that, called Nuggets or something similar.
RM: Yes, Prog intersected with psychedelic rock and space-rock: Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and the band Yes. Angelo Panetta and Andrew De Grado, who later worked with Josh Bell, the violinist, could play the hell out of that stuff — but they were classically trained. As for me, I was nowhere near their skill set. Some of that prog-rock waned by the mid-seventies, even as synthesizers and multi-track recording developed further. I found the expansiveness of space-music interesting. I was intrigued by the intersections of mythology, music, and science fiction imagination. Meanwhile, I was still trying to figure out how Eric Clapton got his guitar sound!
DAL: And what sort of literary and/or comics science fiction were you into at that point?
RM: Oh… Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Robert Silverberg and Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone. I read the classic H.G. Wells stories and novels. I tried to understand Arthur C. Clarke, because I was so young when 2001 first came out that I didn’t really ‘get it.’ I became very interested in science fiction that involved social commentary or speculation about the future. My first fiction writing was mostly science fiction stories.