Space, the final frontier. And also a place filled with the sounds of floating saxophones, languid string ensembles and the electronic echo of synthesizers. At least, so it is depicted in the work of Halifax-based musician and composer Patrick Healy. "I can't escape the science fiction," he says of one of the defining elements of his distinct sound. His inspirations are broad and eclectic, from Gustav Holst and H.P. Lovecraft, to Mass Effect and Star Fox 64.
Reading through the names of the tracks on Healy's many sci-fi inspired albums is a treat for those with a mind for speculative media, not to mention wandering through the astrological atmosphere created by the songs themselves. They have the character of the most prolific of sci-fi movie soundtracks, but set loose from any visual element. Healy has been pairing his interest in both electric guitar and sci-fi since he was 17, every record released being a part of his unique brand of space-age prog-rock. He describes the sound as "someone threw a rock band into the orchestra pit."
His latest full-length, Setting a Course for Tomorrow (available now on iTunes) is his most complex compositional work to date. It doesn't take long when listening to the plucky keyboard and electronica of "The Backbone of Night" or the haunting opening tones of "Shadow Over Innsmouth" to feel nebulas drifting by, but also to recognise something different about this particular foray into the cosmos.
"This one is definitely a spin in another direction. I feel like in science fiction there are two kinds of clubs right now: There's the post-apocalyptic club and there's the Star Trek positive economic prosperity future camp."
Healy makes it clear that his past albums often fell into the dark dystopic trend that modern sci-fi tends to occupy. "I kinda wanted to write some music where it's based on the economic prosperity, the positive future," he says. "Uplifting but still intriguing at the same time."
It's music about pushing forward, whether that be in terms of finding new bounds within the sci-fi genre, or bringing the guitar into a new light. Healy cites the triumphant farewell that is "All Good Things..." as his favourite song on the album, due to the "honesty" of the guitar performance. "I think one thing that's really important to the work I do is I'm consistently trying to bring the guitar into the more compositional realm rather than a strict rock and roll type of sound. I really want to expand where the guitar can sit in music. Really, I have a hard time accepting genre confines—I've never been good at it ever."
This casting-off of genre and musical convention only makes Set a Course for Tomorrow feel all the more adventurous. It's a journey that has brought Healy to new individual frontiers as well, making the spaces explored by this optimistic mixture of sound and starlight not only speculative and orchestral, but personal. "I felt like I had been inside of a rut for four or five years in terms of guitar playing, and that last track I feel like I just hit the sound that I want to hit, at least for now," Healy says. "So I'm pretty proud of that."
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