My passion has always been music. In fact, my career in tech came from music - I taught myself programming by writing a live music sequencer for use at my own student gigs.
The Cloud Surfing project began when I started trying to make music from my memories of Arctic Scandinavia – its stunning light, bracing air and rugged wilderness. In 2023 I got the opportunity to turn these compositions into something real by taking some young people into a professional studio environment and have them play on these tracks.
I have found music to be something that calms, restores, brings perspective and also unites. In a way, this is my chance to give back - when I was learning classical violin and piano as a teenager, after my Saturday morning lessons were finished at West Sussex Music Centre, I was allowed to spend time in the "electronic music room", getting to grips with now-rare 70s synths. Later in life, I loved reawakening my musical creativity, but what has made this time so special has been working with brilliant young people and making this album as a shared piece of art.
Thank you to Helena and Eliza for so beautifully bringing real instruments to my electronic musings, to Dan and Ed for adding fantastic drums, and to all at Real World Studios for being so welcoming, kind and excellent – especially Katie May for patiently teaching us so much about the recording, editing and mixing process. And thank you to Justine and Heather for supporting this project.
I hope you enjoy it.
All proceeds to Big Change, providing opportunities to prepare young people for life and their future careers.
Incidentally, the cover design is from a photo taken while flying over the far north from London to Hong Kong. The white streaks are Noctilucent (or “night-shining”) Clouds, formed of ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, lit by the already set sun from over the horizon. They are quite a rare occurrence, only visible at certain latitudes for short times during the year, just after sunset.
Paul Williams, October 2023
Apple Music / iTunes: Listen here.
Spotify: Listen here.
Purchase Cloud Surfing CD here (shipping now!).
Bass guitar: Helena Walker-Osterloh
Violin: Eliza Rodgers
Drums: Dan Neale
Piano, synths and programming: Paul Williams
All tracks written and arranged by Paul Williams.
Album artwork by Kerry Williams.
To introduce the album, this track was written to set the scene in anticipation of things to come. Originally written and recorded entirely “in the box” using virtual synths in my computer, Dan’s drums recorded by Ed at Rainbow Wood Studios really added dynamics and life. I wasn’t expecting to be able to have real drums on this album, so it was a real treat when the opportunity arose to involve Dan and Ed. Thanks guys.
My wife Justine and I discovered Arctic Scandinavia 10 years ago, and have tried to go back to remote Sweden, Norway or Finland most winters since. We fell in love with the sparse landscape, the beautiful light in the day, the possibility of Northern Lights at night, the invigorating cold air and the stillness. In that place, the guides sometimes say “we don’t need to talk now” and you can just take in the scenery in silence, lost in your own thoughts - it is good for the soul. This track reminds me of that sense of peacefulness.
This was the first track we recorded piano, bass and violin at Real World Studios. Helena and Eliza took to the studio environment as if they’d been recording for years.
When I was learning how to program and play synthesisers, one of my great influences was Jean-Michel Jarre. His tracks often had incredible electronic swoops and synth runs, and on this track I tried to find ways of creating those. In later years, a band I loved was MUTEMATH, with incredible drummer Darren King. I was elated when Darren released a set of loops people could use in their own tracks, so here I was able to bring the spirit of his drumming coupled with Helena’s bass guitar powering the track along.
Ice and Sky
This track is a wider collaboration - alongside bass by Helena and violin by Eliza, recorded by Katie May at Real World Studios, we are joined again by ace session drummer and percussion teacher Dan Neale, recorded by Ed Graves at Rainbow Wood Studios in Bath.
A tune inspired by the frozen vistas and ethereal light of Arctic Sweden, and brought to life with Helena’s bass groove and Dan’s drumming.
A Daughter's Light
There is something special about seeing your kids grow up and find their way, achieving things you cannot have taught them. I wrote this from the perspective of a proud, inspired dad.
I’d been listening to a lot of music by Ólafur Arnalds - a favourite composer of mine - and I loved the way he combined piano, strings and electronics. That definitely influenced the direction this track took.
Thank you to Eliza for interpreting and playing my first string arrangement so well. Helena’s warm bass guitar really filled out the sound, and I loved playing Real World Studio’s glorious Bösendorfer 170CS grand piano, which Katie recorded beautifully (with Coles 4038 ribbon mics and classic Neve 1073 pre-amps, for those interested in the tech details).
During mixing, Katie played the track back on the huge speakers in the Big Room at Real World Studios - the combination of the sound, thinking about why I wrote this and how we’d been able to bring some young people together to record it made me quite emotional. One of those moments I will remember for a long time.
“Snow Fields” is another track inspired by the stillness and beauty of the frozen north. On a still day, you can see the ice crystals forming in the air in front of you.
A moment of calm in an intense world. I love Helena’s 4 and 5-string bass playing and Dan’s intricate drums on this track - they add so much to the layers of synths.
Space In My Thoughts
I wrote this track during that time in the lockdown years when we spent a lot of time isolated at home. I was very grateful for my home studio setup, where I could go and compose, and try and piece ideas together into tracks that could ebb and flow and contain emotion. In the back of my mind I was still thinking of those beautiful empty plains of the far north - somewhere you have space to think.
Thanks to Helena and Dan for adding an organic rhythm section to the electronic layers.
When I first set up my home studio and started to learn Logic Pro, this was the first track I composed, played and produced - hence it became the title track of this album. I was inspired by long flights to and from New York and San Francisco, gazing out of the window above the clouds, looking out for gaps where I could try and figure out where we were from glimpses of the ground, and at night looking out for the faint hint of Northern Lights.
Those deepest lockdown months made me appreciate the good times spent over the years with great friends. I was lucky to have family around, but still missed meeting up with some really treasured friends. Zoom just wasn’t the same, so when we got to spend time in each other’s company again, it was really special.
On this track, in my head I had the “Chariots of Fire” theme by Vangelis, and attempted to emulate that kind of orchestration in the synth parts. Dan nailed the whole drum part pretty much in one go, having only just heard it. Impressive - and testament to the talented people I have been so lucky to involve in this project.
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