ABOUT THE ALBUM
It’s truly an amazing thing to look back on the creative process of an album like “Rapture.” From its inception, this album was epic, with a well-defined concept and theme. When I started writing “Rapture” back in early 2009, I knew I wanted it to be an “album of emotions.” People had often described my earlier music as a “narrative,” which told a story. Music does tell stories, but at its heart it really is the universal language of emotion. I wanted to write music that embodied the essence of basic human emotions, at a more fundamental and instinctual level. It was this idea that sparked the album’s title, “Rapture,” which means “an expression or manifestation of ecstasy or passion” or “a state or experience of being carried away by overwhelming emotion.” This album is indeed both these things, because it is literally a manifestation of passion, and was written to carry away the listener by overwhelming emotion. I had even dubbed “Rapture” as the “red album” long before any album artwork had been conceived, because red is the color of passion and strong emotion.
“Rapture” is a very special album in many ways, one of which is how it was composed as a collective body of works. In the past I had composed my albums one song at a time, completing and naming a song before moving forward. “Rapture” is different because I decided to write the basic themes of all the songs simultaneously, before completing any one individual piece. This approach allowed me to create a more unified and cohesive collection of music, ensuring the album embodied the full spectrum of human emotions. Each song’s title was conceived completely independently of the music for the same reason. Only after all the basic themes had been completed did I then match up each title with a melody that felt right. Looking back, I recall it took a full year before this part of the process was finally finished, and I could then move onto each individual song. During this period I had composed nearly twenty original themes, but decided on only twelve of them to include in the album.
The evolution of “Rapture” from a collection of simple themes into a fully flushed out and developed album was truly a step by step process, and my greatest challenge in music to date. To be completely honest, there were no “easy” compositions on this album. I worked extremely hard on each song, sometimes taking literally months to figure out how to make it work. There were definitely moments of inspiration and clarity along the way, but those came in between many writing blocks and unproductive sessions at the piano. The real magic behind the success of “Rapture” was my sheer determination and love for the creative process. I love writing music, not just for the times when all the notes come easy, but for the times when they don’t. Nothing in the world is more satisfying to me than listening to one of my songs completed, after many weeks or months spent working it out. I held each song on this album to a far higher standard than any of my previous works. From the first to final seconds of each song; every note, harmony, phrase and dynamic was fully explored before committing it to recording. Simply put, I wanted every song to be the very best I could make it! Recording each of “Rapture’s” songs was handled with the same care and attention to detail as during the writing process. I’m also proud to say that this is my first album to be completely produced and mastered at my home based music and recording studio.
None of my albums would be complete without album artwork and packaging equally as compelling as the music. The artwork seen in this album was designed to be iconic, dramatic and emotionally charged. I was very fortunate to have a cover design created by the talented and eminent digital mixed media artist Michael Vincent Manalo of the Philippines. The cover of “Rapture” is an adaptation of one of his many iconic works entitled, “The Musician.” During the time “Rapture” was produced, I also relocated across the country to the gorgeous state of Washington, which had a profound impact upon the album art. Working once again with the gifted graphic designer Matt Strieby (of “Newleaf Design”), we decided to shoot all of “Rapture’s” photos at the beautiful and iconic Washington shoreline. Matt and I spent two days shooting hundreds of photos at the famous La Push, Second Beach and Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park. Capturing the sheer beauty of these two breathtaking locations was both challenging and inspiring, and the images we left with have become an integral part of this album’s identity.
Here at the end of this journey I can finally become the listener, turn off all the lights and just take in the music. It’s been a long road getting to this point, but that’s what writing music is all about. I hope that each of you now listening to this album enjoys the music as much as I’ve enjoyed creating it!
RAPTURE by MICHAEL SAMSON
With two critically acclaimed albums under his belt, pianist Michael Samson has pulled out all the stops to insure that his next release takes it to the next level. This stunningly packaged CD makes a bold statement and represents a milestone in the evolution of a contemporary composer. Of his third album, Michael says: “Conceptually Rapture is a more introspective work, attempting to reach the listener on a more spiritual and personal level. The album attempts to capture the very essence of an emotion or state of being, and is therefore more primal and direct in the way that it communicates with the listener.” This last statement pretty much zeros in on what I feel is a strong point of Michael’s music – its emotional content. Listening with eyes closed I experienced it more on a feeling level than an intellectual one. As Michael said, his music is “primal and direct” in its conveyance. And I would agree. I found his choice of chord changes, progressions, and melodies to be quite evocative yet presented in a style that is often understated, and by his description, “introspective.” This is music that exudes an elegant simplicity, which allows the listener room to intuit its essence and the intention of the composer.
As mentioned, a key descriptive word for Michael’s music is “evocative.” Listening to the first song, the title track, I was drawn in by the feeling that arose within me as it unfolded. On a composition entitled “The Life Before Us,” rolling arpeggios on the left hand provide momentum as the right hand traces a delicate melody that for me exuded an air of hopefulness. On “Emerald Sea,” a more pensive piece that echoes the influence of Satie, the power of perseverance is referenced in Michael’s poetry that describes this track – in an excerpt from the liner notes: “If I lost sight of the path I FOUND MY WAY BACK... When others turned away I KEPT THE FAITH...” This sense of being drawn forward also resonated for me in an inspirational track entitled “The Calling,” something I’m sure that many on the spiritual path can relate to.
One piece in particular that I thought would be a perfect movie soundtrack is “Forever Home,” with its gentle yet dramatic ambience creating a cinematic feel, that was perhaps inspired by Michael’s love of film. An element I was aware of in a number of Michael’s compositions is romanticism, and particularly in the appropriately titled “Amor.” This heartfelt piece unfolds tenderly in several movements and reminded me at times of the works of fellow pianist Suzanne Ciani. The album draws to a close with “Haunting Me,” featuring a wistful melody that lingers in the air like the fragrance of a flower.
The booklet that accompanies the CD is a work of art, and includes the striking cover image by Michael Vincent Manalo. At 24 pages in length it features Michael Samson’s thoughtfully poetic musings on each song along with beautiful color and black & white photography, professionally shot on location along the rugged coastline of Washington State. A lot of work and creativity went into creating this entire package that represents one integrated piece of artwork along with the music. Samples of the music and photography are available at Michael’s beautifully designed website, along with videos of him performing. Experiencing an artistic statement like this is something that will be missed as we move farther into the realm of downloading individual mp3 tracks.
Although “Rapture” is not a classical recording, per se, it could certainly appeal to those with leanings in this direction, as well as listeners who enjoy solo piano in a contemporary instrumental context. Michael Samson is an up and coming composer who is evolving into a promising future in the arts. I’m looking forward to his next release, “West Bound,” which will be his first album featuring other instruments and full orchestration. Stay tuned!
Michael Diamond (Music and Media Focus)