about his 2016 album Celtic Skies, Northern Ireland-based composer
and recording artist Eamonn Karran tells mwe3.com, I think
in many ways Celtic Skies has two distinct personalities. Theres
the solo piano side that takes me back to the melodies I always loved
playing, and theres the more flamboyant, big production side
that reflects my love of electronic orchestral music. The fact that
I am able to successfully merge these styles into one album is wonderful.
Maybe one day I will release a solo piano album, but for now Im
enjoying the freedom of being able to let these two personalities
run free to create music that reflects every genre and tradition that
has influenced me throughout my musical life. In many ways,
Eamonns statement sums up the spirit of Celtic Skies. At
home with solo piano musings backed up by light synthsas well
as working with lush orchestrations and singers who capture the essence
of his Celtic and Irish melodiesEamonn Karran brings his music
to yet another sonic plateau with Celtic Skies. Although Celtic
Skies started out as a solo piano album, Eamonns fascination
with both 21st century technology and the fascination of Irish melodies
sung by human voices brought the album to life with a stunning and
diverse range of studio refinements putting Eamonn on the cutting
edge of VST (virtual sound technology) instruments. Celtic Skies
brings 21st century Irish New Age music to far-reaching heights
once only dreamed about. With the 2016 release of Celtic Skies,
listeners far and wide can appreciate Eamonn Karrans fascinating
mix of Irish-flavored instrumental and vocal music.
mwe3.com presents an interview with
mwe3: Whats new in Derry City and hows your family?
Where else have you been these past couple years? Are you a grandfather
Karran: Yes its wonderful! Im now a grandfather to
two little boys, Olly and Harry. Olly is almost 2 and Harry is just
1 month old, so life is busy and exciting.
My family are all well Robert, thank you. Ive been working hard
this last 18 months on Celtic Skies, a real labor of love and
Im delighted with the results.
My aim is to take my productions from the studio to a live show. This
is something I have been looking into over the past year and is a
real dream of mine. My first solo piano performance is on the 19th
of July in the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral Dublin with American
pianist Rebecca Harrold as part of the Enlightened Piano Radio tour.
I have been in discussion with other local musicians, so hopefully
a stage show will happen sometime over the next year.
Derry City is buzzing with music. Since it became the UK city of Culture
in 2013, it has become a hive of live music. There is such a rich
tradition of performance here and it is alive and well in the young
generation. Its exciting to be part of this and to be surrounded
by such a wealth of talent.
mwe3: You were inspired by your mother while you were making
your 2015 CD Forgotten Road. Were there new experiences that
inspired you on the 2016 CD release of Celtic Skies and can
you tell us how you approached the musical ideas and then how it turned
into the finished album?
Eamonn Karran: Forgotten Road was in many ways a darker
album that was influenced by the sad passing of my mother. I have
a deep fondness for Forgotten Road as many of the tracks are
extremely personal. When I began composing for Celtic Skies
my initial idea was to go back to my roots as a pianist and compose
an album of mainly solo piano pieces. This album was to reflect how
I felt being not only a father but also now a grandfather. I found
myself recalling memories of spending wonderful days with my wife
and kids and how lucky I was to be surrounded by such amazing people
and to have the time and health to be able to enjoy these years.
As I gradually built up pieces of music, I found myself hearing different
sounds and ambiences, and literally running to the studio to put down
scratch tracks before the ideas left me!
Over the course of a year, as many tracks took shape, I realized that
these solo piano pieces that I had initially composed were now turning
into a completely different album and Celtic Skies was born.
mwe3: The Celtic influence was apparent on Forgotten Road
so is Celtic Skies even more influenced by your roots in
Karran: Yes, absolutely. I live directly on the border between
Northern Ireland and the (South) Republic of Ireland, so I find myself
heavily influenced by many traditions. My relations are from Ireland,
England and Scotland, so I tend to add little snippets of music and
sounds that reflect these traditions and the journeys they have made.
Forgotten Road was certainly a much more emotionally charged
album, whereas Celtic Skies has, in my opinion, a stronger
Celtic vibe running through its tracks.
mwe3: You were talking about new instruments last time and
as on Forgotten Road you recorded Celtic Skies with
the Yamaha P105. What other instruments helped you shape the Celtic
Skies album and can you compare the VST piano sound with acoustic
pianos as you mentioned Steinway last time.
Eamonn Karran: Im a little bit like a kid in a toy shop
when it comes to VSTs! I love having loads of instruments at
hand so that when an idea hits me, I can have a wide selection of
sounds to work with. Over the past two years I have been looking for
that unique VST that will offer me a one stop shop for inspirational
sounds that will set my creative juices flowing. Unfortunately Ive
yet to find that golden egg but I have ended up purchasing a few new
instruments and sample packs that have completed changed the sound
of Celtic Skies.
As on Forgotten Road, my trusty Yamaha P105 was featured
quite a bit on this album. I just love the warm rounded sound of this
piano, especially for solo pieces. But for a few of the tracks I used
an incredible VST piano by a company called Acoustic Samples.
Its their C7 Grand and in my opinion, and has one of the most
realistic sounds I have ever heard from a VST piano; a beautiful mixture
of warmth and depth with a certain brightness when pushed. This piano
was used for tracks; Late Night Piano, Ley Lines,
Wildflowers and Call of Hy-Brasil.
When producing bigger pieces, this piano in much easier to blend in
with the other instruments than an acoustic piano - simply select
the correct mic position and job done. Apart from VSTs, I also
used my hardware synths for some of the nice sweeping choir and string
sounds. A Yamaha Mo6 was responsible for some of the background ambience,
with my old school stuff, Korg 01/W and Yamaha TG100 tone modules
being used for a few touches such as bells and light Rhodes piano.
If I had the choice I would set up a completely hardware based studio.
I still dont think there are many VST instruments that can replace
the sound of real synths, so I do strive to use these
as much as possible.
mwe3: How do you implement the software programs when you record
music and were there specific software programs that helped you achieve
some of the effects on Celtic Skies? Are some software programs
more user friendly when it comes to getting some authentic Celtic
sounds? Im thinking of the song Wildflowers on Celtic
Skies which features some excellent Celtic sound effects.
Eamonn Karran: I use a DAW called Reaper. I find it incredibly
efficient for composing. Within Reaper I load a good selection of
my instruments using Kontakt 5. The Uilleann pipes and Irish whistle
are from Cinewinds Pro. These were the only sounds that had to be
recorded at another studio; none of the instrument sounds you hear
are loops or midi files, everything was performed and recorded live.
I believe this creates much more emotion and feeling and definitely
gives the instruments a more natural, realistic sound. Probably one
of the most amazing features of Cinewinds is the way the instrument
reacts to ones particular style of playing. You can hear the
little subtle runs on the pipes between notes, simply incredible to
The Harp and orchestral strings used in many of my tracks, including
Wildflowers, come from IK Multimedias Miroslav Philharmonic
Orchestra. Much of the percussion is from Sampletank 2.5 ethnic collection.
If you listen carefully, you will notice that the percussion on Wildflowers
isnt quite in time. I didnt want the track sounding too
robotic, so I played it live on keys and used very little processing.
I wasnt sure if this would work initially, but think it fits
well. I also used some world percussion loops for other tracks to
build up the backline.
mwe3: The lead off track on Celtic Skies is called Irish
Skies. What can you tell us about Irish Skies and
how did you decide to feature the vocals by Erin Kelly, and what can
you tell us about Erin and the lyrical message in the song? Can you
quote a key line or two of lyrics?
Karran: Irish Skies is a wonderful track and one of
my favorites to date. I had this piano melody running through my head
for some time. I wasnt sure about it at first, it seemed too
simplistic, but I couldnt get it out of my mind. So I sat down
and recorded a scratch track just to see if I could do something new
with my idea.
I have worked with Erin on many projects over the last four years
but never actually got her to sing on my own pieces. Erin is an accomplished
vocalist who performs at ceremonies and events throughout Ireland,
so I had the idea of writing a song for her with lyrics dedicated
to my late mother and father. The Irish Skies melody seemed
perfect, so I set about putting down some lyrics.
This was new ground for me. Im not a lyricist, so I read up
on a few poems for inspiration and came across Ae Fond Kiss
by Robert Burns and straight away I noticed a few lines that would
be perfect. These are For to see her was to love her and
Fare thee well, thou first and fairest. These words were
ideal for the theme of Irish Skies, so I used this as
a basis for the song and gradually built up my own lyrics to suit
the theme of my Father traveling from England to find work in Ireland
where he met his Irish Rose, they fell in love, and their
souls are now together, far beyond these Irish skies.
(And this, by the way, is my favorite line in the song, as I am truly
certain that my mum and dad are together, far beyond these Irish skies.)
Then Erin and I sat down and decided that the best approach would
be to start with vocals and end with piano/pipes solos to create the
mwe3: Track 2, New Life, is a much more piano centric
instrumental. Is the title symbolic of a new start or a new musical
vantage point? The song has an air of newness or starting over. Its
a great song that sounds more neoclassical than New Age, in my opinion.
Eamonn Karran: I agree this is not particularly New Age, although
it still maintains that Celtic feel, somewhat of a Phil Coulter vibe,
I think. My intention here was to create an uplifting track, using
the subtle brass and strings to create a celebratory air. This is
my New Life, my time to celebrate everything that is good
in life. I have so much to be thankful for and this piece expresses
those feelings though music. Near the end the pipes continue the uplifting
feel, leaving the listener feeling a little more revitalized. Im
delighted you enjoyed this track; its very relevant to how I
have been feeling recently and how I have moved forward musically
and emotionally over the last year.
mwe3: Track 3, As One, has another vocal. Whos
singing that track? Would you say that style of Celtic music is the
original New Age music? How did you craft that melody, and is there
some inside story on the lyrics? It seems like a very serious and
somber, almost ominous song, lyrically. How about the drumming sound?
What other Irish sounding effects are you using on that song?
Karran: This track features a Scottish singer called Iona Leigh.
Iona has been featured on many recordings over the years and recently
released a selection of vocal samples that can be used to create entire
songs. She has a beautiful tone, exactly what I wanted for a couple
of my tracks. Whilst searching through the samples, I found these
lyrics and they immediately struck a chord with me. My mother never
got over the passing of my father at the tender age of forty-two,
and these lyrics reminded me so much of her longing to be with him.
As One was created around Ionas vocal lines and
was inspired by the sounds of Clannad. Im a huge fan of Irish
singer Moya Brennan, and how along with the group Clannad, she created
such incredible haunting vocal pads. Ionas voice reminded me
of Moya and I wanted to create a track that had the feel of Clannad
but still had my own touch.
I sampled sections of her vocal lines and used stretch and reverse
effects to form pads. I then layered up her vocals on numerous tracks
to widen the effect.
The big bass drums were created using Sampletank, and Miroslav Philharmonik
was used for the marching drums and harp. These are two fantastic
instruments and complement each other perfectly on many of my tracks.
The lead solo towards the end and synth pads are from Alchemy Synth,
another favorite instrument that I use extensively for ambience. You
may also hear a pulsing rhythmic pattern behind the other sounds.
This is from an instrument called Signal, from Output. Its basically
a sampled piano added to a pulse engine. Ive kept it quite subtle,
flowing in the background.
mwe3: Boy Buries Mother features singer Emma Lusby.
Is the song autobiographical or where did you get the lyrical idea
for the song? It seems somewhat more reflective than As One
yet its also very Irish sounding and with a somewhat bleak lyric.
Eamonn Karran: Boy Buries Mother is one of those
collaborations that happened by chance. Whilst looking through Facebook
I came across a young lady called Emma Lusby singing acapella who
reminded me of another Irish singer, Cara Dillon. I loved the tone
of Emmas voice, and the fact that this was recorded on an iPhone
mic and that she was note perfect. Upon further investigation I found
that this song was actually written by a Dublin singer/songwriter
called Dylan Walshe. Dylan passed the song to Emma and she created
her own version. I immediately had some ideas running through my head,
so I approached Dylan and Emma to see if they would allow me to add
some music, just for fun!! I had never collaborated like this before,
so it was completely new ground, but very exciting.
Over the next few weeks we worked on a few ideas and decided that
it would be best to get Emma into my studio to lay down live vocals.
Emma is currently studying in Liverpool, so I had to wait until she
returned home on holiday. I eventually got her in to record and after
layering up some nice pads and piano, we passed the final version
to Dylan who was delighted with the result.
I spoke to Dylan about the lyrics and he explained that they came
to him in a dream. The song is about his late mother. They are extremely
deep emotional lyrics that are very personal to Dylan. He is an incredible
lyricist/singer and has also recorded this song in his own unique
For me this is what creating music is all about; giving other likeminded
musicians the freedom to add their touch to your music. Dylan said
he could never have imagined this song sounding this way, but at the
same time loved my version.
Ley Lines is track 5 on Celtic Skies. What are
Ley lines and how do they fit into the mythological nature of your
music on Celtic Skies? There are so many mythological things
in both Ireland and England right? Did you choose to make that song
a solo piano track?
Eamonn Karran: Ley lines are invisible grid lines that connect
places of spiritual or mythical importance. Although they dont
physically exist, to many they have deep significance and harbor great
power and energy that can be harnessed.
My first experience of Ley lines was on a trip to County Sligo, many
years ago. I came across a so called Fairy Road or Magnetic
Hill at the foot of Benbulbin, a world renowned tabletop mountain.
This stretch of road gives the sensation that gravity seems to be
in reverse, i.e. my car will roll uphill for a short period and then
suddenly stop. This is apparently an effect of Ley lines crossing.
Although the reasons for this are still unknown, there are many folklore
stories about mischievous Fairies being responsible! Although I dont
particularly buy into this story, its great fun for the kids.
I have returned to this road a number of times with my family who
are amazed by what happens.
Ley Lines was to be one of my solo pieces. It was improvised
around two chords and was recorded in one take. I never really thought
about adding any instrumentation as I felt it was complete as a solo
I wanted to express a feeling of wonder and magic, what a young kid
would feel after hearing stories of how fairies suddenly appear to
push your car up the hill! I love the stories and myths that have
been passed down through generations. They have been part of my own
upbringing, and its always wonderful to pass these onto my kids.
mwe3: Wildflowers, which I mentioned before with
the buzzing pipes sound, is that one of the more adventurous composed
tracks on Celtic Skies? How many tracks did you layer on Wildflowers?
Who sang the lead on that track? I recall the song Wild Mountain
Thyme and Wildflowers has a kind of kindred air
Eamonn Karran: Whilst on holiday we visited a great attraction
called Silent Valley on the east coast of Northern Ireland. There
is a story that during the building of a dam, all the birds left and
never returned. To this day you will not hear or see a bird during
your visit to Silent Valley. Its quite eerie but still a remarkably
beautiful place. Many of my photographs showed brightly colored flowers
growing in the middle of the wilderness, and these lyrics seemed to
fit perfectly with the feel of this track.
Originally, Wildflowers was an instrumental based around
piano/uilleann pipes. I wanted to convey the emotions I felt as I
walked through Silent Valley, but as the track developed I realized
that vocals would be needed to lift the track. The words and melody
of the vocals are based around Wild Mountain Thyme. Many
of the recordings done by Iona are taken from old Celtic poems and
melodies, which are in the public domain.
I think in total there were around thirty tracks used to create this
song. There are a lot of very subtle sounds running in the background,
such as a canjo! This is a simple little Kontakt instrument that creates
rhythmic textures that complement the drums, very effective.
Call of Hy-Brasil, track 7, has an interesting title.
First I thought of the country but then I found out Hy-Brasil is a
phantom island off the Irish coast. Is it part of Ireland? What else
can you tell us about Hy-Brasil and why you feature the song on the
Celtic Skies CD? Also the effective wordless female vocals
are great, and how do you get the strings sounds on the song?
Eamonn Karran: I love mythology, so when I heard of a strange
island off the coast of Ireland that wasnt on any modern map,
I simply had to investigate.
Hy-Brasil has been charted on older maps over the centuries and a
few explorers have claimed to have visited the island which they describe
as heaven on Earth. The civilization that lived there was extremely
beautiful and lived in peace and harmony. One such explorer claimed
that they were given gold upon leaving and afterwards returned to
the island with his wife and family who also confirmed its existence.
One of the strangest stories is that this island is a
perfect circle and only appears once every seven years, which has
led many UFO investigators to claim that it could be some form of
craft that resides below the ocean and could even be part of Inner
Earth or Agartha that rises to the surface.
I wanted to create a mystical, sea siren feel to this track. Not so
much Celtic but more mellow, chilled, and even slightly hypnotic,
using a sampled loop rhythm running throughout the song. I also wanted
to portray that feeling of awe upon finding such a heavenly place.
The vocal lines where samples from Iona Leigh which I edited and layered
to create that haunting call of the sea sound. The strings and pads
are from Alchemy synth. Alchemy synth contains a huge range of pads
and strings that can be edited to create incredible effects. I also
used a smooth vocal pad from Alchemy to compliment Ionas vocals.
Im fascinated with this story and do believe that there is an
element of truth there somewhere. Maybe someday soon we will find
out what, exactly, is Hy-Brasil.
Lost Souls is one of my favorites on Celtic Skies.
It has such a bouncy yet authentic kind of Irish style on it.
Does that track have your signature instrumental sound on it? Are
those the Uilleann pipes that give the track that special sound? Why
did you call it Lost Souls? I know you said you were a
big fan of Irish bands like Clannad, so is this one of the more pop
sounding instrumentals on Celtic Skies?
Eamonn Karran: This was one of those tracks that originally
had no name. It started off with a simple piano chord progression
and I really couldnt get my head around what to do next. I wanted
to create a track that was a little more commercial, that had a signature
Celtic feel. Being a fan of Clannad and Enya, I sat listening to some
tracks for inspiration, and in particular Enyas new album Dark
Island Sky, which, by the way, I think is amazing.
I spent a few days in the studio working on new sounds and came across
a VST called Realivox Blue. This VST creates vocal lines from a word
builder, and allows you to play these phrases by midi. I put together
some random spiritual words and layered up the vocal lines to create
the vocal pads. I wanted to create a track that had the pop/commercial
feel of Enya, but still fit in with the rest of my album, so I added
pipes and marching percussion.
This track was more like a mish-mash of pieces and ideas that should
never work, but for some reason they do, and have come together to
form one of the most unusual tracks I have created to date. It is
a direction Im going to explore for my next album. Im
always looking to attract new audiences and maybe a few more commercial
tracks may be in the pipeline.
The name Lost Souls was decided by my listeners. I actually
had no name as the track wasnt influenced by my own experiences,
so after getting loads of ideas I decided Lost Souls worked
mwe3: Track 9, Ocean, is a very deep sounding track.
Would you say that song is one of the more authentic New Age tracks
or is it, too, in its way, very Irish sounding in origin? The pipes
come back in near the end of the song so I imagine it has a very Irish
Eamonn Karran: Im blessed to be surrounded by the ocean.
I live only a few miles from the most wonderful coastline, so its
always had a big influence on my music. I have a deep love for the
ocean. I appreciate its beauty but also respect its power. I think
it is certainly a more neutral song until the pipes appear which,
by the way, was a late addition as it was initially a piano/strings
piece. Overall I wanted to give this track a mysterious feel, as if
we are sailing into the unknown depths of the ocean. So many have
paid with their lives working the waters around Ireland so the end
is a sort of lament, the lone piper playing on the shoreline, his
tribute to all those souls, lost at sea.
mwe3: Curse of Glenveagh has a kind of ominous
title. Is that Robert Peoples on violin? Are curses part of Irish
history? There must be so many curses in Celtic mythology, so is there
a story about this title?
Karran: There is a great story to this song. Last summer I took
my kids to Glenveagh National Park, which isnt far from where
I live. Its Irelands only national park and is a beautiful
place. This was actually my first time visiting, so naturally I was
curious about the history of the park and its castle. Its a
magnificent structure, which was built around 1860 by an American
property speculator John Adair who moved to Ireland and bought up
large swathes of land. He had a reputation for brutality and in 1861
he started violent evictions of tenants from land around the castle
so that he could expand his estate. In all 224 people were displaced
and forced into workhouses. The story goes that one of the tenants
placed a curse that anyone who ever owned or lived in Glenveagh Castle
would remain childless and to this day, none of the owners have been
able to have children.
I love these stories and legends, even more so when there is an element
of truth to them. I wanted to create an air of fear and terror in
this track, with the whispering chants at the start depicting the
curse, to the war like drums as over 200 members of the police marched
into Glenveagh to drag people from their homes and burn them to the
ground. The violin part is by Robert Peoples, an accomplished player
who has performed around the world with many artists. I told him the
story behind the track and asked him to convey the emotions; fear,
sadness and anger. Towards the end, the crying high pitched violin
along with the whispering chant and Bodhran drum beat were to create
an image of sheer devastation as the curse is finally sealed.
Glenveagh was handed over to the Irish people in 1980, and has since
been converted into a fantastic tourist attraction.
mwe3: How about From Afar? Thats one of the
more pure New Age instrumental related tracks. Did you set out to
make From Afar one of the more genre neutral sounding
tracks on Celtic Skies?
Eamonn Karran: From Afar was originally a piece
that was to form part of a contemporary piano album of mainly solo
pieces. I had the idea to create an album that went back to my roots
as a pianist. Real Music and I worked together and realized that a
piano heavy album wouldnt work. I needed to create an album
that would stand out, something that reflected my traditions but that
also would appeal to my usual target market. We decided that this
would be one of the pieces I kept on the album, so I added a few touches
of orchestration to lift the track.
Its quite a simple melody and represents the view of todays
world through the eyes of a child. How as we grow up we live such
a fast paced life. I wanted to look from the outside, from a simpler
time where technology doesnt control our every thought.
Track 12, Brokenhearted, features another vocal. Who is
singing that track? Any inside story on Brokenhearted?
Eamonn Karran: This is another piece that features Iona Leigh.
A lot of her singing is based around old Scottish traditional melodies
so I based the piano around her vocal sample. I had an original melody,
similar to the final track, and when I heard her sing those lines,
I knew this would work alongside the piano. I wanted to create a bittersweet
track, yet again with a Celtic feel. This song was created quite quickly,
the whole melody just seemed to flow and most of the piano was played
in one take. I was intending to use Robert Peoples and a live piper
on this track, but unfortunately they werent available, so I
used Cinewinds to create the solo. There isnt really a story
behind this song. I just loved listening to Iona singing and her melodies
and tone always inspire me to play.
mwe3: Track 13, Late Night Piano, closes out Celtic
Skies. Its an enjoyable track that features a piano solo.
Does that track infer you might go back to a more pure piano album
next time, or will you keep delving into the Celtic / Irish music
well next time around? What other plans or ideas do you have for 2016
and into 2017?
Karran: I think next time I will probably continue with the commercial
feel whilst still maintaining my Irish influence. Ill definitely
be including some piano works, but maybe not as many as previous albums.
I love producing big pieces and experimenting with new sounds and
ambiences and I especially enjoy sampling and manipulating live vocals
to create new atmospheres, so this is a direction I will be trying
out for album four.
Late Night Piano was a one take improvisation recorded
at home one evening when the house was quiet. I just had this notion
in my head to record and I sat at the piano, pressed the button and
Late Night Piano was born!
I posted the track online for feedback and a brilliant composer by
the name of Craig Karolus approached me to add some orchestration.
Craig is renowned for his music and is a master at creating wonderful
string arrangements. I was stunned by his work. He really captured
the feel of the track, that lazy, laid back, late night performance,
so this was always going to be a track that was on the album. I have
a soft spot for this piece, and have always enjoyed listening back
when I needed a moment to relax.
I think in many ways Celtic Skies has two distinct personalities.
Theres the solo piano side that takes me back to the melodies
I always loved playing, and theres the more flamboyant, big
production side that reflects my love of electronic orchestral music.
The fact that I am able to successfully merge these styles into one
album is wonderful. Maybe one day I will release a solo piano album,
but for now Im enjoying the freedom of being able to let these
two personalities run free to create music that reflects every genre
and tradition that has influenced me throughout my musical life.