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InterviewsHugo Flores - The Creative Force Behind Project Creation

Posted on Monday, May 08 2006 @ 21:42:28 CDT by Duncan Glenday
Progressive Rock When we first reviewed Sonic Pulsar's music we praised their Playing The Universe album, saying "well composed, the playing is out of the top drawer ... this is an album you could play again and again. Very enjoyable". Then with our review of their sophomore release Out Of Place, our comments progressed to "far more complex than the previous effort, with tighter composition and a fuller sound ... lightly metallic, very technical, well constructed and characterized by good melodies" - and we closed with a "Well recommended".

So Sonic Pulsar's key artist Hugo Flores is obviously a talented musician, and when he re-invented himself as Project Creation and released the first record in a 3-part concept piece, we were curious about how well he could pull it off. Well the jury is in and it was impressed - as evidenced by our review of The Floating World.

To get more insight into the creative force behind Project Creation, Sea Of Tranquility's Duncan Glenday caught up with Hugo and asked a series of key questions about what many are calling the 'second coming of Ayreon'.

Duncan Glenday, Sea Of Tranquility : Hugo, I usually start my discussions with artists by asking if they're familiar with the Sea Of Tranquility webzine - but you and I have been in touch for at least 3 years. Do you follow many of the webzines like Sea Of Tranquility?

Hugo Flores, Project Creation : Yea, I visit Sea Of Tranquility and other fine prog related webzines very frequently, usually on a daily basis if I manage to. I really like to be up to date regarding news in the progressive rock genre. Today the internet plays the most important role promoting the progressive genre and music in general. Nowadays we can find hundreds of resources, with news, reviews and most importantly means to communicate and express one's opinion like forums, chats, among other great things. So, thumbs up to Sea of Tranquility for the fabulous support over these 3 years!

SOT : For those readers not yet familiar with Project Creation – can you give us a brief overview of the project, and maybe a brief history of your own musical background?

HF : Sure. Regarding Project Creation's genre, and although I usually don't like to catalogue my music, I would say it's progressive hard rock, sometimes touching the metal edge, but with lots of atmospherics and an ethnic vibe as well. It's not always, in my view, space metal, it's different than most things, I guess.

I began Project Creation immediately after completing the recordings for Out Of Place, Sonic Pulsar's second album. I already had many compositions that I'd been working on and most were based on synthesizer work with a lot of atmospheric moods. I love atmospherics, especially when they're combined with powerful symphonic rock, great melodic content and with highly distorted guitars full of body. These first ideas that I mentioned were the basic foundations for Floating World and some of the compositions were actually based on older songs that I wanted to re-arrange for quite sometime. So, I started this, while I was completing the mix of Out Of Place.

I also wanted to gather many talented musicians especially from the Portuguese progressive scene and do the first project of the kind in my homeland.

Project Creation

Regarding the concept, I'm a sci-fi fan. Sonic Pulsar's essence is mainly Space and the Universe, blending these themes with actual social-political issues, but using sci-fi to do so. However, Project Creation follows a story line, and each song was composed to match each part in the story.

Regarding my musical background, I had a music lessons as well as a few piano and flute lessons and main notions when I was younger. Later, I had about 2 years of acoustic guitar training, and from that point on I decided to continue on my own. In part, I'm self-taught.

SOT : Where does the name "Project Creation" come from?

HF : I had the concept in mind, and wanted something to do with 'Creation'. There's too much destruction nowadays, and I feel that there's a need to invert things on this spot. So, first I thought about "Creation" for the band's name, but I think that there is already an older band called Creation, and I didn't want to confuse anyone. Since this is more of a project or 'super group' as I read somewhere, the name Project Creation came about. It also works really well since the advanced civilization described on track 4 could have created a project aimed at creating life on dead planets, and thus "Project Creation" is part of their master plan.

So it basically represents a project developed by this advanced society. Their goal is to create life in harmony with nature and their machines. This theme was also brought to life in Sonic Pulsar's song "Moving Engines". I usually like to provide coherence in my work and revisit things to make a connection between projects. Project Creation had much more to do with the concept story, and I think it's quite a different approach for a band. I really wanted to do a bigger venture capable of representing my dreams on a music album, and the idea of making a world traveling in space was the way to release those thoughts.

SOT : Floating World is an ambitious album, and as you said, the first project of its kind in Portugal.  But with such a big lineup of guest performers - how did you select your guest artists, and how did you coordinate everything? It must be like herding cats!

HF : It's true, it's a lot of musicians, but it's quite easy to coordinate if you have things on paper, well defined, and let them know everything there is to know about what's intended for the album. And most of all, give them the freedom to provide their personal touch and ideas.

We have several guitarists, vocalists, woodwind sax players, a cello playe … I knew all of them, and knew their work, so it was quite easy to choose and to handle things. I'm usually very decided regarding instrumentalists. Regarding the vocals, I was looking for a high voice, very distinct and Linx was immediately thought of, especially because his voice is higher than mine and very controlled. I'm mostly in the middle range, sometimes attacking that higher pitch. Then, I needed a more lyrical voice and Alda was also chosen after some auditions of a few other female vocalists.

For the Cello Nuno was great because he has a music degree, he teaches the cello and plays extremely well. I just showed him the musical notes on the system, and he followed them instantly. He also plays the bass guitar on some songs.

I also made a working schedule where I wrote where and when I thought sax, flutes, cello and guitar solos would fit on each track. Same thing with the vocals - and we discussed new ideas, and improved my first ideas as well.

So, let's see. The basics on synthesizers were composed for each song. I usually work in layers and this is usually the first step. Then, I started adding the electric guitars and boosting the overall sound. I was now able to show these "demos" to the musicians. Then we recorded the vocals in my studio and Linx, Alda and I worked on this for a while.  Although Linx recorded everything in less than 2 days. He's extremely talented, has a great voice with a beautiful timbre, and he understood immediately the ideas for this album. The recordings were done almost in real-time with lots of improvisations, actually.

SOT : Speaking of your singer – Alda Reis. She sings her English lyrics with something of an accent - she sounds wonderful, though, and I hope you're planning to feature her a lot more in your upcoming projects. Where did you find her?

HF : She works in the same company as myself, and she sings often, especially the more lyrical and classical songs. We have a popular group in Portugal called Madredeus, and she sings that very well. So, when I heard her voice, I thought it would fit Project Creation's mood very well.

Yes, she'll most probably be on Creation Part-2, but I'm also going to listening to a few more people as well. I did some work with her regarding English. She knows English, but not thoroughly, and I did some work with her regarding the accent, melodies, and vibe. I do this with myself often as well, even though English is almost like a second language to me. But she has a great voice, and actually most reviews do mentioned this. There's even one that says her voice stands out much more than mine and Linx's, so …[Laughs]

SOT : Project Creation is a new venture for you - what methods are you using to get your message and your music out there?

HF : Well, from the start I wanted this to reach a wider audience. I knew that the Sonic Pulsar fans would enjoy this project as well, since it captures part of that style. I always said to myself that if I didn't find a label to produce the album, I would do it on my own. However, this wasn't required since a few labels made offers, and then Progrock Records decided to embrace this Project. I got really happy with this cooperation. It's a great label, capable of proving the necessary push to the album.

The album is being sent to several radios, both online and FM, and also to magazines, webzines, etc. I receive most reviews and playlists to be kept informed. I also wanted to ensure that the webzines that also received my Sonic Pulsar albums would in fact get Project Creation. This was ensured by Progrock, and I knew they were not only a great label with a good name out there, but also communicated with its artists almost on a daily basis, which is, for me, extremely important. By the way, Sea Of Tranquility is among the best webzines I've seen, with good info about progressive rock, very up-to-date, really great work. And I had to guarantee that you would receive this album.

SOT : [Laughs]  Well, thanks! I was glad to hear from you when the CD was released - I think we discussed a review a few weeks before Prog Rock had them ready for distribution! Let's look at the business aspect for a moment.  I know it's a bit early to tell - but how your sales been here in the USA compared with other parts of the world, and where are you the most popular?

HF : That's a good one! But it's really very early to tell, and I have no idea of the sales situation. I'm just glad to see the album being well received by webzines and fans in general. Anyway, I'm sure that the US is where sales will be higher followed by Germany, Netherlands, France, maybe Japan and in the near future Portugal and perhaps Brazil.

SOT : You mention Portugal, of course – and all of your guest artists are Portuguese. Has that helped you make a big impact in your home market?

HF : I hope it will. Prog Rock Records just started to work with a Portuguese distributor, called Nemesis. I know we also have Plastic Head as a major label acting in Europe. So, this week the album is gong to hit a few big stores here, and promotion will start shortly to the media. The impact will be greater than it was for Sonic Pulsar, I'm sure. I already did an interview with LOUD magazine which is the most important metal based magazine, along with other webzines and radios. The only thing is that progressive rock is a bit neglected here and it's difficult to get inside the market, but I'm sure this is the same for most countries.

SOT : Gouveia Art Rock is Portugal's equivalent to our NEARfest – although I was a bit surprised not to see Forgotten Suns, or any of your projects in the lineup. Would you consider performing there, and are you planning to see the festival yourself?

HF : Yeah, it's impressive to see the way Gouveia is becoming more and more popular in the prog rock scene. Not only Portugal, but abroad also, which is very good for this country and to the prog scene. I want to go to the Festival, but this year I'm currently moving to a new home and constructing my new studio, so, it's a bit difficult to leave Lisbon! But I'll try to go.

Forgotten Suns already performed at the Gouveia show once, but not this year. I would love to see them again at a great show. As far as Sonic Pulsar is concerned or Project Creation, I'm getting many requests from my fellow musicians to play live but it's just so time consuming for me that it's going to be almost impossible. But we'll see about that in the future. We've already rehearsed many songs from the Sonic Pulsar repertoire, but it's true that they were never presented on a bigger event. My fault, because the musicians want this badly!

SOT : When I wrote my review of your CD, the first comparison that came to mind was Ayreon – although I also thought of Abydos, Aina and Missa Mercuria –which were all concept projects with big casts of guest artists. And later, when I read other peoples' reviews, they drew similar comparisons. What other acts do you compare yourself with?

HF : It's usually common to relate a space or scifi theme with Ayreon - or Arjen - although Ayreon is not specifically about the universe. I think we both have the same tastes regarding concepts, and surely there are several projects trying to achieve or approach the same subject or sound, but many do this in an awkward or impassionate way. For me it was easy, since for many years I've been approaching and playing this subject, both with Sonic Pulsar and my solo work. I simply love this theme, and every day I think about this wonderful mystery. I see Project Creation as a natural extension, or branch, if you will, of Sonic Pulsar. It's a development of the Out Of Place song "I Heard Of A Place Called Earth" or even "Moving Engines". Also, when a project features many musicians, it's also commonly associate with these projects, but wrongly in my view.

Project Creation has a lot of flutes, cello, piano, so it's got quite a different sound vibe from those other projects. I think it's got a very warm sound. It even has a jazzy fusion to it, that really sets it apart. Just remember the sax solo work on track 2, completely insane, or the flutes on "Artificial Satellite", or the piano based track 3 and the overall sound on "Creating Atmosphere". I love piano, and will always use it on my albums. I think it's almost like a reference mark on both Sonic Pulsar and Project Creation. Floating World sometimes can even be ethnic or world-music like, such as track 13 – "Cheops", a song that was entirely composed and recorded on synthesizer in 1998 and '99 - can you imagine!

Everything in Project Creation is about one thing - melody. Melodic sensations. Whether it's an ambient part or an aggressive part, these two opposite sides, have a similarity, that is melody and a beautiful sense to me. There is also one thing which is interesting: about 6 of the songs were made back in '98, like "Cheops" as I mentioned. They were re-recorded and re-written for The Floating World and for these musicians.

I'm a fan of progressive-metal, especially when there's a big atmospheric component. Arjen is a great musician, I like his work, specially those albums prior to the Human Equation, but I'm quite new to his music.

I feel that there's something to Ayreon that I also enjoy in Sonic Pulsar or Project Creation. I also enjoy Threshold, Dream theater, Rush, Forgotten Suns, Marillion, Yes, Vangelis, along with others. I like anything that combines power with melody and atmospheric and synth components. Symphonic rock is about this, and when done passionately, with talented musicians, it should turn out a good album.

SOT : Hugo, what keeps you busy from day to day, and how do you spend a typical day when away from your music?

HF : I always need to do something connected to music everyday. Whether it's writing lyrics, music, experimenting new sounds, or just listening to new music, it's a basic function in my life. I'm almost incapable of working during the day without listening to a CD.

I have a full time job during the day and later I spend my time with music, or just having fun watching movies or reading scifi, mystery of horror comics! During the day I gather new ideas, and later that day I put those on the multi-tracker.

To try and tell you more about me, I'm very critical of myself and my work. I'm too much of a perfectionist, to the point of spending hours over a specific sound. I also try to seek my own answers. When something new appears, I try to get as much info as possible regarding he subject. To give you an example, there is a theory about Cheops and the pyramids of Egypt, that says that they match the ones found on the Cydonia region of Mars, or at least, the distances are equal or something of the kind. I gathered this info after doing some research. This city-like formation called Cydonia is very curious, along with hundreds of other anomalies that can be found on that red planet. And there are even photos of vegetation, trees and probably lakes, pipes and other structures on Mars. Very peculiar but very very interesting. I could spend a day trying to understand this, and understand why the media doesn't focus on this.

SOT : Besides your own record - what would you say were the best albums of the past year or so?

HF : Hmm, I can tell you my favorites, at least what I remember now:

David Arkenstone – Quest Of The Dream Warrior
Rush – A Show Of Hands - live
Vangelis – 1492
Dream Theatre – Falling Into Infinity and Awake
Threshold – Hypothetical
Devin Townsend's Infinity and Terria

Along with many others that are inside my head, but are playing hide and seek with me now [Laughs]

The past year? I would say Man on Fire with Habitat, Threshold with Subsurfaces, Ayreon's Human Equation, Devin Townsend with Synchestra. And not really prog - but I also enjoy Within Temptation's Silent Force. It's much more commercial than the previous Mother Earth, but much better produced and more consistent, even if there's a loss of identity from the band

SOT : In my review I briefly summarized the story behind The Floating World – but what comes next for your travelers?

HF : Ah, good one! Many new things, but the story will probably go in a different direction than I was previously thinking. I have two different approaches to the follow-up. What I'm certain of is that I want to focus on the future of Pyther, the new developed planet. The floating world will be steady for a while, helping to revive the planet.

One possibility is to show the floating world  continuing a journey of discoveries. It will also show the evolution of Pyther, the recently created planet. But most probably I will opt for a second approach that is to show the planet's evolution, the new beings and the civilization of the floating world now living together but especially we'll follow a dragonfly that wishes to see more of what's out there, insatiable. Her thoughts are really out there - the dragonfly decides to leave, but maintaining the connection with Cheops. She passes by several objects in space, and her database is getting more and more intelligent. Finally, she'll find something she was dreaming of…

SOT : You know, I'll admit that I'm not a sci-fi nut – and perhaps that's why this story line strickes me as somewhat 'unlikely'. Did you develop the story, or is it in based on some existing piece of literature?

The 'Floating World'

HF : It was developed from start, although one's ideas are a reflection of original ideas and dreams but also from movies, music, and literature. Actually Carlos Mateus (Sonic Pulsar) and I are working on a literature project that can be found at our web site.

I think that anything is possible. Two hundred years ago an airplane would be unlikely - or considered to be some kind of divine intervention. And now it's common. Imagine what will happen in millions of years to come. If only a hundred years passed and technology developed so quickly, what kind of crafts will civilizations be using? Something we can't now imagine. There are sounds and colors we can't hear and see, there are probably dimensions we can't touch because we don't have the means to do so. What we've been seeing is that real events almost always surpass fiction.

Nowadays, music, films, literature have got to be reinvented. So, I have lots of influences.

I think that whether it is a movie or a book, it should have an effect on you to be a good work. As I mentioned, both Sonic Pulsar's albums and Project Creation's Floating World also speak about society's hypocrisy, politicians and greed, etc. So it's sci-fi, but very critical of our current way of life. To be more specific, there are influences of Star Trek, the film Dark City and Solaris on Floating World. Along with Solaris (the original film by Tarkovsky and Stanislaw Lem's novel), Dark City is also one of my favorite pictures of all time due to its mysterious story and imagery. And most of all - I had the opportunity to put these thoughts on my website - the film wouldn't be the same without the musical score that really gives a unique identity. The "Shell Beach" song is beautiful, sad and mysterious at the same time, evolving along with the picture.

SOT : So this was the first part of a series – how firm are your plans for follow-up records?

HF : Since the storyline is already thought of, it's time to clearly create it and put it on paper, and to continue both with the writing of lyrics, and the first compositions. I already started a few songs for it actually. I'm just waiting to get my studio ready, and I'll be back to it!

I think that every idea a musician has, is a good idea. It depends on the way it is thought-of and developed, musically speaking. So, I'm re-visiting many older stuff for Project Creation because these songs were made when I wasn't into progressive music, many years ago, and thus, they're free of influences, which makes them unique in a way, and very symphonic. I think that Creation Part-2 is becoming even more symphonic than this album. But it's still early to tell. What I can assure you is that it will be as good as the first one - or I'll try to. I'm always trying to improve what I do.

SOT : Since Floating World tells a tightly developed story – do you have any plans for a stage show, something like Abydos or Pain Of Salvation's Be?

HF : Actually, to be totally honest, I mostly enjoy composing and to be kind of away from everything, in my studio. Just like a writer that doesn't go on the road to read it, I really like to do the same with music. That's why I think of Project Creation as both music and moving pictures with the film clip. It's also very difficult to do it live due to the complex logistics, and it takes so much time, that it would be virtually impossible for me to keep track of my three projects. The good thing is that we will spend a lot of time carefully crafting each release, so that it may be more than a mere album but a true adventure! I want the best albums possible. It's a commitment on my part.

But as I said, it's not a live performance.

SOT : You mentioned the film clip - you have a 'teaser' video trailer on the Prog Rock Records site, and in previous conversations you've mentioned the possibility of a 3D / CGI video – but I guess that must be very expensive. What are your latest plans for some sort of video?

HF : Yes, it's very expensive. Even for a more commercial band it would be expensive, but it's something that I wish to do for quite some time. Project Creation is music, that's what matters, but I want to provide a view or window to it. The video is almost complete, and I hope to be able to give it away for free. It's going to be impressive I'm sure. One thing is that, although the single is track 1 – "Floating World", the clip will be the entire album! You'll see not only imagery of the first track, but from all tracks. It's that big, it's the whole album on film!

SOT : Awesome - that will be something to look forward to.  Let's get back to Prog Rock Records for a moment – what drew you to them, and how has that relationship developed? And is the relationship only for Project Creation?

HF : I followed the steps of Prog Rock Records since its beginning, and I've always respected the way the label grew, especially after the famous Frameshift album. I already knew Shawn Gordon for quite some time, since Sonic Pulsar entered the Prog Rock Radio. I presented him the first mixes for Project Creation, they heard the material and decided to support this project. The fact that Shawn enjoyed the album and concept so much really satisfied me!

Yes, Project Creation is part of Prog Rock Records, but we'll see if in the future other projects might also be part of the label. I have to admit that it would be great to have Sonic Pulsar and my future solo album on the label.

SOT : As you know, I've reviewed your Sonic Pulsar CDs. Those were essentially guitar-oriented albums – yet I was surprised that there wasn't very much guitar work in The Floating World. Why is that?

HF : You're right. Although Sonic Pulsar has got lots of synths, the guitar really stands out and is much more aggressive than in Floating World, don't you think? But it is done on purpose, if not I would include Floating World within the Sonic Pulsar discography. This is also why I created Project Creation - so I could apply my new ideas and styles on a different project with a different approach to Sonic Pulsar. I always though of making more ambient music, but I usually don't like to have only synthesized stuff on a piece of music, so, I usually end up adding guitars.  Although "Mechanical Dragonflies" has almost no guitars. Project Creation is perhaps fifty percent rock oriented and the other half atmospheric moods. This is very different to Sonic Pulsar. Also, the songs are shorter and more defined, although the album surprises people, especially after track 9, where it takes a different approach to the music, I guess. It's quite diverse.

From the beginning, I knew that the compositions I had on synthesizer were destined for a second project. By that time, I had many of the Floating World songs done and I also had track 2 – "Living Under A Blue Sky" which sounded a bit different than the rest of the tracks. The idea, by then, was to make 2 projects apart from Sonic Pulsar, one a bit more focused on rock-jazz-fusion - and the other more electronic rock and metal. However, these started to make more sense if mixed together. You have many more 'metal' parts, and then abrupt changes to ambient parts. It's a game of power this Project Creation !.

SOT : Tell us about your cover art.

HF : It's designed by Mattias Norιn and it's quite vivid to provide that glare ,often associated with creation. The female figure serves two purposes. Both the idea of nature, and mother-nature, and also the female presence on this album. The child, or children, represent the young ones living on the new created planet. As you know, the ship - the floating world - developed the artificial satellite to speed up life there and rapidly create new intelligent beings. The children, they're like a sculpture. Just see the colors, and it really is a sculpture because the civilization created these children based on their biology, but they made them better just like track 11 "First Species" says.

I've worked with Mattias for the cover on Sonic Pulsar's second CD as well. I already knew his work from albums of Derek Sherinian, and Forgotten Suns. The booklet also serves the music, and I think we have a high quality one with this album. We spent a lot of time crafting the artwork.

The logo was designed by Olli Sorjonen, and it means basically three things: the mysterious and "space" aspect of this story, the face of an alien or a new being and a small man inside the face, meaning that we're kind of inside a big chain and net/universe of dimensions

We made several versions of this logo, and this was the chosen one. But one of the first versions of the logo is within this final version - it's the letter "O" in "CreatiOn". Basically the "O" is the new discovered planet, and the semi-circles around it represent the energy emitted by the artificial satellite, thus feeding the planet.

SOT : Interesting - not many musicians put that much thought into their cover art. Yes, we think of Mattias as a friend here at Sea Of Tranquility. Back to the music - what's your favorite moment on the album?

HF : Hmm, I'm immediately thinking of 4 parts:
Track 1 The Foating Wolrd's final blast, with the piano's solo, I love it!
Mechanical Dragonflies on that part where Alda and myself join voices "….organic metal dancing through space…"
"Cheops", the middle of the track with the main melody
And track 8 "Artificial Satellite" is great as a whole track. By the way, what's your favorite track or moments?
SOT : Oh - I liked @@@.  Anyway, Hugo, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us! The new album is great, and we hope it helps accelerates your penetration into the world market. Take care.

HF : A big thank you for this fantastic interview, Duncan! You've always been very supportive, and I'm glad there are still sincere and professional people like yourself. Thank you, and keep up your excellent work at Sea Of Tranqulity!

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