Some new releases get launched with a huge media blast, while some just seep out slowly. One that surely deserves a blast, but has quietly evolved in stages, is Andy Hunter’s Presence project, its vision to inspire people’s reflections and experience God’s presence in their everyday lives.
As a devotional aid and inspiration for worship, it is such a mix of different media and content that it is hard to describe in a way that does it justice. It is better experienced.
Anyone familiar with Hunter’s career would certainly get a good idea of what to expect. He came to prominence as a DJ, used to creating a live experience, and his excellent breakthrough Exodus CD – full of kaleidoscopic musical patterns and ever-morphing beats – proved that he could create an even better sound tapestry in the studio.
Presence bursts with life, pace and colour. It has been road-tested as a live worship event, and is available as an app, with a second compilation CD/DVD now released. Bringing all these elements together would seem to be the culmination of his work so far, and Hunter agrees.
He lists the features of his skill-set that shaped the project as, “a mix of my electronic music, scoring for films and using the arts for my personal devotions.”
Although he now considers no single element of the project to be more important than any other, he insists that, “from concept, I wanted it to be an app. I really wanted it to be a deeper experience than just an album, which is why I created an app that could house so much. The CD/DVD was more of a secondary idea (I was so used to putting out records, I could just do that).”
The live experience came out of all the material he had accumulated, while he was trying to get the support to build the app.
The concept for Presence formed in 2010, when he began composing the music, beginning with the track for the opening chapter “Sensing Grace.” Hunter describes its progress as “a huge journey,” as it was a tough job to both get the funding and get people to believe in the concept.
Because building apps is expensive, Hunter found himself compromising his intentions. “Eventually, I was trying to sell it too hard and had changed the vision,” he says, “So I felt I should take it back to its initial concept, which was a devotional that uses the arts to inspire our reflections and prayers. I just went for it on my own and that’s when I got the funding, five years after concept - funny how that happens.”
It maybe says something about the difficulty of finding risk-takers to invest in new Christian ideas, when Presence seems such a useful devotional tool, and one that seems unique.
“I think it is fairly unique,” Hunter concurs. “I haven’t found much like it out there - although the concept of spending time in prayer isn't unique at all! I guess Presence just comes at it from an artistic point, rather than a traditional devotional.”
Like a few other inventive projects I have come across, Presence is the collaborative effort of a creative team. It draws on a wealth of skills, focused around a monthly key bible verse.
‘Creative’ is the key word. Hunter explains: “I wanted the project to have a community of creatives who add to it, so it’s not just an Andy Hunter project.
“I started looking for people who were creative in film; creatives who would write poetry, and photographers who would take great pictures, all of whom got the concept and were inspired by the verses. They then would interpret the verse in their art form, just like how I compose the music. It’s great working with all these different people as it gives more flavour to the mix.”
One feature that marks the project out is its pace. Usually, we slow for reflection, but counter-intuitively, Hunter still uses beats and the visuals seem to make it go even faster. I wonder if this is a generational thing, or a natural outworking of his DJ experience.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision,” he answers. “I go with what I feel and how I interpret the verse and that is what inspires the sounds and tempos. When I compose for films I look at a scene and try to capture the emotion and story with the feel, ebb & flow of the music. In a similar way, that is how I have written and composed Presence: by reading scripture and then composing the music to go with that specific verse.”
One particularly striking visual in the project is a 'statue' that kneels still, while the world time-lapses around it in the opening chapter, "Sensing Grace."
“That statue actually was one of the things that birthed the whole project. My friend created it at art college as part as an installation on worship, I went to visit her and saw it on the side and for that split second I wanted to be that statue, because to me it spoke of a person who had an intimacy and stillness in front of our creator God. The whole project is about finding time in our busy lives, using the technology that keeps our attention and turning it round to have moments of reflection.”
New chapters are being added to the app every month, but Hunter is not sure how far it will go.
“At the moment, I am just working on new content and managing other creatives who are also filming and writing. My dreams are for it to develop, and a community of users to grow and add to the project. I love to DJ but creatively Presence is where I am at right now and for the foreseeable future.”