Ager Sonus is a dark ambient project out of Germany. While he has had several previous self-released albums, Book of the Black Earth is his first major label release. Releasing through Cryo Chamber immediately drew a lot of attention to his music and it seemed like the perfect time to get in contact with him and find out more about Ager Sonus. Thomas talks to me about some of his inspirations, recording techniques and the history of his musical career. As always, I hope you’ll enjoy the interview and definitely give his music a listen!
Michael: Book of the Black Earth has been on repeat here at This Is Darkness HQ quite a bit since release. The album seems to be getting a great reception from fans and critics alike. Did you expect this kind of response?
Thomas: To be honest, I did not expect that. I am surely not the only musician who has doubts about the music he creates. I usually listen to every single song multiple times on multiple devices before I am “ok” with it, and even then I will go “could I have done this better?” from time to time.
But the release of this album has shown me that there was no need for those doubts. I was very suprised when people started to give me positive feedback, were it as comments under the videos Cryo Chamber uploaded to Youtube or messages/posts on Facebook. It has been a very positive experience so far, this is definitely the most feedback I have ever gotten, also of course due to the the huge amount of fans Cryo Chamber has. I noticed that this genre really is a big family, I have not seen fighting by fans like we see in many other genres, so I definitely appreciate it a lot that the CC fans have such an open mind and gave me a warm welcome. The reviews so far have also been great, even though so far there are only two reviews, more might be coming.
Michael: I have no doubt that you will see more reviews coming in over the next month/year. Cryo Chamber is quite obviously one of the biggest players in the current dark ambient scene. How has your experience been with them so far, as opposed to releasing your music independently?
Thomas: Like mentioned above I immediately noticed the huge amount of feedback due to the large fan-base Cryo Chamber has. Also the response just from the artists within Cryo Chamber, those are the people that I look up to, that made me get into this genre. Talking to Simon (Atrium Carceri) over the years has made me a better musician, especially in terms of mixing, he also said in one of our first chats that I would have to develop my own “voice” which I did not see at that time but it actually came out even though it took a lot of time.
My releases so far have not gotten much feedback or reception. Only a handful of people bought my previous albums (for which I am very grateful to everyone who gave me that support!) and word didn’t really spread at least not that I would have noticed. Critical reception has always been good, but I pretty much only had one person who was always willing to review my music (Casey Douglass – shoutout!).
Michael: Casey definitely runs a great blog. I always enjoy comparing our takes on an album after I’ve finished writing my review. (I never read other reviews before writing my own.) Have you been following dark ambient for a while now, or are you relatively new to this genre?
Thomas: I have been following the genre since around 2007/2008, after S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Shadow of Chernobyl was released, one of my favorite video-games. The music of that game was one of the many reasons why that game was so amazing and it had this amazing atmosphere that was, and still is, one of the best in gaming. I did not know the term “dark ambient” or “ambient” even as a genre, so once I had that and started to look into it a whole world of musical marvel unfolded in front of me.
Michael: Are there any particular albums or artists that inspired you to become active in this genre?
Thomas: Hard to pick only a few because there are so many. But if you’d ask me what were some of the early ones that amazed me I would say Kammarheit, Atrium Carceri and Svartsinn. “I Found It Weeping In The Field” is one of my favorite dark ambient tracks and reminded me a lot of the atmosphere in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and in that regard Nord Ambient Alliance was one of the first dark ambient albums I listened to.
Michael: Book of the Black Earth seems to be mostly focused on ancient Egyptian ruins, more so than the actual ancient Egyptian people. Have you actually been to any of these ruins?
Thomas: Sadly, I have been not. Egypt in itself and the mystery surrounding its history has always been a huge interest of mine, I always loved movies that had Egypt as a theme when it came to mystery and I also loved certain video-games just because of that setting.
Michael: What in particular drew you to this Egyptian concept?
Thomas: It is not just the mysterious elements regarding the gods and the concept of the Egyptian underworld, I was wondering if there was a way to create a musical journey, quasi substituting for the fact that I have not visited Egypt (and probably never will), at least not in a rummaging-through-ancient-tombs-kind of way.
Michael: I think you’ve certainly achieved that goal. I was recently reading “Under The Pyramids”, a story that was ghostwritten by H.P. Lovecraft for Harry Houdini. The music perfectly fit his narrative of being trapped inside a pyramid which was filled with ancient gods and demons. Will you veer off into a different direction for your next album, or are these themes presented on Book of the Black Earth essential to Ager Sonus?
Thomas: I have not yet narrowed down what the concept of my next album will be, Book of the Black Earth was a great learning experience since this is my first album that told a cohesive story. My albums so far always had a “theme” but the tracks always stood for themselves. Liminality was about going to places that were, to many people, unreachable or uninhabitable, yet I wanted to have a musical representation of being there, so I could “visit” them in my head. So in a sense, that set the groundwork for Tartarus and now Book of the Black Earth.
Michael: I see that you are also interested in orchestral music. Do you have a background in classical music?
Thomas: No, but orchestral music is a huge joy to listen to. I just love how so many musicians can work together in harmony to create amazing experiences. From film scores, video-game scores, classical pieces from Mozart or Beethoven, there is a lot to enjoy and to inspire.
Michael: Do you have a favorite classical composer or a favorite piece of music from this area?
Thomas: I mentioned Beethoven, the “Moonlight Sonata” is one of my favorite pieces because of its dark tone, so to me it showed me early on that darkness is an important part of me.
Michael: What are some of the various instruments that you play?
Thomas: I don’t actually play an orchestral instrument which I regret very much not getting into earlier in my life. The passion to actually create music myself came much later, for the longest time I was “just” a listener.
Michael: I see that you are also a drummer. Would you like to speak any about that musical project?
Thomas: I started playing the drums at 27 years of age which some would say is way too late (and I agree). It just took way longer to learn a lot of the techniques, especially in terms of coordination but I am happy how far I got with it.
I play in a Punk/Rock/Hardcore-band though it is more just for fun. We don’t play live regularly and we don’t record the music in a professional way. Just a fact of having day-jobs and some of us being fathers, it is just not do-able, which we regret sometimes, playing live is a lot of fun.
Michael: When you are creating music, is there a place or idea from which you are able to draw a constant motivation, or does the motivation for each track come to you in different ways?
Thomas: It depends, I had cases where I already knew in my head how I wanted a track to sound, what instruments to use, what name I would give it etc. But I also had tracks where the motivation came from listening to recent field recordings or just playing a few notes on my keyboard. Once I find the “opening” for a track it mostly, for lack of a better term, writes itself.
Michael: Do you perform any rituals in preparation for working on music?
Thomas: Does drinking coffee count? Mostly I just need to be in the right mindset and be relaxed. I love to create music when it is rainy outside. I just like the atmosphere of it being cloudy and the rain interacting with the environment has a nice sound to it, also I have a few bushes and a tree in front of my window next to my workplace, I enjoy having those react to the wind. I am probably very weird.
Michael: Well then we are both weird! I also find a great deal of inspiration from gloomy/rainy days. When working on Book of the Black Earth, did most of your sounds come from the digital spectrum or did you also incorporate some analog synths, or live instruments?
Thomas: It has all been digital, there are a few sample libraries of real instruments which I use from time to time. In this case I needed “real” flutes and other Egyptian or Middle-Eastern instruments. Since I don’t have the resources to get the real world instruments I like to rely on these libraries, which allow me to play very realistic articulations which was important for the flutes I wanted to use.
Michael: Is dark ambient currently your main focus in music, or will you be taking a break and working in other areas before writing another album?
Thomas: Dark Ambient is my current focus because it allows me to try out all kinds of themes and composing styles which gives me a lot of creative freedom. Before working on a new solo release I would love to work with some of the other artists on Cryo Chamber, that would be amazing and a huge learning experience to work with these amazing musicians.
Michael: Are there any movie directors, authors, or artists that truly inspire you? Of course, many of us could probably write a list, but is there any one that you hold sacred above the rest?
Thomas: This list could be very long but I will try to select only a few: John Woo was one of the first directors that I followed very closely, whose visual style always fascinated me. While I don’t have a particular genre of movie I like, he comes to mind almost immediately.
In terms of authors I very much love Dean Koontz, John Saul and Stephen King. Especially the first two wrote riveting horror/mystery-stories that didn’t just inspire me but a whole set of movie directors out there.
Michael: Between geo-politics, concerns about the climate, and religiosity, there seems to be a lot of turmoil in our current times. Do you see “the apocalypse” (in whatever form that may be) coming? If so, how do you think it will happen?
Thomas: The mystery-fan in me has all kinds of ways of how it could happen, though realistically if it happens we will probably go down due to our own doing. Melting pole caps swallowing up countries, woods dying, whole lands drying out etc. Or an asteroid! Not a fun thought.
Michael: Thank you very much for your time, I’ll leave the last words to you!
Thomas: A big thank you to Simon Heath for giving me this chance to reach more people with my music, the chance to collaborate with people I look up to, people that inspired me. And of course a huge thank you to the people that actually listen to my music, I hope it helps you to relax or take you to other places!