01. Inherent Resurrection
02. Fever Wave Dream Function
03. Blood Consciousness
05. Reluctant Traveller (feat. Grutle Kjellson of Enslaved)
06. Exchanging Eyes
07. New Devoted Human
Stromstad is a collaborative project between Jasse Tuukki and Toni Myöhänen of STROM.ec and Kristoffer Oustad. STROM.ec of Finland have been spreading their variety of industrialized darkness to the world since their debut on Freak Animal Records, back in 2000. Since then, they have continued to make a name for themselves through such labels as Annihilvs, Malignant and it’s sub-label Black Plague. The Norwegian artist, Kristoffer Oustad, known for work under his own name, and also as part of the Kristoffer Nyströms Orkester with Peter Nyström, has proven his dynamic set of abilities as a high caliber dark ambient producer.
We got a morsel of Oustad’s taste for the heavier and grittier cousin of dark ambient, death industrial on his contributions to the latest, and highly recommended, Tumult by Shock Frontier (reviewed here), which released just prior to New Devoted Human, also on Malignant Records. STROM.ec have stayed consistently heavier throughout their career, having little room for the more reserved dark ambient sections that we hear throughout New Devoted Human.
So, when we get both projects together, STROM.ec and Kristoffer Oustad, the outcome is not entirely surprising in its style, but what is more surprising is the sense of fluidity and comfort these artists seem to have working together. The chemistry is what makes New Devoted Human such a gem for the small but passionate international community that follows this sort of music. Malignant Records saw it coming, which led them to the choice of giving the Stromstad debut a vinyl edition, which is something they’ve been doing more frequently, but still quite selectively.
There are tracks where the two different styles come together perfectly in a single track, through a whirlwind of noise and emotion. Tracks like “New Devoted Human” with its distorted guitars, industrial drum sections, and enraged screams, blend perfectly with Oustad’s more reserved and delicate dark ambient undertones. Early in this track, we can hear that dark ambient element lingering in the background, behind the much thicker noises of the STROM.ec guys. As the track progresses these dark ambient elements slowly, and almost subconsciously, move to the forefront. The track takes on a sort of violent narrative, as we move from the viciousness of the beginning sections into this wall of subtle darkness, a sort of uneasy calm as the dust settles just after a city is besieged.
Other tracks, like “Inherent Resurrection” and “Blood Consciousness”, keep the energy at maximum throughout their duration. Electronics blaring and angry vocals dictated, Stromstad give us the perfect example of a sort of post-industrial metal band. Yet, the meshing of varied genres can go even further afield at times, like on the chorus section of “Blood Consciousness” which features a dubstep-like component that is incredibly unlikely, but fits beautifully.
Intermingled with these high-energy tracks are dark ambient soundscapes which help the listener to paint a picture of this imagined future, which is as technologically advanced as it is apocalyptically devastated. The listener can get a sense of a future which took A.I., military-grade weaponry, and robotics to their darkest ends, creating a war-torn planet, upon which human life is no longer so cherished; a place where greed and technology come together, achieving the worst possible outcomes. “Nattsvermer” is one such track, where the perfectly executed dark ambient elements take prominence above a tapestry of industrial noises which lie in the background. Another is the closer, “Kosto”, which is the most reserved track on New Devoted Human, using gentle waves of synth to create an almost serene atmosphere, which helps the album to end on a more philosophical than apocalyptic note.
New Devoted Human is certainly a unique experience. This is something that will find a wide and unlikely set of fans. While I’ve focused on a few of the more prominent genre elements presented here, listeners will likely find a number of other genre influences which will enrich their personal experiences with the album all the more. I would foremost recommend this release to listeners that find the more dynamic releases on Malignant Records to their liking. For fans of a more strict definition of dark ambient, this will be a bit too heavy, but with that said, I think it is still worth giving it a try, they really have found a nice chemistry here, which doesn’t take any one element to too great an extreme.
Dark ambient is a genre that is still quite a mystery, even to many dedicated fans, though it’s been around for several decades. An important factor in the dark ambient scene is the minuscule number of followers, in comparison to many other genres, scattered over the entirety of the globe. From Argentina to Siberia, dark ambient listeners seek something unique, something that is wholly outside the lines of modern trends.
During my own personal discovery of the genre, I waded through numerous interviews and live performances, trying to discern exactly what the hell is going on, how these musicians were creating such beautifully blackened ambient soundscapes. Years later, I understand a whole lot more than I did in the beginning. But it is still a daunting task, attempting to understand the machinations and sorcery of these musicians.
Dark Ambient 101 was born of this search for understanding. This article can be used as an interesting read for the average follower. It can be a first step towards something bigger and better for the fledgling artist. Finally, it can be a means for dark ambient artists across a spectrum of styles and regions, to find out a bit more about each other, why one artist has this particular sound or another comes up with something totally different.
This article is quite massive. There is a mountain of useful and interesting information here to keep you entertained possibly for hours! So proceed in whichever way will serve you best. You can search the questions for something that particularly draws your interest, or you can browse only the answers of your favorite artist. I, however, would recommend enjoying this a little at a time over several sessions. You are likely to have a much better picture, coming out the other side, of how and why dark ambient artists make the decisions they make, from album theme to field-recording microphone models.
Artists featured in this article: (for readability, I will use the first/primary dark ambient project of each artist, you can find links to all artists’ sites and social media at the end of the article.)
Pär Boström: Kammarheit, Cities Last Broadcast, Hymnambulae, Altarmang, Bonini Bulga and the Hypnagoga Press label
Will Connor: Seesar, New Leaders of the Eldritch Cult, Seesar Drums, Dread Falls Theatre, and the Dagon Records label
Hristo Gospodinov: Shrine
Simon Heath: Atrium Carceri, Sabled Sun and the Cryo Chamber label
Daniil Kazantsev: Stuzha, Algol, Black Wanderer
Alexander Lesswing: Skadi, Psychogram, CoM
Pavel Malyshkin: Ugasanie (Угасание), Polterngeist, Silent Universe
Claudio Mebitek: Mebitek
Raffaele Pezzella: Sonologyst and the Unexplained Sounds Group label
Sasha Puzan: protoU
Grant Richardson: Atrox Pestis, Gnawed and the Maniacal Hatred label
Jurica Santek – Aegri Somnia, Tertium Organum, Efil, and Esoteric Terrorist
Dehn Sora: Treha Sektori, Throane, Church of Ra, Ovtrenoir, Sembler Deah
Kammarheit: I prefer a bit of both. Analog equipment, especially reel-to-reel tape recorders or homemade cassette loops tend to inspire me more and creates the type of sound sources that I find good for manipulating. I don’t mind including a bit of the humming of cables and the hissing of tape. Instead of just using a sample as it is, I often record it with my tape recorder which I connect to a few pedals and re-record the sound somewhere in my home using a small amplifier and a proper microphone. It takes more time, but it often leads to a whole lot of new ideas and interesting sounds. Most of the time I make improvisation sessions with analog synths, tape loops or acoustic instruments through effect pedals, and then pick out the best parts in my computer and play them on the midi keyboard.
Pär Boström with analog devices.
Seesar: Being a percussionist, my music is entirely analog in the early stages. I strive to make unfamiliar sounds, often acknowledging Italian Futurist aesthetics and timbral groupings as part of my musical focus, that present acoustic sounds intended to seem electronic or, at least, unusual. I use digital means to organize and manipulate the recordings, so I must also say that I embrace both analogue and digital elements in my presentations, but all source sounds (samples, base tracks, overdubs, et cetera) are analogue in my tracks.
a. What do you see as the differences between analog and digital creations of dark ambient music?
Aegri Somnia: It’s a long debate and you will always have sides that prefer one over the other or both. Digital/analog have both cons and pros, and you have purists on both sides. My preferences are analog for bass, digital for leads, pads, efx, sound design, etc. It’s all about preference and specific needs of production, really. It’s a trend nowadays to use virtual emulations of analog synths. It comes very close to the real deal as computers are more powerful than ever.
Stuzha: Making analog sound good is certainly a skill. For dark ambient, I guess you have to go with lots of digital effects on top of analog anyway. So for me, it is a merry union. However, digital stuff can also be a cheaper and more efficient way to reach your goal.
Skadi: Both domains have their benefits. In the analog domain, you’ll have the classic approach of sound creation, including: twiddling knobs, the warmth of analog sound, the jitter of the signals in many synths. However, the digital domain provides an incredible spectrum of possibilities to create sounds and textures. It adds sampling, creative synthesis methods. On top of this, it also provides analog emulation of many famous synths for an affordable price. I tend to recommend experimenting in both domains. Especially for starters, the digital domain could be more flexible and thus, more attractive since usually you have less money to spend on getting decent equipment.
Atrox Pestis: I personally prefer the feel, sound, and aesthetics of analog. I try to incorporate the analog feeling, as much as possible, in my own work. However, I depend on digital so much that using exclusively analog would make no sense for me. I think this is a very personal thing. Some artists exist solely in one domain, while others move freely between the two. Nowadays, with analog modeling software and modern plug-ins, someone, who may not have the analog gear to get the sound they want, can do it all digitally with fairly good results. I suppose the key differences would be sound, performance capabilities, and ease of accessibility.
Mebitek: It’s all the same, creativity is the key point.
protoU: I prefer digital over analog at the moment. I think that, in order to be a gear person, you need to clearly know what you need and what can be achieved from a certain analog tool. I feel more comfy with something that can be morphed out of software. I think I would get impatient with crafting something out of a synth. I mean, I would probably love to play around with it, but in the end it all comes down to what you can achieve with it. I mean, you can have all the most sophisticated equipment in the world, but have zero ideas with it. It becomes worthless.
Shrine: I think the “analog vs digital” question has not been valid for a long time now. It was valid in the past when digital equipment was in its infancy, so to speak, but not anymore. I’m not saying there’s no difference in the sound between analog and digital tools. But, you can also have differences between various analog tools, and between various digital tools too. There are also hybrid synths, with digital oscillators and analog filters, for example. And besides, what if you are using analog synths, but process them with digital effects? Or if you are using digital synths and process them with analog effects? I believe the more important question these days is hardware vs software, not analog vs digital.
Ugasanie: I can not say which is better. It all depends on the equipment on which the music is played. Also depends on the format. I am sure that most people do not feel the difference. Of course, this does not apply to live performances. There, analog is much more pleasant to me.
Seesar: I think merely the approach to deciding which timbres and tunings to enlist in a composition, as determined by the media production method of choice, is the main difference between analogue and digital means of dark ambient music creation. What I mean here is that with digital music there are two main approaches – synthesizing sounds to incorporate or manipulating sounds sampled (either analogue or digital sounds). With analogue music making, there is only one main approach – creating samples to incorporate, be that live performances, entire tracks of root sounds, small samples to alter in the studio, overdubbing of sounds onto partially finished tracks, and so forth. When thinking about how to go about creating the sounds, you, as a composer and performer, wish to use within your works, the choice you make to generate the sounds you use informs the ways in which you are able to create the finished work. Obviously, it is possible, too, for you to utilize both analogue and digital. There is certainly not one that is better than the other. It is simply a matter of preference and aesthetic taste. There can be extreme differences between analogue and digital creations, or they can be merged together seamlessly, as well, depending on the desire of the composer, methodology of the performer, and intended end result of the piece.
b. What are some of the key instruments/programs that you use to make analog dark ambient?
Treha Sektori: Voices, everything around. Lately, I try to build my own instruments, making music as a substance, physically living the act of creation, the act of recording.
Aegri Somnia: Any semi-modular poly-analog synth will do the job. Examples: MFB Kraftzwerg, Korg minilogue or their MS-20, Roland SE-02, Dreadbox Erebus, Moog Mother-32, or the Pittsburgh Modular Lifeforms SV-1. If you have a lot of money to burn, you can go full modular and pick from thousands of Eurorack modules available, and build your own modular system, whatever you want. You can go modular in the virtual digital environment for free, with VCV rack.
You can go DIY with platforms like Arduino and build your own synths. You can buy some used virtual analog all-in-one synth, like the older access virus synths, that have all you need.
Stuzha: I personally use analogue Korg keys and bass, as well as various guitars.
Seesar: I use a combination of extended performance techniques on standard instrumentation; re-purposed “household” items, converting their function from a non-musical one to one of sonic exploration; and purpose-built noise-making devices (often self-made). I also, occasionally, use specific traditional folk or classical instruments from various cultures to emphasize musical narratives within my pieces, such as incorporating Polynesian percussion when evoking stories of the mythical Tcho Tcho people or a thirteen-moon Pagan ritual frame drum when attempting to refer musically to a Samhain celebration, for example. I often select instrumentation for individual tracks that will reflect the nature, feel, or story inspiring the work, and I regularly attempt to find new instrumentation, whenever possible and appropriate, to rotate through new timbres and tunings in an attempt to avoid stagnation in my palette of sounds. Of course, I also have favourites, to which I return regularly.
Atrox Pestis: I use a wide range of analog gear in every step of the performing and recording process, from instruments to tape consoles. Most commonly, I use several analog synthesizers but mainly the MS-20 mini and Mother-32. I use electro-acoustic elements such as contact mics and coil pickups; plenty of analog distortions, delays and reverbs, as well as spring reverb, outboard gear and various tape recorders.
Mebitek: MeeBlip Triode and Arturia MicroBrute.
Shrine: None. I work entirely with software, when composing. I have some analog synths around, with the sole purpose to use them at live performances. I’m not using them in the studio. Note: There are software programs that emulate analog hardware, but they are not real analog tools.
Sonologyst: Analog synthesizers, electrified string instruments, guitars, samples, editing software and plug-ins, percussions, and wind instruments parts (commissioned to other musicians).
c. What are some of the key instruments/programs that you use to make digital dark ambient?
Ugasanie: Recently, my main instrument is a recorder (dictaphone). I constantly record various sounds, backgrounds, and voices. Sometimes, I integrate a sound into a synthesizer. Other times, I use live instruments, which I also record on the recorder. Basically these are simple instruments: ocarina, vargan (or khomus), didgeridoo (I made it from a conventional PVC pipe), calimba, wooden flute, shakuhachi, acoustic guitar, tambourine, rain stick. Many of these instruments I made, myself. Almost always, I change the original sound of the instrument. The programs that I use: Adobe Audition, Reaper, Absynth, different virtual synthesizers, recently sometimes Ableton Live. Also I use a mini synthesizer from Arthuria.
Skadi: I started in the digital domain, including virtual instruments and digital hardware synth. In my early years I experimented with internal soundcards like the Soundblaster AWE32. I used their sampling capabilities on a deep level. Later, I enhanced my rig with a Nord Lead 2, a Korg Trinity and a Creamware DSP card. However, time and PC performance changed significantly. So, I switched entirely to virtual studio technology using several East West Quantum Leap Libraries, Spectrasonic Omnisphere 2, amongst several other instruments and effects and Izotope Ozone for mastering.
Atrox Pestis: I really enjoy granular synthesis specifically for dark ambient. I use SAMPLR, which is an app for iPad, quite a bit. Also, I use some digital synthesizers, digital effect pedals, and track most things on Pro Tools.
protoU: Ableton Live is my weapon of choice, here. I also use Kontakt a lot. All other effects are mostly built in Ableton. I try to keep it all clean, and not clump things together. I also have the AKAI MPK Mini controller. I don’t think I need anything more, actually.
Shrine: All software. Native Instruments synths only, when it comes to synthesis. Plus, external plugins for Reaktor and Kontakt. Various plugins for processing (too many to list).
Sonologyst: Mainly plugins to work on noise parts.
Treha Sektori: I don’t use programs to create sounds, just as a way to edit, mix, and sometimes process certain effects. I use Logic Pro.
Stuzha: I use many digital effects normally. I also use digital synths like Mininova and Waldorf Blofeld.
d. Do you see one or the other as being the “better” technique for creation of dark ambient music?
Treha Sektori: I think technique is not important, as everyone find their way.
Stuzha: It is indeed difficult to classify “better” in this business. For me it is all up to a moment and improvisation. Often, the main problem is to shape the idea well, it can be a very frustrating and time-consuming process.
Seesar: Absolutely not. I realise this is a question intended for instruction, but I think it should be emphasized that the creation of music be developed through one’s own preference and means available, rather than claiming analog or digital be more useful over the other to create dark ambient music. Embrace that which you are most comfortable and to which you have the easiest access, then cultivate your style and methods of creation, expanding into other areas when you are able and interested in doing so. The end music result will be exciting and innovative in all circumstances if you, as a dark ambient artist, engage with your creativity on a compositional and performative level, incorporating what you see fit and with which you are familiar.
Atrox Pestis: They both have their strengths, for sure. Dark ambient has a far more analog sound and feel than so many other electronic music genres. So, pulling off a purely digital process, while still having the analog feel, takes more skill. But, personal preferences aside I cannot call one “better” than the other. Digital is far more versatile, but I find the sound and live playability of analog gear in most cases to be superior.
Skadi: The quality of dark ambient is not a matter of the tool you’ll use, but is based on emotion and inspiration. For me, good dark ambient is based on the ability to turn emotions and situations into sound.
Shrine: Not sure, when it comes to comparison between analog and digital hardware. As for hardware vs software, I personally think that working with software is more versatile. With hardware you are bound to the physical reality while, with software you can go beyond and do things that are not possible with hardware. On the other hand, hardware in general still has superior sound quality to software (although the difference is getting slim nowadays).
protoU: I don’t think there are even terms like that 🙂 It very much depends on the DAW you’re using, the methods, how your imagination stretches within the tools. I would rather say making/recording quality sound is the main thing here. No matter how you achieve it, it’s important to have it quality. The scene is definitely overwhelmed with lo-fi bedroom producers that distort the feeling of the genre. Please don’t be one of them 🙂
Sonologyst: Everyone has to develop the better process fitting with her/his attitude.
Ugasanie: There is no better method. You must always use what you have at the moment. The best method is an experiment. In our time, of course, everything has become much easier. I dont need to glue the loops from the tape or solder new detail in musical boxes. Everything is much more accessible.
Seesar: I do often incorporate droning of some description, but I also never incorporate only drones or droning that has no level of dynamics at all. I regularly
Will Connor (Seesar)
underscore my work with an evolving drone of some sort to juxtapose the more-active soundscape layered on top. Also, as an acoustic musician, I have to keep in mind that I will need to make lasting drones as well as perform other sounds without electronic assistance, therefore, in live situations, reproducing or emulating my recorded pieces would be extremely difficult if I over-used drones (and this is a discussion perhaps best left for the final, general advice discussion, but when creating works, especially ones that use droning, consider if you or your project will be both a live and recording project, or just one or the other. It will greatly inform how you approach drone use and creation.)
a. What are some of the techniques you use to create drones?
Treha Sektori: Bow on a guitar for example, slowed and pitch down vocals….
Stuzha: I use bass guitar these days. Just a quick picking or tremolo playing. Then, lots of delay and reverb on top of that.
Seesar: Acoustic drone creation can be tricky, but there are certainly some effective creation methods that can be translated to many situations. Bowing an object, shaking an object, or rolling or scraping something over an object can all be useful techniques to employ. I regularly bow cymbals, pieces of plastic, or homemade stringed instruments; attach a spring to a resonator and shake it; or place a ball or stones in a bowl and move the bowl in a circle, allowing the ball or stones to roll around inside the bowl, which will resonate loudly with a consistent movement. Singing bowl-style rubbing a piece of wood or metal against something is somewhat of a combination of these methods, and is also very effective on certain free-moving bodies. Mechanical means to generate constant movment or extended decays is another useful approach to creating a drone, such as rotating the tyre of a bicycle with the pedal, and then scraping the rubber of the moving tyre or generate a constant whining sound that can be either used unaltered, or be manipulated in the studio.
Skadi: I prefer multi-layered soundscapes with different automation to create ever-changing textures. Furthermore, I usually add some background “assisting” drones, like eerie choirs, or give the main drone more expression.
Mebitek: Time stretching on single sound, delay, distortion and reverb.
protoU: Sometimes I layer sounds on top of each other. Sometimes I just play a few synths at once and they create such an immersive feeling that it really needs just a bit of editing and a proper backbone, then it is done.
Taphephobia: I usually use a lot of reverb and echo, but not always. It depends on the sound.
Sonologyst: There are different ones, maybe infinite. It’s possible to make drones with stratifications of synth pads, by editing acoustic instruments like brasses, winds, string instruments and so on; playing heavily distorted bass and/or guitar; editing samples, using noise from modular synthesizers and on and on…
b. Do you have a favorite program/instrument to use for creating drones?
Skadi: Definitely Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2, since it’s a swiss army knife for sound design, and you have the opportunity to include your own samples, as well.
Mebitek: Native Instruments and Kontakt.
protoU: I think it’s mostly Kontakt, and morphing all the different field recordings I make.
Taphephobia: My guitar and Adobe Audition 3.0. I am pretty much a comfort-guy. If I like something, I try to stick with it.
Treha Sektori: Theremin is lovely for droning.
Aegri Somnia: Reaktor enables you to create random calculated drones, and one life time is not enough to explore all its possibilities.
Stuzha: I quite like using Paul’s Extreme Sound Stretch on some field recordings like wind.
Seesar: Definitely bowing or scraping cymbals is one of my favourite means to create a drone. The overtones of vibrating discs can often interact with each other, even in just a basic, one-cymbal only situation, and typically complement and parallel over sounds to create rich, full-frequency passages. I also greatly like dragging a rubber ball over a membrane, like a large drum head, which is similar to bowing or scraping a cymbal, but with an entirely different timbre, and is also aesthetically pleasing and compositionally fulfilling.
Will Connor (Seesar)
c. As a beginner did you create drones the same way you do now?
protoU: As an evolving artist, I always seem to change. It depends on how deep you get yourself into different techniques and plugins. I try always to be inspired by something you can’t actually grasp in full.
Treha Sektori: I am still improving.
Stuzha: I used various VST’s mainly, which I haven’t used for about 10 years now!
Seesar: Yes and no. I certainly used lots of cymbals and drums towards the beginning of my career because I was moving from being a math-punk drummer, goth rock drummer, and jazz drummer to a noise-making soundscape artist. Eventually, I found new methods to use and have expanded my techniques and approaches. But I still return often to cymbals and drums, because they simply host solid useful timbres and offer a multitude of possibilities for performance.
Skadi: In my early days, I created drones by filtering sounds and noise. Since filtered noise can cause some mastering issues and unforseeable effects, I changed my drones using “cleaner” sounds.
Sonologyst: As a beginner I made a lot of mistakes before finding my way.
d. Have you changed techniques/software/instruments for creating drones over the progress of your career?
Taphephobia: I used an older program, Cool Edit Pro. After the second album (I think??), I started to use Adobe Audition 3.0. And, I also began to use Ableton Live on the side for some years now, mostly for live-recordings and finishing the track in Adobe Audition.
I would say I am still not an expert at using Ableton. I haven`t really studied the program much, I just play my guitar and try different effects and record it.
In the beginning I saw myself as learning to make drones. I think it was on the Black City Skyline I felt that the music had a good flow. Also on that album the guitar became a main instrument. On, for example, House of Memories there are almost no guitars.
Mebitek: Changes are normal when you grow up as musician, until you find your way to make music.
Sonologyst: Yes I did it many times. And, I continue to change to make the sound fabric different in any production I do.
Treha Sektori: I change instruments as often as I can. I am not a good technician, but I am always seeking the tone that’ll move me. In every instrument I can find.
Skadi: Of course. As my rig changed to virtual studio tech several times, my techniques, software, and instruments changed as well.
Stuzha: Sure. I tend to use more live instruments nowadays to produce interesting and genuine sounds.
Seesar: Yes. Not only do I return often to the staples of cymbals and drums for drone creation, I regularly explore new ways to make drones (and non-droning sounds). Keeping in mind the basic Hornbostel-Sachs taxonomy of acoustic sound generation (vibrating strings, vibrating columns of air, vibrating bodies, vibrating membranes), one can investigate means of generating sound using one or more of these methods, as well as approaching the method of generation differently. To find fresh ways to create drones. I suggest exploring as much as you can, until you find the sounds you like and the ways to make them, which provide you with a variety of performance techniques, to enrich your arsenal of drones/sounds for your compositions.
e. How important are drones to dark ambient music?
Treha Sektori: Good way to move your guts. Always depends on your message. For me, drones appeal to the guts. A way to grab this physical part, to create an uncomfortable feeling. Or, on the contrary, to bring the auditor to a meditative state. But it is a nice way to create a balance in the moving parts, the climaxes.
Seesar: That depends entirely on your approach to composition and performance, and your aesthetic preferences. For me, I find drones effective for filling space underneath a more active layer of sounds, for setting a mood and supplying a track with a frequency root around which to compose, and for a timbral theme necessary for countering other sounds and dynamics. Dark ambient music is certainly possible to create without drones. Personally, I prefer dark ambient music to be more involved than just layers of drones. However, I also feel they are highly valuable and functional. So, I suggest to consider using drones alongside other compisitional elements, to maximize your creative possibilities.
Skadi: Drones provide a solid fundament for dark ambient music. However, dark ambient is not bound to drones entirely. Some tracks, including many of my own work, are based on more natural sounds, rhythms, ethnical instruments, etc., without a dominant drone in the foreground. To sum it up, drones are very important for dark ambient but there are also ways to produce dark ambient music without the usage of drones.
3. Field Recordings
a. How important are field recordings to dark ambient music?
protoU: Field recordings are the essence of the realistic atmosphere we want to convey in dark ambient. Its purpose is to be immersive and get to the point where the listener is fully in the place and time, which the musician is trying to show.
Aegri Somnia: Alot in my music, i like organic/nature feel to high frequency spectrum, sound gets another dimension with field recordings.
Stuzha: To me, FR are always number one. You can make so much from just using FR alone and post-processing. By the way there are amazing FR banks around, like this one https://www.soundsnap.com/
Stuzha, gathering field recordings.
Seesar: I do use field recordings, including ambient sound, sampling, and ethnomusicology field recordings, where applicable and ethically acceptable. Examples of field recordings I have used in my works include cat meowing, raven songs, rain and wind, construction machinery, brad machines, vacuum cleaners, drills, high school pep rallies, and music recorded during ethnomusicology fieldwork research trips (used with permission). The importance of their use is a matter of taste and style. Field recordings certainly add a particular flavour to a piece that cannot be gained otherwise, but it also places a piece in a specific mentality framed by the field recording, which must also be considered by the composer. There is nothing negative about using field recordings, just to be clear. However, they can change the aesthetic of a piece. Their importance is strictly determined by the value the composer places on them.
Skadi: As explained before regarding drones, field recordings are quite important to dark ambient music but not required. There are many dark ambient tracks around without any field recording usage. E.g. I rarely use field recordings in my tracks. They can definitely provide a very distinctive mood in a track, but emotions and moods can also be transfered with other methods and approaches to dark ambient.
Mebitek: Should be the key point for originality.
Shrine: Most ambient artists use them I think, more or less. Perhaps, it depends on the specific music. For the so called “organic ambient”, for example, all the natural sounds are an integral part of the music.
Sonologyst: They are another fundamental component in dark ambient music. They are the ingredient to create visual atmospheres, vivid landscapes, even stories. They forge a solid concept when the musician has something interesting to tell through the music.
Ugasanie: Everyone decides for themselves. Personally, I use them all the time. I love ambient with field recordings. They create the right atmosphere, for me.
b. What electronics do you use to capture field recordings?
Stuzha: I always had Zoom recorders. Now it is Zoom H4. I managed to freeze it a few times, but otherwise it is a solid piece of equipment.
Atrium Carceri: Tascam DR-100 with a dual XLR connected Röde NT4.
Atrium Carceri, field recording expedition.
Shrine: I used to have a portable field recorder. I sold it off a few years ago, as I wasn’t satisfied with its sound quality. I never bought a new one though. Nowadays it’s easy to find high quality samples online and I already have a pretty big sound library with my own field recordings too.
Aegri Somnia: My phone for recent recordings. Any cheap Tascam/Zoom/Sony stand-alone recorder will do the job.
Seesar: I use either a portable M-Audio digital recorder or I set up my laptop and capture field recordings with my M-Audio soundcard and Röde NT-4 point stereo mic.
Skadi: Since I don’t field record on my own, I use specific libraries with field recordings if required for my tracks.
Mebitek: Zoom H1
protoU: I use voice recording software on my iPhone. It is more than enough for me for now, but I’m sure I’ll get a good mic someday. I also have a friend with a recording studio, where I borrow different microphones to record stuff.
Sonologyst: I’m not a professional of field recordings, so I use simply an iPhone when I’m around to catch everything that could be interesting.
Ugasanie: Tascam DR05
c. Do you use a wind-screen?
Aegri Somnia: No
Stuzha: I like these… furry things 🙂
Seesar: Yes. All of my devices have their own, purpose-made, foam windscreen. I also, occasionally, use a floating pop screen for loud or aspirated sounds.
Atrox Pestis: Always if I am outdoors – even if it is just my t-shirt wrapped around the mic. I have different wind screens for different mics, but I generally use an open cell foam screen that fits a compact omni mic, which I use most frequently.
Mebitek: Yes, a zoom h1 ball wind screen.
protoU: No, I don’t.
d. What kind of wind-screen?
Atrium Carceri: Dead Kitten
Shrine: Foam and fur. Two for the built-in mics of the portable recorder, and one more for the external stereo mic I was also using back then.
e. When is it necessary to use a wind-screen?
Stuzha: Depends on what you record, of course. But you can’t go wrong keeping it on your mic all the time.
Seesar: In my opinion, always. Perhaps, if a sound is extremely faint and there is no chance of wind contaminating the recording. But even then, I would more likely tend to use the windscreen, just to be safe. At first, I never used a windscreen of any description. I found myself continually editing out pops, clicks, clipping, and distant unwanted sounds. Using a windscreen helps reduce a lot of post-recording editing issues. I admit, I pay particular detail to using as clean of a sample as possible, so perhaps I address these issues with far too much attention. However, in my experience and using my approaches to field recording, I cannot recommend using a windscreen enough.
Mebitek: I always use one, because it gets cleaner sounds.
Shrine: All the time, I guess, when recording outdoors. The chances to get the perfect conditions when the windscreen won’t be needed are tiny. But I guess this is more true for recording quiet sounds (e.g. nature) than loud sounds (e.g. machines).
f. Do you leave the field recordings raw or do you add effects treatment to them?
Treha Sektori: I do treat them. Sometimes, I can record for an hour and only find a couple of seconds that, after modeling, I get what I feel.
Kammarheit: I rarely use raw field recordings. I have been using a Zoom H4n for many years and it has been enough for the type of music I want to make. I am not very interested in adding footsteps, dripping water or other easily recognisable sounds. But I really like the process of collecting sounds, that I then manipulate. High and long metallic sounds or traffic recorded through tunnels or under bridges. I often layer lots of different field recordings on top of each other, and play the whole mix as one instrument on my keyboard, making long, meditative drones. As long as it doesn’t get too muddy.
Pär Boström (Kammarheit), view from the studio.
Aegri Somnia: Raw, I just cut unnecessary frequencies. When I use an unusual sound, then I manupulate it and use it for a specific purpose.
Stuzha: I like both. Sometimes it is important to tell the story, so I use raw.
Seesar: It depends on the sound recorded. I would say, typically, I remove noise and unwanted sounds from a field recording. Then, I edit it to use the section I want, and often add some effect (reverb, change of pitch, echo, et cetera), along with a raw version whenever feasible. This ensures the original recording is heard, but within the context of the dark ambient piece, alongside the altered version of the recording.
Atrium Carceri: Almost always EQ, and most times compression to smooth volume spikes, if too rough.
Atrox Pestis: Both. I want some sounds to be very clear as to their source. Others, I may have recorded because I wanted to capture a texture or specific tone, and then I’ll add the effects that will boost what I like about the recordings or alter them altogether.
protoU: I usually put some effects there. It depends on if I want to convey the very realistic atmosphere (that the field recording is about: forest, rain, swamp, night-time, church etc.), or I want to play with it and make it, turn it to something completely opposite adding some delay, distortion (example: when I have a sound of a frying egg and try to turn it into the sound of a burning flame.)
Shrine: Essentially every sound in music production needs treatment (as equalization, compression, etc.), not only field recordings. Yes, sometimes it is possible to have a perfect raw sound that you can use without any treatment but this is rather an exception. And if by treatment you mean adding sound effects like reverberation or distortion, then it depends on the specific composition and how you want it to sound, so it’s up to you.
Sonologyst: I usually treat field recordings with additional reverbs. But the most important thing is to find the right level for the field recording layer in the mix. Mixing is by all means a crucial part in the process.
g. Do you use field recordings in the creation of drone or do you only use them as a secondary layer of sound?
Aegri Somnia: I use them as layers only.
Stuzha: Yes, some field recordings can be perfect for the drone manufacturing process.
Seesar: Both. If a field recording is long and droning, then, obviously, it is most likely suitable for being a drone within a piece. I also may take a shorter sample and stretch it to make it a drone, or vice versa, edit a long recording to use it for secondary layer sampling. Shorter sounds, though, tend to be used more clearly on top of drones in my pieces.
Skadi: If I use field recordings, I usually use them as a secondary layer with heavy treatment.
Mebitek: I usually use them as a second layer, but sometimes I use them as a sound generator.
protoU: Sometimes field recordings are the basis of drones, because the natural atmosphere often has it’s own natural sounds, even with notes sometimes.
Shrine: No, my drones are always synthesized. Field recordings are mostly used as a background.
Sonologyst: It’s possible to use field recordings for drones, why not?
a. Do you use your own voice, hire a voice actor, or use samples from films/television/speeches?
Treha Sektori: I use my own voice.
Mebitek: Usually I record my own voice, but sometimes I need female vocals.
Stuzha: I use my own voice, but I don’t like how it sounds. I used film samples a lot for one of my cinematic drone projects.
Seesar: I most often use my own voice, and employ a range of vocal techniques to provide varying timbres, as I can. Once or twice, I have used vocal sounds from other people, and live I have used many vocalists at once for a choir-like passage. I have not used samples from film or television, but it is certainly a possibility, if you have the permission to use the material.
Skadi: When I use vocals, I usually use samples.
Shrine: Samples only.
Sonologyst: Yes, samples from old documentaries, movies, speeches are my favorite. But I also asked singers to send to me parts for specific uses.
Taphephobia: Mostly I use my own voice and sometimes I ask friends. Clips of real people (for example on Youtube) or movies, too. I don`t think I will use that much movie samples in the future. To be honest, I don`t think I need it.
Ketil Søraker (Taphephobia) Photo by: Egil Anders Rønning
Ugasanie: Mostly my own, but sometimes also samples from films. Alternatively, sometimes people share material, if you ask. For example, the track ” Arctic Hysteria” turned out so.
b. Is it necessary to ask permission of the original copyright holder before using samples of vocals in your music?
Stuzha: Better to ask, but you can find lots of really amazing movies to sample on archive.org. But at the end of day I make no money out of it!
Seesar: Exceptionally important. You do not want to have your work removed from online hosts or incur legal action because you incorporated a sample for which you did not have permission to use. It does happen. Check the current sampling laws in your country with your performing rights organization to get the details you need to stay within legal constraints of sampling. They are much more lenient than you may expect, and you may also find that the source you wish to sample is quite willing to give you permission, typically under a creative commons license that will allow you to use their work/recording for merely giving them public credit for the sample. Furthermore, there is little reason to sample without permission. Creating your own samples is easy and keeps your music original with you holding all the rights, so it is to your benefit to stay within the law and only sample with permission. In my experience, doing so has always resulted in benefits for me and my music, which is a pleasant bonus for only using samples with permission.
Skadi: It depends. Basically, you need permission for the usage of samples, especially when you take whole passages from other music. Sample Libraries with speech samples contain a royalty free license which allows you to use them.
protoU: Just don’t use copyrighted samples 🙂
Shrine: Good question. There are three times I have used spoken-word samples so far: one taken from a film, and two from Youtube videos. I only checked the copyrights of the movie, because I used that sample almost without changing it. The other two, I changed drastically, so to me there was no point to bother with copyrights.
Sonologyst: No, for they are usually very short samples or free samples.
5. DAW [Digital Audio Workstation]
An electronic device or application software used for recording, editing and producing audio files such as musical pieces, songs, speech or sound effects.
a. What DAW do you use?
Aegri Somnia: Studio One
Stuzha: I don’t use anything, except Adobe Audition and some plugins… I’m going to look into Ardour.
Mebitek: I use Native Instruments Maschine and Ableton Live.
Seesar: I use one of two computers, a playback system, and one of two input systems in my private studio. I run Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 10, 4-8GB of RAM, iCore processors, AMD graphics cards running three monitors with an extended display, a 24 channel digital Yamaha desk, an M-Audio optical input soundcard and a direct M-Audio USB soundcard, an Onkyo power amp, and a set of Harmon-Kardon playback monitors and a set of Advent playback monitors, plus high end Pioneer headphones with over the ear noise-canceling cans. I primarily use Röde and Blue mics. I use the latest full version of Adobe Audition for recording and editing. I have various plug-ins for mastering, but I also typically only master on a very limited scale, leaving the full mastering to the record labels.
Atrium Carceri: Cubase
Skadi: I use several DAWs to produce my music. It depends on the style I want to produce. Mainly, I use Ableton Live for production. However, I also have Propellerhead’s Reason and Cocko’s Reaper for my side projects, and FL Studio which I mainly used before I switched to Ableton.
protoU: Ableton Live
Shrine: I used to use REASON when I started with my music project back in 2003. In 2009 I switched to SONAR, which I’m still using today, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be switching to another DAW ever.
Shrine, using the Sonar DAW.
Sonologyst: I prefer to escape all questions about DAW, computer and so on, simply because there are not peculiarities for dark ambient music. The logic of hardware and software is the same for all kinds of music. Just, I can add, that I’m a graduated sound technician, so I learned techniques of recording, mixing and mastering through regular courses. But as in all studies, the experience is the most important factor. Do it, do it and do it again. And after some years everyone will find the right set up and process. And for people like me, who don’t have big amounts of money to invest in expensive hardware and software, the experience will help to do more, using less. And this is a big advantage for creativity; when you have poor instruments and have to use your brain to figure out something good. Take a few small stones, beat them together and record the sound by using some freeware delay and reverb. Probably you will be very positively surprised of the result.
b. Do you think there is a best DAW to be used, or is it personal taste?
Kammarheit: Any DAW will serve you well, once you know how it works. I have been using Reason and Ableton Live for many years. I had the ambition to learn Cubase, but I just felt frustrated and kept looking for the functions I already knew in my other programs.
Atrox Pestis: It’s all personal taste. For noise and dark ambient, I hardly use DAWs full capabilities or features. I came from an audio engineering background, so I am really just using the tools I have and already know. Some people need DAWs a lot more minimally, and are fine with something like Audacity, while others might need a lot more from the program, and use something like Abelton or even use multiple.
Atrium Carceri: Personal taste, and it depends on what you are creating. If you are working with a lot of digital beats, a loop based program might be faster (FL Studios, Ableton), while if working on a lot of precision wave editing something like Cubase will be a better fit.
Shrine: There’s no best DAW, but choosing one isn’t about taste either. It’s about workflow. There is a set of things you have to do in order to compose a track and this set is highly individual. So a producer usually sticks to a DAW that suits his/her workflow best.
Skadi: It’s definitely personal taste which DAW you prefer. Some like Cubase, Presonus One, or Cakewalk Sonar. Others like Reason, Ableton, or FL Studio. The best approach is to check out the DAWs, and stick with the one you like most regarding workflow and features.
protoU: I know a lot of people that make great ambient music within various programs. I like Ableton, because you can create with it and do live shows. Not all DAWs are created this way. Also, it looks good. Esthetics play a very important role in what I do. For example, I can’t stand how Cubase looks 🙂 You open it up and immediately strive to collapse it, because the UI is just so ugly 😀
protoU, performing live.
Seesar: Personal taste. The main thing is qualtiy of output (which also means quality of input). If you can build a DAW that maintains clean recordings, clean editing, clean playback, and clean means of saving and disceminating your works, you can use whatever you prefer, and with which you are familiar and comfortable. In a way, being comfortable with your equipment is the way to ensure that your recordings are clean and professional. Of course, you also have to start with equipment that allows for that, too. Be intelligent when choosing equipment. Do your research, try not to be hasty, talk to other studio engineers, read reviews, and work within your financial means to build your DAW. Today, it is easy to get lots of inexpensive equipment, but not necessarily easy or cheap to get professional, easy to use equipment. Get what works for you, and evolve as your music and career grow.
As for editing software, again, use what is within your means and with which you are comfortable. It is extremely important to be able to work smoothly with your editing program. You will need to know your software inside and out to accomplish creating the music you hear in your head, in a timely manner. That being said, you should expect a steep learning curve to familiarizing yourself with your first editing program. But, do not let that discourage you. If you have not worked with an editing program before, do some research and work through a few tutorials before really delving into your first pieces with it. You will want to be fluent with the program to both create your works and meet industry deadlines. Also, you will want to test your software with your equipment to make sure everything is compatible and will provide you with clear, and smooth recordings every session. No composer or performer has time to troubleshoot tech or stop and clean up raw tracks every time you work on a new piece. You will be very happy you took the time to get everything set up and that you are familiar with the software when you are tasked with creating seven new tracks in three days and have no time to do anything but create music.
c. Did you have training in the use of this program or did you learn it yourself?
Shrine: No training. I learned by myself. I didn’t even learn all of it, only the things I need.
Kammarheit: I have never had any training. You don’t need to. I use my programs as often as possible; and I am not afraid to experiment with other types of music, just to learn new techniques. I am still using my programs even on the days when I am not making proper music. Even when I am online, I have half the screen showing my DAW, so I won’t get stuck in social media.
Aegri Somnia: I learned it by myself. Today you have tons of Youtube lessons, and you can learn every tiny bit of specific operations in your DAW, its all online available for free, for you to learn.
Seesar: Yes and no. Initially, yes, I learned to use my editing software by myself, then I spent time working with two studio engineers to get advice and learn new tricks. Later, I upgraded my software and had to relearn certain things, even though they were supposedly easier in the new version of the program. But, it was not a difficult task, and I was able to engage with the software on my own. I will say, though, that there are many useful tutorials and online courses, so if you are not fully familiar with your software, it will benefit you greatly to take the time to go through some of the available material and ensure you are creating professional level music. Creativity is something you will certainly have if you are reading this. Make sure your creativity is rewarded with professional sounding recordings. Know your equipment, work with engineers, know your strengths and weakness, and engage your music accordingly.
protoU: Mostly I’m self taught. I have a lot of friends that make music with this program, so we kind of learned from each other. Also my husband uses it. Dronny Darko. You might know him 😉
Shrine: Once you are familiar with the basics of computer music production, try the demos of as many DAWs as you can. Try to complete a track in each of them. This way you will find what suits you best.
Seesar: Ensure your equipment is compatible and will provide you with professional recordings, without hindrance. If you need a new computer, get one. If you need a good mic, get one. If you need the latest version of an editing program, get it. A smoothly running DAW is essential to being a professional. If this is your job or main creative outlet, you should treat it as such. You will be tremendously happy and far more productive with energy spent on your creativity rather than struggling with your DAW.
protoU: When choosing a DAW, I would lurk a lot of info on the internet, on how each program works and how it looks. In the long run, it will be something you will spend a lot of your time in front of, so make sure it has the potential and the look to not irritate you 🙂
Mebitek: To experiment, experiment and still experiment!
a. Win or Mac?
Treha Sektori: Mac
Aegri Somnia: Windows
Stuzha: Windows, but I use it just for Adobe Audition. I also have some driver issues to plug-in my TonePort to Linux. However, I’d like to do my next album in Linux!
Seesar: For me, I utterly despise Apple computers. I find them exceptionally user unfriendly and extremely difficult to use and infinitely over-priced. I, therefore, use Windows and Linux machines. That being said, the main thing is that you are comfortable with your computer. If you are familiar with Macs, use them! Both Apple and Windows machines can support professional software and hardware. It is entirely a preferential decision, but do make sure that your equipment is professional. That is the main issue.
Shrine: PC all the way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Macs are bad, not at all. It’s just their price/performance ratio that is really poor, compared to PCs. For the money you will spend on an average Mac you can build a monster PC that will do a better job for you. But that’s the reality with all Apple devices, you are paying extra just because of the brand. It’s a waste.
Ugasanie: I use a budget laptop Samsung, with Windows 7.
b. What is the most important component in a dark ambient computer studio? (ie. Processor, RAM, Sound Card, etc.)
Treha Sektori: A sound card that is solid, I’d say.
Kammarheit: People have managed to make good music even before the advanced components. Don’t get too caught up in the ideal setup. Start with what you have or can afford. For me, music has always been about mood and atmosphere. Exploring and expressing the inner worlds. You can do this with very little equipment. It is only out of curiosity and maybe necessity that I have picked up what little I know about the technical aspect of music making. I often talk to people who are postponing their creativity because they are waiting for the perfect hardware or software and it makes me a bit sad.
Aegri Somnia: Active near field monitors, headphones and soundcard.
Stuzha: CPU is quite important to do some heavy real-time processing and then sound rendering. Then I’d prioritize sound card and RAM. Don’t forget about audio monitors do not be afraid to spend more on them than on your laptop!
Mebitek: As for all electronic music studios, you need a good CPU and as much RAM you can buy.
Seesar: All these pieces of equipment are important. Good processors will reduce rendering time, if you are working with high bit rates or adding lots of effects to a large number of tracks within a mix. RAM is also very important for this sort of heavy processing, and it is also useful for multitasking during a session, but I have been able to work with 4-8GB of RAM, easily, on my machines. More is better, of course. Soundcards are extremely important. Getting a clean sound is essential. Do not skimp here. You want the highest quality soundcard you can get within your financial means. I also prefer a lot of screen real estate, because I find it easier to edit fine details and analyze spectrum views of recordings, as well as I often work with a mix of ten to twenty tracks in one piece. Having multiple, large monitors has proven to be very useful and increased my efficiency noticably.
Skadi: The most important component is the sound interface. I recommend to use a high quality interface with several I/Os, and the capability to provide low latency signal processing. CPU is also important to have enough power to host the virtual instruments, if applicable. RAM is less important, since the common 16GB nowadays are usually enough.
protoU: I think it’s mostly the environment. I can’t create ambient when I’m in a rush or something is not right in the room. I need to have that tranquil sense. It will all be reflected in the music.
Shrine: The most important things are, of course, the clock speed of the processor, and the performance of the I/O driver of your audio interface (sound card). In a professional setup the audio interface is usually not a part of the computer, but even if it is, the performance of the sound driver is still vital for the DAW. A higher number of processor cores can help too, in case your DAW properly supports multitasking. And if you will be using sample based instruments (especially the orchestral and choral ones where every tone and articulation is coming from a separate audio file), then the RAM size will be a factor too, as the DAW will load all the samples into RAM.
Shrine, PC tower setup.
c. What do you think are the minimum requirements for these components? (ie. i5 processor, 6gb or RAM, etc.)
Skadi: An i5 Quadcore is good enough, unless you have a lot of VST instances running in parallel. Since most VSTs are not able to use multicore, and run on one core of the CPU (however, a multicore enabled DAW will distribute the VST instances onto the multiple CPU cores), a decent CPU speed is also recommendable. 8gb is the minimum for serious music production, but 16gb+ is recommended.
protoU: It always depends on the DAW, and what you are aiming for. There are different techniques to make your program work better with little resources.
Shrine: This very much depends on how many virtual instruments and virtual effects you are using. If you only record and mix audio, without processing, and without synthesis, you can go even with a low spec computer. The more virtual instruments and virtual effects you use, the more computing power you will need.
Aegri Somnia: I run smooth with Intel Core i3 and 4gb RAM for most situations. Newer stuff like Diva and other analog emulators are very CPU hungry, so if you run more than two of them, it’s wise to update your processor and RAM.
Stuzha: I’d say indeed i5 intel, 8gb RAM should do. I use my 8 year old Lenovo G780 laptop, but thinking of upgrading.
Mebitek: An i7, 16gb ram, and a solid-state hard disk.
Seesar: It is less important to be concerned with minimums, and more concerned about compatibility. As long as you are able to ensure your programs run smoothly and your end result is professional. I run a quad i5 on one machine and a duo i7 on another. Currently, both machines have 8GB of RAM. I find they are effecient to conduct my work. But, I am saving up to upgrade to a newer machine in the new year.
d. What would you say is the best computer set-up for a studio?
Seesar: The main issue is simply being able to do what you need your computer to do. For sampling, you will need more RAM. For mixing and mastering, you need more processing power. You will need scratch disc and storage space, too, so be sure to have lots of space on your hard drive(s). I have three 1TB hard drives, two 750GB hard drives, and one 4TB drive. The difference between a high end duo core and a mid grade quad is not significant, in my experience. A higher processing speed, however, can be very useful. Consider getting a high speed processor, at least 4GB of RAM (preferably more), and have at least 500GB of space to store tracks and use and workspace for your audio programs.
Skadi: That’s a difficult question, since the answer is based on the budget someone is willing or able to spend. You can have a decent music production rig for roughly $1000 including a good USB interface (e.g. Focusrite Scarlett), but you can also spend a lot more and get a $10,000+ rig, including a RME Hammerfall, Neumann mics etc etc.
Shrine: Get the fastest processor you can afford. Make sure it’s not a “low power” model. An energy saving processor will probably fail you on music production, even if it’s a very fast one.
e. What would be the most bare-bones acceptable set-up?
Seesar: Maybe an i3 with 2GHz speed, and a hard drive with 250GB. It would be slow, of course. But, that could get you through making a few tracks, until you can upgrade.
Skadi: An AMD or intel based Quadcore CPU, 8gb RAM and the usage of ASIO4ALL, to get low latency on onboard soundcards. A dualcore CPU is also acceptable, if you’re willing to deal with the limitations of instruments and effects.
a. Where do you go to find samples?
Mebitek: I record them, myself.
Seesar: I create my own samples.
Skadi: If required, I check Nord Sample Library for ambient, soundscape, effects, and natural sounds collections. Quite often, they are a good source of inspiration.
protoU: Lately, I’ve been crafting/recording them myself. But, I also use resources like freesound.org and similar ones.
Shrine: There are tons of free sounds on freesound.org. There are also countless paid sample libraries of a good quality all over the internet, for reasonable prices. But most often, I create samples, myself.
Sonologyst: Everywhere: everyday life, music, movies, documentaries, vinyl, VHS, NASA web site, specialized platforms for samples sharing…
Ugasanie: Everywhere: forest, city, factory, buildings … anywhere.
b. What samples would be off-limits in a legal sense?
Aegri Somnia: That’s a controversial question.
Atrium Carceri: Depends on if your music is aiming to be copyrighted and included in copyright audio services (like Youtube’s claim system). If so, any samples you didn’t create yourself are off limits, since you can’t copyright what you didn’t create. Youtube will hunt down any other audio using the samples YOU used and claim that you own the copyrights to them. No label wants to deal with the backlash of something like that. For us at Cryo Chamber, 30% of demos are rejected because of sample use.
Mebitek: For any copyrighted sample, you need to have permission for use in your tracks.
Seesar: Any sample for which you do not have permission to use, would be off limits. Be sure to familiarize yourself with licensing laws in your country. Most legal systems allow for certain types and lengths of samples to be used. They also allow for extensive creative commons sampling, which only requires you to acknowledge the creator of the sample. Some levels of licensing requires that you pay royalties on samples, when you make money off of the track in which they are used. Others require an up-front one time payment, whilst others require all of the above. Make sure you have permission to use a sample before mixing it into your track!
Skadi: Using sampled passages of someone else’s musical works without permission. However, I am fine, if someone would sample my work in parts. As long as the samples are not whole passages of my creative work.
Shrine: The copyrights of the samples you can find online are usually well regulated, some are free under creative commons license, others are paid. Some even require a license subscription (annual payment). But, if the question is about sampling someone else’s work, then I don’t know. I personally think, if you use a sample created by somebody else, your best option is to transform it drastically, so it becomes something else, something made by you. Of course, this is true for musical “played” sounds. If it’s field recordings, then I guess it doesn’t matter. Field recordings are not “played”, just recorded by somebody.
Sonologyst: There are a lot of free samples around, or ones which are simply usable by asking the owner for permission. But, for more specific knowledge of the argument, I suggest to read the related laws of the source origin country.
a. When you use instruments in your music do you play a real instrument yourself?
Treha Sektori: I play several instruments badly, but I play ’em, myself.
Kammarheit: Most of the time I play the instruments, myself. With the way I create my music, the live recording doesn’t have to be very good. I treat it as I treat my field recordings, by extracting the best parts, manipulate them, and turn them into a playable instrument in my computer. Sometimes I am lucky though, and there is no need for a lot of tweaking.
Pär Boström’s creation: The Shipwreck Device
Aegri Somnia: Yes. I plan to record more guitar-based ambient in the future.
Stuzha: I use many instruments. Hard to tell which is my favourite, but I equally enjoy ‘torturing’ a guitar or ‘hammering’ a synth.
Seesar: Yes. I play all percussion, horns, stringed instruments, re-purposed items, and any instruments I have constructed. Plus, I record my own vocals, whenever possible.
Skadi: I use guitars in my tracks. Furthermore, I own a Korg Wavedrum which might have an approach in one of my future works. I have some experience with other instruments like flutes, violin, etc., but unfortunately, I didn’t master any of them.
Shrine: I used to play various instruments before I turned to computer music, but not anymore. The last time I sampled myself playing real instruments was at some of the recordings for Somnia back in 2008. Now, I play virtual instruments.
Taphephobia: Yes, I play most of my music, myself. I play guitar and sometimes play around with synth.
Ugasanie: Yes, I play myself.
b. If you want to have violin, for example, (or any other instrument) in a song, but don’t own one and can’t play one, is there another option? (some sort of program that will create violin sounds for you?)
Treha Sektori: I’ll try to make a sound like a violin, but with another instrument (favorites to recreate are mandolin played with a bow and theremin).
Stuzha: There are great violins in various VST’s, like Atmosphere, as I remember.
Mebitek: I use some Kontakt libraries that I own (especially from Spitfire Audio).
Seesar: Since my music focuses on employing extended techniques on acoustic instruments, re-purposing items not originally intended to be used as musical instruments, and constructing new acoustic musical instruments, I rarely use simulated instrument samples. That is not to say they are not highly useful, however. There are several banks of excellent instrument samples in various libraries. Many of which are available to be purchased or free to download. Often, free libraries are licensed under creative commons licensing. Whilst purchased libraries are primarily copyright-free. So they are able to be used without additional acknowledgement. Native Instruments provides some of the more widely-used libraries. Ear Monk lists multiple free sample libraries, available for download on their website. Studio One offers their top picks for sample libraries, with reviews to help you select what is best for your compositions. Also, many production companies, such as the BBC, sell sound effects and instrument sample libraries that are exceptionally useful. Research whatever library you wish to use before purchasing, to ensure you get a collection of sounds that will be aesthetically matched with your style and works.
Skadi: Since I work alone, I mainly use specific libraries, like the Quantum Leap Orchestra Gold, to create authentic orchestral instruments.
protoU: Most Kontakt patches have really good sounding instruments. I don’t usually try to crack my head around that. I just try to find the one of the highest quality, and go from there.
Shrine: There are virtual instruments of amazing quality you can play in Kontakt. You can have an entire symphonic orchestra if you want (and can afford).
Sonologyst: I prefer to directly ask other musicians to realize the part, so to have a more natural and warm sounding effect.
Taphephobia: I have a friend who can play cello, harmonica or contrabass. There are programs that do this, of course, but it is not something I do on a regular basis. But maybe in the future, I will never say never. For now, what I do is just for making short samples or synth background sounds.
Ugasanie: You can try to replace the sound with a synthesizer. But, it’s better to find a musician who will agree to help.
a. How important is mastering in dark ambient?
Atrium Carceri: On a scale from 1 to 10, very.
Seesar: Extremely important. That does not mean do it yourself, if you do not have the equipment or experience to do it professionally. That means, if you can not do a professional job mastering, yourself, get your tracks to someone who can. Also, consider how much mastering is required. Will your record label be mastering your track(s) for you? Are your tracks being presented by themselves, as a collection, or as part of a compilation that will host other artists (and therefore other recording situations and masterings)?
Mastering a dark ambient track is highly important. Soundscape music often incorporates similar timbres and frequencies. So, ensuring that your track is crisp and all of your sounds are heard as you want them to be is very important. Mastering also provides a unification of sounds through balance, spacial simulation (primarily use of an overall reverb to make all sounds seem like they are coming from the same environment), et cetera. Alternatively, if that is not the aesthetic that you want as a composer, you can master your track to highlight whatever factors you see as being in need of enhancement or being pushed to the forefront of the piece.
Skadi: Mastering is as important for dark ambient as it is for other music genres. However, the specific requirements of dark ambient have to be considered during the mastering process.
Mebitek: It is very important, as in all productions.
protoU: Mastering is as important as it is in every music genre. It’s something that shapes the sound of the track and makes it look more professional.
Shrine: As important as in every other music genre: very important.
Shrine, various hardware.
Ugasanie: This is the polishing of the finished product, and an important part of the necessary process.
Taphephobia: I guess it is important to make the album sound as good as possible. It can change the track for the better. Also for the worse, if it’s badly done mastering. Just turning up the volume to maximum and forgetting about the dynamics in the music might destroy the whole track.
Treha Sektori: It can definitively improve your story. Personally, I use a lot of sub basses, mastering can clean ’em and make them more powerful.
Aegri Somnia: It is important, as it give your song final sound that will be good everywhere, on whatever speakers.
Stuzha: I find it essential, actually. I, unfortunately, don’t have enough time to learn the process properly!
b. Can a musician, with limited training, master their own album?
Atrox Pestis: Certainly not to the sense of what mastering really is. Without experience, you could run it through some preset and make it sound better to you. But, I would still consider this part of the final mixing process. If you have more technical knowledge and the studio capabilities, then certainly. I see mastering as an entirely different beast, and although I do master my own material, its often good to give it over to another set of ears. When I master other people’s material, I approach it with outside ears, completely detached from any feelings about the creative process that lead the album to its current point.
Aegri Somnia: Why not? Mastering is all about ear training, reference material, and use of specific plug-ins.
Atrium Carceri: Mastering is a subtle process, but it takes a lot of training.
Stuzha: There are very useful clips on Youtube, which will teach you how to do the basics.
Mebitek: Yes, but practice makes it better.
Seesar: It is possible to make a difference using mastering software without extensive knowledge of mastering engineering. But, I would also say that, whilst it is easy to make notable changes, it is also exceptionally difficult to make subtle, accurate, professional changes to an track’s overall sound without research, training, and experience. If you wish to master your own tracks for end result publication, definitely take the time to learn the software necessary, work through mastering tutorials to understand exactly what will help you achieve your mastering goals, and test methods and software with a critical ear on professional equipment, to experience the variety of ways in which your mastering can alter a track before settling on a final version of a piece.
Skadi: Of course. There are many guides and tips around in the internet explaining how to master a track correctly. It’s no witchcraft to produce good quality material with some reading and learning.
protoU: Sure why not. If you learn to make it all better – all means are good. Even the guys that master professionally still learn every day.
Shrine: Yes, but the results probably won’t be stellar, at first. Good mastering needs practice, like everything else.
Sonologyst: It’s not an easy job without a little bit of training.
Taphephobia: I will say that is possible, but maybe not the best idea. It is always better to learn it thoroughly, or let people – who are really good at it – do the mastering.
c. What programs do you use for mastering an album?
Aegri Somnia: Ozone and Waves have very solid solutions for mastering.
Stuzha: I use Waves.
Mebitek: Izotope Ozone.
Seesar: I use the mastering suite, within Adobe Audition, and Wave plug-ins, at least for initial mastering tests. Spectral and frequency analysis is essential for determining how to use your equalizers, compressors, reverb, stereo-enhancers, exciters, or whatever else you opt to use in your mastering engineering. There are multiple programs, plug-ins, and suites you can use to master. However, you must also have reliable amplification, playback means, and preferably various locations/environments in which to listen and analize your mastering. Take your time, and listen to your mastering attempts carefully. Be sure to label your files clearly and informatively. Send your final tracks to your label and have your producer give them a listen, too, in case something that works on your DAW does not work as well on another system.
Skadi: Izotope Ozone.
AtroxPestis: Pro Tools, Peak Pro, Izotope.
protoU: Ableton Live.
Shrine: For the last several years my approach is based on hybrid mastering – I’m using both hardware and software. When down-mixing a track, I pass the mix through an aural exciter in real time (a SPL SX-2 Vitalizer, or a SPL MK2-T Vitalizer). Then, I pass it through a multi band stereo imager, in order to manipulate the stereo field performance of the signal for different frequency ranges. Then, I use the T-Racks 3 audio suite (imported as VST into Sound Forge) for final EQ-ing, compressing and limiting.
Shrine, rack-mounted hardware.
Taphephobia: I don`t master my own albums. I know people who are better at doing it than myself.
Ugasanie: If I do it, myself – Adobe Audition.
d. If paying another person to master an album, what credentials should they have?
Atrium Carceri: They need to understand the process of mastering for more than one genre of music, preferably two polar opposite genres, in terms of mastering. I’ve seen EDM only masterers wreck ambient albums, by using faulty settings on compressors. I’ve seen ambient only masterers use the same long-drone settings applied to styles of ambient that should have a completely different approach.
Shrine: I am aware of several cases of mixing or mastering engineers refusing to work on ambient material. You see, mixing and mastering ambient is quite different from mixing and mastering any other music that’s based on rhythm or singing. No, it’s not necessary for the person mastering your album to be making dark ambient themselves. But, it is necessary to have experience with low dynamic range music that is full of sounds that spread over the entire audio spectrum.
Atrox Pestis: It completely depends on the versatility and experience of the person. Check their portfolio, do they only master a certain genre?
Seesar: Preferably, you would want someone who is familiar with your style of music, whatever that may be. In this case it is dark ambient music. Although, it is not altogether essential. The main concern is making sure your track is treated for balancing the sounds with which it is composed and smoothed out professionally.
Treha Sektori: I like people that are not really in dark ambient, for mastering. They have strong ears on different paths. It is interesting to hear how they feel it about the music.
Stuzha: I did pay a couple of times for mastering, in the past. I think, now, it was a bit useless. You can do better basic mastering on your own, since you know exactly what to accentuate.
Skadi: If you’re using third party mastering, they should have knowledge about ambient music, since it has to be mastered differently. The best approach would be to provide a good mastered example track, in order to have some comparison.
Sonologyst: It would be better if the mastering service comes from a person with a good sensibility for that kind of music. If a musician who plays himself that music, that’s even better.
Taphephobia: I will say it is a good thing to make dark ambient, but it is not the most important thing. The most important things are having good ears for this kind of music, and understanding that mastering dark ambient is not done the same way as, for example, metal or rock.
e. What are the differences between mastering an album for various formats: digital, CD, cassette or vinyl? Should each have a separate mastering?
Atrox Pestis: Absolutely. They are all different forms of media and have different tonal and physical playback characteristics. I split hairs even further, and master records depending on other factors such as: where and how the cassettes are being dubbed, who or where is cutting the master lacquer for vinyl.
Atrium Carceri: Digital can have a bit more oomph in the lows and highs. CDs need to be mastered with 16 bit dithering in mind. Vinyl needs monolized bass and more bass control so the needle doesn’t skip when played back.
Seesar: The final media of a release determines playback means and each device has a unique set of frequency ranges reproduced and highlighted, even if played through the same reinforcement system. Therefore, the final media type of a release should definitely be considered. Separate mastering should be engaged for each media type. For instance, a mastered track for a cassette release will necessarily be quite different from a CD or LP release.
Sonologyst: There’s a certain difference about mastering a vinyl compared with cd or cassette mastering. It’s related to the output levels that differ, in the vinyl case, depending of the track position (closer to the edge or the center). So as matter of fact, they are two completely different mastering.
Skadi: Each media needs to be mastered differently. You can master them on a generic level, but you have to consider different aspects on each media. For example, CDs need headroom, and in some cases dithering is also helpful. On tapes, you have to deal with tape saturation. The best is to gather information for any specific media you want to release your music on.
Shrine: There are some differences depending on the media – digital music platforms have a specific set of loudness rules, for example, that you may want to follow. With vinyl, you have to approach some sounds differently, for example, bass (if too loud or out of phase) can cause the needle of the turntable to jump out of the groove. It’s best to have a separate mastering for each different media, but I never bothered with that. I master my music for CD and later just upload it to Bandcamp without any changes. Online music platforms are performing volume “normalization” based on specific loudness targets for every uploaded file, so a possible negative effect you can experience is to lose some loudness, especially if you tend to compress a lot.
10. General Advice
a. What are the best aspects of creating dark ambient?
Kammarheit: It is a great tool for dreamers and introverts. The music allows us to go on adventures in our own minds, which is a wonderful thing. The music can be a helping hand to reach other worlds for a moment. A tool to express or re-create these worlds. For me, it began as a way to deal with insomnia and a way to explore a certain type of environment I kept picturing in my head. The music kept me occupied and was a good companion, that made sure I was still experiencing a sort of dream world, even if I couldn’t sleep. Today, it is so implemented in my life that I can’t imagine being without the mindset this music puts me in. An everyday feeling of awe.
Aegri Somnia: Freedom and endless possibilities of sound design. You really can do what you want, how you want.
Seesar: For me, the best aspects of creating dark ambient music are the incorporation of my most exciting influences and my lifestyle into a creative form, resulting in artistic output that I can embrace, with the possibility of making it my vocation. The musical possibilities are unlimited, and always exciting, and ever inspiring. The dark ambient genre continually provides an body of works that truly is enriching and unequaled.
The genre is only a mile wide, but a thousand miles deep. – Simon Heath (Atrium Carceri)
Skadi: For me, dark ambient creation is a catalyst of emotions. As some people use a diary to write down their thoughts, producing dark ambient music is also a method to “write” down the feelings. Dark ambient gives the best opportunity to express yourself. Creating dark ambient music is a true relief.
protoU: The opportunity to play with listeners’ minds. You can manipulate and influence them. It makes me feel like a cool kid, that makes grown-ups live a fantasy through sound.
Shrine: The joy of the music.
Sonologyst: It gives you the possibility to be in deep connection with your profound states of mind.
Taphephobia: I improvise a lot. So, for me, it is to create something that used to be completely unknown to me, in the first place. To create something I hadn’t imagined or known about before.
Treha Sektori: The surprises, the physical experience.
b. What are the worst/hardest aspects of creating dark ambient?
Ugasanie: For me it’s an idea, a concept. If I do not have an idea or any history (I call it “have a legend”) – I will not create anything. Just because it does not work. For me, this is the basis. When I have an idea, I start to hear how it should all sound.
Treha Sektori: Not repeating yourself.
Kammarheit: Staying awake in the studio is the hardest aspect of creating this kind of music. Once a meditative loop is playing, I feel the urge to lay down and start dreaming. I take more naps in my chair than I care to admit. And, I have the back problems to prove it.
Pär Boström’s studio
Mebitek: To be original, and to create non-boring things.
Seesar: Perhaps, not repeating musical motifs to a fault. I have many compositional and performative favourites. So, reusing them is something that happens occasionally. I have to regulate my use of certain sounds and dynamic patterns, to ensure I do not risk my pieces sounding the same. But, also, without losing sight of my stylistic traits I have honed. There is a balance I must observe, but it is not so much of a hardship. Rather, a challenge that assists in formulating my personal contribution to the body of works in the genre.
Skadi: When you have to deal with thoughts/emotions, which you want to transfer to music, but you’re not able to. It’s hard to have sounds and melodies in your head, but cannot put them together as a track. That’s probably the hardest aspect of dark ambient, for me.
protoU: The darkness of it sometimes comes into your life, but it is only a matter of your mindset and control. I am very emotional, empathic, etc., but I try to manage that currently.
Shrine: The pain of the music production, in case you care about good sound quality.
Sonologyst: There aren’t bad aspects, for me.
Taphephobia: There are times when I feel numb, and every time I record something, it sounds uninspired. It can be really hard. It is also hard, when you have a deadline and you just feel drained after work or other activities that have nothing to do with the music.
c. What are some things that an amateur should avoid doing at all costs?
Shrine: Instead of talking only about things that should be avoided, I’d rather share some general thoughts here:
It is best to check your mixes on different sets of speakers. If you can only have one pair, get the biggest ones you can afford (only if your room is big enough). Listen to your mixes really loud for a moment – the human ear’s frequency response is not linear, and it will deceive you, if you listen quietly all the time. Get a pair of studio headphones (not hi-fi, they are usually biased), and use them to check details when composing and mixing. Never mix only on headphones, though. And, never do mastering on headphones. Avoid low quality sound sources (be it synths or samples). It will be hard or impossible to fix later. Understand the essence of equalization. Why it is important to achieve loud and powerful mixes. Understand the essence of compression and side-chain compression, and why they are important to achieve loud and powerful mixes. Know what dynamic range is, and why is important. Know what a headroom is, and why is important. Understand the difference between perceived loudness and actual loudness Learn how to use loudness measuring tools. Do not use dynamic-range measuring tools, though. They don’t understand ambient. Remember that, when it comes to loudness and sonic power, less is more. A track with too many sounds will never achieve the same level of perceived loudness as a track with fewer sounds. And finally, but most important of all, take long breaks from the music you are working on. It’s a common psychological phenomenon that, when you spend too much time on something, you stop seeing (hearing) it realistically. Taking a break that is at least a couple of days long will show you the difference between good music and boring music the next time you listen. I, personally, delete about 70% of everything I compose. At the time of composing, all sounds great. But, a week later… not so much.
Treha Sektori: Try to succeed at any cost. It’s by falling that we find our way.
Artwork by: Dehn Sora / Treha Sektori from ‘The Sensation of Being One of Them’ artbook.
Stuzha: Spending lots of money on equipment, and not using it afterwards!
Mebitek: You can do all for free, as you can find some good, free VST’s and a good, free DAW (Reaper).
Seesar: I would suggest, rushing the completion of new works could be an issue. Take your time and develop your pieces. Try not to fall into traps of producing tracks that are easy to make. Making dark ambient music need not be difficult, but hastily creating a work can result in a lack of reflection that will be quickly noticed by fans and critics. Furthermore, seek something unique to inject into the genre. Respecting and utilizing staple musical elements of the genre is completely acceptable, of course. But, introducing personalized nuances to your tracks will not only gain fans, but also a means to cultivate your self-expression, and carve your niche in dark ambient music.
Skadi: First off, spending too much money into equipment, without knowing if you will stick to music production or not. Secondly, starting to think that your production is crap. Even if the early work sounds less impressive or complex, it’s still a part of the composer. If you don’t like aspects of your tracks, try to improve them to get better. Defining one’s own work as crap will most likely stop the composer from producing more.
protoU: Using samples without permission of the author. Using ambient as a way to convey very bad emotion.
Ugasanie: Lack of interest in what you are doing. Also, do not adjust to someone, do not copy their sound, effects, and/or tricks.
Taphephobia: Don`t try to copy others. Make your own signature sound. Don`t ask people how to do everything for you. It is good to ask for advice, when it comes to creating music, but don`t let others do the steps for you.
d. How frequently should an artist aim for releasing albums (several times a year?, once a year?, once a month?)
Kammarheit: I have tried both things. An album each ninth year and a few albums each year. I can’t say for sure what I think is the best. I seem to have an endless need for exploring and expressing things with music. If I have put my heart into an album, and I feel that it is truly completed, and that I have lived it, then I think it should be released. Just don’t be one of those people who have a hundred albums that all sound the same, on their Bandcamp page. Or, even worse, hundreds of albums that don’t seem to have anything in common. Not everything we create needs to be made public.
Shrine: Once a month? Seriously? Unless your aim is to release uninspired cheap cliches that have been done hundreds of times already, this seems like a really bad idea. You better take your time.
Treha Sektori: Which ever time they feel that it is the right moment.
Stuzha: Quality vs quantity… In music, the former is, and always will be, more important. Take your time.
Seesar: That entirely depends on your level of professional engagement, your support of your releases, and your connection to labels or other means of disseminating your works. If you are planning and able to support your releases with live tours, then releasing full collections of tracks should be less frequent. However, if you are primarily a studio artist, then producing more works and making them available online should be far more frequent. In either case, you should always compose and release a variety of tracks in smaller settings, such as compilations and stand-alone videos, continually, to keep your fans interested in your music and aware of your style. For me, I prefer to release three full albums a year, and approximately eight to ten tracks on compilations or videos. I perform live, when possible. But, the regularity of live performance fluctuates depending on many factors. Regardless of frequency, I recommend playing live to support your music as much as you can. The combination of live shows and recorded releases is invaluable for the professional dark ambient artist.
Skadi: It’s helpful to improve the awareness of people by releasing one or even more albums per year. However, I don’t think that any producer should force his or herself to produce albums. Dark ambient is very personal and emotional, and so the emotions and situation should fit during the creative phase.
protoU: I think several times a year is more than enough.
Sonologyst: Every artist has to find their own way for that. It’s impossible to give general advice. In my case, I found the good and natural rhythm working on one release a year. And, I don’t exclude to increase the interval between two works. That allows me a major deepness, awareness and consciousness of what I’m going to do. Basically, I start a work when I really have something to communicate. After I’m aware of that, I need time to explore how to communicate it.
Taphephobia: It is impossible to say, because labels do not always release the music right after it is finished. Personally I find it kind of confusing when artists for example release 5 records in a year. But, that is me. Do they make music all the time, or they just make some fast McDonald’s ambient to spread to the masses!?
Ugasanie: However it goes. I try to release an album when I feel that the album is ready and everything is in place. How many times a year? It does not matter. Of course, I would like to do this more often. But I work on two jobs almost without days off for 12 – 16 hours a day. I do not have much time for music. All that I create is done contrary to circumstances and because of a lack of sleep.
e. Should a musician know the history of the genre before creating their own music?
Treha Sektori: I don’t think so. Might be even more interesting to have your own work without knowing any standards and get into it with virgin ears.
Aegri Somnia: Absolutely. What is the point, if you do music and don’t know the history nor are you a fan of the specific music genre that you have decided to make.
Stuzha: Not at all.
Mebitek: I think that is not important. A musican should know what he’s doing. That is enough.
Seesar: Before creating their own music? No, not necessarily. Should an artist know the styles and their development within dark ambient music? Absolutely. If not coming into the genre, then learning over time as you embrace the genre. It is a useful means to cultivating your own style, being aware of what is happening in your area of music, and, of course, it is fun and exciting. That being said, creating new works without a depth of knowledge of the genre is perfectly acceptable, and can assist in creating new directions and forms. Either way, engaging in your music with creative fervor is the key, no matter how much you inform yourself about the genre beforehand.
Skadi: It’s not required but recommended to know at least some history of dark ambient.
protoU: I think a musician should be aware, but it is not some kind of school or university. So, there are no strict rules here. Maybe, music naturally comes out of a person’s mind, before knowing it is dark ambient. Before knowing what it’s about.
Sonologyst: Not necessarily. But, it would be a crime to ignore all that beautiful music created in the latest decades.
Taphephobia: Some basic knowledge is important, like knowing what not to do.
I personally stay away from an elitist way of thinking. Good music is good music. Freedom to make music to be the music you want is more important than having the right records in your collection. Personally, I don’t care what the creator is listening to at home, or how much he/she knows about the genre. If they don`t know anything they would probably make other kind of music.
f. What advice would you give to a person just coming into dark ambient, as a potential artist?
Kammarheit: Spend time with your concept, know what you want to express. Have patience and don’t expect your music to instantly sound like the perfect mixture of all the established bands you like so much. Maybe, start as a minimal drone project, and gradually add more elements to the music. See what you can do with the equipment you already have. And most of all, don’t sit and wait for inspiration. Open the program or connect the equipment and see what happens. Do this a few times and inspiration should come. At least, that is how these things works for me. Procrastination is for the soul crushing everyday tasks, not for creativity.
Procrastination is for the soul crushing everyday tasks, not for creativity. – Pär Boström (Kammarheit)
protoU: I would recommend to listen and absorb nature and the city. Dark ambient has no strict rules or limits. It is about nature, environment and feeling. So, as long as you listen to the surrounding and get the vibe of it, you will convey it nicely into a dark ambient track.
Atrium Carceri: Innovate, don’t imitate. Have a vision of what you want the listener to experience. Think visually if going for a cinematic vibe. What do the sounds represent? Be clear on why sounds are panned to where they are in the mix. If the audio was a soundtrack for a movie, what would the scene look like? Once you get a clear picture of the scene, you can start building it up as an audio representation. The click of a blinking tail light from a crashed car. The hiss of smoke from the smashed hood. The sway of trees in the wind. Gravel creaking as the subject walks from the left side of the screen (speaker) to the right. The freedom to build scenes like this is what separates dark ambient from other genres. Have fun with that.
Treha Sektori: Dig, fail, try again.
Artwork by: Dehn Sora / Treha Sektori from ‘The Sensation of Being One of Them’ artbook.
Sonologyst: Work with passion and don’t be in a hurry. Don’t release huge amounts of music, just to show the audience what is going on. That is a mistake many people make. The process of improving your own style should be something private.
Taphephobia: Find the music program you are most comfortable with using. And, learn to play an instrument. You don’t have to be a really good musician, but it will make it much more interesting, and it gives the music a very personal feeling. Learn to make drones and a good flow. There is nothing worse than a track that sounds unfinished, and lacks this flow. Never give up, even if you get some bad feedback. It is more important to have friends that say what they really mean, than friends that tell you it is good because they are afraid to hurt your feelings.
Skadi: Listen to your inner self. Listen to your emotions. Let it flow into the music you want to create. Try not to please other people with your music, but produce music you like. Don’t be ashamed, be inspired by other bands. Find your own way and style, step by step.
Ugasanie: Do the music that you like most. Do the music you want to listen to yourself.
Aegri Somnia: Take your time. The only imortant thing is that you like what you do.
Stuzha: If you do music, do it only for you. Others might like it, but don’t be disappointed if they don’t!
Mebitek: Be original and always experiment!
Seesar: Listen, reflect, and be inspired. Dark ambient music is a form of composition and performance that draws heavily from emotion and intelligent critical thinking simultaneously (as with many forms of creativity, of course, but particularly in the case of dark ambient). Research your influences. That does not mean specifically other dark ambient artists. In my case, it means reading Lovecraftian fiction and learning about Italian Futurist composition and aesthetic concepts. Whatever drives you, embrace it. Allow it to assist you in formulating your compositions and personal style. Use what means you have at your disposal to inform your particular nuances. Know you are entering into a very unique and welcoming genre, where assistance, discussions, collaborations, and camaraderie are constants. Enjoy and flourish!
A few more explicit pieces of advice I may impart include: be sure to explore the treatment of your sounds and samples, to find methods you prefer and timbre you want. Then, compose afterwards. Creating a new piece can be approached in a plethora of ways, from recording tracks and manipulating them, to taking samples and building a soundscape from those, to live, untreated sound production. Find the compositional approach that suits you and your aesthetic best, including the treatment of sounds to make your composing faster, more enjoyable, and professional.
Also, take the time to analyze your methods and music periodically. Assess whether or not you feel you are engaging with your music as you would like. Are you wasting time? Are you getting the sounds you want? Are you getting the number of releases you expect? Do you feel your work is professional? Is your business as a dark ambient artist composer and performer reaching the goals you set for yourself, creatively and financially? By taking just a few moments on occasion to think about some of these questions, you can find strengths to embrace and less strong areas to improve, keeping your music fresh and your work as a professional musician moving forward.
Thanks! A huge thank you goes to all the artists that took part in this undertaking. This could never have been possible without all your time and effort. Much appreciated! If you found their information helpful or entertaining, please show your support by purchasing their work!
Links to websites and social media for the involved musicians:
The Phobos Festival has run for 9 years now, but for me it was the very first visit to the fine city of Wuppertal, Germany. About time. The idea of the event is to invite only the crème de la crème of dark ambient, without any less known artists for warm-up, so the high level of professionalism is almost certain from the very beginning.
I decided to combine the event with a short holiday trip around Germany and Czechia, so we arrived at Wuppertal on Friday, late afternoon. The town turned out to be nice and friendly, with a lot of green spaces and a unique suspension railway going from one end of the city to the other. Like a flying tram. I don’t think there is this kind of city transport anywhere else in Europe. Maybe in U.S. or Asia? Anyway, after a walk around the city and dinner, we went to the venue around 7pm.
The event took place in Alte Reformierte Kirche Elberfeld (Old Reformed Church Elberfeld). In the previous years the artists were performing in Sophienkirche which is located almost around the corner, but since I haven’t attend the earlier editions, I can’t really compare one to another. Still, the church is a church, it’s a much better location than a club, for example, and it gives a feeling of great importance to the event.
New Risen Throne
The first performer was Shrine from Bulgaria. I have been following Hristo Gospodinov’s works since the very beginning, that is his digital-only album Harmony, Bliss, Rust released by now defunct Mirakelmusik (but there will be a cassette re-release soon through the effort of the Amek label). It is a great pleasure to watch Hristo’s evolution as a musician over the years. Even though I prefer his early works a little bit more, it is impossible not to notice the progress he has made and the possibility of performing on Phobos, among the best of the best is definitely deserved. Hristo’s music was the least dark and oppressive of all the performers of the evening, the strong organic feeling made me think of fighting elements, the water, wind and fire. The majestic walls of sound were intermingled with moments of calmness and meditation, and all this in his own individual style, which he managed to develop during the last decade.
Each invited artist is a craftsman in a certain sub-genre of dark ambient, so with the first sounds of Frederic Arbour’s Visions performance we entered the post-apocalyptic world of slightly industrialized drones. I always considered Visions as an under-appreciated project, while his two albums, especially Lapse, have a special place in my heart. Unlike his studio albums, this performance was devoid of any cosmic atmospheres, it was but an essential, monolithic vision of a decaying world. After half an hour or so Frederic was joined by Gabriele Panci of New Risen Throne, and they played together for a while. It was a point of transition, the other aural shapes began to appear and when Frederic left the stage the music morphed into a still dark, but more sacral (or rather anti-sacral) form of ambient, oppressive yet infused with melancholic elements here and there. All covered with a strong aura of occult, which was intensified by the evocative visuals. Since this form of dark ambient is not my favourite one, I have to admit that Gabriele and his New Risen Throne is one of the best in what he does and the whole show was truly impressive, even though a bit too long (around 70 minutes in total).
When I entered the church, it was impossible not to notice the organizer, Martin Stürtzer, running from one corner of the building to another, checking if everything is in order, if the people are content etc. So, I have wondered if he’ll manage to concentrate on his own performance with all the organizing stuff on his head, as Phelios which was about to play next. My worries were totally groundless as his concert was most likely the most intimate and focused of all the projects of the evening. Slowly evolving cosmic drones, some scraps of melody and rhythmic elements along with the astonishing visuals captivated me completely. Furthermore, I think that his sound was also the best of all, but perhaps it’s only my impression. Either way, Phelios did a better job, to me, than on his studio albums, which after all are nice too.
The first joint show of Troum and raison d’être was supposed to be the highlight of the evening and personally I have mixed feelings. I’m not sure if they had some technical issues or maybe it was the case of lack of compatibility but there were a few moments that were chaotic and not entirely convincing. Sometimes, I simply felt the lack of flow, so to speak. Obviously, when they captured the right pattern and timing, they managed to reach the highest peaks of drone atmospheres, but sometimes it took them a slight bit too long. Still, I can’t say it was a bad concert, or even mediocre, I just liked the others better.
Troum & raison d’être
Phobos IX ended about 40 minutes after midnight and I left the premises one hundred percent satisfied. There were a few organizational shortcomings, the beer at the bar was available only in glass bottles, so every once in a while someone kicked the bottle during the show, which, as you can imagine, was distracting and irritating. I don’t mind the beer itself, but maybe plastic cups would be the better option? Also, I’d prefer if the visuals would be projected on a normal flat screen, instead of within the apse (not sure if this is the right definition, I meant that semicircular place, usually behind the altar). I know that on the previous editions they had a normal screen and in my opinion it looked better, at least judging from the Youtube clips. Also, there were a few assholes talking and laughing during the concerts, but I got used to it. Which is sad I guess…
All the performances are now available on Youtube, so you can do your own mini-Phobos in your living room, though obviously nothing will replace the live experience. 2019 will be the year of the anniversary, 10th edition. So, I’m guessing Martin will prepare something special. I will be there again, that’s for sure.
The Conductor is the first feature length film created entirely by the artist Jeremy Mann. It is a story told through a dreamscape metaphor of the eternal artistic struggle. Please read Jeremy Mann’s announcement below, to properly understand his vision for the film!
*Please read the following, it is essential to the experience*
The music chosen for this film is as important as the visuals themselves, and neither had precedence over the other, but informed and flowed around themselves together during its creation. Without the creative brilliance and open generosity of these two gentlemen below, the film would not have been made.
The classical music chosen has been playing in my ears during almost every painting over the last several years, among many others, and their use was pursued heavily and graciously met with some wonderful souls at Naxos of America, a huge repertoire of the best classical music I’ve found, and Touch who represent some incredible talent around the world, and both without the greed which can hinder creativity.
My greatest thanks to them.
And to the actors and actresses I call as friends, who played out their parts upon the stage of my dreams without doubt or question as to what this crazy bastard was trying to do. Without you all, I would be lost.
I created this film on my own, a horrific struggle the result of which was complete artistic freedom which I recommend everyone to try in their own ways, and I hereby give it to you for free, I hope you enjoy.
A note on its release:
My original idea after this film was completed, was to screen it at several theaters in SF, LA and New York. After contacting a multitude of theaters, I discovered how difficult it is for individual artists to compete with the big companies’ control over most theaters, and therefor what the public is influenced to see. And as I sulked in the basement, finally cleaning the monstrous mound of supplies, tools, chemicals and props that I had yet to put away after two dump trucks came and removed the obnoxious pile of trash leftover from a year of set building in the backyard and bedrooms… I came across each piece, each prop, each object that I had so lovingly spent time with, and had a moment of realization. My greedy pride, which was convincing me that only films seen on theater screens were real films, was suffocating the life of my creation. It was finished, an entire year of blood and love wrapped up in a beautiful little file on my hard drive, and it would be stillborn if I don’t just let it out the door and live.
I made this film purely from a desire and love for creating an art form which I’ve come to find more refreshing to my soul than many other forms I’m also enraptured with. My paintings have been given movement and music with this new medium of film, and I feel the emotions created between it and the audience are closer to the voice I wish to speak with than anything else I’ve created.
So I only ask this of you: treat her as you would an original oil painting. Spend the time in a dark room with this film on the largest screen you have, with the best and loudest sound you can, with all of your attention fixated upon her (and a glass of wine is always a plus), as anything else would simply do her an injustice. I hope it conjures emotions within you and inspires you to do whatever it is you desire to do, despite the rest of the world’s conventions and hindrances.
The veteran dark ambient couple, Dronny Darko & protoU decided to work together on this three hour continuous mix of dark ambient, ambient and other chill-out music for a lazy day by the lake. Enjoy! Check out ThisIsDarkness.com for more mixes, news, reviews and interviews about dark ambient and surrounding genres! If you are an artist, and would like to have your mix featured, please contact us at email@example.com
01. 0:00:00 cv313 – “Beyond The Clouds [Variant Reduction]”
02. 0:04:08 Dirk Serries – “The Dead Air Reprise”
03. 0:14:20 Juta Takahashi – “Quiet Rain”
04. 0:19:32 Famine – “Hochma”
05. 0:22:56 Nils Frahm – “For”
06. 0:27:43 Purl – “Stillpoint”
07. 0:31:26 Sonitus Eco – “Frost”
08. 0:38:51 Warmth – “Vapour”
09. 0:44:16 Mystic Crock – “Underwatermoon”
10. 0:49:38 Neel – “Life on Laputa Regio”
11. 0:54:41 Michael Pastika – “Genesis”
12. 1:00:05 Helicalin – “768”
13. 1:05:53 Om – “Suspension”
14. 1:10:30 Nubiferous – “Usnea Ossicum_Rite Of Thunder Hammer”
01. Side A 28:59
A1. In The End Times
A2. The Sisters
A3. We Envy Our Gods For Their Indifference
A4. Spent Fuel Rods
02. Side B 29:36
B1. Forced Utopia
B3. Indifference Redux
Theologian is an artist I’ve been talking about quite frequently since the advent of This Is Darkness. His talents have been secured for numerous of the recent Cadabra Records spoken-art releases, particularly the H.P. Lovecraft ones. But the musical works of Lee Bartow go much deeper, spanning back into the late 90s as Navicon Torture Technologies, Bartow has been tearing up the death industrial, power electronics, and dark ambient scenes. All the while, his Annihilvs Power Electronix (APEX) label has been providing a foundation for a multitude of post-industrial artists.
Between 2009 and 2013, Theologian slowly replaced Navicon Torture Technologies as the primary of Bartow’s projects. Theologian has proved to be an incredibly diverse project, with sounds that can span several genres in a single track. This breadth of interest and expertise is what likely drew the attention of Cadabra Records when they were looking for dark eerie soundscapes to build the foundations for many of their spoken-art releases. The upcoming The Call of Cthulhu, which we’ll cover here, is likely to be one of the most impressive Cadabra Records releases to date, with Theologian (soundscapes) and Andrew Leman (readings) again taking the helm together.
The latest full-length solo release by Theologian is Forced Utopia, a look into a mind that sees in only darkness, in a world which is on a collision course with utter disaster. It equally examines the inner thoughts of one left to fend for themselves in an increasingly cannibalistic society, and the outer landscapes, as they dry and eventually conflagrate, burning to ash. The question of whether or not this existence is worth fighting for at all seems to be at the center of the narrative.
Forced Utopia has been an album that I’ve been pondering for a few months. There was never a question of whether or not it was worth taking the time to review, that answer has been apparent from the first play-through. But, dissecting the release, understanding what musical influences have come into play has proven to be a bit harder. In the end, suffice to say, it is basically futile to categorize much of what is happening here. The one comparison that does come to mind is the recent Shock Frontier, in the way that both albums seem to move through incredibly diverse stages touching on dark ambient, death industrial and power electronics, but also other, far reaching genres that would be much less obvious on the first analysis.
The opener, “In The End Times” has stayed pretty consistent as my favorite track on this release. There is a gradual build up, spanning several moments, before the terror is fully unleashed through heavily distorted vocals, which are given some of the most interesting treatment I’ve heard in a long time, a combination of effects which render Bartow’s vocals almost unearthly in their presentation. As the first half of the cassette progresses, we move through a number of different dark soundscapes, vividly painting that picture of apocalyptic ruin and mental degradation.
Side B moves on through varied mind-warping soundscapes, dark and sort of futuristic in palette. Toward the middle of Side B the energy is again driven into overcharge. Starting with a steady beat, electronic pulses, ghostly vocals hovering in the distance, we move into territory I wasn’t quite expecting. Bartow, delivers a vocal performance here, which is again quite impressive to say the least. Where at the beginning of the album the sounds were devastatingly harsh, here, we are taken into something on a vocal level which is more akin to an alternative rock style. But the rest of the track never abandons its cause, continuing to deal the devastating apocalyptic darkness that has saturated Forced Utopia. So, when these vocals pierce through, proclaiming the words, “This could be the year, I take myself out of the equation.”, it is a little bit more than gripping, it manages to add some serious heartfelt emotion to the album.
Forced Utopia came to us on cassette through Danvers State Recordings. An underground tape label run by Andrew Grant, also known for his project The Vomit Arsonist. (Note: Shortly after the birth of This Is Darkness, I reviewed Pulsed In A Dull Glass Bell by R.C. Kozletsky also known for Apocryphos and Shock Frontier, you can check out the review for that other brilliant release here.) The cassette format works well for this release, which seems to see the future as being so bleak. It can also be purchased digitally through Bartow’s Annihilvs Power ElectronixBandcamp page.
Forced Utopia is one of the most enjoyable Theologian releases I’ve heard to-date. I’ve been coming back to this release frequently and happily over the last few months, pondering it for review. While a review will occasionally give me a sigh of relief as I’m able to move into something fresh, this will likely be one of those releases I keep returning to frequently even over the coming weeks. Theologian gives us a little of everything that makes their music great, on Forced Utopia, while simultaneously painting a vividly bleak and disturbing picture for the listener to experience.
The move is over and things are starting to settle again here at This Is Darkness. So, you can all expect to see lots of new things coming along in the near future. Some articles and projects that have been in the works for months will be coming to completion and unveiled very soon! In sticking with the vision for these Frozen In Time articles, I’ve spent the last week digging through every dark ambient related release that has surfaced since our last Frozen In Time post. I’m going to be a little more selective from here forward with the news shared as things like weekly singles and incredibly prolific artists can make it hard for newcomers or casual followers to find the newest releases of the highest quality. These kinds of things aren’t an exact science, so if you feel I missed something extremely important, feel free to reach out!
New Releases & Preorders
Ager Sonus – New Album Released (Cryo Chamber – CD/Digital)
“Ager Sonus is back with his second Egyptian themed album on Cryo Chamber, the first being Book of the Black Earth.
You open your eyes. Darkness. Silence. Oppressing silence. Your breath feels shallow, the air too thin to breathe. The space you are in feels narrow, the ceiling so close you can almost touch it. Your heart starts pounding as the feeling of panic brings you to your senses. You seem to be.. Underground, buried!
How did you get here? Fragments of your memories hover in front of you in the darkness like thin layers of fog, guiding you. Sand.. A desert.. Symbols.. Hieroglyphs… A faint voice calling you..
Ager Sonus brings us an ambient album set against the backdrop of lost civilization. Explore occult secrets buried in ancient tombs.”
Astral & Shit – New Album Released (Black Mara – CD/Digital)
“Like a monolithic stone this album reveals the secrets of the Universe for the questioner. Beneath the veil of its darkness hides the depth of the beginning of time.
This album is something alien but familiar the Earth. That once came out of the Earth and now once again reunited. It was so long ago that we the living can’t appreciate with common sense that has been revealed to us. Alarming and dangerous, but beautiful at the same time, it is Divo.”
Atrium Carceri & Herbst9 – New Album Released (Cryo Chamber – LP/CD/Digital)
(Check out our review here!)
Ambient Veterans Atrium Carceri & Herbst9 team up on this mysterious album.
The harbor was humid and hot in this mysterious land, nothing like the frosty cold ports of home. Yellow smoke danced to the beat of the drum joined by hypnotic women. The crowd spiraled inward, dancing to far away bells and the murmur beneath the ground.
You awoke sweat clad in linen sheets, the naked woman passed a long pipe. The cherry sparked red like a dragons eye. Head leaned back against a soft pillow, body free falling from soothed skies. A thud as your body hit the ground on a pathway built by giants.
Chanting, ritual drumming and spoken word weave in and out of this album that pays tribute to the old ways.
Babalith – New Album Released (Sombre Soniks – Digital)
“Gramatique du Ciel is inspired by the intuitive and primal language of sound, as it is taught within sensitive nature, and is structured according to the seven spheres of paradise, in a way contrasting with Inferno, my second album for the label. Because of its peculiar linguistic shape, it is dedicated to the memory of the Portuguese sage António Telmo.”
Carlo Giustini – New Album Released (ACR – Cassette/Digital)
‘La stanza di fronte’ or ‘The Other Room’, is Carlo Guistini’s first work released under his own name. this highly conceptual release – the four tracks were recorded in four different rooms of a house built in 1966 – explores our relationship with homes, with the matter they are made of and with the scents that impregnate their walls.
Carlo Giustini recorded these 4 serene pieces by placing two microphones and two dictaphones in the corner of each room. the tones and the harmonies are translations of the vibrations of the house itself, Carlo’s movements, and the noise of moving objects. the opening track even includes unexplained sounds and footsteps captured in one of the rooms while the house was empty and the mics were on.
“No need for the outside, as the walls, heavy as boulders, become the breath of a world that won’t preach any sound. The humming of the mould and the cracks over the door jambs become companions to whom entrust your thoughts. And there’s no need for anything else.”
Darkrad – New Album Released (audiophob – CD/Digital)
“Jana Komaritsa presents the new album of her project Darkrad – Heart Murmur, released on German label audiophob. With this album she continues the theme of inner blackness and disturbances of mind, weaving the canvas of ominous world. Heart Murmur is a medical condition, when the sound of blood flowing can be heard in between regular heartbeat cycle. Darkrad creates swishing rumbling sounds of the tortured heart, sounds from the reality not seen, from the world not known, sounds from the dread, both inner and outer. Merging melancholic dark ambient passages, bitter melodies, disturbed vocals and raw noisy sounds, rhythms and basslines, she opens the door to the infinite dark and offers the listener to dive into the world beyond. Pure unrestrained emotion interweaves with once suppressed memories and fears, merging into one flow of hypnotic soundscape. Listen to her grim heart murmur, pulsating and vibrating in between the regular healthy heartbeat, frightful signals sent from the other side, penetrating the normal reality and spreading into our world. The album also includes bonus tracks: compilation contributions and former tape releases, partially in new versions, as well as remixes from Flint Glass and Mortaja.”
Day Before Us – New Album Released (GH Records – CD/Digital)
“Adorned path of Stillness » marks the return of the neoclassical and dark ambient music act Day Before Us on the Argentina based label Twilight Records, in collaboration with GH Records. This is their sixth full length release. This new effort is an enthralling soundtrack for dark, solemn, thoughtful times. It incorporates acoustic and lyrical sections next to electronic textures and diverse processed sounds.
The general atmosphere offers precious moments of introspective melancholia punctuated by mysteriously hypnotic instrumentals. This is a multifaceted album but also remarkably cohesive with many dynamics, emotional movements that will ravish fans of haunting and touching cinematic music in a rather classical mood.”
DeepDark – New Album Released (Digital Only)
After a very busy period of releases over the last year or two, DeepDark seems to have settled a bit and is now releasing his first album of 2018, Leaking From His Own Pores.
Eidulon – Preorders Available (Malignant – CD/Digital)
“Following an 11 year absence since his debut, Idolatriae, Eidulon returns a radically different entity. Whereas Idolatriae was haunting and minimal catacomb ambience, Combustioni is otherwise now a daunting, full on apocalyptic industrial, auditory excursion, complete with crushingly ominous brass chords, fearsome horn proclamations, organ, and doom filled atmospherics. Contributions of murderous, gnarled vocals courtesy of Nordvargr and Luca Soi, as well as caustic noise from Italian heavy electronic practitioners Naxal Protocol (ex-Cazzodio) add a powerful element, often cutting through a blaze of swelling tones and pneumatic percussive pummel, the only respite coming in the form of collaborative tracks with Kammarheit and Caul, which sees Eidulon returning to the foggy gloom and bleak isolationism that populated the debut. Collectively, it’s quite the provocative declaration, shattering genre barriers and setting the soundtrack for a world of incinerated cities, global plagues, and nuclear winters.”
Releases March 25, 2018
Flowers For Bodysnatchers – New EP Released (Digital Only)
Flowers for Bodysnatchers has taken us into a variety of interesting places and scenarios over the last few years. This time we go to one of the most repulsive times in human memory, the Nazi holocaust, at the scene of a gruesome slaughter at Babi Yar, northwest of Kiev, which took place over the course of two days in September 1941. Not for the faint-hearted.
Grim Heka – New Album Released (Digital Only)
Grim Heka is a Dark Ambient project from Darren Coyle. Composed on Eurorack modular synthesis, often improvised and recorded live. Tale of the Picts is his self-released debut album.
Hadewych – New Album Released (Malignant – CD/Digital)
“Though the project of Dutchman Peter Johan Nÿland, contributions from members of Trepaneringsritualen, Dead Neanderthals, Turia and veteran experimental vocalist Greetje Bijma, help Hadewych to function more as a collective as it amorphously shapeshifts and navigates through a broad swath of styles. And yet, Welving is so finely honed and skillfully crafted, that it works as a singular,whole, never losing a firm grasp on what remains at the core of its unique and dynamic sound. Still, it is nearly impossible to classify or define, utilizing a broad array of instrumentation, working in the monolithic, organic and the acoustic, and filtering it through a complex network of darkened, post-industrial, post-black, ritual hallucinations, and noir-ish Bohren And Der Club Of Gore deathjazz, with a steady stream of insistent bass, percussion, and spoken narrative to propel many of the tracks forward. Hadewych defines their music as black rituals channeling the ultra-grotesque, which is about an apt description as you’re going to find, and yet it’s that vagueness and ambiguity that manages to sum them up perfectly. One of the most unique and exceptional releases under the Malignant banner, and highly recommended for those unafraid to venture into realms unknown.”
Kalpamantra – New Malignant Records Compilation Unveiled
(Kalpamantra – Digital Only)
The Portrait of Mortality is the next massive compilation in this series on Kalpamantra net-label which includes artists exclusively from the Malignant Records roster. Expect to see solo and/or collaborative tracks from all your favorite Malignant artists!
Kloob – New Album Released (Winter-Light – CD/Digital)
“Here on ‘Remarkable Events’, Kloob has brought a darker, much more intense, rich feel to his music, quite different from some of his previous works. The tracks switch between dark and light and you can feel the influence of his recent Eastern travels, crackling in the air, in the field recordings, in the synth sweeps and patterns and in the sonic landscapes that the album creates and carries you along. Make no mistake, this is not an album filled with the chants of Hindu monks and the busy clatter of every day Indian life. It is an intensely spiritual album, which for its duration will take you along the same paths traversed by the artist himself.”
Land:Fire – Live Album Released – (Shortwave Transmissions – Digital Only)
These two recordings are from May 13-14th 2006 at the Sonic Lodge at Weezie/Galerie für zeitgenössische Kunst, Leipzig.
Mrako-Su – New Album Released (ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ – CD/Digital)
“Coldest hour before sunrise. Moonlit valley covered with snow. Sharp outlines of pines standing still. Everything seems static, no single move, no birds or beasts, no clouds in the bottomless sky. The air is an invisible, perfectly transparent crystal. Endless quietly ringing sound seems to pervade everything… Is it real? Echo of this question falls into a void of silence. No one answers. Nothing moves. But the feeling is here, the presence, the instinct. Something is lurking, something is hiding… Remaining at the edge of sight line all the time. Maybe it’s shadows, their predatory spikes. Perhaps it is the flickering of snow… Firstly unnoticeable vibration becomes evident, it has the rhythm, overtones. It calls someone… Maybe you?”
Nordvargr – Preorders Available (Cyclic Law – LP/Cassette/CD/Digital)
“With great honour we welcome one of Sweden’s most revered craftsman of industrial soundscapes. “Metempsychosis”, the transmigration of the soul, is the basic concept for the new album from Henrik Nordvargr Björkk. However, not in the classic reincarnative sense, but as a study of how souls rather than being judged by a higher power, themselves chooses what flesh to inhabit. To freely roam between the dimensions and to cling on to any form of life at will. These cycles of life and death, bound in part by flesh, inspired to create these tense and organic atmospheres – all synonymous with the journey of the soul. The result is a natural evolution of Nordvargr´s trademark darkness into more rhythmic and vocal compositions where the confrontational stance of Henrik´s other projects shines through; from the harsh bombast of MZ. 412 to the vocals of Anima Nostra, all surrounded by the darkest Scandinavian aura of horror. Featuring guest vocals by Trepaneringsritualen on the track “First East” and stunning artwork by Dehn Sora. Both LP & CS versions feature a different track listing than the CD & Digital versions.”
Northaunt – New Album Released (Glacial Movements – CD/Digital) ***Read our review here.***
“Northaunt is the ambient project of Norwegian Hærleif Langås, and has since the late nineties released 4 albums where the signature sound is a mix of field recording from nature, soundscapes and ambient, inspired by norse nature and landscapes and our role as a part of nature.
The composing of ISTID came as a reaction to our modern lifes, our world and how it sometimes seem confusing, stressful and noisy. Put of by all this and inspired by books about earths history, iceages and the forces that formed the landscapes we have today, Hærleif started making ISTID, Iceage in Norwegian, to imagine a world of silence before man. This is the 3rd album in the series and we can now imagine man is about to start his lonely quest for meaning in the desolation.”
Nubiferous – New Album Released (Digital Only)
Nubiferous is an artist I’ve been following for sometime. His music consistently moves under-the-radar, leaving his name a novelty to many dark/ritual ambient listeners. As with his earlier work, you can expect some raw ritual ambient with hints of tribal and folk music. His style is something of a cold, far-northern ritual ambient.
Phelios – Live Album Released (rabbau – Cassette/Digital)
“In 2015, Phelios enchanted russia with his outstanding performance. while listening, we more and more feel like cosmonauts diving deeper into the universe of this gifted musician, with every track being a microcosm of breathtaking beauty that we pass through on our journey. the foundation of these nine sparkling compositions are crystal-clear synth pads which are layered into sounds capes at various shades of dark ambient. combined with ritualistic drum patterns that pick up the pace in between droning bells, we awake from ‘hibernation’ until we reach ‘atlantis’ with its soft strings that brush away the last attachments we may have had to planet earth.
Martin Stürtzer, the mastermind behind the project, has truly left his fingerprint on the ambient music community. next to arranging concert series taking place in a church, he also pioneered in organizing his own performances within the wagon of a suspension railway, demonstrating his musical talent at the ‘schwebebahnkonzert’ in wuppertal in 2007. in line with his ongoing commitment to creativity, phelios again invites his audience on board to enjoy the excellence of his work – back in st. petersburg and moscow and now on raubbau. for those who already fell for phelios creations, two previously unreleased tracks, ‘timelord’ and ‘cloud sector gamma’ have now found their way on this very record. but whether you are already familiar with phelios or not – this album simply is a must-have for everyone who appreciates complex ambient music on the highest level.”
protoU – New Album Released (Cryo Chamber – CD/Digital)
“Sasha further explores the themes of her first collaboration album Earth Songs. While her album “Khmaoch” explored the roots of civilization, “The Edge of Architecture” probes into the future of the modern age.
Black gigantic buildings loom over our hubris as we reach for the unnatural with each new brick in the wall. The night reeks of dark fluid as flickering neon lights reflect on wet streets. Winds howl over a jungle of steel and shadows of automated builders creak in the distance.
Field recordings blend with deep drone and ethereal overlays on this immersive album. For lovers of Sasha’s unique style of cold and warm ambient blended together into an emotional ride.”
Randal Collier-Ford – New Track Released (Digital Only)
“‘Anti-Meme’ is an updated version of the song, “Disgust”, featured exclusively at live shows. ‘Anti-Meme’, originally created 3 years ago for live shows only, features a mix of “horror” elements and themes taken from the roots of albums such as, Dark Corners, De Vivis Somnium Mortis, Putredinis Illusiones Putredinis Illusiones. Adding this together with the first stages of live mixing industrial constructions for live shows (and future studio albums), ‘Anti-Meme’ was meant to settle the building atmospheres of live acts, fused with the visuals of an altar with candles and bones.”
Ruairi O’Baoighill – New Album Released (Cursed Monk – CD/Digital)
To See Without Eyes is the final album in his trilogy, which also includes the albums Walpurgis and The Faceless One.
Sana Obruent – New Album Released (Digital Only)
“Recorded at the TSC Hideaway Studio – Somewhere In California – March 1, 2018. Thank you Electro Harmonix, Fender & Tascam. No synthesizers or keyboards are used in this recording.”
Taylor Deupree – New Album Released (12k Music – CD/Digital)
“…Fallen was supposed to be, after all, a relaxed album, one that would come quickly, off-the-cuff, and with little regard to any rules or restrictions. It, however, ended up being one of the longest albums for me to create; well over a year and a half, as it had coincided with a particularly dark and difficult time in my personal life.
As the album progressed the thoughts of a freer, solo-piano sound quickly faded as layers of disintegration and noise came to the foreground. Half-broken tape machines and plenty of ghostly echoes helped hide the honesty of the piano as I hid myself, and my music, away under the cover of abstraction…”
Ugasanie – Preorders Available (Cryo Chamber – CD/Digital)
“Ugasanie returns with his 5th album on Cryo Chamber. This time exploring the vast landscapes of Antarctica.
The snowstorm builds on the horizon as the ice crackles under your feet. The faint call of someone beyond the blinding blizzard.
A subdued and chilly album in the isolated style that is Ugasanie’s expertise.”
Releases 6 March 2018.
Winterblood – New Album Released (Grey Matter – CD/Digital)
On L’ingresso, Italian dark ambient artist Winterblood takes us into a bleak and frigid lo-fi atmosphere, full of eerie elements lurking in the darkness. The opening track “Waldeinsamkeit II” follows it’s predecessor in the use of blisteringly cold wind rushing past the field recording microphone. The analog snythesizer becomes increasingly prevalant giving the album an ever grittier edge as it progresses.
Yann Novak – New Album Released (Touch – CD/Digital)
“The Future is a Forward Escape Into the Past is the latest album by Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist and composer Yann Novak, and his second for Touch. It considers the relationships between memory, time, and context through four vibrantly constructed tracks that push Novak’s work in a new direction while simultaneously exploring his sonic past. ‘The Future is a Forward Escape Into the Past’ is composed as a quadriptych – a single gesture broken into four parts – that meditates on the inevitable progression of time, our relationship to the past, and our distortion of the past through the imperfections of memory.”
Infinity Land Press – New Book Released
“Infinity Land Press is pleased to announce the release of Thatcher’s Tomb by Stephen Barber, an apocalyptic novel.
The book is illustrated by Martin Bladh and comes with an interview, with the author, conducted by Steve Finbow.
n an alternative narrative of Thatcher’s 1979 rise to power – in which her regime unrestrainedly carries through the razing of resistant cities and the extermination of all opposition – forces of insurgency have to adopt aberrant strategies and inhabit subterranean, occluded spaces to combat that regime. One insurgent cell, in the North of England, conducts a dangerous adventurous journey through decimated and depopulated lands, via such sites as the Queen’s Hotel Leeds, the Denge Acoustic Mirrors and the Hinkley Point Nuclear Reactors, in order to summon up the means to sustain their insurrection of the subsequent decades, until all of England has been transformed into the form of a mausoleum of itself, created and abandoned by Thatcher and her successors, and ‘the problem of England’ in its cruelty and banality takes on an outlandish life of its own.” Available to purchase here.
Infinity Land Press – Pre-orders Available
“Antonin Artaud’s 1937 apocalyptic journey to Ireland and his writings from that journey form an extraordinary moment of accumulating disintegration and tenacious creativity in his work. After publishing a manifesto prophecy about the catastrophic immediate-future entitled The New Revelations of Being, Artaud abruptly left Paris and travelled to Ireland, remaining there for six weeks and existing without money, travelling first to the isolated island of Inishmore off Ireland’s western coast, then to Galway, and finally to Dublin, where he was arrested as an undesirable alien, beaten by the police, and summarily deported back to France. On his return, he spent nine years in lunatic asylums, including the entire span of the Second World War. During that journey to Ireland – on which he accumulated signs of his forthcoming apocalypse, and planned his own role in it as ‘THE REVEALED ONE’ – Artaud wrote letters to friends in Paris and also created several magic spells, intended to curse his enemies and to protect his friends from Paris’s forthcoming incineration and the Antichrist’s appearance at the Deux Magots cafe. To André Breton, he wrote: ‘It’s the Unbelievable – yes, the Unbelievable – it’s the Unbelievable which is the truth.’ Many of his writings from Ireland were lost, and this book collects all of his surviving letters, drawn together from archives and private collections, together with photographs of the locations he travelled through. This edition, with an afterword and notes by the book’s translator/editor, Stephen Barber, marks the seventieth anniversary of Artaud’s death.”
Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast & God Body Disconnect
– Miles To Midnight (Cryo Chamber)
“Miles to Midnight is a brilliant and novel release for Cryo Chamber. Following on the footsteps of their recent release Heralds by Wordclock, Cryo Chamber takes the dark jazz elements in an even more focused direction. While they are obviously a dark ambient label at heart, it’s great to see them taking chances and testing the waters of different genre influences, which should ultimately make for a more diverse catalog of releases and widen their fan-base even further. A highly recommended release especially, but certainly not only, for fans of dark jazz!” Read the full review here.
Shock Frontier – Tumult (Malignant)
“Shock Frontier have absolutely proven their worth on Tumult. The album is challenging at times, but always at maximum intensity and always drenched in negative emotion, even during its more reserved, dark ambient leaning tracks. This new vision was given the full treatment by Malignant Records, housed in a beautiful DVD digipak with irradiated, irreligious, apocalyptic art created by Noculture. The sounds are mastered by death industrial veteran John Stillings of Steel Hook Prostheses. Kozletsky and Carney have bared their souls, grinding out tracks which surely took them into the darkest recesses of their psyches and Malignant gave them a platform to spill this deviant heresy on the post-industrial world. It is now left to us, the listeners, to share this dark beast with the unsuspecting masses. May they bask in its deviance… or crumble beneath its iron grip.” Read the full review here.
Bridge To Imla – The Radiant Sea (Winter-Light)
Bridge To Imla delivered a strong debut. An album which could have only been created by artists with a lifetime’s experience in the field of ambient soundscapes. The album is equally as delightful when given full undivided attention as it is when played in the background, as an augmentation to some other activity. After this strong debut, we can hope to see more albums like this in the coming years from these two gentlemen. Until then, there should be many hours of enjoyment as one floats along on The Radiant Sea! Read the full review here.
Atrium Carceri & Herbst9 – Ur Djupan Dal (Cryo Chamber)
“Ur Djupan Dal should be a welcome release for any listeners that have been following the “second wave of dark ambient”. Atrium Carceri and Herbst9 have both been performing at the top of their game for over a decade each. Ur Djupan Dal is a perfect example of how artists can come together to create not only sounds which delight, but storylines which have direct connections to each of their past works. I would recommend this album to any dark ambient listeners who enjoy the perfect blend of ritual, cinematic and traditional dark ambient music.” Read the full review here.
raison d’être – Alchymeia (Cyclic Law)
“It is not hard to imagine Alchymeia as the magnum opus of raison d’être. A return to form after years, Alchymeia is sure to delight and fully enrapture listeners. It is the perfect modern connection to the older works of raison d’être. If Peter Andersson will see this as his defining and final work, we will all likely hope for otherwise. But it is undoubtedly defining. It takes all the elements Andersson has been perfecting over two decades (closing in on three decades) of music creation and puts them to perfect use. The darkness is as dark as anywhere else in his discography, and the light is soul-gripping, heart-rendingly beautiful. Alchymeia is, in my humble opinion, the album we’ve all been waiting for from raison d’être. Truly a magnum opus in every sense.” Read the full review here.
Martyria – Martyria (Malignant)
“Martyria aren’t interested in simply recording interesting textures, instead taking listeners to the source through their authentically mystical expression. From its opening bell toll until its last notes fade into the annals of time, this tremendous debut succeeds not only as an incredible amalgamation of ritual ambient and world music, but an exercise in eschatological internalization.” Read the full review here.
Northaunt – Istid III (Glacial Movements)
“Langås has been working these various aspects of his Northaunt sound since the late 90s. Istid III brings the old together with the new in a unique way giving us the best of both worlds. This release is also a step outside the ordinary, as it’s been released through Glacial Movements, a label out of Italy that specializes in various types of polar ambient soundscapes. This should hopefully bring a new group of listeners to the Northaunt sound, as all the die-hard listeners will certainly find their way to his work regardless.” Read the full review here.
Ajna – An Era Of Torment (Reverse Alignment)
“With An Era of Torment, Ajna proves that he is still developing as an artist, each album that comes along shows improvements on techniques and a focus of vision. Much of the music is incredibly subtle, so fans of the more active varieties of dark ambient may not find what they are looking for here. But, if you enjoy artists like Svartsinn, Kave, or Dronny Darko, that create passive, but intricately crafted drone-work, you are likely to find much to love on An Era of Torment.” Read the full review here.
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01. 0:00:00 cv313 – “Beyond The Clouds [Variant Reduction]”
02. 0:04:08 Dirk Serries – “The Dead Air Reprise”
03. 0:14:20 Juta Takahashi – “Quiet Rain”
04. 0:19:32 Famine – “Hochma”
05. 0:22:56 Nils Frahm – “For”
06. 0:27:43 Purl – “Stillpoint”
07. 0:31:26 Sonitus Eco – “Frost”
08. 0:38:51 Warmth – “Vapour”
09. 0:44:16 Mystic Crock – “Underwatermoon”
10. 0:49:38 Neel – “Life on Laputa Regio”
11. 0:54:41 Michael Pastika – “Genesis”
12. 1:00:05 Helicalin – “768”
13. 1:05:53 Om – “Suspension”
14. 1:10:30 Nubiferous – “Usnea Ossicum_Rite Of Thunder Hammer”
15. 1:15:16 protoU & Hilyard – “Nature Abstractions”
16. 1:19:27 Sync24 – “Inadvertent”
17. 1:23:48 Sandspace – “One”
18. 1:29:33 Fingers in the Noise – “Drone Break”
19. 1:33:05 Geb – “Dream #9”
20. 1:39:21 Steve Roach & Dirk Serries – “Bow”
21. 1:46:25 Mathias Grassow – “The Shadows Crept Upward”
22. 1:56:44 Dronny Darko – “Bandura”
23. 2:00:51 Hammock – “Turn Away and Return”
24. 2:04:03 Cio D’Or – “Off”
25. 2:08:21 Seabat – “The Mountains Of Palawan”
26. 2:13:32 Wil Bolton – “Falling Away”
27. 2:16:55 Ishq – “Sundive”
28. 2:22:28 Venture – “Fragments”
29. 2:26:39 Dalglish – “Oidhche”
30. 2:31:20 Pobedia – “Flying in the Clouds”
31. 2:36:36 Kikagaku Moyo – “Melted Crystal”
32. 2:40:08 krill.minima – “Substantial Drift (feat. Tlon)”
33. 2:44:11 Marconi Union – “Weightless Part 2”
34. 2:49:13 Variant – “A Silent Storm”
35. 2:53:55 Jon Hassell – “Caravanesque”