Category: Articles (Page 1 of 3)

Theologian – Exclusive New Track Premiere!

Theologian is slowly creeping their way to becoming one of the most covered artists here on This Is Darkness. I’ve been following the artist, Lee Bartow, for a good while now, through his project Theologian, his previous project Navicon Torture Technologies, and his label Annihilvs Power Electronix. But I really started to dig into this artist when Theologian was featured as the soundtrack/soundscapes on a number of Cadabra Records spoken-art releases, the most recent being The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft, read by the brilliant Andrew Leman.

Photo by: Gretchen Heinel

 

Theologian – “Tetanus” from the upcoming album, Reconcile.

 

After covering last year’s Forced Utopia (read the review here), we are pleased to premiere a brand new track from his upcoming release, Reconcile. This new track, “Tetanus”, will immediately stand out to many from the more recent previous works by Theologian. There are airy dronescapes that gently blanket the 6 1/2 minute experience, while cavernously reverberating percussion hammers and voices are heard, in a sort of irreligious long-form chanting dirge. While the percussion, in particular, will keep this outside the boundaries of your standard definition of dark ambient, I think what Theologian is doing here may end up being one of his more dark ambient friendly tracks to date. I’ll be covering the album in a full review soon!

Below you can read the full press release for the Theologian – Reconcile album, to be released on 16 June 2018 via Cloister Recordings.

Cover photo by: K. Berlin

TheologianReconcile

Hot on the heels of The Icy Bleakness of Things, Theologian’s collaboration with The Vomit Arsonist, Cloister Recordings presents Reconcile. Timed to coincide with the upcoming live appearance at the DARKNESS DESCENDS festival, this 60-minute cassette (and digital) release contains brand-new material featuring input from Andy Grant (The Vomit Arsonist), Mike McClatchey (Lament Cityscape), Stephen Petrus (Murderous Vision), and Derek Rush (Dream Into Dust). The album was mixed by Mike McClatchey. The word “supergroup” has been jokingly bandied about in reference to this collection of artists, but the final product is indeed a unique composite of industrial sounds, reflecting another step in the evolution of Theologian.

Perhaps most notable is a return to an earlier, less harsh and distorted iteration of the project, with cavernous drones and thunderous percussion creating the sort of dense sonic environments found on the 2010 debut album, The Further I Get From Your Star, The Less Light I Feel On My Face.

Eschewing the longform drone/ambient tracks of older releases, here we find Theologian attempting to approximate the immediacy and memorability of pop, using rhythm and melody to elicit slightly less sprawling emotional landscapes. The album’s eight tracks are interconnected by brief interludes, serving as touchstones along the journey to the album’s denouement. As the title suggests, Reconcile is ultimately about coming to terms with past versions of oneself, while examining the present and fretting over the future. Cloister Recordings is issuing this cassette in an edition of 100 copies, which will become available for the first time when Theologian headlines the DARKNESS DESCENDS festival on Saturday, June 16 at Pat’s in the Flat’s in Cleveland, Ohio.

Also performing are The Vomit Arsonist, Steel Hook Prostheses, Gnawed, Compactor, Shock Frontier, Vitriol Gauge, Cunting Daughters, and Murderous Vision. The Theologian performance will include Andy Grant, Stephen Petrus, and Derek Rush as live collaborators. The event is sold out.

Soft Tissue, the 2016 collaborative release by Lament Cityscape and Theologian, will be reissued later this year, featuring completely new mixes of the original album and remixes by Achromaticist, Compactor, Cutworm, Kidaudra, Neurospora, Orphx, Over Hold, rRhexis, and Snowbeasts.

Murderous Vision and Lament Cityscape have both recently completed new albums yet to be released, while The Vomit Arsonist produced a new cassette, entitled Further, in April of this year via Gutter Bloat. While Derek Rush has mostly been busy as SysAdmin for heavy electronics project Compactor, a 20th anniversary vinyl reissue of the Dream Into Dust album The World We Have Lost is in the works for April 2019.

Dark Ambient 101: Analog or Digital

1. Analog or Digital

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.

Aegri Somnia: Absynth, Massive, Reaktor, Sylenth, Diva, Ace, Serum, Spire, Omnisphere, etc.

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.

Next: Dark Ambient 101: Drones
Read the full article.

Dark Ambient 101: Introduction

Dark Ambient 101 : Introduction

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
  • Ketil Søraker: Taphephobia, Aural Whiteout

Contents:
(open one section at a time, or the full article here.)
Introduction
01. Analog or Digital
02. Drones
03. Field Recordings
04. Vocals
05. DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
06. Computers
07. Samples
08. Instruments
09. Mastering
10. General Advice
Artists’ Sites & Social Media

Next: Dark Ambient 101: Analog or Digital
Read the full article.

Dark Ambient 101: Drones

2. Drones

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.

Next: Dark Ambient 101: Field Recordings
Read the full article.

Dark Ambient 101: Field Recordings

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?

Next: Dark Ambient 101: Vocals
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Dark Ambient 101: Vocals

4. Vocals

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.

Next: Dark Ambient 101: DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
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Dark Ambient 101: DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)

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.

Shrine, studio.

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!

Next: Dark Ambient 101: Computers
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Dark Ambient 101: Computers

6. Computers

a. Win or Mac?

Treha Sektori: Mac

protoU: 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.

Skadi: PC

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.

Ugasanie: Soundcard.

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.

Next: Dark Ambient 101: Samples
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Dark Ambient 101: Samples

7. Samples

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.

Next: Dark Ambient 101: Instruments
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Dark Ambient 101: Instruments

8. Instruments

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.

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