Category: Articles (Page 1 of 3)

ΠANθEON – Discography Overview by Abby Helasdottir (Gydja)

New Zealander, Abby Helasdottir has been known around the dark ambient and post-industrial scenes for quite some time. She has a well-known dark ambient project, Gydja. But possibly more important to the scene has been her work in visual arts creating cover art for quite a few albums, many of which you’ll find on the Cold Spring label.

I follow Abby on Facebook and I noticed recently that she was doing frequent mini-reviews of releases from the ΠANθEON record label. Having also enjoyed and agreed with her sentiments regarding many of these releases I asked her if I could compile them all in this article, once she was finished. Her answer is now obvious!

I will give you the description of the label direct from their Discogs page:

“ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ (or Pantheophania) is a Russian D.I.Y. label focusing on handmade editions of cassette tapes, CDR’s and CD’s, as well as digital-only and disc-on-request releases.
Founded in 2014 by Tim Six (Creation VI), the label releases all kinds of ambient music: drone, ritual, meditative, new age, dark ambient, etc. Many of the label’s editions are released in bundles with additional inserts.”

While each review is “mini” the collection certainly is not! Most (maybe all?) of these are available for “name your price”, but many also have beautifully crafted physical editions still available, some only 1-2 left on Bandcamp, so think about showing them some support if you dig these albums!

Michael

ΠANθEON – Discography Overview
Article compiled from posts by Abby Helasdottir. On the ΠANθEON discography:
I don’t usually buy entire digital discographies from labels on Bandcamp, especially if they’re large, as they tend to overwhelm the carefully curated library page, but how can you say ‘no’ to 107 releases from ΠANθEON. So many great releases. One of my favourites is the Creation VI‘s October Rite – just love how it strays into Aural Hypnox type territory with its otherworldly drones. Listened to that one multiple times already.

Now to gradually download, unzip and listen to 107 albums.

Med GenBrittleroots

Been making my way through the recently purchased ΠANθEON discography, and while all of it is good, some of it is spectacularly good. So until I forget to do it, I’ll highlight a few of the, well, highlights.

The unmemorably-named Med Gen are anything but with their album Brittleroots. Responding to the album’s theme of swamps, there’s a lovely, dense and deep murky quality to the sound, especially on the opening “Peat Accumulation” which seems custom-made for my ears: part chthonic, part aquatic, more deep texture than musical. Little bits of field recordings add some relevant details to the drones but what really stands out is that dense, dark, slightly drowny palette.

Sergey FilatovOn the Opposite Bank of the River

Sergey Filatov is not one of the more familiar names on ΠANθEON (just 71 listeners on last.fm) and this two track album is certainly not one of the label’s more jump-out-and-grab-you-by-the-throat releases (if any ambient can do that). Instead of overwhelming you with activity, On the Opposite Bank of the River wins you over with its determination to be indeterminate. Like the river of its title, it just meanders… gloriously. Much like a lot of work by Alio Die, it sort of lingers, hanging in the air, little melodic chimes patiently pulsing pastorally, with no real sense of momentum. Which is all great.

Field recordings are buried in the sound and only sometimes bubble to the surface: a prerequisite stream or brook, some lovely birds clean and clear in the mix. Most of the time, though, the nature it depicts seems to be off in the distance, indeterminate but present.

Mrako-Su – Грани Зимы


One of two releases from Mrako-Su on ΠANθEON, Грани Зимы consists of six tracks, two under seven minutes and the rest over eleven, with the longest, “Ветер в груди”, clocking in at 18:30.

While in my own music I have a tendency to add as many layers into the mix as possible (either to stave off inattention or insert additional esoteric nuance, cross fingers), I have always loved music that strips things back, and that’s what Mrako-Su does here. The tracks principally use a flute sound of some type, presumably slowed and processed in places for lower layers, but otherwise quite up front. It’s not played melodically, more tonally, and that’s something that also appeals; I’m not here for the chunes. There’s a patience here, with things taking their time to come and go, rise and fall, often eschewing any need for too much structure. And that’s one of the important things, because the music with its flutes and occasional drums and mouth harp, plus a slightly tundral vibe, feels very shamanic – but not in that smooth, processed way that needs to turn these aural elements into catchy, conventional songs.

So yeah, it’s slow, it’s subdued, it has lots of flute and feels shamanic without needing to break into a Wardruna floorfiller.

EugeneKhaThree Months


In my summary of Mrako-Su‘s Грани Зимы, I mentioned how much I like simplicity and minimalism, but the converse is true and that’s exactly what you get with Three Months by EugeneKha. In some ways, Evgenij V. Kharitonov uses comparable themes, if not the exact sounds, as Mrako-Su, mining a similar vein of, to use a slightly dreaded nomenclature, ethno-ambient, with hints of shamanism and nods to nature (aesthetics that are somewhat baked into the ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ label). The sound, though, is completely different, with each of these three tracks, representing the months of June, July and August, using prominent, wide-open drones that fill the space, creating a thick, dense, somewhat all-consuming sonic cocoon.

The twelve minute “June (Mantra)” builds its density slowly, beginning with slightly windswept tundral hums to which rattles (or rainsticks), chimes and whistles (all perfectly reverbed for body without muddiness) are gently added, reaching maximum density with the addition of a pulsing didgeridoo tone, followed by a subtle melodic figure and a concluding hand percussion pattern buried in the mix. While “June (Mantra)” revels in its complexity, with each sound continuing to run once it has been gradually added, “July (Just One Evening)” begins with many of its elements in place, and then drops these out to a core element of a brooding tundral drone, waves of wind and a high pitched wash that is, or at least recalls, the metallic chirp of cicadas; whatever it is, its a tone and a frequency I’m very partial to, and I love the way it builds to take up all the sonic space so gradually that you only really notice when it ends and the silence is so deafening. That “July (Just One Evening)” reminds me of my own track “Wolfszahn” may be why it emerges as my favourite on the album.

“August (Three Dreams)” uses its 26-minute length to play with things at a slower pace, using a drifting, ever so gradually evolving drone that feels more Roachian than obviously dark ambient. This suddenly shifts at fifteen minutes into a clearly demarcated second section where percussion takes over to explore the more rhythmic, Byron Metcalf-esque side of the ethno-ambient sub genre. A few other sounds are briefly introduced and farewelled against the persistent beat, until it loses out to one of these, water sounds, which rise to prominence before the song and album end with a vocal coda (the album’s first obvious use of voice).

Сон Чайного Дерева & Sunhiilow – Liquid Silence / A New Beginning


The ambient nature of a label like ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ lends itself to long-form music, with many releases clocking in at over an hour. That’s not that case with Liquid Silence/A New Beginning, a split release from Sunhiilow and Сон Чайного Дерева, with almost all the tracks hovering around the 2-3 minute mark, except for the aberrant 19:44 of “Liquid Silence”, one of the two tracks here by the Сон Чайного Дерева duo of Aloe and Tim Six. “Liquid Silence”, you may be interested to know, is not silent and is instead a lovely slow-moving drone that hints at Angelo Badalamenti‘s “Laura Palmer’s Theme”, while its shorter companion, “Sitar Rain”, sounds like exactly that, sitar and rain; well, more of the former than the latter.

Finland-based Sunhiilow takes up only a little more space than Сон Чайного Дерева on this release, but makes more of an impact due to her contributions consisting of nine tracks. Given their sub-three minute length, all of her pieces have little chance to build or go anywhere, and as a result, feel like snapshots or vignettes of sonic environments. Which isn’t a bad thing. Maybe I’m taking too many cues from the nom-de-musique, but there’s a solar quality to these sounds, a pastoral sunniness, all chimes and light tones. The brevity of each piece means that they’re better considered as parts of a whole, three-minute glimpses of a place that can be made from any angle or time, or in any order; kind of a longer-format version of Eluvium‘s “Shuffle Drones” but with fadeouts.

AstrolabeLights Beyond The Mist (cdr-on-request)


Astrolabe has always been on my “that would make a great project name” list, with its combination of nods to the stars and with those, the future, but still tethered to a dusty, archaic past due to the use of the tool since before the common era. So does this Astrolabe sound like an astrolabe, does it sound like it could be “the one that catches the heavenly bodies”? Not really, there’s nothing particularly spacey about the palette used here, and there’s no clanging of equipment in an old astronomy tower. Instead, Lights Beyond The Mist traffics in a refined, linear brand of ambience, its tones light and airy, feeling very much like the photonic haze that adorns the cover.

With two supra-twenty minute tracks twinned with two shorter ones at 10:11 and 8:31, the album acts like a concentrated dose of Astrolabe‘s style. And that style would be drifting. There’s never much sense of urgency, never any interruptions, and what there is in the way of perceptible evolution often sneaks up on you. So while “Hideaway” gives way for half its ten-minute length to an aquatic scape of trickles and streams, or the 23 and a half minute “Fragoline” climaxes in an almost space ambient roar, it’s often just the gorgeously refined light drones that stick in your mind, set against broader rumbling basses that you can feel are there, but are not in your face, erm ears. As such, track titles and times seem largely arbitrary, and its easy to just get deliciously lost between all four.

Sunmoonstar – Картины 


ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ owner Tim Six has a professed love for that most maligned of genres, new age music, and this release from Floridian Natasha Home’s Sunmoonstar is perhaps the most new agey release in the label’s body of work. The aural palette should be familiar to anyone who has spent even a little time around that genre, all chiming tinkles, plaintive rhodes-like keys, thin airy pads, and whispy synthetic flutes. There’s almost nothing contemporary about what appears here, with even the production keeping things simple and not making use of any of the tricks that may not have been available to producers of yesteryear but are to anyone today. And that’s a good thing, in fact, the whole thing is lovely.

Like much new age music, which can have an admirably punk-like amateurish quality to it, the music on Картины often just hangs there, with no conventional song structure, no forward momentum, and no repetition of catchy melodies. With seven tracks rendered interchangeable with their titles in, for me, indecipherable Cyrillic, it’s all over too quickly after 30 or so minutes. Plus the cover design by Home herself is gorgeous, if devoid of any of the new ages aesthetics heard in the music.

Mathias Grassow & Closing The EternityUntitled



It’s kind of cheating to choose to review an album involving Mathias Grassow as you know, no matter what, it’s probably going to be decent if not great, and there’ll be a certain standard and sound. And yes, that’s what you get with this collaboration with Russia’s Closing The Eternity. The credits don’t say who did what on which track, but the 12 minute opening “(When) There Is None” is very much a typical Grassow piece, all resonant, crystalline drones, whereas the almost 17 minutes of “Schorl Vugh” incorporates various organic elements (squawking discordant flutes and chimes) against a static drone. The brief one minute interlude that is “Forsaken Well” brings the latter part of this approach to the fore with percussive and atonal clangs and bangs that then gives way to the album’s longest piece, the 30 minute and majestic “The Great Elaphe”.

Somewhat bringing elements from the three previous tracks together, “The Great Elaphe” gets going straight out of the gate with a warm rising drone, overlaid with a mouth-harp-like twanging drone, and a sense of momentum created with a drum beat buried down in the mix and a shake of a rattle above. This evolves into several distinct movements, the pace dropping away to open different locations, the warm drone always present, in which various elements are introduced: a pensive moment into which darker drones are introduced, the return of the subtle drum beat and rattles, a foreboding chthonic sequence at 17 minutes with menacing tones like a dungchen trumpet.

Creation VIOctober Rite


There are a wealth of titles by Creation VI in the ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ catalogue, which is understandable given that the label is run by the duo’s Tim Six. As such, it might be hard to pick out a highlight, but for me, it’s October Rite. Recorded live in 2013 at Dom Club, Moscow, it contains improvised versions of some previously released and unreleased tracks, all presented and indexed as a single piece. As such, for the first five minutes, the sounds are accompanied by the slightly distracting mutter of audience sounds (unless that’s part of the track), until they are overwhelmed by an unassailable rising organic drone. This drone builds and evolves over the first 39 minutes of the track’s 53-minute length, always with a bassy rumble to it, with additional organic elements, percussion and voice, weaving in and out of the bed of sound. This addition of sound and the relentlessness of the drone creates an hallucinatory sensation and at the 30-minute mark you realise you have entered territory worthy of Aural Hypnox acts such as Zoät-Aon and Halo Manash. It’s here that the drone and its additional layers have that eldritch alien quality that is so evokative of the sounds of Aural Hypnox, giving the impression of slipping between worlds, or of something waiting in those spaces, about to come through. This section ends with a single audience woop and the rest of October Rite takes a slightly more sedate approach, resonating metallic tones and drones bringing things to a reflective end over 13 minutes.

Dronny Darko & ApolloniusThe Sea of Potentials


Despite having perhaps one of the cringiest monikers in ambient, Ukrainian Oleg Puzan has made a significant impact as Dronny Darko, most notably with a series of albums on Cryo Chamber. Here he teams up with Eelke van Hoof, AKA Apollonius, of the Netherlands, with four tracks, all neatly coming in between 15 and 20 minutes.

As the cover art implies, there’s a glacial quality to the material here, suggesting that the titular sea of potentials is frozen. Washes of icy wind, rising crystalline tones and rattling chimes interweave on “Drift”, but things do get warmer on “Lost” where, although there’s still a chill in the air, the ice seems to melt, with the mutterings of water rising into the mix and pads becoming rounder and friendlier. Across the two remaining tracks, the feeling of coldness never really abates, but in the final “Realign”, thicker ever so slightly warmer pads emerge against an opening bird-like cooing, alluding, perhaps, to a slow autumnal dawn. With a similar palette across all four similarly paced songs, The Sea of Potentials rewards carefully listening, without which this lovely considered slice of arctic ambience can pass by unjustly unnoticed.

FelliriumMermaids

With an instrument list that includes synthesizers, three types of guitars, ebow, digital piano and accordion, in addition to the usual textural sound generators like ocarina, hulusi, wooden flute, shells, rainstick and bells, this album by Andrey Vasilyev’s Fellirium has a different, perhaps more ‘musical,’ sound to many of the releases on ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ. The use of guitar recalls the work of people like Jeff Pearce, Christopher Short from Ma Ja Le, Eric Kesner’s True Colour Of Blood, or Steve Roach’s occasional guitar experiments, with Fellirium using similar techniques to create washes and elongated chords of glistening ambience.

While it may mean I’m just easily led by the album and track titles, there’s a palpable feeling of the sea and ocean in Vasilyev’s aural palette, a hazy sense of light reflecting off vast expanses of water, of swells and ripples and the depth beneath. And that’s without any obvious use of water samples. Sometimes these washes and swells are given a little sparkle with the addition of a rattle of bells or shells, but for the most part, it’s just the beautiful nubilous ambience.

Угасание and Спираль Времени – В Отзвуках Эха


My final mini-review highlight from the ΠANθEON discography; had to end it somewhere or I’d be listening to nothing but for a long while.

In the folder name, this split release is listed as being from Ugasanie and Spiral of Time but the tags give both artists’ names in Cyrillic as Угасание and Спираль Времени, so I’m happy for the folder title otherwise I’d never remember who it’s by.

В Отзвуках Эха by Угасание and Спираль Времени (I’m already confused) consists of five tracks each from both artists, presented in its physical format in what looks to be a lovely cloth digipak with a labyrinth painted or stamped on the front. The tracks from Спираль Времени (Spiral of Time), who I’m not familiar with, are denser and murkier than those of Угасание, although both artists do seem to share a similar theme of isolation, with titles that reference places like Onegaborg in what is now the Republic of Karelia and Murmansk. With the exception of “Онегаборг”, which features a prominent dungeon-synth-style melody for its duration, the Спираль Времени pieces are, for the most part, textured sound paintings that lean towards industrial ambient with their aural choices and treatments. The Угасание quintet of tracks have a more sedate manner, feeling less refined and rarefied than the series of releases on Cryo Chamber, but incorporating the same themes and aural aesthetics, all wind-swept tundra and icy isolation.

BRUTALISM – Upcoming Debut Streaming in Full!

We are very pleased to premiere the debut full length The Charged Void by BRUTALISM. Terence Hannum, most notably of Locrian and The Holy Circle, released the Symmetry Death limited 7″ lathe on his Anathemata Editions last year. I was immediately entranced by the bleak apocalyptic atmosphere presented on that track. So, it is with great pleasure that This Is Darkness was approached to present an exclusive early stream of their upcoming full length The Charged Void, which is set for release on Annihilvs Power Electronix on 15 March 2019.

Terence Hannum has been releasing music under a number of projects in recent years, including Locrian, the synth-pop The Holy Circle and the anti-fascist power-electronics Axebreaker. He’s also making his name in the writing world with a number of fiction novellas, recent highlights being: Beneath the Remains and All Internal (which we reviewed here).

But, Hannum’s true love still seems to be visual art. And this is where BRUTALISM seems to become the perfect project for him. Hannum is able to take all that knowledge of visual art along with his love for brutalist architecture and bring these into his musical world as tools for crafting something unique.

Hannum describes BRUTALISM as:

Deterritorialization.
Intimate Brutality at the very moment
of participation in surrounding nature.

BRUTALISM – The Charged Void is currently available for pre-order at:
https://annihilvspowerelectronix.bandcamp.com/album/the-charged-void-preorder
The Charged Void is being released on Annihilvs Power Electronix as a professionally-manufactured CD-R. This will be in conjunction with a cassette edition on Cloister Recordings.

Suspension in Iceland – A Journey with Gretchen Heinel

For this article I contacted Gretchen Heinel about her interest in hook suspension. I knew about her recent performance work here in The United States, but I was also aware that she had recently taken a “work” trip with her suspension team to Iceland. I didn’t know how she would confront this topic, but I knew it was incredibly interesting to an outsider, and I knew that Gretchen would be the perfect person to convey this lesser known world to our readership. To my utter delight, Gretchen and Joe Carrotta were able to supply me with 80+ images from their 3 days of suspension in Iceland during the summer of 2018, and Gretchen agreed to write her account of the trip and her personal thoughts on hook suspension. I found the combination of these stories and images incredibly moving and inspiring. I hope the same for you all, enjoy!

Michael Barnett

Luna’s “resurrection” suspension.

Article text by: Gretchen Heinel
Photos by: Joe Carotta

“Does it hurt?”

My personal experience with hook suspension dates back to May 30th, 2013. My mother blames herself for my interest in suspension, citing a trip during my childhood to the Atlantic City Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum as the moment when the seed was planted in my brain. I distinctly remember sitting in awe of a mannequin replica of a young Mandan man suspending as part of an Okipa ceremony. I think my mother gives herself too much credit, as I likely never would’ve suspended if I hadn’t personally encountered folks through my photography work who themselves were involved with the practice. But who can really say specifically what triggered my interest? All I know is that, going into my first experience with suspension, I felt like I had something to prove to myself. I had to prove my toughness, my ability to conquer pain.

Preparations in Iceland

My first hook suspension, on May 30th, 2013, was facilitated by the New York chapter of Rites of Passage, which is aptly named. Leading my suspension was a man named Cere Coichetti. That day, that trial, was a college graduation gift to myself. I was joined by my friend Dorothy, who herself was also doing this for the first time. The position I’d chosen for myself was a lotus, which involved two hooks in the back and two hooks in each leg, holding me seated cross-legged in the air. Cere rigged my suspension in such a way that I was free to transition from that lotus position to a more upright position where only my back hooks would be holding me up.

I can’t say that my first suspension was a “good” one, I did not achieve enlightenment or feel timeless bliss. It was a struggle, and it was full of sensations I could not comprehend, as there is really no experience quite like it. I did not, that day, “conquer pain”. However, for a brief, fleeting moment, I got a taste, a glimpse of what suspension really is all about. I experienced such an immediacy in my own body, such a level of internal focus on the self stripped of the constraints placed by ego. I later described the experience as “like a puppy being picked up by the scruff of the neck”, because it was the only way I could find to describe the comfort in discomfort, and the childlike openness to every sensation that the experience brought forth.

Preparations in Iceland

I was giddy, even delirious, immediately following the suspension. My body and mind felt unmoored, the bounds of my reality had shifted and I was humbled by the sheer intensity of my experience. My concept of who I was and what I was capable of had become malleable.

Gretchen making preparations.

Five years and almost 20 suspensions later, with a practitioner apprenticeship under my belt, I found myself battling sideways, freezing rain to rig a waterfall in Eastern Iceland for a three-day suspension event that I was hosting. Cere was there alongside me, as he had become a mentor and dear friend to me after a particularly beautiful suspension campout during the summer of 2014. Our trip was already off to an auspicious start, as Iceland was having the wettest and coldest summer weather in over 100 years. Additionally, the local grocery stores and banks were closed for a holiday which none of us travelers had even heard of. I felt a healthy dose of nagging self-doubt, as I feared I’d gotten not only myself, but eight other people, into a drastically different situation from what any of us had signed up for.

I realize that there is a certain amount of hubris involved in the decision to do hook suspension in Iceland. It’s a land of extreme scenery and extreme weather, so why not add an extreme activity to the mix?

Site for suspensions.

Two years prior to this trip, I’d visited Iceland for the first time, and it immediately became my favorite place. I fell in love with it for many of the same reasons that I fell in love with suspension: it’s a humbling place that will quickly destroy best-laid plans and demand that you show up and accept it for what it really is. My initial visit was in late spring, though, and I was assured by both friends and the Internet that our trip in August would yield much more mellow and predictable weather. Clearly, Iceland had other plans for us.

Determined to follow through with what we’d committed to, we began rigging our first suspension of the day. A man named Warren had traveled all the way from Australia to suspend with us, and damned if we wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of that experience. There was a brief respite from the rain and the wind, which was our cue to get started.

Prepping Warren

Warren was undertaking a chest suspension, a particularly challenging position, and one with little margin for error as it’s extremely prone to “tearing”, which is exactly what you think it is. Warren went up absolutely beautifully, and everyone present was silent in awe. His face had a look of peace and transcendence one rarely sees outside the context of suspension. I felt immense gratitude for having the opportunity to bear witness.

Warren’s chest suspension.

All too soon, though, we had to bring Warren down, due to tearing. Coincidentally, the weather then took a turn for the worse. I can’t remember who made the call, but the decision was made to return to our guest-house and suture Warren indoors, where there was heat and a comfortable bed. No one else wanted to suspend that day in the worsening weather, opting to wait in hope for a better second or third day. Half the party went back with Warren, while myself and the rest stayed behind to pack up our rigging.

Warren after his suspension.

That evening over dinner at a (mercifully open) restaurant, I felt more than a little worried that we might not have enough time or good weather to suspend everyone who wanted to do so. We only had two days left, but there were six more people (myself included) who wanted to go up. I tried to reason with myself that three suspensions per day isn’t particularly unusual or hard to facilitate, but a part of me knew that we wouldn’t be getting better weather, and that everyone else in my party would need to accept, and even embrace, the reality of our situation. I wasn’t sure if this was me asking too much of everyone.

Tim awaiting his suspension.

Day two was even colder and rainier than the first, and only Tim went up on hooks. He opted for the two-point back suspension colloquially known as a suicide, due to the position it puts the body in. While we all huddled under layers and rain-resistant outerwear, Tim was happily jumping and leaping, shirtless, from rock to rock, our rig-line providing enough bounce to give an almost bungee effect. Clearly he was having a positive experience, despite or even because of the weather. Yet, no one else decided to go up that day. Everyone was hoping against all odds that the last day would be the best.

Tim’s 2-point back suspension, known as “the suicide”.

The last day handed us the worst weather of the whole trip. It was also both Cere’s and Luna’s birthday, an extra bit of comedy gifted to us by the old gods. The wind was so strong that we literally could not do the prep and piercings outside, as our supplies would blow away. We were confined to the cars for prep work, which were luckily roomy enough to manage. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to suspend that day, and I typically enjoy suspending in the cold.

Joe’s “suicide” two-point back suspension. Photo by: Luna

Joe was the brave soul who did the first suspension that day. Like Tim on the previous day, Joe opted for a two-point back suspension. He went up smoothly, and almost immediately his face broke into a wide grin. He spun, bounced, lept, and danced in the air and on the ground, playing with every sensation in his body, feeling every moment. I was so proud to watch him in his bliss. He said afterwards that he didn’t even feel the cold once he was up, there was a warmth to his experience that gave him a resilience in the trying weather.

Cere prepping Liz.

Liz was next, with a forearm suspension. She bundled technical gear and warm layers around every part of her body, with the exception of her forearms. There was something almost poetic about the juxtaposition between her insulating, protective clothing and her bare, pierced skin. I was sure she was enjoying herself, even though I could barely see her face under the layers.

Liz’s forearm suspension.

Two suspensions were left: mine and Luna’s. Dorothy, who hadn’t suspended since our first time together in 2013, opted to wait to experience what would have been only her second ever suspension at another time under more controlled circumstances. Luna decided to wait until a little later in the day, in the case that the weather would clear that afternoon. So I went up.

Cere prepping Gretchen.

A two-point resurrection is my absolute favorite position when suspending. It involves two hooks placed side-by-side on the lower part of the ribcage, just above the stomach. It requires pure acceptance, as the more you struggle, the more your breathing gets panicked, the harder the suspension becomes. It’s a feedback loop, not unlike that which a panicked diver experiences, that makes this particular position very challenging. I love it precisely because I cannot fight it. My acceptance of it is not passive or submissive, I’m actively choosing to experience the enormity of the suspension as it is, not as I want to make it.

Tim assisting Gretchen as Ceres lifts her.

My ascent was assisted by Tim, who stood behind me and provided warmth and solidity as I was pulled into the air by Cere. My surrender to the moment was immediate. I rocked slowly side to side, sometimes swung by Cere’s movement of the rope, sometimes by the wind which now felt gentle and guiding. All the stress and worry over this trip, over whether everyone was getting what they wanted out of it, all of that was inconsequential. I existed, I was present, I was oh so very alive.

Gretchen’s “two-point resurrection”.

Eventually, the self-regulating part of my brain started to come back online, which signaled to me that it was, unfortunately, time to come down. I had gotten what I needed, now it was time to return to Earth, a little bit better for having taken that journey with myself.

Gretchen and Tim after her suspension.

I returned to the ground and was filled with an enormous love and gratitude for everyone there. They held me, supported me, and shared this wild experience with me. That overwhelming feeling of love and connectedness stayed with me as I readied for the last suspension of the trip: Luna’s.

Prepping for Luna’s suspension.

Luna is my blood-bonded sister. We met initially back in 2014 with the goal of creating a photo series about the mythology of Lilith entitled Lilith: From Myth to Flesh. In the creation of that project, we uncovered so much about ourselves and the paths we are walking. I could write a lifetime about what I’ve experienced with her and only scratch the surface, but suffice it to say, our lives are now inextricably linked.

Luna’s “resurrection”.

Luna’s mentor, Fakir Musafar, had passed away days before our trip to Iceland. Fakir was the man who brought body suspension and piercing outside the context of specific religious ritual, taking a “body-first” approach to spirituality. Those of us in the contemporary body modification community owe Fakir a debt of gratitude.

Luna’s “resurrection”.

Luna was carrying the grief of his passing with her throughout the trip, and her suspension was in dedication to him. She also chose to suspend in a two-point resurrection. As she left the ground, the clouds and rain broke and she was bathed in golden sunlight. She gently swayed in the wind and chanted in memoriam. Her words seemed to come from beyond her, with her body acting as conduit. She was beautiful and heartbreaking, wonderful and painful to be in the presence of.

I wept as I witnessed her.

Luna after her suspension.

“So, does it hurt?”

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“So, does it hurt?” This is the least interesting question of all, yet it is the most asked. How do I casually distill the enormity of suspension into a simple answer for such a simple question? How do I convey how reductive the concept of “hurt” is? Suspension hurts about as much as being part of something bigger than yourself hurts. Suspension hurts about as much as community hurts. Suspension hurts about as much as personal growth hurts. Suspension hurts about as much as love hurts.

Iceland was a reminder for me not to shy away from discomfort (which, honestly, is a far more accurate one-word description of the physical sensation associated with suspension). That place outside of my comfort zone is where I find, not what I want, but what I need. Beyond that, though, it reminded me to trust in the people around me, who all showed up for an experience that, while never easy, was endlessly rewarding. I am full of love and gratitude to my hook family, and I look forward to a future sharing more absurd, awe-inspiring experiences with them.

Gretchen after her suspension.

Gretchen Heinel is a photographer, filmmaker, performance artist, and hook suspension artist based in Nyack, NY. Her body of work includes collaborations with extreme and underground musical acts such as Theologian, Batillus, Lord Mantis, and Sabbath Assembly.

Iceland Team Lineup (left to right) : Lee, Gretchen, Tim, Luna, Cere, Liz, Dorothy, Warren & Joe


Her hook suspension team, White Flag, has announced the dates for their 2019 campout as July 22-26. The event will take place in rural Pennsylvania, USA. For more information, or to reserve a spot, email: info@gretchenheinel.com or cerewf@gmail.com.

To keep up with Gretchen’s adventures, follow her
@gretchenheinel on Instagram.

Check out the links to everyone’s projects and social media below the gallery.

Links

White Flag website
Joe Carrotta
Cere Coichetti
Luna Duran
Luna + Tim Gerdes
Liz Dodge

Lars von Trier – The House That Jack Built – Movie Review

Title: The House That Jack Built
Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Riley Keough, Uma Thurman, Jeremy Davies, Siobhan Fallon Hogan
Original Languages: English
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Drama
Running Time: 155
Year: 2018
Available at select theatres and on-demand services now.
Check for your own region.

Matt Dillon as Jack in The House That Jack Built, courtesy of Mongrel Media

 

“I don’t have a handle on how many processes
take part in the decay of a dead human,
but I know a bit about dessert wines.”

Jack

Lars Von Trier has been shocking audiences for over three decades now with his controversial, but often heart wrenching, films. But, with many seeing his best work behind him, in films like Dogville and Dancer in the Dark, Trier has slowly moved into a more shadowy region of the film industry. The fact that only one theatre in the whole Baltimore/DC region appeared to be showing it on opening day (Parkway Theater, home of the Maryland Film Festival), and on top of that I was one of four people in the theatre (this was a 3:30 PM showing, one of several throughout the day/night), seems to drive this point home. As with much of his work, The House That Jack Built seems destined to be misunderstood by many and totally unnoticed by most.

Lars von Trier has always worked with subjects that veer toward the darker sides of human emotion. His first major film, The Element of Crime (1984) was a post-apocalyptic crime noir, which was certainly the darkest work he’s produced to date. Europa (1991) put Trier on the map with its tragically pessimistic conclusion enveloped in a hazy historical piece. Riget (1996) (The Kingdom), along with shows like Twin Peaks (1990), helped to change the face of television, paving the path for future shows with much more intricate plots and content which often pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable for television at the time. But, the films Breaking The Waves (1996), Dancer in the Dark (2000), and Dogville (2003) positioned Lars von Trier as a Cannes favorite for years. These three films were able to harness the subtleties of that darkness from his previous films and blend it with much more personal tales of sorrow.

Director Lars Von Trier – Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

However, it wouldn’t be long before Trier dreamed of returning to the darkness that seemed to be at the source of his original inspirations. This coincided, coincidentally or otherwise, with his mental breakdown which landed him in a mental hospital for a brief stay, due to a major bout of depression. During and on the other side of that, we were presented with The Depression Trilogy. Antichrist (2009), Melancholia (2011), and Nymphomaniac (2013) explored the depths of utter despair and depression, and the depravity that is often spawned from these mind-states. While Melancholia received quite high esteems across the spectrum, Antichrist and Nymphomaniac haven’t been so well received by the film community or the general public. Add to this a very badly timed/executed Nazi joke, and Lars von Trier found himself persona non grata at his old strongholds like Cannes.

Left to right: Siobhan Fallon Hogan as Lady 2 and Matt Dillon as Jack in The House That Jack Built

Lars von Trier did present The House That Jack Built this year at the Cannes Film Festival, but it received a tepid response from crowd and critics, with many walking out of the film during some of the harsher scene. As mentioned at the beginning, the ability to see this one in theatres seems to be almost non-existent, unless you happen to live in a city/town with a film school, or other privately-owned theatre that seeks rarer/smaller films. There was news of the director’s cut being available for a brief period on YouTube the night before release, but it disappeared soon after. Luckily, the film does appear to be available for rent from On Demand services, so it should find a wider audience quickly.

“Sick, Violent and a Total Bore”
The New York Times

“Empty, Repugnant Provocations”
The New Yorker

“Von Trier can be a filmmaker of great empathy when he wants to be, but it’s exhausting to see him unable to think about the artistic process as anything other than a predator/prey dynamic.”
Vulture

The House That Jack Built isn’t going to win back any of those good/neutral critics. It is filled with violent acts against women and children. Jack almost seems to be Trier’s idea of one of these American incels, Jack delivering a speech on the injustices against modern men to drive the point home. I think this perspective will make it much harder for Trier to reconcile this work with his left-leaning critics who have been labeling him a misogynist for years. I have seen the positive traits Trier wants to evoke in so many of his female roles/actresses throughout the years, but if you were in the camp that felt he was already being demeaning toward women, this one will send you quite further down that path. Of course, there will be lunatic loving sadists coming to this film for the wrong reasons, just as there will be social justice warriors giving it attention from the other side, but I try to separate art from reality and see the film as it is supposed to be, incredibly uncomfortable art with many nuances.

Matt Dillon as Jack in The House That Jack Built, courtesy of Mongrel Media

This film certainly follows in the footsteps of The Depression Trilogy in many of its features. Though, there do also seem to be enough differences to say that he has moved on from that trilogy and is not seeking to add this to its ranks. But, as you will see, Lars von Trier has continued to keep a strong connection between the actions of his protagonists and mental diagnoses with, for instance, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder being used to invoke some of the most comical moments of the film.

“A murderer with OCD it’s almost ridiculous. But how unfortunate for you Jack, and to top it off, with cleaning compulsions.”
Virgil

The best way I could sum up the film is to say that it is a perfect combination of the Hannibal (2013) TV show with American Psycho (2000). These elements are, of course, run through the Lars von Trier filter, meaning there will be the sorts of halts in narrative, tutorials, and multiple time-lines which have been staples of The Depression Trilogy. The film is more-or-less a narrative, Jack tells Virgil (author of The Aeneid) about a few of his most memorable kills/situations as they are traveling together.

*Possible Spoiler*—> While the majority of this film follows the above framework, the epilogue takes us into a vastly different situation. This is the part which makes me wonder if this will end up being my favorite Lars von Trier film of all time. I will not give away the scenes/events, but I will say that we are taken into another place, a place which could hold analogies to David Lynch‘s Red Room. While in this place, there is a sound, a sound which must be heard at great volumes. This sound is a sort of dark-ambient droning I would say, it’s really quite an impressive sound which adds so much emphasis to the scene. So there are dark ambient drones and a sort of alternative Red Room scenario. <— *Possible Spoiler* The final point I’d like to mention on that connection is in the way that new chapters are introduced in the film. Trier has used this style in the past, but I find it to be the most well executed in this film. The animations of these chapter-markers show the handwritten text reverse-dripping. The scenes are very Trier, but they also seem incredibly Lynchian to me, like artwork that could be pulled right out of his studio. This isn’t to say that Trier is ripping off David Lynch, I don’t think he is at all. But, the things that make me like both of these directors so much can come into such harmony at times that it surprises me. I often daydream of what sort of monster would be created if these two directors were ever to work side by side on a project. Alternate directing television episodes? I think there could be gold there!

Matt Dillon plays the serial killer Jack. While he’s a well-enough-known actor in Hollywood, and has been starring in films for decades, he’s never gotten the esteem or top-roles of actors like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Jake Gyllenhaal and other grounded-sort-of-actors. This role, if you’ve totally separate it from any feelings on Lars von Trier, was played magnificently by Matt Dillon. It is a combination of him being a natural choice for the role and him truly living up to its demands. He is able to successfully convey a range of emotions in this role that will take the viewer from laughing out of their seat, to trembling with unease at his psychopathic, homicidal gaze. Performances by victims Uma Thurman and Riley Keough also stood out for me, along with the epic voice of Bruno Ganz.

Left to right: Riley Keough as Simple and Matt Dillon as Jack in The House That Jack Built

The film is shot, mostly, using the hand-held camcorder format which Lars von Trier has been incorporating for quite a long time. There are also the occasional art stills which have been so beautifully realized in his past works. There are sort of scrapbook-like pieces added throughout as well, along with the aforementioned tutorials. In short, this is typical Trier, atypical Hollywood. There is a point in the film, where we are given a deeper glance into the works of Trier. This moment will be obvious to viewers because he actually uses scenes from throughout his film career to convey the message. I’ll leave that one to you, but it is worth noting that he really seems to be working with something personal here. Maybe, as with depression, Trier sees elements in this film that have been essential to his entire career.

I’d rather not go into too great of detail on the specifics within the film’s narrative. I recommend watching it for past fans of Trier’s work. But, this one should be interesting well outside his usual crowd. There is a massive market these days in the genre of true crime. Books and podcasts are selling off the shelves on the topic, so a new serial killer film should find its own audience easily enough. This one feels a bit less artistic as a whole, in comparison to Antichrist or Melancholia, but it still holds many of those elements which make his past films equally timeless and transgressive. If you have the stomach for a serial killer’s mentality through the no-holds-barred approach of Lars von Trier, this film is sure to delight you.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Bonedust – New Album Streaming in Full

Annihilvs is beyond honoured and privileged to present the Fruit of the Ash digipak CD-R by Bonedust in 2018.

Bonedust was formed as a performance art project in 2004 by vocalist/composer Chrissy Wolpert (director of The Assembly of Light Choir, frequent contributor to The Body) and interdisciplinary artist Pippi Zornoza (Rectrix, Vvltvre, Worms in Women and Cattle). They are joined on this incredible recording by vocalists Rebecca Mitchell (Whore Paint, House Red), Maralie Armstrong (Humanbeast, Valise), Natalja Kent (Querent) and vocalist/performer Neve Cross.

Fruit of the Ash is based on their 2011 theatrical performance of the same name, and was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Kris Lapke (Alberich) at Machines With Magnets in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the Dirt Palace in Providence, and Dungeon Beach in Brooklyn.

This release will also be available as a Bundle, including a cassette edition, a t-shirt, a one-sided picture disc lathe-cut 7inch single, and a copy of the digipak CD-R.

Bonedust – Fruit of the Ash

The album can be purchased now on Bandcamp.

Listen to Fruit of the Ash streaming in full and support underground music!

Check out more releases from the Annihilvs label on Bandcamp here.

Our recent reviews of other Annihilvs and Theologian releases:
Skincage – Unimagined Space – Review
Theologian – Forced Utopia – Review
Theologian – Reconcile – Review

Kintaan – Exclusive Track Premiere

We are very pleased to premiere a brand new Kintaan track from their upcoming album on Annihilvs. I should immediately state that this is definitely not “dark ambient”. Annihilvs has been releasing music, for years now, which falls outside the boundaries of genre norms. You will find in Kintaan, music which is basically impossible to categorize. There are many elements of many different genres present here, and yet no one genre could be said to define the music. So in keeping with our site’s ambitions to step outside our norms when warranted, Kintaan seems like a perfect act to share as our first “on the periphery” premiere. We hope you’ll enjoy this intriguing oddity.

Michael Barnett

Kintaan – “Chromatic Tumor”

Annihilvs says of the new release:

Extradimensional post-music trio Kintaan have been astonishing audiences up and down the eastern seaboard for well-nigh a decade. During that time, their untitled debut album, recorded behind a block of dilapidated warehouses by an overgrown rail line littered with trash, has been coming together at a glacial pace.

Like so many artists in our roster, Kintaan hails from Providence, a place established as a haven for those “distressed of conscience,” and the city of H.P. Lovecraft. Cold, wet, and grey New England, where horrible nightmares have gripped and deformed minds for centuries. This is where witches burned, where stakes were driven through lifeless bodies, where America’s industrial revolution began, as human ambition poisoned the fertile black soil. It is no wonder that a band that evokes such cavernous depths of nameless, formless evil would be born of one of America’s oldest and most mysterious cities.

The core unit of Bassist/vocalist Josh Yelle (LVMMVX/DHIM), drummer Eric Griehsbaer (VOSP/POOL), and electronics/synth wizard Marc Jameson (member of SKIN CRIME) constructed the album with the aid of Sean Halpin (CRAOW). The album has been mastered by Andy Grant (THE VOMIT ARSONIST), who has often been seen performing live with Kintaan since autumn of 2017.

In 2018, Annihilvs is very pleased to present this brutal slab of mutant sounds as a digipak CD-R, in conjunction with editions released by Danvers State Recordings (cassette) and Concrete Lo Fi Records (vinyl).

This release will also be available as the ‘Most Ancient’ edition, a bundle including a t-shirt, a one-sided picture disc lathe-cut 7inch single (featuring a remix by Theologian), and a copy of the digipak CD-R.

The new album by Kintaan can be pre-ordered here.

Links:
Kintaan: Facebook
Annihilvs: Facebook, Bandcamp

 

Relevant Event This Evening!!!!

This evening DJ Le Bourreau (Theologian) will be keeping the Machines With Magnets establishment alive between some very interesting acts which include:

– live sets by –
Snowbeasts
COMPACTOR [NYC]
DOLCE [NOLA]
STRAP-ON RITUAL
DBL HOODS (Mark Jameson of Skin Crime)
DHIM (members of LVMMVX + The Vomit Arsonist)

DJ sets by Le Bourreau (Theologian)
8PM / $8 Entry

Machines With Magnets
400 Main St, Pawtucket, Rhode Island 02860

Martyria – Exclusive Track Premiere!

Martyria recently graced us with their self titled debut on Malignant Records. (Read our review here.) Fans around the genre were quick to give them praise for the depth and sincerity in their version of ritual dark ambient. Comparisons to the Aural Hypnox roster, Shibalba and other well-renowned artists of this ilk are warranted. The Kalpamantra net-label, in association with Malignant Records, is releasing their annual digital Malignant Records compilation. As in the past, The Portrait Of Mortality is a combination of solo tracks and collaborative tracks amongst fellow label mates.

We are proud, here at This Is Darkness, to present to you an exclusive premiere of Martyria‘s solo track, “Epiclesis”, which will be featured on The Portrait Of Mortality compilation, set for release on 28 June 2018.

Pre-orders available here:
https://kalpamantra.bandcamp.com/album/the-portrait-of-mortality

Martyria says about “Epiclesis”:
In Plato’s work entitled The Republic, the ‘Allegory of the Cave’ is presented, where a group of chained people live all their lives in a cave, facing a blank wall. Behind them, there is a fire that they cannot see. As a result, the shadows which are projected on that wall are perceived by them as reality. According to Socrates, the philosopher is like a prisoner who has escaped from the cave and discovers that the shadows are just a part of reality. Similarly to this allegory, a world of shadows is described in our track entitled “Epiclesis”. In this world, the shadows walk on a lightless path invoking the morning star. With each step, they make the shadows become weaker as they approach the fire of Prometheus until they are self-sacrificed in his fire, in order to transform the unknown into knowledge.

Band Name: Martyria
Country: Greece
Labels: Malignant Records, Urtod Void, Hammerheart Records
Members: George Zafiriadis, Lena Merkouri
Links:
Official Web Site, BandcampFacebook

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
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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.

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