Tag: Interview (Page 1 of 4)

Skeldos – Interview

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I’ve been wanting to speak with Vytenis since I first heard Skeldos. His music has truly stood out to me from most of his contemporaries. There is an old feeling, ancestral and primal, which seems to emanate from his soundscapes. I hope you will all enjoy this interview and consider supporting the artist. He has some great work on his Bandcamp page, as well as a beautifully crafted recent release on The Epicurean. You can find links to both at the bottom of the interview!

Caucasus Mountains, Sakartvelo. 2016. Photo: Rūkana

Interviewer: Michael Barnett
Interviewee: Vytenis Eitminavičius (the man behind Skeldos)

Michael: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Vytenis. Since your music was recommended to me around the cassette release of Ilgės, I’ve been wanting to pick your brain and find out more about this interesting project.

Vytenis: Hi, Michael. Thanks for asking for an interview. It’s a pleasure.

Michael: Had you been a musician in other bands/projects before this, or is Skeldos your first and only musical project?

Vytenis: I have been interested in music since childhood. One of the first instruments I started to play was a whistle called “the nightingale”. You had to fill it with water and then blow into it to make it sing like a bird. I remember trying to play with it in an orchestra rehearsal room. I was maybe 6. After almost 10 years I started to play trumpet in the same brass orchestra. But I have never really felt an affinity for the orchestral repertoire. Marches are not for me. So, one friend started to teach me to play the guitar. A few months later he suggested creating a band together. That is how Žvaigždumėnija was born. The name looks quite funny now, but the ambition was to join the words “Stars + Moon + Land”. We started to play music which was later attributed to the neofolk genre. We played some memorable shows in Lithuania and Königsberg. It was an important time for my personal growth.

When I was 20, I felt the need to record my own music. That’s how my first solo project, Beniūniuojant Nemiga, was born. The name means something like “Humming the Insomnia”. By the time Skeldos appeared, I had recorded 5 albums under this name. Maybe I’ll publish them online one day.

Michael: What made you decide to start this project?

Vytenis: Like with the earlier projects, the intention was to have a depository for my thoughts. A kind of personal sanctuary. A place which would always be there for me. It’s like medicine. Skeldos was born when I suddenly felt the need to play live and share with others. I realized the Beniūniuojant Nemiga project had to remain more intimate, something primarily for myself. Still, now I tend to think there is no big conceptual divide between the two projects. One simply concluded a stage in my life and the other marked a new one.

Michael: What genre would you classify your music as? Obviously, I cover dark ambient mostly. And this is music that will be agreeable to dark ambient fans. But in some ways I find it is outside that genre. Maybe an ambient folk with darker vibes or something?

Vytenis: I have never tried to make music that would fit within particular genres. I think I would lie if I said that my works are not influenced by the genres I love and listen to. But styles and genres have never been my goal. So far, I’ve heard different descriptions of Skeldos: drone-melancholia, contemporary folklore, post-industrial, ambient folk, as you say. I like all of them. All of these descriptions reflect something in the sound of Skeldos and are thus appropriate.

Michael: Do you remember when you first heard these obscure genres?

Vytenis: I was born in a small town called Utena. It was a time before internet became available in Lithuania, and we were mostly listening to pirated records bought in the market. When I was in 10th grade, a friend who taught me to play guitar introduced me to an album by Death In June. I listened to it and felt that almost all the music I had been listening to was total trash. These previously unheard sounds stimulated further interest. I realized there were so many things I did not know, and this unknown was full of great discoveries to come. Around the same time I learned about Dangus, a Lithuanian underground publishing and events collective. Whenever I had some free time during recess, I would go to the library to browse the Dangus.net website. That was how I discovered Lithuanian projects whose authors would later become my good friends. I consider that period my first acquaintance with dark ambient, post-industrial and other previously unfamiliar genres.

Skeldos + Daina Dieva performing “Aviliai” program live. 2014. Photo: Rūkana

Michael: You now have two solo releases as Skeldos, as well as a full-length collaboration with Daina Dieva, and the project IYv with Inga of Rūkana. Do you prefer working solo or do you find more creativity flows through collaborations?

Vytenis: The most important thing in creativity is the idea. As I have mentioned earlier, matching a specific musical genre is irrelevant to me. The idea and how to implement it with the help of sound is what matters. So, if a particular idea can be better implemented with other people, then collaborative work can inspire and enrich the creative process very much. But sometimes ideas are very personal and you need to implement them alone.

I would not give preference to any of the creative methods, I enjoy both solo and collaborative works.

Michael: Are there any albums or plans in the works with either of these musicians again? Or are you more focused on solo works for now?

Vytenis: I really hope we will dive into creative work with Inga and Daina again in the future. I would love to record more albums together or maybe play live again. For me, collaboration takes a close connection with the other artist. Shared work should not be mere genre games. A collaborative album should be something you could never produce on your own. Ideally, it is a dialogue between different artists, a seamless conversation of souls. Collaboration can help break out of your own limitations, but simultaneously it is a challenge, because an encounter of several artists is unthinkable without compromise. It does not have to be negative, though. In this case, it can serve as a niche for the emergence of the unexpected. To me personally the most interesting aspect of collaboration is how the finished album can differ from the initial sketches. If each one makes music without lying, it becomes strongly tied to the author’s emotional experiences. During the recording process, these experiences can change and trigger unforeseen flows in the album. It is one of the most intriguing things about collaboration.

Recording with Rūkana for IYv album “Upės”. 2015. Photo: Skeldos

Vytenis: Yet, often I want to assume responsibility for the whole thing, hence making solo albums is an equally important experience.

Currently, I am mulling ideas for several albums, both collaborations and solo releases. Upon releasing a new album, I often tend to feel a depressing void. Without thoughts, without sounds, without a safe place. Thus, I am happy to be thinking about those records which fill this void.

Michael: I must admit, I know Lithuania only by name and location. But I’m vaguely aware that your country has a thriving music scene. I wonder if you could first tell us a bit about your country, in terms of landscapes and culture, and how they interact with your style of music?

Vytenis: Sometimes I think that Lithuania’s greatest power lies in its simplicity, in a number of aspects. There are no big mountains here, but we love and cherish our hills. There is no ocean, but we have a bit of a seaside. Also, we have forests filled with stories, legends, our tears and thoughts we once confided in them. Sometimes I think that the saying “Lithuanian modesty” refers to power rather than weakness.

Lithuania remained pagan longer than any other European state. I believe that even today this is very much related to our desire to preserve the ancient traditions, songs, language… our land itself. I used to listen to a lot of Lithuanian folk music – I mean, the most archaic songs passed on by numerous generations. We have preserved a very distinctive song form called sutartinės. It is an ancient form of two- and three-voice polyphony based on the oldest principles of polyphonic singing. In sutartinės, individual singers repeat the same words and melodies with a certain delay, thus producing a kind of flowing, continuous vocal drone sound. I never wanted to use sutartinės directly in my music, yet I realize that the very principle of layering repetitive sounds to form a consistent sonic sea is very close to how I compose sounds.

Skeldos in Skeldos (a dead village in Lithuania). 2010. Photo: Rūkana

Michael: And the second part of this, how have your interactions with other Lithuanian musicians helped to mold the Skeldos sound? If they have at all.

Vytenis: My affinity with other musicians is based on various shared experiences rather than music proper. Although I could say that I met my best friends thanks to music, we rarely share our sounds in the course of work or talk about the creative process. It is a very personal thing that happens in solitude. In addition to the aforementioned projects, my friends behind the stage names Girnų Giesmės and Oorchach have probably made the biggest impact on the development of Skeldos. Our hikes, conversations by the fire, listening to the rustle of reeds in fall… Though we have our own paths in the sound plane, affinity with nature and trying to feel its interaction with the human is what unites us.

A quiet stopover during a hike amid pastel autumnal fields is the greatest communion and inspiration.

Michael: Skeldos includes some vocals, which often come in the form of sung/melodic poetry. Is writing and/or reading poetry an important part of your life, or something you focus on mainly as an element of Skeldos?

Vytenis: I have always been interested in different art forms: music, literature, photography, film, theater. Skeldos enables me to at least dip in all of them. For this reason, in addition to the sonic expression, I pay a lot of attention to the visual aspect of album covers/packaging or video projections accompanying my live performances.

My dad is a writer, so books and poetry have surrounded me all my life. Incorporating texts into my music adds an extra dimension, helping to communicate my thoughts more fully. Sometimes, the text is first to emerge in my head and the music will come later.

With friends by the fire, Lithuania. Winter. 2019. Photo: Skeldos

Michael: Do you consider your music to be part of some greater whole? Like a ritual? Or, is this something that should be taken casually, as easily digestible music?

Vytenis: I believe that music can outlast us. However, I would like to avoid pathos when speaking about my work. Sometimes it seems to me that the crucial things lie in our quiet thoughts, and the most important rituals are those we create ourselves.

I used to refer to my sounds as “anxious music”. Anxiety is a feeling which makes you focus and listen deeper. I never wanted to make music for background consumption. However, currently I also feel good when people tell me my music can soothe them.

Michael: Does incense play a part in the creation or live performance of your music? Would you recommend a certain incense or some other additional element to listeners, so they can fully appreciate your music?

Vytenis: The smell of a real bonfire smoldering in the woods at night is my incense. Even though traditional incense can also create an intimate atmosphere at home, it does not play a big role in my life. I would advise those who want to get the most out of the music of Skeldos to go to a forest in winter, put up a tent on the snow, make a fire, and just be silent for a while. It is a space which has left a lasting imprint on my inner world.

Baltic coast, Sweden. 2016. Photo: Rūkana

Michael: That is a very interesting answer! So, in order to fully appreciate Skeldos, one must first fully appreciate these activities in nature: the creation of fire, the smell of the smoke, the cold snow on your skin. These activities, done in silence, are as important to Skeldos as the music itself. And one may tap back into these experiences later in the comfort of their home, while listening to Skeldos.

Michael: You released your debut on Terror, a Lithuanian label. But, Ilgės – Caretakers Of Yearning (the re-mastered version of Ilgės which also includes a new third track), is the first album to be released on a more international label like The Epicurean. What are your feelings on this release through The Epicurean?

Vytenis: I feel happy to have received the offer from Stefan of The Epicurean to re-release an extended version of the album. I did not originally intend to re-release Ilgės, and never thought I would create a kind of follow-up for it. I had a great time keeping in touch with Stefan, everything went smoothly, and I am very pleased with our common result and the acquaintance itself.

The special edition CD set includes prayer flags, incense, refuge ribbon & certificate for donation on joss paper.

Michael: You work with a number of traditional acoustic instruments on your albums, including instruments like the accordion, Lithuanian zither, guitar and violin. Have you always been fond of traditional acoustic music?

Vytenis: I have always been fascinated by the possibility to make sound using mechanical means. Acoustic instruments fall into this category, together with the crackle of boats floating in a harbor or humming in the moonlight.

Michael: Do you have a proper “education” in any of these instrument types? Or have you learned to play them all yourself for the purpose of Skeldos sound-sources?

Vytenis: No, I have no musical education whatsoever. I can’t even read scores properly. When I played in the orchestra, I used to learn most of the works almost by heart, because I could only count the notes off from the “Do” or “Sol” notes.

When Skeldos came about, I felt an urge to reject VST instruments or sample banks, and instead try to generate my own sounds using live instruments, analog equipment, or field recordings as the primary source. Sure enough, later everything is inevitably processed by digital devices. I don’t want to say that I am against the use of software. What counts is the result, and everyone chooses their own path to it. It is simply more interesting for me to work this way.

Michael: I’ll end this on a properly dark note! What are your feelings on the state of our planet, as a whole?  Will we make it another century, another 10,000 years? Or are we in self-destruct right now?

Vytenis: My thinking about the planet’s future is not optimistic. Whenever people think of themselves as supreme rulers, calamity is imminent. However, maybe I am a “small-scale” person, because I cannot bring myself to think thousands of years into the future. The feeling is much closer, and I can only hope that our little son will live his life in a calm enough world.

Michael: Thank you so much for your time, Vytenis! Also thanks to you all for reading to the end.

Vytenis: Thanks again for the invitation. And let music say more than these words can.

Skeldos Links

This Is Darkness’ reviews of Skeldos’ Ilges Original version / The Epicurean version
Official Skeldos Website
Facebook
Bandcamp
Latest release on The Epicurean

NERATERRÆ – Interview

Quick housekeeping: If you want to make sure you know about all new publications on This Is Darkness, the best way is to subscribe to our email list. You can do this by submitting your email address via ‘SUBSCRIBE TO BLOG VIA EMAIL’. You will find this in the right panel as you scroll down slightly. As Facebook is forcing people to spend more and more money for less and less coverage, this is becoming increasingly necessary!

Interview with Alessio Antoni of NERATERRÆ

Alessio Antoni introduced himself to me several years ago, when he released The Nhart Demo(n)s, as Nhart. Since then the project has morphed into NERATERRÆ. As NERATERRÆ, Antoni has quickly taken the dark ambient community by surprise with this incredible debut, The Substance of Perception. For this debut he has collaborated with some of the biggest names in the dark ambient scene: Northaunt, Phurpa, New Risen Throne, Treha Sektori, Taphephobia, Infinexhuma, Xerxes the Dark, Ugasanie and Flowers For Bodysnatchers (in order of appearance on the album). Such a surprising debut in the dark ambient scene warranted a closer look at the person behind the project. I hope this (relatively short) interview will help readers to know a bit more about Antoni and his new album, which is set for release on 26 April 2019 through Cyclic Law. 

Interviewer: Michael Barnett
Interviewee: Alessio Antoni of NERATERRÆ

We are proud to share with you an exclusive stream of the final track from ‘The Substance of Perception’, “Echoing Scars (feat. Flowers for Bodysnatchers)”

Michael: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me Alessio. I’ve very much enjoyed your brand new release, The Substance of Perception on Cyclic Law, and I’m looking forward to finding out more about this unusual debut!

Alessio: My pleasure, Michael, thank you for having me. I’m glad you enjoyed the album, It’s great to hear that, especially if it comes from you.

Michael: The Substance of Perception is one hell of a debut! You have an all-star cast of dark ambient musicians collaborating with you on this album! How long in advance had you been planning this to be a fully collaborative album?

Alessio: Ha! Thanks. There’s over two years of work behind “The Substance of Perception” (almost 2 and a half if we also consider the mastering process, which took me a while to complete it), but in the beginning there were no plans about collaborating with other musicians. The fact of sharing ideas, creating together and collaborating came out gradually and I really can’t tell you ‘why’, It just came out spontaneously.

Michael: Is there any fear that people will have a hard timing knowing the specific NERATERRÆ sound, since the album is 100% collaborative content?

Alessio: No, I wouldn’t say that, honestly; I only thought about it maybe once in the beginning, but I enjoyed the whole process and, more importantly, I still like the result; this is way important to me. I hope the listeners will enjoy the results too.

Michael: Did you reach out to each of these musicians professionally. Or, did you already know some of them on a personal level?

Alessio: I approached them all professionally, I did not know anyone on a personal level, and this made the whole thing even more exciting and, of course, gratifying, since they considered and “judged” my music and ideas in total honesty. As you can imagine, to have worked with immensely talented artists (such as Alexey Tegin from Phurpa, Flowers For Bodysnatchers, Infinexhuma, New Risen Throne, Northaunt, Taphephobia, Treha Sektori, Ugasanie, Xerxes The Dark) from all around the world means a lot to me.

Michael: Do you remember when you first discovered dark ambient music? Who were your favorites back then? Has this changed over the years?

Alessio: I fell in love with Dark Ambient and related around 2008, when I used to search for particular music to play in the background, especially while reading Lovecraft’s works. I used to listen to the same people who I listen to these days, and I keep on expanding my horizons. Anyways, I’ve always been into: Amon, Archon Satani, Atrium Carceri, Coph Nia, Deathprod, Desiderii Marginis, Deutsch Nepal, Kammarheit, Lustmord, New Risen Throne, Nordvargr, Northaunt, Raison D’Etre, Svartsinn, Yen Pox and some more.

Michael: Now that The Substance of Perception is released, have you already begun plans for a follow-up, or are you taking some time to rest and let this album run it’s course?

Alessio: To be honest, I’ve been working on a follow-up for a few months already. I’ve been kinda hyperactive lately. Anyways, I can’t really tell when it’ll be out nor what’s gonna sound like, but I like it so far.

Michael: Do you have any plans for, or interest in, live performances?

Alessio: Yes, I do have interest in live performances, but I got no plans by now. Never say never though, we’ll see what the future brings.

Michael: Not only is The Substance of Perception a veritable ‘who’s who’ of dark & ritual ambient artists, but you’ve also managed to get Nihil & Daria Endresen to create the artwork. How did this come about? Was Frederic responsible for the contact there or did you have a friendship/communication with these artists?

Alessio: I’ve been a fan of both Nihil and Daria Endresen for quite a long time; I contacted them for the first time almost over a year ago (if I remember correctly), since I wanted them to realize the artwork for the record (record which I was still working on at that time, btw). Quite a bit later, when I got “The Substance of Perception” ready and I got in touch with Frederic Arbour/Cyclic Law, I knocked at Nihil and Daria’s doors again, and as you can see they did a spectacular job, which I’m very proud of.

Michael: Does religion or spirituality play any role in your music?

Alessio: I do live music in my own ‘spiritual’ way (which is pretty personal and I feel like I’m not even able to describe it), even though I don’t consider myself a religious person.

Michael: I see that you are Italian, from the album blurb on Cyclic Law, may I ask which region you reside in? Does your Italian heritage play any important role in your music, or do you consider yourself a more internationally-aligned person/project?

Alessio: Correct, I am Italian and I live in a region named Liguria. But, I gotta be honest, I don’t feel like being Italian plays any particular role in my music. I’d say I consider myself a more internationally-aligned person/project.

Michael: Your previous release, The NHART Demo[n]s, is currently available for free on your Bandcamp page. These tracks were recorded back in 2009. Why such a long break in between the Nhart project and the dawning of NERATERRÆ? Were you still creating any music over this period? Or, did you need a break and a re-focusing before continuing with your musical ventures?

Alessio: I wanted to start NERATERRÆ in a very precise moment of my life. I wanted to have a clear vision, I considered the options, and I took all the time I needed to decide. I’ve been exploring music on a deeper level and I’ve been studying for years; now I feel like I did the right thing.

Michael: I am greatly enjoying the new album, and I wish you the very best in the future with NERATERRÆ! If there are any topics I haven’t mentioned, which you’d like to discuss, let me know! Otherwise, I’ll leave the final words to you!

Alessio: Thank you very much Michael, and I’m really glad you like my album. I’d just like to say that I highly appreciate what you’ve been doing for the Dark Ambient scene, It is remarkable. Thank you.

You can follow the link in the below player to the Cyclic Law Bandcamp page and purchase The Substance of Perception which will release on 26 April 2019!

Dark Ambient Journalism – Interview with the Writers

Cross-interviews by:
Danica Swanson (Endarkenment)
and
Michael Barnett (This Is Darkness)

Danica Swanson and I came up with this crazy idea that our readers might be interested to find out more about the people behind our projects (Endarkenment and This Is Darkness, respectively). So we set out to do ‘cross-interviews’ of each other. We conducted these as ‘double-blind’ interviews, with both of us sending a list of questions to the other; so neither our questions nor answers would be influenced in any way by the other person. We also decided that it would be best to share both of these interviews together on each of our platforms. So you can read both full interviews in either place.

Danica has been a respected voice within the dark ambient community for quite a while, a good bit longer than I have. So it should be very interesting for everyone to see the similarities and differences in our approaches, mindsets and outlooks on the dark ambient genre. I deeply respect the work she’s done over the years, and I highly recommend that you all subscribe to her newsletter. There is a limited free tier as well as a subscriber tier which gets exclusive content. https://endarkenment.substack.com

This is a massive article, so without further ado let’s jump into it!

Contents:

Interview One, with Danica Swanson:

  1. Danica’s history and early experiences with dark ambient
  2. Endarkenment newsletter: why email?
  3. Endarkenment newsletter interview plans
  4. On the Endarkenment newsletter and spirituality
  5. Danica’s interest in Sweden: religion, ancestral heritage, and more
  6. Progress report on the Endarkenment book
  7. About the Black Stone Hermitage
  8. About the Black Tent Temple Project
  9. Dark fusion dance
  10. Danica’s upcoming projects

Interview Two, with Michael Barnett:

  1. Overview of This Is Darkness
  2. History of This Is Darkness
  3. Michael’s editorial approach and sources
  4. Michael’s early experiences with dark ambient
  5. A curious outsider asks: why do you love dark ambient?
  6. Camaraderie in the global dark ambient community
  7. On the “pipeline” into dark ambient
  8. Michael’s creative workflow
  9. On what it’s like to be a dark ambient music writer
  10. An online discussion forum for dark ambient?
  11. Michael’s recommended albums for deep meditation
  12. Plans for the future of This Is Darkness

Interview 1: Danica Swanson interviewed by Michael Barnett

Michael: Thanks so much Danica for coming up with this idea of a cross-interview. I am really looking forward to finding out more about you and your work. I know you have a lot more history with the genre of dark ambient than I do. So, I would be interested if you could tell us a little bit about how you first got into the genre and if there was a specific artist which first drew you in.

Danica: Shortly after I discovered industrial music in the early 1990s (Skinny Puppy was my gateway band), I bought Lustmord’s Heresy while browsing industrial CDs. At the time I had no clue that dark ambient even existed as a genre. I bought Heresy on a whim because I liked the subterranean cover art. It took me awhile to learn to appreciate it, but I now consider it my dark ambient gateway album.

Mostly I was known as a rivethead; I was thoroughly ensconced in the club scene in the 1990s and loved to dance to industrial. It was also very difficult to find dark ambient music where I lived at that time. You had to know the right people who could hook you up, and I didn’t have those connections. However, I remember being completely transfixed by certain instrumental tracks on goth/industrial albums (e.g., “The Springs and the Stone” by Ordo Equitum Solis; “Angels on The Bottom” by Xorcist) and wanting more.

I also recall hearing intros or passages in certain tracks and wishing the whole track could be like that. Instrumental sections often lulled me effortlessly into meditative states, but I found the percussion or voice samples jarring enough to jolt me out of my reverie. So I started to gravitate toward music that wouldn’t interfere with the “pure” instrumental meditative experience I craved.

Later on I discovered masterpieces like Nordland (the original 2000 CD release by Apoptose), Cathedron by Sephiroth, Deadbeat by Desiderii Marginis, and Eliwagar by Skadi. After that I really got hooked. I mean, I’ve loved many types of music since I was a kid, but these albums kindled a voracious hunger for more that only a fellow music nerd would understand. Lustmord may have opened the gate for me, but it was Sephiroth, Skadi, Desiderii Marginis, and Apoptose that turned me into an insatiable dark ambient junkie craving a fix. After that I sought out dark ambient music actively, and met other fans of the genre online. I used Discogs, YouTube, and the similar artists feature on last.fm to research artists in the genre, and started digging up interviews.  

My obsession heightened even more in the late 2000s when I found a lot of the artists I loved on social media. I posted scores of giddy comments on musicians’ Facebook pages. I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store: “Where have you been hiding all my life with this incredible music?!?” Keep in mind that I came of age before the days of social media (and before the web, even), so it thrilled me that it had become this easy to not only learn about them, but also talk to them directly. I’ll bet some of them were a little suspicious of that level of fangirl-squee. Dark ambient artists aren’t used to adulation. Heh. I regret nothing!

Of course, eventually I got to know them as fellow human beings and left that stage behind, but my passion for the music continues to grow. Every time I think I couldn’t possibly love this music even more than I already do, I’m proven wrong. Over 25 years now and I’m still going strong.

I recall being surprised by how small the scene actually is, though. I knew this music wasn’t mainstream, of course, but for some reason I assumed that dark ambient must have a dedicated scene surrounding it that is at least as large as the goth-industrial scene. Surely there must be enough fans of dark ambient out there to fill a venue regularly in cities all over the world, so I can get my fix of this stuff in a live performance setting? Not even close, unfortunately.

Anyway, that’s my “conversion story.” I still enjoy other kinds of music, for sure, but I consider the dark ambient community my home.

At the first Ambient Church event in Portland, OR, Nov. 2018. Photo by: Syren Nagakyrie

Michael: Your main focus related to dark ambient is your Endarkenment newsletter. There are a small variety of post-industrial/dark-ambient focused websites and printed zines, but Endarkenment is the first I’ve come across that follows this email newsletter format. What do you feel makes the newsletter format the perfect choice for you?

Danica: Well, for starters, most people check email more reliably than websites. Email means delivery is guaranteed; there’s no worry about missing an issue because a social media algorithm filtered it out, or it scrolled by too quickly for readers to catch it. There are no shipping expenses either, which enables me to reach an international readership at lower cost than I could through print media. I also think the media climate is ripe for a resurgence of email as a decentralized platform to reach readers, as disillusioned and burned-out people continue to scale back their social media consumption habits.

To answer that question properly, though, I need to go into a fair bit of depth about how the newsletter works and why I’m experimenting with the funding model behind it. Paid email subscription newsletters didn’t even occur to me as a potential format for professional music writing until I stumbled upon Substack, the platform that lured me away from Patreon. As I researched Substack’s publishing model, it dawned on me that I could use it to serve as a kind of corrective countermeasure to the dominant structures that exploit artistic labor in our niche music scene.

I often describe Substack as “Bandcamp for writers.” Although they’re still in beta, they’re growing quickly and attracting popular writers, some of whom now make their living by publishing paid newsletters.

My newsletter offers two subscription tiers: the default all-access (free) tier, and a sustaining access tier (paid either monthly or annually). Both tiers get substantive material to read, there’s no advertising anywhere, and readers can upgrade according to their interest level and budget. Substack takes 10% of writers’ revenues. I direct half of net income to the artists I feature, and the rest of the funds go back into publishing new issues of the newsletter. Back issues are also organized into a web archive, so subscribers can read them that way if they prefer that format over email. Readers get immediate access to the full archives if they upgrade, and they can leave comments for the musicians (and other readers) on archived issues anytime, as they would on a blog or web forum. Readers can familiarize themselves with my work via the all-access pieces, and if they want to read more, the platform makes it simple and seamless for them to pay for full access. So it’s similar to the way Bandcamp enables fans to buy music directly from musicians.

The reader-supported aspect provides a way to maintain a strict separation between editorial decisions and funding sources without compromising my own need to be paid for my work. That’s important, because this venture is rooted in trust and solidarity with the dark ambient community as a whole. I don’t want to feel obliged to provide coverage to specific artists or labels, as that would compromise my readers’ trust and eventually lead to burnout. This publishing model offers the possibility of long-term sustainable funding for the newsletter without resorting to advertising.

The net-income-sharing aspect was my own decision—it’s not a required feature of the platform—but it’s essential to my long-term vision for the newsletter. It’s my way of recognizing that the newsletter wouldn’t even be possible if not for the combined efforts of an entire music community. Underground music communities—like the arts in general—rely on a great deal of unpaid, unrecognized labor. One of my goals as a writer is to make that labor more visible, and make listeners more aware of the price we pay collectively, as a community, for our heavy reliance on unpaid labor. It’s a topic we rarely discuss openly.

Take interviews, for example. As a fellow writer, you know that a great deal of work, thought, and time goes into producing good interviews. All that labor happens behind the scenes, however, so it’s easily disregarded when audiences only see the finished product. In the dominant publishing models, nobody gets paid for interviews—neither the writers nor the artists. With Substack’s model and a critical mass of subscribers, the newsletter could support the time and work of both the interviewer and the interviewees. I love good interviews—I want us to have more of them! With more funds available to pay professionals for their work, we’ll have higher-quality music publications, which in turn attract more listeners. So there’s potential for a positive-feedback loop.

Net-income-sharing is also my way of recognizing that time, skill, attention, and trust are forms of currency. The idea is to do what I can to honor all the years of research, skill development, listening time, editing time, and emotional labor required to produce art.

We need corrective countermeasures like this because almost everyone in this community has time-consuming day jobs. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d rather have them making more art. Most sources indicate that recording industry revenues are up, but musicians are poorer than ever before (and it was pretty bad before, too). Many listeners don’t know that even respected veterans like Peter Andersson of raison d’être don’t draw anywhere near enough income from their music to enable them to devote themselves to it as often as they’d like. Most artists not only work their tails off to do creative work on top of their day jobs, but pay out of their own pockets to do it. There’s something fundamentally wrong with this picture.

Now, of course some musicians prefer to have day jobs, which is their prerogative. My hope is to use the newsletter as a means of directing funds to artists who’d like to quit or reduce time at their day jobs so they can make more art. We miss out on a great deal of art because so many professional artists are forced into day jobs to pay the bills throughout their entire careers.

There’s a common misconception that says it must be individual shady behavior, irresponsible business management, or lack of proper promotion that deprives artists of their proper share of income. But this problem isn’t really anyone’s fault. Even in cases where poor management factors into the mix, most of the problems depriving the scene of funding and squeezing artists out of the loop are structural, not individual.

While I know the structural problems are beyond my control, one of my main goals with the newsletter is to help make things easier for musicians so they can make more music. An increase in high quality music benefits all the future listeners, not just me. So I do what I can to further a hopeful vision of a thriving dark ambient scene.

An effective way to do that is to provide more financial support. “Exposure” doesn’t pay the rent. Platforms such as Patreon and Bandcamp are steps in the right direction for some artists, but we’ve still got a long way to go. At the moment, the fanbase for dark ambient may not be large enough to support all the musicians and artists at the level we’d like. But I’ve seen convincing evidence that there are many more potential listeners out there for this music, which is one reason I started the newsletter: to attract newcomers outside the usual channels. So there’s hope for the future, at least.

Of course, I’m only one writer. In order for the corrective countermeasures I speak of to enact a more widespread shift, platforms like those of Bandcamp, Patreon, and Substack will need to become more normalized.

I like to think big. I think this email subscription model has great potential, which is why I got on board early on. I’m keeping my eye on the long-term cultural and economic implications of models like this. I’ll bet Substack’s model can be successfully replicated by other digital subscription-based businesses, too. In fact, that’s exactly what I expect (and hope) will happen.

Is the time ripe for this undertaking to gain traction? We’ll see. It’s still early days for the newsletter, but things look promising so far. If it continues to go well, perhaps one day I’ll reduce time at my own day job and write more about dark ambient music. But if not, well, I’ll simply keep publishing it as time permits. I’ll do what I can for the musicians who inspire me, even if it’s a mere drop in the bucket toward what’s needed. They’ve given so much to me already, and this project enables me to give back to them.

That’s what makes the digital direct-subscription email newsletter the perfect format for me. I’m also a big fan of print media, though. Perhaps one day I’ll be in a position to publish the newsletter in print form as well as digitally. Time will tell.

Michael: You’ve put a lot of focus so far into some great interviews with Ulf Söderberg (Sephiroth), Hypnagoga Press, and Northumbria. Do you plan to keep the momentum with these interviews or will there be a main focus on other areas at times?

Danica: Features for the exclusive subscriber tier include a mix of interviews, profiles, tribute pieces, and occasional guest writer contributions. I plan to release an annual special long-read issue in October, as I did in 2018 with the Ulf Söderberg interview. Some of my musings on the history, philosophy, culture, esoteric aspects, and aesthetics of the genre will be all-access, such as my underrated dark ambient albums series, and others will be exclusives for paid subscribers.

I don’t promise specific timing for each issue because I won’t cut corners or compromise on quality, even if it means postponing release dates. However, I do my best to release at least one new issue every month. Fortunately, my readers understand that top-notch work is time-consuming and I have a day job. Since they know I’m in this for the long haul and half of the funds go to the musicians no matter what, they’re very patient with me.

For example, the background research for the Ulf Söderberg interview required me to dig particularly deep, and I ran into a series of time-consuming obstacles. He describes himself as “kind of a hermit” who eschews the spotlight and doesn’t do interviews often. There’s next to no information out there about his work in English, so I had to do Swedish-to-English translation work to even reach a place where I understood enough about his work to formulate appropriate questions for him. Even with Google Translate it presented a challenge for someone who’s still a beginner in Swedish. But of course it was well worth it!

Fortunately, most of my interviews don’t require that level of background research. That said, I enjoyed the whole process immensely and I’d gladly do it all over again. He was a delight to work with, and I consider it a privilege. That interview is among my proudest accomplishments as a music writer, and it received fantastic feedback from my readers – the kind of feedback I’ll probably be re-reading for the next 20 years on days when I need a morale boost. It richly deserves to be published in print, so I regret that I don’t have the resources to make that happen.

I’ve also given some thought to the fact that I live within reasonable travel distance of the home of the Cryo Chamber label in Oregon. If I had sufficient support and assistance, and there was interest from Simon Heath, maybe I could even do an in-person “behind the scenes” studio tour and multi-media interview with him for the newsletter someday. I’m sure my readers would appreciate that!

Michael: Spirituality/religion/mysticism seem to be your main connecting place with this genre and the aspect of it that you focus on in your forthcoming book, which we can talk about a bit more later. Is this connector equally important with the newsletter, or are you looking at dark ambient from a more “generic” perspective in this format?

Danica: The subtitle for the newsletter is “contemplative writing on dark ambient music appreciation,” and that includes—but is not limited to—spirituality. Music-based contemplative practices play a central role in my religious work, and that affinity definitely influences my writing style, but there’s ample room in the newsletter for insights of other sorts as well.

In my university days I was an honors major in philosophy, and one of my goals is to transfer this “love of wisdom” into the newsletter, minus the academic jargon. That’s how I structure my interviews: I ask my interviewees questions on topics like philosophy of sound design, aesthetics, childhood memories, and emotions—things that encourage them to open up and reflect a little more deeply than a standard interview might. Who wants to read cursory interviews with boring formulaic questions anyway? If the artist doesn’t give you a peek into their inner life, and all you see is a polished public persona, I don’t think it’s worth the time and energy for either side.

I approach all writing for the newsletter this way, not just the interviews. So spirituality is important, yes, but the larger focus is wisdom, introspection, and appreciation.

Michael: We both seem to have an affinity for the Scandinavian dark ambient scene. Mine has a lot to do with basic aesthetics and my love of the frigid solitude which is so prevalent in that region’s sounds. Yours, however, I think is more in connection with your religious beliefs and heritage. I wonder if I’m correct in that assumption and if you’d like to talk a little about your particular love for the region?

Danica: Yes, you’re correct that my religion and ancestral heritage rank highly among the long list of reasons I’m drawn to the Nordic countries, and Sweden in particular. My ancestry is half Swedish and half German, and that played a part in my discovery of Heathenry in 2004. I’d been reading about indigenous peoples’ ongoing sovereignty struggles with the colonizing forces in the U.S. and wanting to move away from “whiteness” as an identity. I thought: “Hmmm…although I was born and raised in colonized lands in the U.S., my ancestors must have once been indigenous somewhere, and surely there must have been some kind of land-based spiritual practice that arose from those places…”

I’ve traced my maternal ancestral lineage to rural Östergötland and Småland, and next time I go to Sweden I hope to actually set foot on my ancestral motherlands at long last. My first visit was for the Cold Meat Industry 30th Anniversary event in Stockholm in November 2017. I met some of my favorite musicians and long-time online friends, and I fell in love with Sweden right away. The following week I stayed in rural Dalsland with close friends, and made a vow that I’d either move to Sweden one day or die trying.

I also match the stereotype of dark ambient fans in that I love winter and I thrive in solitude, so that’s part of the attraction to Sweden too.

When I find the right way to accomplish it legally, I’m planning to move to rural Västergötland to continue my work as a writer and property caretaker, and establish a religious Hermitage near my dear friends there. I’m self-employed and the work I do for my day job as a copywriter is location-independent, which gives me more freedom to choose where to live. I hope to spend the rest of my days contributing what I can to both the dark ambient community and the modern revival of pre-Christian Nordic spiritual traditions. I have a particular interest in theophoric place-names of cult sites in Sweden, especially those linked to Skaði. Though much of this is speculative, I hope to use what I learn to help build future shrine spaces.

An interesting side-note: while I was searching for information about where my ancestors lived, I also discovered that one of the places where I’ve traced my maternal ancestors (Bäckaby in Småland) is a site where a church burning took place. It was linked to members of Domgård, a Heathen black metal band. I hadn’t heard of them and am not much of a metal fan myself, but I looked them up!

Michael: ‘Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture’ is a book that you have been working on over the last few years. It is obviously a labor of love for you and I’ve been enjoying the little previews we get over time. How is progress coming along on this project?

Danica: I launched that project in late 2013 with high hopes, but it proceeded at a snail’s pace for years due to health and financial issues that left me unable to write reliably. I started the book before the Affordable Care Act passed in the U.S. I was working as a house cleaner; I had no health insurance, and couldn’t afford the treatment I needed. The U.S. doesn’t so much have “cracks” in the social safety net; they’re more like gaping canyons, and if you lose your footing even slightly, you can end up in free-fall. Things slowly improved for me after Obamacare passed, and I finished the interview-gathering process for the book in 2018. I’m now editing the final round of interviews I collected a few months ago, and as soon as that’s complete I’ll move into the next phase of the writing process. I received over 30 completed interviews!

The amazing Pär Boström of Kammarheit and Hypnagoga Press has agreed to provide illustrations and cover design for the book, so I’m excited about that. He also designed the beautiful logo for my newsletter.

I’ve been keeping my readers informed about progress on the book through the Facebook page, but I’ll soon be deleting the page because I plan to leave Facebook. Henceforth I’ll deliver all updates about progress on the book through my newsletter.

Shrine for Skaði by Danica Swanson at the Many Gods West conference, Aug. 2015.

Michael: You run The Black Stone Hermitage, which is ‘a contemplative Norse polytheist monastic retreat and worship space in service of Norse deities and other Holy Powers of Yggdrasil’. Could you say a bit more about this service project? How has your love of dark ambient affected the hermitage?

Danica: The Black Stone Hermitage is both a physical location—my live/work studio in Portland—and a concept through which I extend religious outreach and hospitality services to the communities I serve. Since 2011 I’ve been developing an endarkened retreat space from which to write, publish, and cultivate a contemplative practice centered on Norse polytheism and animism. The online and in-person aspects of the project have developed roughly in parallel. I keep shrines for Skaði and some of the more obscure Ásynjur (goddesses).

Once I’ve located the right space for these endeavors in Sweden and received clearance to move there, the next phase of the project will commence: the founding of a Norse polytheist Hermitage with a subterranean incubation space and “dark ambient church” available for visiting retreatants and votary.

The Hermitage centers on the concept of sacred endarkenment. I sometimes describe it as the way of non-contrivance. The basic idea is to promote a healthy respect for the receptive wisdom to be found in darkness, both literal and figurative. The dominant culture doesn’t really “get” darkness as a force that can be positive and empowering — darkness tends to be associated with evil, so we often sweep it under the rug or look the other way, rather than embrace it. But as dark ambient fans know, darkness can be deeply restful, nourishing, and spiritually fruitful. Surrender to darkness can lead us to earthy sources of medicine, for example, and downward-moving emotions have wisdom all their own.

Another aspect of sacred endarkenment centers on non-doing, deep listening, and facilitating stillness—needs that often go unfulfilled in a culture obsessed with productivity to the exclusion of presence. In her wonderful book Awakening the Spine, Vanda Scaravelli wrote that she approached yoga with “infinite time and no ambition,” and I aspire to something similar at the Hermitage. I try to cultivate non-coercive spaces where it’s appropriate and safe to relinquish control, get out of the way, and allow greater sources of intelligence to speak through these ventures. When I get this balance right, my practice “plugs in” to the flow of magic and gift, and this leads me to things I’d never find by dint of conscious effort and striving.

How has my love of dark ambient affected the Hermitage? It’s probably best to ask: how hasn’t it?

It facilitates my creative flow and contemplative practice. I choreograph dance pieces to it. It keeps me company while I practice restorative yoga. I fall asleep to it, and sometimes wake up to it. It’s brought many friendships and unexpected creative collaborations into my life. It’s given me opportunities to create themed playlists for yoga and meditation instructors. It helps me learn to perceive beauty in the most unlikely places. I listened to it on headphones for five years while working solo as a professional house cleaner, and I got into meditative rhythms. Some of my best writing ideas came to me that way. Dark ambient is particularly effective at keeping the “watcher at the gate” (as the German poet Friedrich Schiller wrote) occupied, so that my deep mind can take over when I write.

Few people outside our community know how effective dark ambient music can be as an aid to meditation and liminal journeys. I’ve long wished for an expanded subgenre of dark ambient called “monastic dark ambient,” as I love chants, chimes, choral voices, church bells, orchestral elements, and guided meditations set to dark drone music. Some of this already exists, but nowhere near enough to slake my near-unquenchable thirst for it.

I’ve been called “the world’s biggest dark ambient fan,” and while I doubt that’s technically accurate, anyone who knows me would probably agree it isn’t too far off. I can’t even imagine what my life would look like without dark ambient music.

I once met someone at a social gathering who told me in earnest that he doesn’t listen to music. I was so taken aback that at first I didn’t believe him. No music at all? None? EVER? I confess that my next thought was: “If he’s serious about that, I doubt I’m ever going to be close friends with him.”

Perhaps you’ve seen that video about the “purple lady” who’s 76 years old and lives in solitude in the forest hugging trees, helping people in her community, and practicing witchcraft? If I’m fortunate, my future will look something like that—only I’ll be the “dark ambient lady” helping her community and practicing Norse polytheist monasticism in Sweden. And my Hermitage is decorated in both black and purple. Ha!

Michael: Would you like to tell us a bit about The Black Tent Temple Project? Is this a project that is still active for you?

Danica: A Black Tent Temple is a dark enclosed tent-like or cave-like incubation chamber used for mystical, meditative, and/or restorative purposes. Incubation, in the sense I’m using it, means lying down (ideally beneath the surface of the Earth) and either sleeping or entering a state described as “neither sleep nor waking,” to invite dreams and visions through forces inaccessible to waking awareness. It’s among the oldest of ritual practices. In Norse literature there’s also a wisdom-seeking practice called “going under the cloak,” which I also perceive as an incubation practice.

This incubation project takes inspiration from a long list of sources, including Peter Kingsley’s book In the Dark Places of Wisdom, Ross Heaven and Simon Buxton’s book Darkness Visible: Awakening Spiritual Light Through Darkness Meditation, the work of Andrew Durham and the darkroom retreat movement, the dark retreats of the Bön and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, and the Greek abaton and Temple of Asclepius. The title also gives a nod to the Red Tent Temple movement. (And I hear there’s a Purple Tent Temple movement now too!)

Portable endarkened incubation spaces can be set up for all kinds of uses, including grief circles, blanket-and-pillow forts, deep music listening…whatever you can dream up. I also consider darkroom retreating a form of ascetic practice appropriate for a monastic. Ideally it would be done in a subterranean space, but I don’t have basement access at my Hermitage right now so I use a windowless walk-in closet appropriated for the purpose. It’s lined with floor-to-ceiling black velvet curtains and a ceiling drape, so it’s pitch-black. Originally it began as a psychomanteum—something I learned about by searching on the dark ambient project of the same name.

I first wrote about the Black Tent Temple Project on my blog in 2012, and that post attracted inquiries from people interested in adopting the concept and building their own Black Tent Temples at pagan events. I always encourage others to take the idea and get creative with it! I’d love to see photos, as I’m collecting them for a future project.

The project is still active in the sense that I occasionally make my incubation space available for visitor use, and offer suggestions on the topic to those who want to build one. But due to time constraints it’s been quite awhile since I’ve built one for an outside event, so it’s fair to say that aspect of the project is in hibernation or on indefinite hiatus, though not retired. Eventually I plan to contact some of the darkroom retreat folks to find out if there’s anyone in Sweden with whom I might work to build such a retreat one day. All in good time.

Photos by: J. Buffington

Michael: You are also very passionate about dark fusion dance. Have you found much of a community to share your love for this or is it a few unique international souls? I find the concept very interesting, though with my back problems and aversion to dancing I doubt I’d be inclined to it!

Danica: There’s a small but very devoted international dark fusion dance community that grew out of what started in the mid-2000s as the gothic bellydance, gothla.uk, and tribal fusion bellydance communities. I’ve been a dancer since I was a teenager, and a bellydancer since I started my Shrine of Skaði devotional dance project in 2006. I don’t perform in public and don’t attend events anymore, though, so although I do consider myself part of that extended community, I’m on the periphery. Occasionally I perform veil dances to dark ambient music in religious contexts. A couple of years ago my dance practice got sidelined by a musculo-skeletal injury that forced me to give up dance for awhile and set aside some of my unfinished choreographies. Fortunately I’ve been able to ease back into it slowly, though only with corrective footwear.

I’ve slowed down a bit and am unable to dance as often as I once did, but nonetheless I still love it and I intend to dance as long as I can. Veiled dance in particular is part of my religious practice; a veil is like a prayer shawl for me. Lamentation dance, too, plays a role in my practice, as it’s the best tool I’ve found for dealing with ancestral and ecological grief. If and when a day should come that I can no longer dance at all, I’ll take my cue from fellow bellydancer Bianca McCarthy and choreograph with whatever appendages I’m still able to move.

Michael: So what does the future hold for you in relation to dark ambient? Will the book and newsletter remain the main focus for the foreseeable future, or do you have some other projects waiting for the proper time to be revealed?

Danica: My interview schedule for the newsletter is already booked for many months, so for the near-term future I’ll have my hands full with that and the book. I’ll soon be working on interviews with Desiderii Marginis, Skadi, and Cryo Chamber. A guest piece from the talented Vladimir Gojkovic of For The Innermost is in the works for the newsletter too. That’s great news, because his blog was one of my original inspirations for the book, and I’ve been nudging him to write more about dark ambient music for years!

Ulf Söderberg and I have also agreed to work together again at some point. The first interview drew such an enthusiastic response that I’ve been collecting questions from his listeners in the hopes that he’ll do a second interview for the newsletter one day. I’ll see what I can do!

The newsletter is a kind of “prelude” to the book, and I’m in this for the long haul, so you can expect substantial new work from me in the coming years if the newsletter experiment continues to go well and my life circumstances cooperate with my ambitions. I’d like to publish the newsletter and write books as long as my cognitive capacities and vision continue to hold out!

I’m especially happy about the publishing model for the newsletter because it gives me a vehicle to support dark ambient writing and music in a way that’s more than mere lip service. Artists put up with so much disrespect because the dominant culture doesn’t consider what they do to be “real” work. Often their time is treated as if it has no value, because many non-artists don’t see or value the incredible amount of work that good art requires behind the scenes. It’s often assumed that artists will work without pay “for the exposure,” because it’s a “passion project,” or simply because some audiences have been conditioned to expect access to art without paying artists adequately for it.

The structural forces that siphon money away from artists and force them into no-win situations still aren’t well understood by the fans. If I do my job well and people value the newsletter, I’d like to think it could serve as a bit of a counterbalance to those structural forces. Admittedly a small one, but a shift in the right direction has to start somewhere. Perhaps the model will spread and dark ambient writers can collaborate to offer bundled email subscription options in the future, so more of us could afford to cut down our hours at the day jobs and spend that time writing about music instead? I can dream, anyway!

What could our community be like if every musician were liberated to make use of their musical gifts to the full extent they wish, and every writer were liberated to write about music to the full extent they wish? What could our community be like if we could remove—or even mitigate—the conditions that restrict and suppress the fullest uses of our creative gifts?

My hope for the Endarkenment newsletter is that it might enable me to contribute my part to building that world.

One way or another, though, I’ll probably always be the dark ambient lady!

Michael: Thanks so much for your time, Danica. Again, I’m very pleased we were able to do this!

Danica: It’s been a pleasure indeed. Thank you for your journalistic integrity, and for all the work you’ve done on behalf of our community!

Interview II: Michael Barnett interviewed by Danica Swanson

Danica: Greetings, Michael. Thank you for this opportunity to turn the interview spotlight in your direction for a change! For readers who are not familiar with This Is Darkness, could you provide an overview of the project, the contributors involved, and the material you cover?

Michael: This Is Darkness is first and foremost a site for dark ambient fans. Through the ‘Frozen in Time’ articles I present a one-stop place for dark ambient fans to find all things relevant to the community over the previous weeks/months. There are also interviews, reviews, concert-coverages, mixes, etc. to help dark ambient fans find a greater connection to the community.

I create 99% of the content for This Is Darkness myself, but I am always open to including other writers with something noteworthy to say. Since the start of the zine those other contributors have included Joseph Mlodik of Noctilucant (through his Inner Santcum vlog), Przemyslaw Murzyn (known throughout the community for his Santa Sangre zine as well as his Embers Below Zero dark ambient project), Maxwell Heilman (a very talented young journalist who is currently leaving his mark across a number of genres and zines), and most recently Gretchen Heinel submitted a wonderful article about her team’s hook suspension journey in Iceland.

Danica: Can you tell me a bit about the history of This Is Darkness and your background as a writer? What factors influenced your decision to start the blog? Was it something you planned for awhile beforehand?

Michael: The whole thing sort of started on a whim. I always enjoyed writing papers for research projects when I was in University, but I never really intended to be a “writer” of any sort. I majored in Archaeology/Greco-Roman History and intended to do field work in archaeology, but long story short, that never happened. Then in 2015 I injured my back and have become a hermit by default.

I’ve always been passionate about music and will talk for hours about it whenever someone will allow me the opportunity. I had become obsessed with dark ambient over the previous five years and I was rabidly absorbing all the content about the genre that I could find. But I wanted more, and it wasn’t there. So I just decided one day to try writing a review of an album, something on Cryo Chamber that I loved at the time, I don’t remember which one. For the fun of it, I submitted the review to the Terra Relicta webzine and they asked me to keep writing. That seemed to go over very well and the community, to my great surprise, really took a liking to my reviews.

I started This is Darkness as a place that I could put the occasional article or whatever else didn’t fit into the mix on Terra Relicta. But for a number of reasons, I came to the decision that I was creating enough content that it should all be focused on my own site. An offer by a great friend to cover the cost of switching from WordPress.com to a proper ThisIsDarkness.com was the final deciding factor. So I cordially parted ways with Terra Relicta, and This Is Darkness has become my main focus since 2016.

Danica: I’m curious about your editorial approach and decision-making processes. How do you select which artists to interview, what to include in your Frozen In Time summaries, and which releases to write about? Do you have a system worked out? What sources do you rely on to keep you up to date on news in the genre?  

Michael:I would like to say that I have a very detailed and well-planned approach to these things, but I often work on intuition much more than data analysis. What deserves coverage is a very hard question to answer. I’ve become a bit more selective as time goes on, but I try very hard to keep an eye on everything that is happening outside the major labels. Though it should be kept in mind that these “major labels” in dark ambient/post-industrial are incredibly tiny and fragile in comparison to major labels in most other genres.

For interviews, I try to have a constant balance of “big name” interviews and lesser known artists that deserve coverage. I have to build my credentials so one day I can interview David Lynch. That’s only partly a joke. For reviews, I focus most on releases that have physical editions. I don’t need a physical demo, but if a label or artist has put the time, energy, and money into creating a physical release, it really deserves a proper chance. The music itself is always the most important factor though. I would review nothing but digital albums if they were the best releases at the time in the genre.

Increasingly, I’m covering topics that have almost nothing to do with dark ambient, but should be of interest to a majority of dark ambient fans. The loyal readers will hopefully enjoy these extras, but they are really there to help bring in more people. Sure, I want more people to come to my site. But the reason I started the site in the first place was to expand the fanbase of the genre as a whole.

As for sources… sources are an issue. I started ‘Frozen in Time’ because of my frustration with the lack of sources to find a really comprehensive rundown of what has been released in the genre. I find myself laughing so often when I keep looking back to my own previous ‘Frozen in Time’ articles to find a piece of information. There are 30+ dark ambient groups on Facebook; the Reddit community only has three groups on the topic, but they aren’t very active. I subscribe to everything on Bandcamp related to dark ambient, then for each ‘Frozen in Time’ article I go through that list of notifications and listen to every single album that has been released with a dark ambient tag, unless the cover-art is so horrendous that it was clearly not of professional caliber. Some albums will be disqualified within the first 10 seconds of listening; others will find their way into the article.

Danica: What originally attracted you to dark ambient music? Was there a particular “gateway album” in your early experiences with the genre that kindled your appetite for more? Did you know right away that this kind of music was for you, or did you find it to be more of an acquired taste?

Michael: As I stated above, I have only been listening to dark ambient since about 2010-2011. That is a woefully short period of time considering the position I’ve found myself within the community. But I have done so much research and talked to so many decades-long fans and musicians over these years that I feel confident in my understanding of the present and history of the genre. But I’m always learning more, especially about the history.

Since I was a child I’ve loved ambient sounds. I used to buy those new age ocean sounds and forest sounds CDs that they sell in gift shops. I loved them so much. But I also loved The Shining since I was way too young to be watching The Shining. It literally took almost three decades of my life for my loves of darkness and ambient sounds to finally come together in my discovery of dark ambient.

The first artists I remember discovering remain among my favorites to this day. Northaunt caught my love for the north, Atrium Carceri caught my love for horror/apocalypse, and Kammarheit embodied the sort of ‘mystical hermit’ deep inside me that I forgot existed. After a while with these three artists, I found raison d’être and realized I had decades of music to discover!

Stekenjokk, Sweden, Oct. 2018 Photo by: Åsa Boström

Danica: What would you say to a curious outsider who asks you to explain why you love dark ambient music?  

Michael: Over the years of writing reviews, I’ve found a lot of reasons to love dark ambient. The main selling-point for me is the sheer breadth of uses it can be put toward. Of course, not every album will work for every purpose. But with a bit of searching one can find perfect albums for: yoga, meditation, night driving, night walking, hiking, studying, reading, enrichment of ritual space, sleep-aid, replacement soundtrack for video games, and I could continue on. Not only is the music enriching in all these spaces, but these categories can all be broken down further based on mood + activity. Aside from classical and the more mainstream forms of ambient music, there is really no other genre that can be matched perfectly to all these scenarios.

While the above examples were the main ‘selling-points’ for me on the genre, it really was love at first listen. I always wanted to hear dark classical, dark jazz, dark ambient, etc. unfortunately, none of these genres presented themselves to me during the 1990s and early 2000s in the U.S. As soon as I heard the likes of Atrium Carceri, Kammarheit and Northaunt, I knew I had found a genre that I would love until the day I die. Dark ambient takes everything great about ‘dark soundtracks’ and adds the attention that is necessary to make something move from ‘creepy soundscape in movie’ to ‘brilliantly executed album’. I no longer have to watch Lost Highway or Eraserhead to be transported into another world; I can now just turn on my stereo and pick exactly which ’emotional landscapes’ I would like to traverse on any given evening.

Danica: As a music writer, you’re in a position to offer informed commentary on the dark ambient community in general. In your article “The Dark Ambient Community at Large,” you wrote: “I honestly can’t think of another genre which has such a global yet close-knit community of artists.” Could you expand on this? What are your thoughts on how such a uniquely welcoming atmosphere of camaraderie prevails in dark ambient even with its global reach?

Michael: Well, since I wrote that article I have found a number of fractures as well as bad apples in the community. I suppose it is impossible to avoid these things in any group of any size. But, I absolutely stand by the article to this day. As I first forced myself upon the scene back in 2015, I was especially overwhelmed with the kindness and optimism of the people with which I spoke. Seemingly any artist I contacted, with the most basic of questions, would be more than happy to go into an in-depth conversation with me about the topic at hand.

After spending years in metal scenes I was totally shocked by the lack of ego and narcissism in my dark ambient contacts, as I assumed these character flaws were prevalent in any genre. I would point to Miljenko Rajakovic of TeHôM as one example. He seems to be on a non-stop journey around Europe and the rest of the world, making friends, smiling, hugging, hiking, enjoying life. He seems to leave behind him a trail of new friends and happiness wherever he sets foot. To hear his music, one would assume the man is sitting in a basement somewhere counting down the days to the apocalypse.

Another example is Simon Heath. While some may have issues with him, I have found the man’s integrity to be exemplary. He left the dying embers of Cold Meat Industry and in a matter of two or so years had set up one of the most successful post-industrial labels ever. He did that by connecting to the community, connecting to the artists on his label, connecting to artists outside his label, connecting to people like me, the journalists of the scene. I should say that Simon gave me all sorts of recommendations and tidbits of information about the genre while I was still trying to figure it all out. Long before I ever wrote my first review. To anyone that has ever thought I might cover too many Cryo Chamber releases, keep in mind that I would not be doing this at all if it weren’t for the passion that Cryo Chamber and Simon Heath presented. I really can’t overstate their indirect influence on my own passion for the genre.

I think the global reach of the genre is the main element that leads to this sense of camaraderie. The genre is incredibly tiny in comparison to almost any other genre. In the 1990s we saw most of this stuff coming directly from Cold Meat Industry. But as the internet took over the world, we were able to spread our interests farther. Without that one centralized label/scene, people weren’t as inclined to compete; they seemed more obliged to cooperate. The nature of the music also makes it possible to do intercontinental collaborations in a way that metal artists MUST envy. There are labels that release music by Russians and Ukrainians, Americans and Iranians, and so forth. It’s really a beautiful thing to witness.

Swedish coast near Umeå.

Danica: Dark ambient began its life as a subgenre of industrial music, and many dark ambient listeners find our way into the genre through gothic-industrial subcultures, black metal, and film or gaming soundtracks. I know you and I share a goal of getting the word out about this obscure music to those who might not encounter it through the traditional channels. What does the “pipeline” into dark ambient look like these days from your vantage point? Have any of your readers been converted into dedicated dark ambient listeners through unexpected routes? Do you think the community is growing?

Michael: Unfortunately, I don’t have a very direct dialogue with readers. I have been decrying a need for many less dark ambient related groups on Facebook in order to direct people to the same places for dialogue. The dungeon synth community really has this aspect of communication on lock-down, as their Facebook group draws tons of conversation on a daily basis. I’m truly jealous! With that said, Facebook is becoming a cesspool and probably 50% of the site traffic has become direct site visits, instead of referrals from Facebook as it was in the past.

I try to cover anything and everything possible to draw in fans of some other genre/medium to dark ambient. Topics like horror, true crime, brutalism, David Lynch, Lars von Trier, etc. have vast fanbases which would all find something to love in the dark ambient genre.

If the 120,000 subscribers Cryo Chamber has on their Youtube channel is any indication, then yes, the genre is growing quite quickly. Getting these 120,000 people to actually buy albums might be a different story though. Times are tough, worldwide. So the decrease in sales many labels are seeing isn’t necessarily an indication of lack of interest; it is likely a lack of disposable income. We need listeners/readers to realize that the labels and zines they follow are all in the same situation as them. When it comes to eating dinner out one night a week or buying a few physical albums I hope people will see the lasting value and positive effects of staying home and buying the album. But each person makes their own decisions.

Danica: One of your most widely circulated articles is “Dark Ambient 101: Understanding the Technicalities”—a long-read article exploring technical equipment, creative workflows, and general advice for those interested in making this kind of music. For this piece you posed the same set of questions to 14 dark ambient musicians separately, and juxtaposed their answers. (Quite an effective way to reveal some of the salient differences in approaches to music-making, since there were no opportunities for their answers to influence one another in advance!) Many non-writers are unaware of how much time and effort is required for an interview project of that sort, and you’re a prolific writer in general. I wonder if you could share a bit about how you manage the logistics of your creative workflow behind the scenes. What factors—personal, environmental, and/or structural—enable you to dedicate yourself so thoroughly to your music writing?

Michael: That article took at least 6 months to create. There is the constant necessity of answering confusions/concerns/deadlines that any given artist wants to verify. Of course, the writing of the questions was a daunting task, itself. But by far the hardest part of the process is just the mundane work in editing the English grammar of answers and formatting the article itself for readers to properly absorb such a massive amount of material. I spent many hours just formatting.

In the past, I’ve burned myself out on projects. Since I started writing about dark ambient, I made it a point to never push myself too hard. If I have the energy to write 5 reviews and a news article in one week, great. But if I am having a particularly bad week due to physical pain or mental anxieties, then I will allow myself to take that week off, guilt-free. Paradoxically, this seems to have led to even more output. Often, coming off a bad week, I will have so much momentum that I will work 14-16 hours some days on nothing but This Is Darkness related topics/material. Some of this will lead directly to new articles; other things will just become part of my better understanding of the genre and its history.

It must be about passion. I try to allow all choices to be made with passion in mind. If I wake up and want to read or watch documentaries about a particular topic, I go with it, but then I try to find a way to make this passion available to the readers of the zine. For instance, I was very interested in hook suspension one week. By the end of the week, I’d gotten Gretchen Heinel to begin preparing a proper article for This Is Darkness about her hook suspension journey in Iceland last year. The article was all I could have wanted and is a major success on our website! Now there will be people interested in hook suspension finding their way to a dark ambient website for years to come!

For another example, I love reading weird fiction from the early twentieth century. Recently, I’ve begun publishing old weird tales which have entered the public domain. I accompany these stories with dark ambient mixes that I create specifically for the purpose of listening while reading the story. This is fun for me, but it also cross-promotes weird fiction and dark ambient.

Danica: What’s one thing you wish more people understood about what it’s like to be a music writer in a niche genre like dark ambient?

Michael: The positive and the negative are both pushed to the extreme. I was able to make a name for myself within the community quite quickly because of the limited number of journalists with any focus on the dark ambient genre. However, in a larger genre once I’d made a name for myself I could assume that I would be able to monetize it easily and ride the journalism wave into the future with enough money to make ends meet along the way. There is no level of popularity in a tiny genre like this where I could imagine myself being able to even buy my groceries on income related to my journalism work, much less pay rent.

The only reason I’m available to the community is because I’m living a hermit’s life on disability. Even disability wouldn’t help this though. I am also living with my brother, who pays the majority of rent and bills. If a day comes that I can’t continue living beneath someone else, I’ll likely be forced to return to the job-force regardless of the pain it would cause/increase or the passions I’d have to leave behind.

Swedish coast near Umeå. Photo by: Åsa Boström

Danica: Readers have often expressed interest in an online discussion forum for dark ambient music—preferably outside social media platforms such as Facebook, where groups mostly consist of link-sharing with little in-depth discussion. What are your thoughts on why our community doesn’t yet have such a forum? Are you seeing any hopeful developments in this direction?  

Michael: As briefly mentioned above, the dungeon synth community has two fantastic groups, one for the ‘elites’ and one for everyone else. I greatly admire what they are doing with those two groups. But it was mainly accomplished because people didn’t have 300 other dungeon synth groups to spread their voices out into obscurity. Reddit could work, but I really dislike what is happening there in the dark ambient groups. The only posts that get any upvotes are links to free mixes on Youtube, and comments are basically nonexistent.

I am thinking really hard on this. I don’t have an answer aside from: the community needs to make the changes it wants to see. If you want to be involved in discussions go to a dark ambient group and start a discussion, or go to Reddit, or leave comments in Youtube videos or at the bottom of blog posts. I am doing all I can, but everyone has to join in for it to amount to anything.

Danica: Someone who’s just getting into dark ambient as an aid to contemplative practices asks you for help in finding ideal albums to facilitate deep meditative states. Which albums would you recommend, and why?

Michael: There can be so many options. Is there a need for a specific atmosphere? Is there a certain religion? These two questions can help narrow the options quite a bit.

As a safe bet, I would recommend the Aural Hypnox label to people. Their consistency in sound and physical quality combined with their dedication to ritual/meditative releases makes them a perfect option for many people. If someone seeks darker territory there are labels like Black Mara that focus on darker religious/ritual elements. Then there are labels like Cyclic Law, Cryo Chamber and Malignant Records that all have a wide breadth of artists, some of which will surely be perfect for ritual/religious/meditative practices. Then there are labels like Hypnagoga Press that focus on mysticism on a more primal level, often devoid of the usual tropes of ritual ambient, like Tibetan singing bowls and bone flutes.

I would be wary of artists like Lustmord. He performed at a Satanic rite, but has since showed very little understanding, appreciation or respect for that group. I bring this up because if a person is experiencing an album along with their meditative/ritual work, they should feel confident that the artist felt as strongly about its use in this context as the listener does. If the artist thinks rituals are a joke, then why are we listening to their music during said rituals?

But to answer your question, I would safely recommend the latest Arktau Eos album ‘Eremos’, as well as ‘Void’ by Altarmang for more active meditative/ritual work. ‘Kundalini’ by VelgeNaturlig is a great new album I’ve been incorporating into my yoga practice. ‘Samadhi’ by Necrophorus (side project of Peter Andersson from raison d’être) is a classic for yoga practice as well. I’ve recently returned to reading Tarot (now with a proper Thoth deck) and I put ‘Saiph’ by Altarmang (from our first compilation) on repeat for the duration of the sitting.

Danica: Could you say a bit about your vision for the future of This Is Darkness? I’ve noticed a recent increase in book and film reviews on the site. Do you plan to alter the mix of features going forward? Do you have any plans for additional compilations such as the massive 66-track Bandcamp release you published in 2017?

Michael: The next compilation is right around the corner! Size and format will be similar to the last one, but there will be a little something extra this time. Stay tuned!

I don’t see that I’ve altered the site’s vision really. From the beginning I wanted it to be a site for the dark ambient community. I have always wanted it to be a site to build the dark ambient community. I see the inclusion of books and films as a way of showing current readers interesting things outside the genre, while simultaneously bringing unsuspecting visitors to the genre. There is no better feeling than discovering a genre for yourself. If someone comes to This Is Darkness to see the review of The House That Jack Built by Lars von Trier or the beautiful new David Lynch ‘Nudes’ artbook, they are very likely going to be interested in dark ambient music. If they think they discovered it accidentally (and they really did), that is incredibly powerful for the psyche.

Reviews are a major part of the equation, but they are certainly not the main and only reason for This Is Darkness. Some people will understand this better than others. For the novice listener a review is a way of making sense out of a new genre that makes very little sense in the beginning. But after a few years, listeners don’t need those reviews anymore really. They will have the same level of intuition about the music as I do. For those people, the ‘Frozen in Time’ news posts are a much more powerful tool that I offer for them to discover new music in a very long, yet simultaneously concise fashion. Those ‘seasoned’ readers will also be much more interested in my book and movie articles, interviews, mixes, etc. I am always looking for new features to add to the site. I don’t see any limits really. I do this for fun!

Danica: Is there anything you’d like to comment on that I didn’t include in this interview? If so, please add it in!

Michael: I don’t think so. I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to be on the other side of the interview for once. It is very strange, but very fun! Thank you Danica for the opportunity to speak in a way I usually can’t on This Is Darkness. Thank you so so much to all the people that have followed, supported, promoted, or cared in any way at all about This Is Darkness. You have all made my life meaningful in a way I really couldn’t have imagined five years ago. Namaste.

Danica Swanson’s Links
https://endarkenment.substack.com

Michael Barnett’s Links
http://www.thisisdarkness.com
Michael’s contact page

Trepaneringsritualen – Interview

Trepaneringsritualen is one of the most respected projects in the last decade of the post-industrial genre. With some albums which harken back to the sounds of 80s ritual ambient projects and others more traditionally structured, Trepaneringsritualen provides listeners with an array of soundscapes which could be as likely heard in a solitary ritual space as in a venue packed with metalheads. 

While the sounds of T x R x P are anything but uniform, Thomas Martin Ekelund, the original member behind the project, explains a bit about the purpose of T x R x P and we find that this is as complex and unwieldy as the music itself. 

We talk about the evolving background of T x R x P which includes a few new members, incense, touring, Fimbulvetr and more.

Enjoy the read and listen to the T x R x P loud!

Interviewee: Thomas Martin Ekelund of Trepaneringsritualen
Interviewer: Michael Barnett

Michael: Do you think you have come closer to the full understanding and consciousness you are seeking as Trepaneringsritualen?

T x R x P: Quite the contrary. Every flash of light reveals further paths veiled in darkness; with every door opened another two shuttered ones appear. I have been forced to accept that this is the way it’s going to be. We’re stumbling around an ever-changing labyrinth, and what we find in there rarely makes any sense. Perhaps that sense of no-sense is the purpose, or perhaps we will ultimately find ourselves in the embrace of true illumination. I don’t know, but in either case, T × R × P is a curse that can not be escaped.

Michael: Has there been a time in a collaboration as Trepaneringsritualen that you felt you came even closer to your personal source than during solo sessions?

T × R × P: I don’t make the distinction. T × R × P is and has always been something far greater than me. The brothers and sisters that have contributed to the workings are as essential to it as am I. The vortex may emanate from me, but their energies and the tangents they have added have been needed at various points in order for us to move forward.

Trepaneringsritualen by Linda Marie Bjärenstam

Michael: You’ve mentioned in the past that intoxicants are not a necessity for you to fully embrace the presence of Trepaneringsritualen. But I wonder what your thoughts are on the encounters throughout history with hallucinogens, and what effect they may have on the shaping of various religions.

T × R × P: I believe the use of hallucinogens has had, and continues to have, a considerable influence on the spirituality of Man. Those who aren’t entirely blind have a need to transcend this prison, and these substances offer at least a faint glance of the utter enormity of that which lies outside of creation. But hallucinogens are just a tool like any other. It’s a shortcut to utter madness, but it still only shows us the faint shadows of true reality.

Michael: Do you feel that Trepaneringsritualen has been born at this time in history for a reason? Or, do you think your personal spiritual journey remains somewhat separated from a linear framework?

T × R × P: That’s an interesting question, I have not pondered the timing. It doesn’t seem terribly important on a grander scale. We’re all captives in a temporal realm, and time is cyclical, so any point in time will have occurred an ungraspable number of times before and will occur innumerable times again.

Michael: What other performances and/or locations have you visited (outside of your own touring) that have enriched your understanding of Trepaneringsritualen?

T × R × P: There have been many transformative experiences in my life, everything from seeing Arktau Eos performing a ritual in a forest in the Sierra Nevada, to walking alone in the rain on the battlefields at Somme. But I don’t know that they have related explicitly to T × R × P. Generally, power nexuses like megalithic sites and places saturated in death like the aforementioned battlefield always shed some light on the path I am walking.
(Editor’s note: Check out our recent interview with Arktau Eos.)

Michael: You’ve mentioned the importance of attacking the senses, and in particular the nose, during your rituals/concerts. Would you recommend a blend of incenses or oils for an audience to better connect to Trepaneringsritualen when listening at home? Would this differ from album to album, season to season?

T × R × P: The V ∴ V ∴ V blend we created together with VI & All Things Obscure last year is the ideal starting point. We often modify its effects with sandalwood, palo santo or juniper at live rituals, depending on the desired result, alongside rotting blood, mold and mildew and other scents of decay. As a species, our olfactory perception of the world is what leaves the strongest impression, hence the focus on these aspects, but we aim to attack all senses.

Void ∴ Vision ∴ Vortex Incense

Michael: You’ve mentioned the Fimbulvetr‘s arrival in a past interview. I wonder if you still see this as the case? If so, what signs do you see of its arrival?

T × R × P: There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re in the midst of it. Everywhere you look you see the signs. Brother is fighting brother, sister is fighting sister. The masses are deaf and dumb. Men and women without honor, fully shackled by the vapid, vain and vulgar chains of consensus reality. This is an inevitability, all things created will decay and ultimately be destroyed. Rebirth is equally inevitable. We’re far from done, and until we are this is a circle that will keep repeating.

Michael: After the release of Kainskult, you started working on a new album with Peter Johan Nijland. How is this album coming along?

T × R × P: Peter has been a long-time brother, and an essential resource for T × R × P for a number of years. It finally became evident that he is an integral part of the working, and thus he has joined permanently. A split 7” with Nordvargr is imminent on Cyclic Law, and we are working on several other projects at the moment with a few already approaching completion — including a long-form work entitled ᛉᛦ to be released on Cold Spring during 2019.

We have started working on what might be considered the continuation of Kainskult — tentatively entitled Nine Daggers — but its conclusion is further into the future, and still in a very obscure state. We have also included Sister ᛏᛇᚱᚫ ᚾ ∴ ᚾ ∴ ᚾ in these workings, but her role will by necessity be more shadowy, though of no less importance.

(Editor’s note: A new project led by Peter J. Nijland, released on Cyclic Law.)

Michael: Would you like to talk about any of the specific activities you conducted in celebration of the tenth year of T × R × P?

T × R × P: There was no specific commemoration of the first decade. But 2018 was a year of Metamorphosis in many ways that shall become evident in the future.

Michael: You’ve stated previously that “we’re prisoners in a counterfeit world…”. Do you think as time passes and people become more connected to each other through the internet that more of us are beginning to see through the veil? Or, do you think we are becoming blinder by the year, increasing momentum toward an ending?

T × R × P: Ultimately, I don’t believe true union can be achieved in this realm. Connections can certainly be made, and you will find the people you need, be it through long-distance communication or face-to-face interactions. But each of us is cursed to always walk alone until the ultimate dissolution of the cosmos.

Michael: If you were able to have everything necessary, location and tools, what would be the perfect venue for a Trepaneringsritualen ritual to reach its fullest potential?

T × R × P: There’s an enormous number of places where rituals could be conducted, power nexuses from all over the globe that would bring their energies into the working. That might be a simple sacrificial oak grove on my mother soil, the ruins of Göbekli Tepe, or some ancient catacomb in Langadòc. Unlimited financial resources would merely bring more of what we already do. More fire, more scents, more lights, more participants.

Trepaneringsritualen –  Nicky Hellemans Photography

Michael: How are things going for the Beläten label? Are there any releases coming up that you would like to mention?

T × R × P: Beläten is currently obscured by the veils of alphaomega. Time will tell when they will lift and what they will reveal.

Michael: Where does the entity that is Teeth currently fit into the world of your output? Is this element currently silent or are Teeth’s reverberations still felt through T × R × P?

T × R × P: Teeth came very close to destroying me, but ultimately I won that battle and arose as a new man. It was an immensely painful struggle, but any struggle worth enduring will be. I don’t think the Teeth entity is in any way present in T × R × P, but it did cause me to open my eyes and as such it served a purpose.

Michael: You’ve mentioned that you find T × R × P to be a more positive project than people seem to realize. Why do you think others see the project as being so dark and what would you say they might be missing?

T × R × P: This working is certainly treading dark territories, but “dark” isn’t inherently negative. That’s a Judeo-Christian notion, and perhaps these people are simply unable to shed that yoke since the occident has been in the claws of that particular dragon for so long. It is in darkness we may find illumination. »Darkness yields the brightest light, and that it might reveal is dreadful desolation and the sweetest agony.«

Michael: Among other things, Nordvargr and you have collaborated on his latest solo album Metempsychosis on the track “First East”, not to mention the recently fully collaborative release ‘Alpha Ænigma’ as ᚾᛟᚢ II // ᚦᛟᚦ ᚷᛁᚷ. I wonder if you could speak a bit about your discovery of Nordvargr’s music?

T × R × P: I’ve been listening to Brother Nordvargr’s endeavors since I was a mere child, which undoubtedly has left its mark. It wasn’t until a few years ago our paths crossed, and it became apparent that our missions are of a similar nature, and I have found in him a true brother. Alpha Ænigma is just a small sidetrack, an impulse that came out of a larger collaborative working under the name Det Kätterska Förbund which is slowly beginning to show its face to the world. A triptych of EPs are in the works for Cold Spring, but travails of Malkuth have conspired to slow down our progress on this endeavor.

Michael: Have these collaborations felt important, in the sense of the T × R × P mission (whatever that may be)? Will there be more of these collaborations/rituals/experimentations with Nordvargr in the future?

T × R × P: They are of utmost importance, and I suspect our paths are forever entwined at this point. It’s a rarity finding a kindred soul like that, especially in the Swedish scene which, truth be told, mostly lacks the sort of depth we’re both striving towards. I am honored and grateful to call him a Brother.

Michael: How far back exactly does your relationship with ritual ambient go? Do you remember who was the first artist of this variety you discovered which really made an impression on you?

T × R × P: That’s a hard one. It’s 20+ years for sure, so not entirely convinced I recall the exact timeline. Korpses Katatonik & Zero Kama were important, Dogs Blood Rising by Current 93, and the first Lustmørd LP had a huge impact as well, and last but absolutely not least Slaughterhouse Invitations and other early works of Brighter Death Now. The sheer obsessiveness of their works is something that just grabbed hold of me, and never really let go. It’s impossible to overestimate the impact these artists had on me as a young man, and they all continue to be a source of inspiration.

Michael: You often describe Teeth and Trepaneringsritualen as currents of energy or consciousness that flow through you. I wonder if this is totally involuntary or if you are working with a form of surrealist automatism, voluntarily allowing yourself to be open to these foreign currents/entities?

T × R × P: Teeth was an attack, a malevolent entity that, for whatever reason, tried to destroy me. I am quite aware of why and how this happened, but I am prefer to keep those details to myself. Needless to say, it’s a battle I won and came through stronger and more focused.

T × R × P, on the other hand, is more akin to a union. It’s the ineffable powers of T × R × P working in tandem with my impulses. I am not T × R × P, I am part of it. It’s involuntary in the sense that I never asked for this, but it’s also voluntary because I have chosen to carry this curse to its conclusion. My aim is to ultimately be able to give up all control of the process, but I suspect that is impossible. Try as I might to escape it, I am still a being of physical manifestation, and as such, I am shackled to this world. A considerable part of what I have written has been initiated and often completed in trance states, and I find it a very rewarding way of working. It is at least a vague estimation of giving up control.

Michael: With Kainskult, T × R × P seems to be taking another step further in a process that seemed to become noticeable on Perfection & Permanence. Namely, that these two albums seem to be moving into a more musical direction, with more distinct percussion patterns and vocals that follow this more structural framework. Is this a process that is happening outside of your control and understanding, or is this a direction you are purposely taking?

T × R × P: It is true that both Kainskult and Perfection & Permanence are song-based in a more or less traditional sense. This is one aspect of T × R × P. It doesn’t mean we have abandoned the more explicitly ritual music, nor do we see any real necessity to make a distinction. It’s all of the same essences, with the same purpose. The differences are only on an aesthetic level. 2019 will see releases encompassing both aspects.

T × R × P @ Boiler Room, Berlin 2016

Michael: You’ve had an incredibly rigorous schedule for live events over the last few years. Is there any fatigue at this point, or are you still feeling the need to conduct your rituals across the globe as often as is permitted?

T × R × P: The public rituals are such an essential part of the working, so we try to accept as many offers as we are able. It certainly takes considerable effort to keep up, but it’s a sacrifice we’re obliged to make. Logistical issues have made it hard to schedule further public works recently, but we’re slowly getting back on track and I suspect the second half of 2019 will prove quite hectic.

Michael: Thank you so much for your time, I am very pleased to be speaking with you on behalf of This Is Darkness. Are there any final words you’d like to say before we part ways?

T × R × P: Thank you for the opportunity. We have nothing further to add.

Links

Official T × R × P Website
Bandcamp
Facebook
Instagram

Our review of Kainskult on This Is Darkness

Sodom & Chimera – Interview with film director James Quinn

James Quinn is the writer and director behind Sodom & Chimera Productions and their upcoming film Daughter of Dismay. Quinn has been solidifying his position in the film community over the last few years since the company launched with it’s debut film The Law of Sodom in 2016. I’ve found his work very compelling and have been following the company for the last few years. But, it seemed like things were really starting to take off in 2018. This is, indeed, the perfect time to speak with James Quinn. As industry renowned talent is being brought on board for post-production and the film gets closer to completion the scale and quality of what he’s orchestrated has become apparent. This is a huge step forward for a small company, which could see themselves moving toward ever loftier goals in the film industry over the coming years. I hope you’ll enjoy my interview with James Quinn, and that you will find his work as compelling as I have!

Krist Mort as The Demon

Interviewer: Michael Barnett
Interviewee: James Quinn

Michael: The end credits for The Law of Sodom looked a bit like those of Lynch’s Eraserhead. James Quinn, you seem to have carried most of the weight of Sodom & Chimera in its earliest incarnation. Was this something you enjoyed? Do you consider yourself an auteur, more than a compiler of elements, a true author of a production?

James: The Law of Sodom (2016) was a very personal and extreme project, both in terms of content and how it was made. A lot of time and pain went into it, and it’s indeed a production that I practically carried alone entirely. By now, the way I make films has changed dramatically. I do consider my projects to be somewhat of auteur works though. My ideas and concepts of films are things I’m very picky and strict about in terms of execution, and in most cases, what you see on screen is based on deep, personal ideas and emotions, things I try to convey in very specific ways. Though, it has to be made clear that all films are collective works, larger ones often more than smaller ones.

Regarding Eraserhead (1977), yes, that has always been a massive inspiration to me as a filmmaker, and has also influenced the making of The Law of Sodom.

Michael: How long has Sodom & Chimera been active? Was it long before the release of The Law of Sodom, or was it a fast-moving project from the very beginning?

James: Sodom & Chimera is fairly young. It was founded in October 2016, right after the North American premiere of The Law of Sodom, which was shot before Sodom & Chimera was a thing. Sodom & Chimera, to me, is more of a personal collective. We’re a small team, and work together on a lot of projects, but most importantly, it’s a way to connect all works, promote them, and give them a voice under the banner of something more recognizable than just the name of a director. Sodom & Chimera represents a large body of work, from photography to film, to the occasional other obscure piece of art that might present itself. It has indeed always been a very fast moving project, from the day it started.

Michael: What have been some of the biggest influences on the people behind Sodom & Chimera? Do you have a personal favorite director?

James: I can’t speak for my colleagues, but personally, there are only a handful of artists that directly influenced me. The very obvious one is David Lynch, though – even though I greatly enjoy all of his works – the only of his films that directly affected my own filmmaking are Eraserhead and Inland Empire (2006). Other big influences in terms of more obscure works have been Karim Hussain’s Subconscious Cruelty (2000), Merhige’s Begotten (1990), Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), Un Chien Andalou (1929), Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009), and several works from the 20s and 30s. Even though a lot of my previous films are very bizarre and surreal, the grotesque aspect of them was never my true objective. It was important to me, yes, but my main goal was always to create something that is beautiful or at least interesting to look at. Cinematography is the most important element in all of my films, it’s a tool I use not just to show what’s happening in a scene, but to be poetic and create impressions that stick out. To be completely honest, most of the ways I frame shots and try to explore visuals do not stem from inspiration from certain films or photography, but from paintings. Paintings are built differently, from the way they’re framed to the amount of detail present, to just how much image is included in the frame and where it cuts off. Creating images like this is a very mathematical process, actually. I try to keep that in mind whenever I build a scene.

Ieva Agnostic as The Witch in Daughter of Dismay

As to the question of who’s my favorite director, that’s an easy one, actually. Andrei Tarkovsky. Never have I seen any other works of film in my life that convey visuals like his. It’s pure cinematic bliss to me, and all of his films are truly like moving paintings. Having seen his film Andrei Rublev (1966) on 35mm, I don’t think I’ll ever change my mind on who my favorite director is.

Michael: Daughter of Dismay has been moving along nicely, with some great talent steadily being added to the project. How much work is going into this one in comparison to previous films?

James: Daughter of Dismay is a mammoth of a project that pretty much destroyed my health. There was so much careful planning, budgeting and pitching involved, so many days of going without sleeping, so much unbearable stress that I literally had to call an ambulance to my house due to heart problems a week after the shoot was over. I’m still recovering, even though production is nowhere near over. Once post is finished, the entirety of the production will have taken around a year, of which only two days were shooting. Shooting a short in 70mm IMAX, actually getting it made is pretty much near impossible, and it has a reason no one has done it yet. Getting closer and closer to the finish line of post production, I can see why no seems to have even attempted it yet. It completely eviscerated me, mentally and physically. But it was entirely worth it.
James Quinn

Michael: Do you anticipate Daughter of Dismay to be a more or less accessible (in terms of theme/content) film than your previous works?

James: Daughter of Dismay is supposed to be a film that can be enjoyed by the masses. It’s the most accessible film I directed so far, and can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone who is okay with darker themes. It is indeed extremely dark, emotional and sad, with one scene that might make some cringe, and the tone is very sinister, but in its core, it’s a very inspiring story with an extremely polished look. It’s not experimental in the slightest and presents itself in a very linear manner, with a focus on epic, visceral execution. We had an extremely large budget, which enabled us to get the most out of this and make it feel like a little blockbuster, instead of just an independent short, for which I’m very thankful. The reason I made the film this way is multi-faceted. I love creating dark niche visions, films that freak people out and evoke extreme reactions, raw, experimental films that mess with people’s heads, but I’ve also always particularly enjoyed the kind of cinema that relies on entirely different values; clean, more traditional pieces of direct storytelling, with a strong focus on emotion, something that progresses throughout the story and ends with a bang, a scene that leaves you emotionally affected while watching the credits roll. This is a recipe that works especially well with short films, one that I’ve been meaning to explore for a while, though never had the means to properly pull off. Some of the fans of my work might get cramps reading this, but Daughter of Dismay was made to be mainstream-accessible, which is one of the reasons we shot in IMAX, and will present it in this format. It’s supposed to be big, epic, dramatic and to be enjoyed by as many people as possible, though in this case not for being “fun”, but for the intense impact it has. Even though it is so very accessible, I still have to clearly mention that I included a lot of my trademark elements in the film, and it is guaranteed to be the darkest and most surreal IMAX film you’ve ever seen.

“I love creating dark niche visions, films that freak people out and evoke extreme reactions, raw, experimental films that mess with people’s heads, but I’ve also always particularly enjoyed the kind of cinema that relies on entirely different values; clean, more traditional pieces of direct storytelling, with a strong focus on emotion, something that progresses throughout the story and ends with a bang, a scene that leaves you emotionally affected while watching the credits roll.”

Michael: What is the most crucial change in the framework this time around? Someone added to the project of utmost importance or some perfect set location?

James: Everything was different about this project, and every single thing mattered. From the gigantic efforts our cinematographer took upon himself, making sure to pull this off in the most amazing way possible, and enabling us to shoot in IMAX, to the lighting team, who pulled off the insane task of shooting with an ISO of 50 in a location with barely any light, and made it look like the sun was shining intensely, to our special effects team, who built an entire fake human that looked completely life-like, to our incredible team of production assistants, we went big in every single aspect of the production and squeezed out every drop of potential there was, to make it the film it is now. It would be hard to pick something precise, something that I can point to specifically, since every single aspect of the film’s production was extremely important, and if just one were missing, the film wouldn’t exist.

Dajana Rajic on Daughter of Dismay set.

Michael: For Daughter of Dismay, are there any connections to previous films you’ve produced? What should the viewer know, going into the film?

James: I would actually go as far as to say the ideal way to watch this is without having seen any of my other work before. It has no connections whatsoever to the rest of my films, and is very different, in that it is just a lot less offensive or extreme, and, like mentioned earlier, much more accessible than anything I’ve ever done. So, having seen the rest of my work, one might get false expectations, which is one of the reasons I’m making it very clear that this is a cleaner version of my artistic vision, though I do think fans of my traditional work will enjoy it just as much. If you go into this not knowing anything about it, or about my work, you’ll be able to enjoy it unbiased, just knowing you’re going into a 70mm IMAX film, which I think really helps.

Michael: You created the film in 70mm, and appear to be one of the first in the industry to do so for a short film. What influenced this decision and what is so important about working in this format as opposed to the industry standards?

James: We’re the first narrative short film in the history of cinema to shoot in 70mm IMAX, actually. Most films that have been shot this way are either grand space documentaries, or other documentaries of gigantic proportions, or massive blockbusters like Dunkirk (2017) or The Dark Knight (2008). The reason we shot in this format is quite simple: It was clear pretty early on that Daughter of Dismay is supposed to be a big, epic piece of film, something you watch and go “wow”, something you don’t just watch, but actually experience. The closest experience to being inside a film itself (besides 3D, which I’m not a supporter of) is 70mm IMAX, a format that is so unlike any other format, simply due to the intensity of the image, the detail and sharpness, it’s like being sucked into the world of the film itself. Christopher Nolan very fittingly described it as “virtual reality without goggles”. You’re being moved closer to the screen, which is extremely large, not only being very wide, but multiple times as tall as regular screens, which places you directly in the center of the image. Additionally, the sharpness and detail are so intense, it makes things pop out that you would never see in any other format. The digital resolution equivalent is around 18K, something that is obviously impossible to reach with digital sensors. Actually, you see more detail in a 70mm IMAX projection than in real life. We had to stop and have someone remove a pencil from the forest ground during one scene since people would have been able to see it on the big screen. In real life, this was barely noticeable. The way we see things when looking at a two-dimensional image this sharp is vastly different from the way we see the world in real life, and it gives us a strange sensation of being “more real looking than real life”. This is exactly what I wanted for Daughter of Dismay. You don’t just go see it. You experience the entire thing. Obviously, not everyone will be able to see it in this format, but we’re going to make sure to have the rest of the presentations be as impressive as they can, which means most of them will be in regular 70mm or 35mm, both formats that are absolutely beautiful.

Michael: You filmed Daughter of Dismay deep in the woods of Austria. Was this the plan from the beginning? What are some features of the Austrian woodlands which attracted you to this set location?

James: I have always been fascinated by forest landscapes and the natural atmosphere they bring. There’s something mystical and sinister to them, even though I consider it to be a place of peace. Most of my films have scenes in the woods or take place in them entirely. The Austrian woods, besides being the most accessible to me, since Austria is my home, are especially beautiful to me. For Daughter of Dismay, I wanted a set that’s as visually impressive as possible. Fallen trees, very large, tall ones, big, thick roots, grounds full of leaves, all of this is essential to the visuals of the film. I’ve shot in many different forests so far, and all of them looked different. This time, I went back to one I’ve already shot in, for Flesh of the Void (2017), though in Daughter of Dismay everything looks vastly different due to the different format, color and style. I’ll most certainly continue to shoot in forests, though I’d love to explore different ones in the future. Getting to explore mystical locations for a film shoot is one of the many things I enjoy about filmmaking. It’s a multi-faceted process that brings me much joy.

Still from Daughter of Dismay

Michael: Joseph Bishara will be working on the film score for Daughter of Dismay. What has been your past relationship with this musician? Why is his work so fitting for the film?

James: I haven’t had any sort of relationship with Joseph previous to Daughter of Dismay. He was my first pick for the film’s score, and he agreed to do it. I consider us extremely lucky to be working with him. Joseph is an absolute genius in his field and, in my opinion, one of the most talented horror composers of all time. I clearly remember seeing Insidious in the theater in 2010, and being absolutely blown away by how anxiety-inducing and dreadful his sounds are.

The screeching violins, dissonant and violent, loud, metallic explosions of piano strings, paired with very harmonic, beautiful and emotional melodies placed me in an absolute state of awe. I remember going back home, and immediately looking up the score online, listening to it again to examine it. There’s a very psychological element to Joseph’s way of composing, with an extreme amount of detail and passion present in his music, as he’s able to give you chills by simple (and also very complex at the same time) means of sound, something that deeply impressed me. I ended up following his work closely, being blown away over and over again. For Daughter of Dismay, we needed something sinister, something dark and mystical, but at the same time something that is extremely emotional, melancholic and touching, something that puts you in a certain mood by just listening to the piece itself. Knowing very well about Joe’s talent in not just creating horrifying soundscapes, but also strong emotions, I contacted him and told him about the film, and the rest is history.

Michael: Ben Brahem Ziryab has been brought on as director of photography. He’s done some quite impressive work in the past. How has your experience been working with him? Does he bring a particular magic to this project?

James: Ben was absolutely amazing to work with. He did indeed bring a particular magic to the project. Not only did he enable us to expand to IMAX instead of regular 70mm, his work ethics, dedication and talent stood out so much, I know for certain already that I will continue to work with him on more projects. He initially contacted me about a possible collaboration, and after talking to him on the phone for hours, I knew absolutely that this was going to be a person I’d want to work with more regularly. His passion for analog film and cinematography is absolutely magical, and he is talented beyond belief. I especially urge readers to check out his short The Negative (2017), which was shot in VistaVision (horizontal 35mm film). It’s an absolute masterpiece of both, storytelling and cinematography, and is deeply inspiring as a project, too. We worked together closely on Daughter of Dismay, and prepared on location for around 10 days before the shoot, visiting the set almost daily, to plan everything through as carefully as possible. Working with him on set was fantastic, as our visions for the film matched perfectly, with some of his own touch making it the unique piece it is now.

Editor’s note: You can read more about Ben, VistaVision and The Negative in this article by Kodak cameras.

Director of Photography, Ben Brahem Ziryab on set.

Michael: As for the acting talent in Daughter of Dismay, do you have any recurring actors you seek to employ for each project?

James: I try to work with new talent as often as possible. I enjoy exploring the world of actors and actresses, and there are many fantastic talents out there. I do occasionally hire people I’ve previously worked with, as I did with Dajana Rajic, who plays the daughter of the witch in Daughter of Dismay and has acted in a music video I directed. But usually, I try to focus on being open towards new talent and finding the absolute perfect persona for the character of the film. In the case of Daughter of Dismay, we had an extremely talented all-female cast. Actually, the entire reason why the film exists is due to the lead actress, who I did a spontaneous photo shoot with in early 2018, in which she posed as a witch, which lead to very occult works of photography. I was so impressed by her ability to portray emotion and expression purely through her face and posture that I asked her if she was interested in starring in a film as the same character. She loved the idea, and I was so into the character that I ended up writing the script in a couple of hours, since I already had her entire background story laid out in my head. Everything progressed from there. She really sells the film, her talent and mystical looks are perfect for this role and inspiring. Dajana, who played the role of the daughter, a smaller role, but very important nonetheless, did an equally amazing job. I love working with children, and Dajana is especially gifted at following instructions, and has an intense emotional range that she can express on command. Her role was very dependent on conveying confusion and sadness, and she proved to be absolutely perfect for it. The shot before the very last shot in the film is a shot of her that is especially haunting, though you’ll have to see for yourself why.

Dajana Rajic in Daughter of Dismay (not that final shot mentioned above).

Michael: What are some other films and projects from Sodom & Chimera which you would like to mention?

James: With the promotion and publicity of Daughter of Dismay, I’m trying to focus on presenting it as a singular project, one that’s separate from my others, like mentioned. I’ve made a range of films so far that are all very different from each other, though many carry distinctive elements that I put in all of my films. My favorite so far, besides Daughter of Dismay, was Sulphur for Leviathan (2017). It’s a grimy arthouse short about Satanism and the downfall of Christianity, and was heavily inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky. It was painful to shoot and made me want to quit filmmaking, but I’m extremely glad we pulled it off. It’s still the most provocative and radical film I’ve made so far, even though there’s practically no violence in it.

For people who would like an introduction to my filmmaking roots, I suggest to check out The Law of Sodom, which is an extremely disturbing and experimental film about my personal experience with mental illness, all written and shot during episodes of psychosis. (Watch on Vimeo on Demand)

Like mentioned though, Daughter of Dismay is a very separate piece, and I’d like for people who see it to disregard any other work they might have seen of mine. That doesn’t mean I’m not proud of my other films – not at all. It’s just such a unique and different film, I’d like people to go into it without any specific expectations of my style.

From the photo set (same name) which inspired Daughter of Dismay.

Michael: You also work within still-photography, a number of these sets are available for browsing at sodomchimera.com/photos. I particularly enjoyed the ‘Idolatry of Emptiness’ set. Is this an equal passion to your filmmaking? What has been your most memorable photoshoot?

James: Photography is a big passion of mine, yes. Visual art is something I’m very fond of, and there’s something about photography which greatly excites me, which is the ability to tell an entire story with one single frame, to put very specific thoughts into people’s brains and make them make up their own stories. There are similarities to filmmaking in the way I approach it, but in the end, it’s such a wonderfully different medium, and it’s especially pleasing as an artist since it works quicker than shooting a film. I do prepare most of my shoots, and even script them, but with photos, the possibilities of being spontaneous are much more open, and I very much enjoy that. Often, my photography is later used as the base for films, as was the case with Daughter of Dismay.

from ‘Idolatry of Emptiness’ set.

Michael: For a newcomer to the films of Sodom & Chimera, what would you recommend to readers as the best starting point?

James: I’d say check out the photography first, and start with a more stylistic and less extreme short, like Sulphur for Leviathan. It will give you a better idea of our artistic goal, after which you can work your way up to more obscure works like The Law of Sodom and Flesh of the Void. Ideally, you’d start with Daughter of Dismay, but it’s obviously going to take a little while until that’s possible.

Michael: Do you have any lofty goals for Sodom & Chimera? Any dream projects which you are waiting for the perfect set of circumstances to proceed? Or have you been steadily working through most of the ideas as they arise?

James: There are a few projects and scripts that I’m sitting on that I’m waiting with still, just because they need the right resources and talent, and I’d like them to be perfect. I can’t really say a lot about our future work, though I can tell you that there will be more features coming.

Michael: I thank you very much for your time, James. If you have any last words or information that you would like to give readers, feel free!

James: Thank you! All I want to close with is an appeal to people to go out and experience movies more intimately and intensely, and give analog film a chance. Look up special screenings, take a road trip and check out a film in 70mm IMAX, watch old classics in 35mm, take the time to experience things and movies you don’t know or maybe wouldn’t have watched otherwise, try to see the medium of film as an experience and spectacle instead of something to pass time with. It’s such a beautiful art form, and there are amazing sights and experiences to be had beyond just watching a film on a flat screen or in your local multiplex. Go live some movies.

Links

Sodom & Chimera Official Website
Facebook – Sodom & Chimera
Instagram – Sodom & Chimera

Hector Meinhof – Interview

Hector Meinhof is an author and musician out of Sweden that has recently released his debut book, Three Nails, Four Wounds through Infinity Land Press. Outside his writing, Meinhof is known for his work as a classically-trained percussionist. He’s performed as part of Kroumata, a percussion ensemble. He’s also part of the scenic music duo, Hidden Mother. He is a collector of  antique photography, specialized in post-mortem, medical and religious themes.

This book had a real impact on me, more so than with many/most books I’ve read in recent years. There is a perfect melange of macabre photography with a strange story that takes place in an asylum, centered on seven 11 year old girls. The story is filled with brilliant allusions to an apocalypse, mental/physical disability, old-fashion asylum conditions, and a dark and twisted conception of Christianity. Mingled with this is a very unique writing style, a blend of dialogues, poetry, and prose which all come together with the images to form an incredibly powerful experience.

Hector Meinhof has written a book that is both beautiful and cruel. His poetic prose and the doom-laden pictures from his extensive collection of vintage photographs have bled into one tortured, corporeal unity. This is the illustrated scripture for the new dark ages, it will be read and beheld again and again. – Martin Bladh

I decided that only reviewing the book wouldn’t do this work enough justice. I wanted to delve into the topics a bit deeper with Meinhof and find out a bit more about this promising new artist to the literary world. There will be a review coming along soon, but for now I highly recommend this book! Enjoy, and thank you all for your continued support of This Is Darkness and the works we cover!

Interviewee: Hector Meinhof
Conducted by: Michael Barnett

Michael: First off, thank you very much for agreeing to the interview. Three Nails, Four Wounds was my first introduction to your art-form and I must say I am incredibly impressed. I rarely am eager to go right back to the beginning of a book and start reading again, immediately after finishing it. But this the case with Three Nails, Four Wounds.

Hector: Thank you for those kind words, Michael. I’m looking forward to hearing your questions. Let’s dig into it!

Michael: Christianity plays a major role throughout the narrative of Three Nails, Four Wounds. What is your particular relationship with religion? Do you fascinate on it from afar, or do you hold some beliefs?

Hector: I did not have a religious upbringing at all (by the way: Sweden is mostly protestant). I thought religion was the most boring subject when I went to school. I didn’t care about these things until my 30s when I started to read about Christian mysticism. People on the fringe of society have always interested me and all those eccentric mystics – the saints, the stigmatics, Christ-erotics, those crazy nose-bleeding nuns, levitating, fasting, suffering, flagellating themselves – really struck me as the most extreme way of life ever recorded in the human history. It also made me aware of my Christian heritage. In the West – especially in Europe – we are all cultural Christians whether we like it or not. It’s not just the architecture, music, art, philosophy – but it’s in our way of thinking, in how we perceive things. So, whether you believe Christ was crucified for our sins or that he was “incompetence hanging on a tree” [Anton Szandor LaVey] it doesn’t really matter – we are what we are because of Christianity. In Scandinavia, Christendom is of course mixed with Norse mythology (look at the Norwegian stave churches with their dragons).  Personally, I don’t have a problem with our Christian heritage, it has given birth to astonishing art, literature and philosophy, a rich set-up of archetypes that can guide and inspire, and the church’s demand for control wasn’t strong enough to keep the light of science from creeping in.

Michael: Martin has mentioned in the Afterword that it took you a great deal of time to find your individual writing voice. Do you think you’ve finally found that voice with Three Nails, Four Wounds?

Hector: That’s a good question. There are so many books in the world – is it even possible to create something new? Since I can’t do better work than Dante, Göthe, Shakespeare, Bronte,  Dostoevsky, Huysmans, Rilke, Woolf, Proust, Camus, Bataille, Zürn, Ungar and Wittkop, already have done, I need to find themes, or a combination of themes, that haven’t been explored (at least not the way I do it); combine that with a personal style regarding language and form – then maybe you can create something that at least could be perceived as original. I had been writing for many years, but never thought anything turned out good enough for publishing. This time I thought it did. I guess this is my voice then – but I suspect that it will change over time. It took a long time for me to learn how to write, let’s leave it at that.

Let me add that when I started to write “Three Nails, Four Wounds” I knew that I wanted the story to take place in a hospital, and that although the religious themes would be there (like a skeleton of the book), my main focus was to find ways to express feelings of despair, pain, loneliness, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, a frustrated stutterer full of things to say lacking the ability to talk freely, and mental illness in general. I didn’t want it to be a conventional novel (building up characters, etc.), and I wanted a slightly surreal tone in the girls’ speech – that was my biggest problem: how to make them talk like they were from another dimension of life. So, I got the idea of using old poems (written ca. 15 years ago) as lines – and that’s how I found the tone in the dialogue. At one stage, I did consider composing the book entirely of lines of dialogue, but it felt too constructed.

From Three Nails, Four Wounds

Michael: Was Three Nails, Four Wounds part of this process of finding your voice, or did you begin the book after you felt that you were in this proper mindset and had found a narrative voice suitable to continue with a more intensified and directed focus?

Hector: I guess “Three Nails” was part of the process. I wrote the book, read it, and felt for the first time that this book made it through the needle eye of my ambitions. I was ready. Twenty years from now, I will hopefully be a much better writer and then I will probably see flaws in this first book of mine – but I do believe that I will stand behind it and defend it.

Michael: Would you like to elaborate on some of the ideas that you were working on when writing this book?

Hector: My heroines, the seven 11-year-old girls, are not victims of anything, they act without hesitation, they are not afraid of the present. And many people are afraid of the present. A psychologist (I can’t remember who) talked about a man, happily married with children for 15 years. One day, his wife tells him that she has had an affair for the last five years and that she wants a divorce. The man is shocked. He says: “But I thought we were happy – when we had dinner last weekend, our holidays in France, when we visited your parents… Now, it’s like I don’t know myself anymore” – and the man had a breakdown. Happy memories turned into memories of deceit. His wife’s betrayal had changed his past, his history. So, the present can change the past, and that’s why it’s scary. In the present, we lack control. Everyday unexpected things can happen. Someone might walk up to you and say or do something that changes your past – and then we don’t know who we are anymore. The seven 11-year-old girls don’t remember, maybe they don’t have a past at all – and they are not afraid of anything.

My heroines are female because I think Woman has a certain inclination to spirituality – and most important: they use their body to express this spirituality. Reading about, for example, Mechthild von Magdeburg (which is quoted in the book), there is a very physical side to her belief in God. She talks about Christ more as a physical lover rather than something unreachable. The female saints bleed, they experience stigmata, they fast, they throw up objects, they levitate; when their bodies are dead they smell of flowers, when their hearts are dissected we find patterns and symbols inside. It seems to me, that female mystics use their flesh in a way male mystics don’t (there are, of course, exceptions). Their worship is like an art-form – and makes me think of contemporary performance artists, such as Marina Abramovic, especially her work in the 1970s.

Editor’s Note: An interesting article, if you want to learn more about some of Marina Abramovic’s work in the 70s.
https://www.elitereaders.com/performance-artist-marina-abramovic-social-experiment/?cn-reloaded=1

Hector: My heroines are children because I wanted them to be virgins. You could say that I use the seven 11-year-old girls as a cliché of the innocent childhood, not yet affected by social rules, sensual not sexual etc. But there’s a deeper meaning to it: their virginality – and I’m not talking about the bodily aspect of the term, but rather as a mental state. The virgin is self-enclosed, remote, secluded, turned inwards, doesn’t please others, penetrating only her own body, sterile, uncontaminated. Virginity as a state of mind is a sort of resistance. Let me quote from a book I just read [Images of the Untouched, 1982] about how to make a unicorn trap. You place the virgin in a forest, “with her breast uncovered, and by its scent the unicorn perceives it; then it comes to the virgin and kisses her breast, falls asleep on her lap and so comes to its death.” You could interpret the unicorn as “the spirit”, and the ”unicorn trap” as a way to unite the spirit with the body. “The virginal nourishes the spirit, while spirit makes the virginal psyche pregnant.” So, virginity as a state of mind is to be pregnant – that is: creative. In some cultures, the menstrual blood is viewed as a manifestation of creative power, especially a girl’s first menstruation. So, in my book you can see what happens when seven 11-year-old psychic virgins start acting, breaking the snow-white silence and awakening the avalanche.

Michael: There are hints that this book may not take place in a century-old past, as may seem more obvious, but that it is a look into the future. A possible warning about our coming struggles as humanity, as we wrestle with the ramifications of our systematic destruction of our own planet and existence. Do you see this as a sort of apocalyptic warning, a sort of prophecy?  Something more abstract than this?  Or do you prefer to let the reader sort these details out on their own?

Hector: Timewise, the book takes place in all eras (including the future). I think that in our culture we have lost the belief (and understanding) in sacrifice as a means for change.  I wanted to remind people of that. I have a really bad feeling about the future. On the other hand: the way I read the book, it actually has a happy ending. I believe that in the end of the book [spoiler alert! -> when the seven girls torture themselves to death, this sacrifice actually saves the town and the people in it. <- spoiler alert!] Let me just add that I don’t have an agenda – political or religious – with my work, you might see it as an intellectual preparation for the approaching darkness.

From Three Nails, Four Wounds

Michael: Were there any worries about the subject matter/visual content of Three Nails, Four Wounds?  It is, of course, packed with some quite macabre imagery, unavoidable considering the themes of the photographic content.

Hector: Not really. I did suggest that we black out the eyes of the disabled children, because those photos were taken in the 1940-50s (so they could still be alive, although I doubt it). It is, of course, a bit weird that photographs taken in the 19th century – for private use or as documentation – are now viewed as art. I see them as historic artifacts worthy of our attention, as memento mori objects, as our past, our collective memory.

From Three Nails, Four Wounds

Michael: It seems reasonably obvious that Infinite Land Press wouldn’t take issue with pressing such an intense release, as it is really the culture of their company. But, what of the hapless consumer that stumbles across your work. The person that had no clue what to expect. Do you have any preferred reaction/emotion you’d like to see coming from them?

Hector: I think the hapless consumer will be alright. If he or she doesn’t like my book they can just throw it away. People get offended by different things, some by photos of the dead, some by naked breasts, some by stupidity. I cannot limit myself by the fears of others. I saw ”The Shining” [Kubrick 1980] when I was ten, and I couldn’t sleep for days. I got extreme anxiety when I had to watch an anti-drug movie in school, where a woman injected heroin into her neck. But I survived – and rather than prosecute the people behind these ”childhood traumas” I feel grateful for being exposed to great art (The Shining) and brutal reality (syringe in neck). And no, I do not have any preferred reactions from a reader – all emotions are welcome.

From Three Nails, Four Wounds

Michael: “The Shining” was the first film that I appreciated more deeply and intuitively. A horror that could overcome the viewer on multiple levels. I, also, wouldn’t have had it any other way. Now that you are moving in the published world, do you have plans for more publications to follow in the foreseeable future?

Hector: I am currently writing a new book. Infinity Land Press is interested. I need at least one more year to finish it. The plan is to get it out in 2020.

Michael: Have you been holding back ideas with the anticipation of coming into your own as a writer, or have you been working through material as it presents itself?

Hector: The latter, I believe. Writing for me is very intuitive. I don’t know what’s going on inside my head when I’m working. It’s a mystery to me – and I like that.

Michael: Martin Bladh mentions that you found inspiration in a passage from the ancient Roman historian Plutarch, in which fear of being carried naked through the market stopped a sudden phenomenon of the Miletus townswomen impulsively hanging themselves. Was this an interesting tidbit you found? Or do you have a deeper fascination with Roman history/stories/mythology?

Hector: I would like to learn more about Roman history, but the Plutarch story was just something that I stumbled upon and felt was connected to my book.

From Three Nails, Four Wounds

Michael: During my studies of Roman history at university, I found the stories: ‘The Golden Ass’ by Apuleius, ‘Satyricon’ by Petronius, and ‘The Satires’ by Juvenal, to all be the most resoundingly interesting. But there is a never-ending torrent of literature worth reading. One must be selective with their time, especially in modernity when vacation and retirement are imaginary concepts for most people. (At least here, in the U.S.)

Hector: I agree, there are so many books to read! Think about a man like Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. He read all books that existed in his time, he possessed all knowledge there was in the world and could grasp the whole intellectual effort made by mankind. You could say that he knew everything. Today that would not be possible – and knowledge is consequently fragmented upon various experts. And now I have contributed to the ever growing pile of books in the world with my own book…  I would guess that psychic virgins are very selective readers (or they probably don’t read at all).

Michael: What are your thoughts on Francesca Woodman’s perspective on her art?  Do you think it was auto-biographical in nature? Do you think her still largely unreleased body of work would inform us better on this matter?

Francesca Woodman, Space 2, 1976.

Hector: I was around 20 years old when I discovered Francesca Woodman. It had a great impact on me back then, but I haven’t thought about her for some years now. I don’t want to speculate about her work, if it was auto-biographical or not – it is what it is, for us to enjoy. But there is something mysterious about her, both in her work and her as a person. A feeling of something untold. I saw that documentary [The Woodmans, 2011] a few years ago, it had a weird atmosphere – her father photographing young Francesca-like women, like he was repeating (or continuing) his dead daughter’s work. The documentary didn’t really give much new information, but it was nice to see bits from her performance videos, and to hear her “Minnie Mouse” voice.  When she jumped out of a window at her New York apartment she did not leave a suicide note, but in a letter to a friend she wrote: “My life at this point is like very old coffee-cup sediment and I would rather die young leaving various accomplishments, i.e. some work, my friendship with you, some other artefacts intact, instead of pell-mell erasing all of these delicate things.”  That tells us quite a bit regarding her aim for perfection. I do hope we will get to see the rest of her work someday, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Michael: Have you found any current photographers that are able to capture her level of emotion in their works which you found so profound with Francesca Woodman?

Hector: For the last ten years or so my focus has been on antique photography, so I’m not really up to date on contemporary artists. But if you want pain, I can recommend the saint-like Spanish photographer David Nebreda.

Michael: Again, in the Afterword, Martin mentions your original fondness for film directors like Pasolini, Dreyer, Bergman and Tarkovsky. Who are some of your more modern favorites? I’m, personally, a huge fan of the works of Lars von Trier and David Lynch, quite a bit above most other current filmmakers, though I’m always looking for some young talents to carry the torch for the next generation.

Hector: When I started writing, film was an important source of influence. I went to a movie theater (that showed classics and art house films) almost every day. But as with contemporary photographs, nowadays I’m not really up-to-date with what’s going on. I like Michael Haneke’s films, Tarr and Alexander Sokurov. If I should name a Swedish director, it would be Ruben Östlund. Sorry, don’t come to me if you want tips on photographers or directors! When I was younger, I searched for influences everywhere, nowadays I try to avoid influences – the thoughts inside my own head are enough.

Vintage hidden mother photographs from Three Nails, Four Wounds.

Michael: How has your collection progressed since you started procuring 19th and early 20th century photography? Do you just find this sort of stuff on the internet, or do you attend auctions and other markets for finding such niche photography? I imagine there must be so much of this stuff out there, waiting in attics for some horrified descendant to one day unpack, and they wouldn’t have the slightest clue what to do with an oddity like this.

Hector: I think my interest in buying antique photographs started when I saw a “hidden mother” on eBay. I realized that there were a lot of interesting photos on the market. Pretty soon, I started to buy post-mortems, and then medical photos, and then religious themes. Most of them I bought at on-line auctions like eBay, but I have also gotten to know photo collectors from around the world. It’s a small community and we know each other’s interests, we sell and trade with each other. Some of the photos in the book make me uncomfortable too, looking back I think this was a way for me to come to terms with certain fears, and to learn to see beauty even in the nastiest subjects. I like to look at kittens too.

From Meinhof’s personal collection.

Michael: I imagine a hobby like collecting 19th – early 20th century post-mortem photography wouldn’t present itself in a vacuum. Do you have any other interesting collections you’d like to mention?

Hector: Well, that would be old books – but beyond that I don’t really think that I’m such a hoarder. On the other hand, if I had a lot of money, I could easily imagine myself surrounded with exquisite antiques – cylinder music boxes, medieval paintings, large vellum books, talking machines, phonographs, 17th century medical models in ivory, religious objects and relics from saints – in my little castle in the Swiss alps…

Michael: That sounds like a wonderful way of spending a fortune! Has your particular environment had an impact on your artistic direction?  As you are Swedish, it is understandable that the works of Ingmar Bergman would come to you at an earlier age than for someone like myself growing up in a rather traditional American family.

Hector: Bergman was important, films like Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Cries and Whispers, had a huge impact on me. Not just visually, but also his treatment of the Swedish language. But most of all, this feeling of independence and freedom; that you can create a piece of art with its own inner logic regarding form and content, not following the manual and not caring about what other people think or say. And, since I have been working with hardcore contemporary art music for my whole adult life, I think (although I cannot explain exactly how) that this has influenced my sense of form and structure. Xenakis, Stockhausen, Cage, Lucier, Ligeti, Sciarrino, Whitehouse…

From Three Nails, Four Wounds

Michael: What are your feelings on Infinity Land Press? Are you happy with the book and Martin and Karolina?

Hector: I had met Martin once before in connection with the recording of the CD Closure… by his post-industrial band IRM. They wanted some additional percussion on the album and, via a mutual friend, I got the job. A few years later when I had finished Three Nails, I heard that Martin had moved to London and started Infinity Land Press, together with Karolina. I sent him the manuscript and he replied like 24 hours later that he wanted to publish it – I was stunned! Martin and Karolina are very professional, both are artists themselves, so we have the same understanding of where the boundaries in our different roles (writer – publisher) should be. I think Karolina’s design of the book is very tasteful and Martin provided a thoughtful afterword that gives the reader some background to the thematic aspects of the book. And of course, the translators Marianne Griolet and John Macmillan were crucial for the birth of this book as a physical object. To produce a book with over 100 photos is expensive, and I wanted it to be affordable (especially since this is my debut), and I think that ILP managed to make a book that feels luxurious without costing a fortune. I am very happy with the result, it’s a little gem. And the reception has been fantastic, I’m humbled by all the praise from my readers.

Michael: I think you hit your goal nicely. I forgot the book was under £20, it certainly feels like a more expensive and very well-made product.  Do you see any other publisher out there working on projects of these sorts?

Hector: I think you know more about publishers than I do, Michael. But we have, for example, Kiddiepunk [Michael Salerno], and Amphetamine Sulphate [Philip Best]. I was happy that Wakefield Press released two books by Gabrielle Wittkop a few years ago.

Michael: I am learning new things every day. I am constantly finding new artists, publishers, film directors, that are changing my ideas on art and its limits. I just try to bring the zine’s readers along in my process of discovery. You never know where the next hidden gem will decide to shine and reveal itself. I find that an artist’s particular set of interests can often unlock a whole new world of interests to their followers. So, I thank you for sharing some insight, not only into your own work and process, but also into the things that brought you to become the artist you are today. I thank you again for your time, and I’ll leave the final words to you!

Hector: The pleasure was mine, Michael. Thank you for spreading the New Gospel! My final words… well, the aborted calf is shaved and skinned. The skin is stretched over the firmament: In the afternoon sun, people cease to cast shadows. In the town square, the puppet theater closes for the day. The puppet master pulls off the puppets and discovers that his hands are soaked with blood. You see, this is for real.

Purchase Three Nails, Four Wounds here.

Hector Meinhof Links

Official Website
Facebook
Instagram
Youtube
Hidden Mothers band site

Ruptured World – Interview

From the first seconds of Exoplanetary, the new Cryo Chamber release by Ruptured World, I knew this was going to be a unique and incredibly entertaining album. I was not wrong. As I found out more about the man behind the project, its breadth and attention to detail became more understandable. I will preface the interview with this “about me” from Rennie’s Amazon page:

Alistair Rennie is author of the weird, sword and debauchery novel, BleakWarrior. He has published weird fantasy and horror fiction, essays and poetry in The New Weird anthology, Weird Tales magazine, Fabulous Whitby, Electric Velocipede, Mythic Delirium, Pevnost, Schlock Magazine, Horror Without Victims, Weird Fiction Review and Shadowed Realms.

He was born and grew up in the North of Scotland, has lived for ten years in Italy, and now lives in Edinburgh in the South of Scotland. He holds a first class Honours Degree in Literature from the University of Aberdeen and a PhD in Literature from the University of Edinburgh. He is a time-served Painter and Decorator and a veteran climber of numerous hills and mountains in the Western Highlands, the Cairngorms and the Italian Dolomites.

Interviewee: Alistair Rennie of Ruptured World
Conducted by: Michael Barnett

Michael Barnett: So, I want to get this stupid question out of the way first! While considering Exoplanetary for review, I felt some connections to The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), googling it to make sure I had the correct title, I notice the main star is Michael Rennie. Any relation?

Alistair Rennie: That’s a great question! Unfortunately, the answer is no, we’re not related. Though my dad used to claim that we were. There’s a good chance I could be related to the alien Klaatu, however. The true star of the film.

Michael: On that same topic, what were some of the foundational influences on this project? Did you get inspiration from some of those old sci-fi films, like the one aforementioned?

Alistair: Yes, I did, as well as from elsewhere. I think it started off more influenced by 80s classics like Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing, at least at the stage of writing, and with a strong Lovecraftian influence, too. But, when it came to recording, the older archaic broadcasting style came out in a very spontaneous and natural way, and I liked the way it blended unusually with the more modern electronic soundscapes and drones of the music.
Films like Them, War of the Worlds (also the musical version) and Forbidden Planet, and also the kind of narration you sometimes get in the old Hammer Horror films – they’re definitely in there.

Michael: Before we get into your new album on Cryo Chamber, I thought you could tell us a bit about the writing side of your artistic journey. I am looking forward to reading BleakWarrior, which seems like it will be quite the tale, if the review snippets in your promo are any indication. I will assume the majority of readers here will be aware of your music before your writing. Would you like to tell us a short description of BleakWarrior in your own words?

Alistair: It’s a tricky one to describe because it was very experimental and incorporates a range of influences, including Sword and Sorcery, Manga/Anime, Cyberpunk, Elizabethan Revenge Tragedies, Ancient Greek and Celtic heroic verse, violent westerns, Classical Chinese Literature. It’s an attempt to blend the extremes of pulp and literary elements of fiction and turn them into something that combines sensationalist sex and violence with metaphysics. I tend to describe it as sword and debauchery, though that downplays some of the more philosophical content that might be in there. In some ways, it’s also a study of what happens when we act or exist outside of a moral framework. If I were to summarise it in strictly generic terms, though, I’d call it dark weird fantasy, with significant SF and horror characteristics thrown into the mix.

Michael: Is the world in this book something that you would think dark ambient fans will find interesting?

Alistair: Without wishing to be presumptuous, I think so, yes. There are some very dark elements to the story and its characters. It’s very bleak, as the title suggests. But there’s also some over-the-top mayhem and humour that’s more black metal than dark ambient. There are also parts of the novel that focus on the natural world and ideas relating to the metaphysics of physical nature, which I think is clearly a theme of dark ambient music on a number of levels. You can see that with many of the artists on the Cryo Chamber label.

Michael: Would you like to tell readers a few recommendations in case they are interested in reading your other works?

Alistair: I think dark ambient fans might be interest in what’s been called New Weird fiction and, in particular, in an anthology called the New Weird which features a chapter from what later became BleakWarrior. It’s a ground-breaking anthology in many ways and features writers like Michael Moorcock and Clive Barker, Brian Evenson, Michael Cisco, Jeffrey Ford, Jeffrey Thomas, KJ Bishop – authors who, I think, would be interesting to fans of dark ambient.
In my own case, I have a story that’s coming out later this year in an anthology called Mechanical Animals to be released by Hex Publishers. The story I’ve contributed, called “The Island Brushed By Ghosts”, is set in the northwest of Scotland and deals with subjects pertaining to the nature of existence, as well as nature itself. It’s more cerebral and less frenzied than some of the other stuff I’ve written. If you prefer the mayhem, though, I had a recent story in an anthology called “DOA III” which was released by Blood Bound Books. It’s a sort of surreal slash horror SF far future story. Very dark! But also with elements of humour.

Michael: Which came first, your fiction writing or music production?

Alistair: That’s a very good question in the sense that they kind of evolved together. Music came first in terms of actually creating songs, finished works, as it were. With writing, I started off writing song lyrics and poetry. Fiction, writing stories, came much later, in my late teens, and writing stories that were actually completed and presentable came later still. But I believe that there’s a very close connection between music and writing, which is stating the obvious, really. Often, with writing, you’re striving to find harmony and rhythm, not only in the prose, but in the proportions of the story-telling, the narrative itself, to create a unified organic whole out of something (language) that is essentially chaotic and uncontrolled. Music does that, but with sounds instead of written symbols and utterances. And, of course, language itself is inherently musical.

Michael: How have these two elements been able to come together for you in the Ruptured World project? Did it originate as a story idea, or was it always meant to be this spoken-word blended with dark ambient format from its inception?

Alistair: I think what came first was the idea of using radio transmissions – which I find to be deeply mysterious, an area of activity where the technology and mystical elements of nature come together within the context of sound. I’ve always been fascinated by radio, especially by short wave radio. I remember when I was younger, before there was an internet or even home computers, I used to tune into voices and music from other parts of the world and found it incredibly exciting and amazing to be able to tap into the atmosphere of other countries. It still fascinates me today, even while it has been dramatically superseded by the internet.

Michael: Have you worked in other styles of music, or is Ruptured World your first foray into the musical world?

Alistair: I’ve been involved in music since I was twelve years old. I started off playing in a punk band and later played in an indie band that was fairly well known locally in the north of Scotland. And I also grew up playing folk music, which is not uncommon for musicians from Scotland, where there’s a very strong and innovative folk music scene. But, alongside all this, and right from the start, me and one of my friends had formed our own music project, which is very much the origins of what is now Ruptured World. We were influenced by bands like Bauhaus, the Virgin Prunes, the Cure, the Birthday Party, Japan and David Sylvian. There was just the two of us. We couldn’t find a third band member who shared the same tastes or ideas as us, so we couldn’t do a standard three or four piece thing. So we improvised. I had a Casio keyboard and we had guitars. We used all sorts of other things to generate noise, everything from biscuit tins to crash helmets, often using our voices as sound effects. And we also did spoken word. I still have old recordings on cassettes. More recently, we revived some of our old songs, did new versions of them using the technology of today. It was wonderful. The music is dark, sometimes haunting and melodic, but also low-fi and deliberately crude and primitive in terms of sound and style.

Michael: You performed all the vocal parts on Exoplanetary, and I assume Frontiers of Disorder as well? I, personally, love your vocal performance on these albums. Have you heard things like this in the past that inspired you? Or is this an idea you came up with to combine your loves of music and storytelling?

Alistair: There are definitely precedents for combining narration and music that have no doubt influenced me. There is nothing I can point to directly as an influence in this particular case. But I think War of the Worlds is certainly there, and audio recordings of poetry I’ve listened to over the years. And some of David Sylvian’s music where music and spoken words are combined. I also recall an old album a friend of mine had, one of those Dungeons and Dragons albums they used to produce, where a D&D story is narrated alongside the music. When you hear music and storytelling done together, I think it’s a very natural combination and, indeed, one that occurs every time we watch visual narratives realised in film. We forget that film is also an audio as well as a visual medium. I suppose, in many ways, that’s what Exoplanetary aims to be – a narrative and soundtrack conceived as a film but rendered and delivered through the medium of sound only.

Michael: Will you be continuing to work in this format on future releases?

Alistair: Yes, I think that’s a certainty. It’s a fascinating and extremely enjoyable challenge to integrate the musical and spoken word elements together. And trying to find ways of delivering the spoken narration, and do so effectively, is an extremely enjoyable if often difficult thing to aim for. And, being a writer, for me it’s just the obvious and natural thing to do, I think.

Michael: On the technical side, do you prefer working with digital soundscapes or do you incorporate modular synths or other such equipment into the mix?

Alistair: I tend to work principally with digital soundscapes combined with live materials gained from different sources and approaches, often through sampling where I take live recordings of instruments or objects and sounds derived from various places, and using them all as part of the digital tableaux. I have a very experimental approach, often unconventional, which is also true of my writing, and I try to explore those areas which are off-piste, as it were.
One approach I’m seeking to develop now derives from an interest I have in ideas relating to the “genius loci” or spirit of place. This is a literary term that, among other things, refers to the specific conditions or essence of a particular place or geographic location. I’m looking to do live recordings in specific locations using instruments and devices channeled and amplified through conventional hardware, then integrated into the soundscape of the purely digital environment. So, it’s trying to take the essence and evocation of a particular place and preserve it in the alternative digital universe, as it were. Not an easy thing, but something to aim for!

Michael: If you used many field recordings on Exoplanetary, what was the process like capturing these sounds? Were you able to work with some sound banks or did you take field recording expeditions?

Alistair: I use only field recordings, precisely for the reasons given above. It’s the fascination of the specificity of the sound and the particular place or conditions in which it was conceived and recorded. The active participation in the process from start to finish has a strong fascination for me. Not that I don’t think sound banks are useful. They are a valuable and viable resource. And, for me, the rule is to use anything and everything that works for the creation of the sound or music, so a certain magpie instinct is necessary for gathering sounds and adapting them to the creative process. But, in my own case, the fascination requires me to follow the goal of capturing a unique essence and trying to integrate it into the overall composition. I suppose that might sound somewhat airy fairy! But I think anything that injects your music with an additional sense of purpose is worth pursuing. It will ultimately lead to better results in being driven by the conviction of an established methodology.

Michael: You’ve mentioned previously that you are an avid climber, it seems you’ve reached the summit of a good number of mountains around the world. Do you have a particular love of nature or is this more a physical drive for you? Do you think these excursions in nature lead to a deeper understanding of this dark ambient genre?

Alistair: The love of nature I think is the overriding passion, but I also relish the physical contact with the natural world and the physical effort it requires of you. Walking in mountains, in heightened terrain that changes your visual perspective of the world, is exhilarating for all sorts of reasons. You see the world, quite literally, in a different way, in the way it actually is. You see how the contours lie, how the habitable spaces are often actually small pockets or strips of land surrounded by hostile terrain. The close contact with weather conditions is always a great source of inspiration for me, and also the fear you feel when you’re faced with raw nature.
And I think these are facets of our experience which are very much at the heart of the dark ambient coterie of themes. Importantly, dark ambient doesn’t deal solely with the beauty and spiritual amplitude of nature, which are ably and admirably covered by many artists in the ambient and new age genres, for example. Dark ambient has a preoccupation with the more menacing aspects of nature, with its innate power and mysterious forces which, while crudely scientific, are nevertheless suggestive of something greater. And I think this is where we receive a sense of awe that causes us to look on nature with a primitive response we cannot summarise in words. Hence, we resort to music and sounds as a means of expressing it, which is very much the territory of dark ambient.

Dark ambient has a preoccupation with the more menacing aspects of nature, with its innate power and mysterious forces which, while crudely scientific, are nevertheless suggestive of something greater.

You find in old mythologies that humans, when confronted by gods, must shield their eyes because, if they don’t, they will be driven mad by the beauty and terror of the deity they look upon. I think dark ambient is a form of music that dares to look upon the gods and seeks to reiterate what it sees through the language of sounds.

Michael: What would be your dream project? If you could secure funding for any sort of project?

Alistair: It would have to be something that combined music with landscape. The Austrian musician, Manu Delago, recently led an expedition of 7 musicians into the Alps where they recorded music to be made into an album and film, called Parasol Peak. They recorded songs acoustically as they ascended through the various stages of their journey, and the results are incredible. So, doing something similar, but using electronic means of music production, would definitely be a dream project for me. And, to be honest, I don’t think it would require a huge amount of funds, so I may well go for it sometime soon! The problem would obviously be the need to generate power for electronic devices, but I’m sure there’d be a way.
Musician Paul Winter did a similar thing when he recorded music for an album in the Grand Canyon back in the 1980s. He and his musicians rafted down the river to find a spot to record music that would capture the echo generated by the canyon walls. Again, I would like to undertake a similar expedition with the objective of creating an electronic dark ambient extravaganza!

Michael: I’ll end on a bright note, how do you imagine Earth to look 100 years from now?

Alistair: Rain, rain, nothing but rain. Lots of gloom. No sunlight. Humans will evolve into vampires. A bit like Scotland during the summer, really.

Michael: Thank you very much for your time Alistair, I’ll leave the last words to you!

Alistair: Thank you, Michael! It’s been great to be in This Is Darkness. I very much wish you and your readership a prodigious abundance of lasting wellness!

Alistair Rennie’s Links

Ruptured World
: Official Website, Facebook,
Bandcamp (Exoplanetary)Bandcamp (Frontiers of Disorder)

Alistair Rennie’s Publications
: Official Website

Frédéric Arbour of Cyclic Law / Visions – Interview

Frédéric Arbour is probably one of the most important people in the dark ambient scene. Since the early 2000s, his record label, Cyclic Law, has released some of the most important and influential dark ambient albums in the history of the genre. Though, Arbour himself has always seemed to be one of the most quiet voices within the genre. Along with running the label, Cyclic Law, Arbour creates music in various projects including: Havan, Stärker and Instincts. His other project, Visions, has just released a brilliant new collaborative album with Phurpa, entitled Monad. So, now seemed like a great time to catch up with him to find out more about Visions, his collaboration with Phurpa, and the Cyclic Law record label’s past & future. Enjoy!

Interview with: Frédéric Arbour [See end for links to his projects and label.]
Conducted by: Michael Barnett

Michael: First I’d like to talk a bit about your new album Monad, a collaboration with Phurpa. After your last two releases as Visions, you decided to take a break from the project. Was this release with Phurpa aligned with those plans, or did this opportunity come as a surprise, changing your plans?

Frédéric: I guess it was neither a surprise nor planned. I had put Visions on hold for an indefinite period to focus on Stärker and Havan and a few other collaborations I have also been involved in, and this past year I felt I had to rethink my approach and sound and decided to focus on Visions again and go forward with new ideas.

Michael: How long have you known Alexey Tegin? How soon did you decide that you would want to collaborate with him and the Phurpa project?

Frédéric: I have known of Alexey since 2002 from a release under his own name titled Gyer. Also, having been close to Tibetan ritual music for many years prior, his unique take on this tradition immediately resonated with me. We were in contact some years later, and we were able to finally meet in 2014 while I was hosting a Cyclic Law night in Moscow, where Phurpa closed the evening. Alexey was also kind enough to invite us to his home and ritual chamber. We have since kept in contact, and have also released 2 other albums by Phurpa through Cyclic Law.

Michael: Did Visions and Phurpa come together in a studio setting to create Monad, or was this done electronically between Germany and Russia?

Frédéric: It was done through exchanging ideas and audio files electronically. Alexey sent me mantras which had specific intents, that I then processed and merged into what became Monad.

Michael: Were there set guidelines for your individual roles (i.e. Phurpa does all percussion, Visions does all drones), or was it a more fluid process?

Frédéric: It was quite fluid, there’s chants and percussive elements from both Phurpa and myself. I layered the drones and atmospheric elements throughout, and also did the final mixing and mastering.

Michael: How did you decide on Monad as the title for the album, and I assume the theme of the release as well? Should we assume this to be the Monad of Gnosticism?

Frédéric: It would translate to the totality of the whole, and its source, and the channeling of this primordial force.

Michael: Obviously, Phurpa is a very spiritually oriented project, backed by the strict adherence to the beliefs that Alexey Tegin holds. Would you consider Visions to be an equally spiritual project, or do you seek to harness more abstract ideas?

Frédéric: Spiritual, most definitely, with a strong dose of abstraction. At its etymological roots, the word abstract relates to being “withdrawn from worldly interests”. This is where Visions stands.

Michael: How did the similarities/differences in the religious/world views between Visions and Phurpa play into the creation of, and energy behind, this release?

Frédéric: Let’s just say that we both channel and explore the same currents through our musical means; and this is how / why our paths crossed and we’ve come to this collaboration. The result and energy it emanates speaks for itself.

Michael: With Monad released, will Visions continue to be a main priority for the moment or will you allow it to patiently lie in wait for your next inspiration?

Frédéric: This release is a prelude to the new album coming early next year, I’m working on new material that is soon approaching completion.

Michael: Let us turn the attention now to your role as founder and main operator of the Cyclic Law record label. In a word, how are things going at Cyclic Law at the moment?

Frédéric: Things are good, there are quite a few titles planned for the rest of the year and well into 2019.

Michael: You’ve recently made a huge move, transporting the whole Cyclic Law operation from Canada to Berlin. Would you care to speak any on the reasons for that move? How are things in Berlin, so far?

Frédéric: I’ve known for many years that I would at some point move to Europe. I’ve been traveling and touring Europe yearly for over 20 years now, and have always felt more at home on this side of the Atlantic. Berlin was a more strategic choice in terms of ease of relocation and for its very active cultural landscape. Things have been quite good for me as a whole here. I’m definitely glad this move came to its conclusion.

Michael: Obviously, during the previously mentioned move, the label’s output was a little slower, though it has considerably increased in the first half of 2018. Will you be planning to keep things moving at this pace for the near future?

Frédéric: Yes, moving took some adjustment, but 2017 and 2018 have been quite active with very interesting releases coming my way, and there’s quite a lot in the works.

Michael: I haven’t read any previous interviews with you, so I thought it would be interesting to hear a little bit about the start of Cyclic Law from your perspective. Those first few years, releasing the first handful of albums which ended up having such an impact on the dark ambient genre. What were your feelings starting up the label?

Frédéric: Well things started around 1998, when I purchased my first synth to create what became the Instincts / Bustum The Mystery Visions album, and subsequently what established Cyclic Law as a label in 2002. In those years, I had met Svartsinn, Northaunt and Kammarheit through the mp3.com platform. Things evolved from there, with the release of the Nord Ambient Alliance compilation and then releases by Kammarheit, Sophia, Svartsinn etc…

Michael: Did you have any intentions of still doing this almost two decades later?

Frédéric: Well you can never predict where things will lead you. But, my intentions to push this forward as long as it feels relevant have been there from the start, and I hope I can keep doing this for some time still. Things change, but the music still speaks.

Michael: Do you have any thoughts on the dark ambient genre as a whole, with the emergence of things like Spotify, Youtube, and too a lesser degree Bandcamp, that make it easier for listeners to absorb massive amounts of music, but harder for invested labels to pay the bills.

Frédéric: Well these are 2 things, content vs form. As for content, well the genre has evolved and I’m still surprised by some of the quality and craft some artists deploy. Even after all these years, there are still new ways to interpret and approach this genre. As for form, well yes, there’s a lot of material out there and for someone diving into this genre today the scope is overwhelming. Album sales are fluctuating and the streaming reality is what it is. We just work with the means we have and keep pushing forward.

Michael: Many people have quite rigid views on their favorite genres of music, whatever they may be. Do you see a great new horizon ahead of us, or do you think the golden age of dark ambient may already be in the rear-view?

Frédéric: Most musical styles have had their “golden age” and now it is through convergence of styles and ideas that things evolve. I’m okay with this for the most part. Classics will remain classics, yet there are more classics to be made.

Michael: The reemergence of vinyl has left its mark on dark ambient, as it has on most other genres right now. Cyclic Law got into the vinyl releases early on in this trend. For you as a label head, what are the ups and downs of vinyl?

Frédéric: My initial goal with the first releases was to give the CD format the aspects I had enjoyed of vinyl, the smell and feel of heavy cardboard, inserts, gatefold sleeves etc… this was at a time when vinyl was almost out of the picture. Yet, we were releasing vinyl back in 2003, before this “comeback” of vinyl. Now we can offer both CD and vinyl, and even cassettes. So, it’s interesting to be able to present all these formats. I maybe secretly miss the 8-track cassette days of my youth.

Michael: You played a big part in the startups of Kammarheit, Northaunt and Svartsinn. You found Psychomanteum, the first released project by Robert Kozletsky, now best known for Apocryphos, while he was still in college, only beginning to even realize his own talents. The list could go on. Do you have your eyes set on any artists right now that you think are incredibly talented which haven’t yet gotten the recognition they deserve?

Frédéric: Well yes, there’s always this aspect of running a label, to push the more established acts as well as unearth newcomers that one feels must be heard by a wider audience. Recently, Shedir from Italy has had a big impact on me, as well as a few others yet to be released: Cober Ord from France, Kristian Westergard from Norway, Purba from Russia, O Saala Sakral (ex Hadewych) from The Netherlands and more…

Michael: What can we expect the future to hold for Cyclic Law, business as usual, or any surprises on the way?

Frédéric: Well business isn’t quite usual here. There are definitely some surprises. But, I’ll have to keep the suspense for now.

Michael: Thank you so much for your time, Frederic. It’s been a great pleasure getting to pick your brain!

Frédéric: Thank you Michael, and for all your work. Your platform is a haven in a sea of insignificance.

Links
Cyclic Law: Official Site, Facebook, Bandcamp
Visions: Facebook, Discogs
StärkerFacebook, Discogs
HavanFacebook, Discogs

Mortiis – Interview (Era 1 focused)

 

Mortiis is hailed by many/most as one of the greatest originators of the now greatly expanding dungeon synth genre. His Era 1 releases considered classics, and highly sought out by the dungeon synth community, as well as by fans of the Cold Meat Industry label, in general, which was home to Mortiis Era 1. With a new round of concerts featuring Era 1 material, a re-issue of his book ‘Secrets of My Kingdom’, and re-issues of many Era 1 albums, it seemed like a great time to have a conversation with the man behind Mortiis and pick his mind about the new book, his re-emergence within the Era 1 context, the Cold Meat Industry 25th anniversary festival and more!

Interviewee: Håvard Ellefsen a.k.a. Mortiis
Conducted by: Michael Barnett

Michael: The last year or so has been pretty crazy for you, it seems. Since your re-emergence in 2015, there has been a simultaneous flow of new fans to your Era 1 material, which culminated in the recent tour and appearance at the Cold Meat Industry 25th anniversary festival. In general, how have you been feeling about all this change?

Mortiis: Good. The only regret I have is that everything should have happened sooner. Especially the release of The Great Deceiver. But a lot of shit got in the way of that, so it wasn´t so much that we were dormant or inactive prior to 2015, we were just dealing with a ton of crap in the background. All that bullshit culminated in us getting rid of some, let´s say, obstacles in the “organization”, that had been wasting a lot of our time, especially in the couple of years leading up to the release of The Great Deceiver. From that moment on, you could almost physically feel the shifting of gears and actual forward movement.

Michael: More specifically, are you pleased to see your old work coming back to prominence so many years later?

Mortiis: To be honest I think it´s cool that people like my music, regardless of when it was made. I just think it´s cool to see people dig my stuff…I didn´t always feel this way…A few years back, I wanted people to feel the way I did, which was, invariably, that my latest music was the best…That´s not realistic, obviously. But I wanted things to be like that. Needless to say, an artist should always feel that the latest work is the best, but it´s not realistic to expect everyone else to agree.

Michael: After this round of 1st era re-issues, the touring, and the re-printing of your long sold out, and greatly sought after “Secrets of My Kingdom” book, what is next for Mortiis? Will the full focus return to Mortiis, the band, as opposed to Mortiis, the dark dungeon music guy?

Mortiis: We´ll have to see about that. I´d like to get another album out of the Era 1 style stuff, but brought into the light on current times. The band will resurface, because so much of my heart and soul has been vested into it, and the music and energy that it inspires in me, so I could never let that go.
As of right now. I am committed to a lot of shows for the rest of the year, and beyond that, I have many plans and ideas, and I´ll just reveal that along the way, when the time is right, haha!

Michael: Your own music aside, what are your feelings on this huge re-emergence of dungeon synth?

Mortiis: It sort of happened in my absence, and I wasn´t really made aware of it until I peronally came to terms with my musical past, which I had a lot of personal issues with up until about 2-3 years ago, when my mind became less foggy and judgemental about it. By that point, it seemed to have been growing to a decent size…It´s interesting that its happening now. Because, I don´t think my reissues had anything to do with this emergence. I think it´s a monster all on its own, so to speak. So it would appear it´s really just a very cool coincidence. I still haven´t been able to check out a lot of it. Although, I have done shows with projects like Old Tower recently, which sounds pretty cool me.

Michael: You’ve marked your stamp of approval on several recent dungeon synth releases, including Machina Coeli’s Gnosis, and at least one other that escapes me at the moment. I’ve also seen your name in the “thank you” sections of many artists’ albums. What do you think your position is within this new dungeon synth community? Are you keeping an eye on new projects, or do you mostly ignore these trends/communities and focus on your own work?

Mortiis: I don´t ignore them, I´m just not as good as I should be on checking them out. It´s all about lack of time really. I´m pretty swamped at the moment, and have been for some time… I see the forums online and I notice a lot of these names. So, I think a good portion of what´s out there, at least I´ve seen their names around, if nothing else. As for my position, I don´t know, I don´t really want to speculate in that. And, it´s not really up to me anyway, to place myself in any sort of hierarchy. If that makes any sense. I think I´m well respected by most people into dungeon synth. Although, I remember one douchebag being very personally offended at me for posting in a forum that was for French DS people only, which I missed. He got all worked up about it. Maybe he hoped for some sort of response. He never got one, so he was probably punching a screen somewhere. Hopefully it broke.

Michael: If you had one piece of advice to give new dungeon synth artists, what would that be?

Mortiis: Don´t post on French DS forums, haha! Nah, the French are OK, except this one dude, haha! To be honest, I´m not a DS expert, I don´t have it “all figured out” or anything. When I started out, I took a lot of shit for being an outsider visually, and making music that was hard to pigeonhole, so my best advice is to just keep at it. If it feels right, then let the world burn, fuck the critics, be yourself.

When I started out, I took a lot of shit for being an outsider visually, and making music that was hard to pigeonhole, so my best advice is to just keep at it. If it feels right, then let the world burn, fuck the critics, be yourself.

Michael: I mentioned earlier the CMI festival. How was that experience for you? Was it surreal to come back together with so many of these people from your formative years?

Mortiis: It was cool to meet guys like Tomas from Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, Peter from Deutsch Nepal and Peter from Raison d’etre, as I hadn´t met them for years. Jouni, from In Slaughter Natives, I worked with a few years ago on mastering some of my music, so it hadn’t been that long since we´d last met, but of course it is always nice to meet Jouni. The experience was cool, I mean kind of scary, since it was my first Era 1 show in about 18 years, and I was doing things a bit different than the past anyway, so in a sense this was almost like a debut show. I think a lot of people got into it, but of course CMI attracts a lot of somewhat elitist types, with very specific tastes and with strong opinions on what they like and don´t like, so I think there was a clique of guys like that that probably had no time for me, to put it that way, but I knew that was going to happen. In that sense nothing has changed since the old CMI days when I used to go out and do shows with Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, Raison d’etre, In Slaughter Natives, and so on.

 

Michael: You have been taking Era 1 on tour recently. What are your general thoughts on live performances of dungeon synth / dark dungeon music? Do you think this is an important aspect for any musician, or is it personal taste?

Mortiis: I think it´s all personal. Either you want to go out and play live, or you don´t. I´ve gotten used to it, so I´m always up for doing a show, as long as the promoters aren´t trying to pull quickies and pay peanuts and fuck you over, but I usually catch those fuckers out before the 3rd email, so they´re goners if it doesn´t feel good. We´re done at that point.
Regardless, I think all music deserves a shot at proving itself on stage.

Michael: You’ve re-released “Secrets of my Kingdom”, now entitled: “Secrets of my Kingdom: Return to Dimensions Unknown”. How has the response to this been from fans?

Mortiis: Very good. I think people really appreciate the additional work we put into it. There´s about 100 pages of bonus material consisting of unpublished texts, artwork, interviews, and so on…The response has been nothing but positive, from where I´m standing anyway.

Michael: Are you personally pleased with the final product and working with Cult Never Dies?

Mortiis: Yes, totally. Dayal is a pretty passionate guy about the product he makes, so he really pushes to make it the best it can be.

Michael: This book re-issue, as well as the era 1 album re-issues, contain artwork by David Thierree. Are you personally acquainted with him, or did you two only work together on these releases? Will you be planning to contract him for work again in the future? Also, I wonder if you have a favorite of his re-imaginings?

Mortiis: We´ve known each other for a long time, but we only really reconnected over these reissues I guess about 2 years ago. We´ve been in pretty steady contact ever since. He also worked with me on a bunch of pieces for my live show. There will be at least one more release coming shortly, that includes his artwork, and that one may well be my favourite. Other than that, it´s a hard choice. I think the Født til å Herske artwork looks brilliant, but the Keiser Av En Dimensjon Ukjent artwork has so many hidden signs and symbols and references, it´s kinda hard not to pick that one as a current favourite.

Michael: In your interview within the new book, you mention that most of this body of work comes from your teenage years, and that you don’t fully appreciate it as much as you might like. What were the changes/arguments made that brought you to re-release this book? Do you feel that this newer version has been redeemed of any potential flaws you saw in its original form?

Mortiis: There´s the intro from the original 2001 version, that was written at some point during the year 2000, and at that point I was very disillusioned with my ’90s output. All across the board: music, lyrics, etc… That had more to do with me sinking into a depression that was deeper and darker than I realized at the time. I can see that now, in retrospect. In the interview, in the book, that I did with Dayal across several 2-3 hour phone conversations, I did probably touch upon this a lot, too. Because, it´s the main reason Era 1, to me, was locked away in some deeply hidden mental closet, and I threw away the key, just to use a worn out cliché.
I don´t think the original book was flawed, it has many things about it that I like. But the new edition is better, improved in the sense that it´s physically larger, it has more content, and I personally shed a lot of light on those days, which we thought would be interesting to the hard-core fan, if no one else. All the material was written between 1992 and 1999, though the bulk would have been written between 1992-1996, so I would have been 17-21 years of age when most of that was written.

Michael: Are there marked differences between your fan-base for Era 2/3/0 and those of Era 1? Would you say one group or another has a sort of darker mentality?

Mortiis: Not sure. I mean, if I was to point anything out, I think metal people, for a reason I still can´t properly understand, beyond the fact that they may be connecting with some sort of primal atmospheric element in the era 1 stuff, seem to like Era 1 a lot more than everything else that came after. But it´s not a rule of thumb. I get people that are fans of everything I´ve done, then I get the sort of industrial/electronic/goth person that got into Mortiis post- Era 1. It really varies, but it´s not like I could point at a guy in the room and tell you what Mortiis records he´s going to be into.

Michael: I recently discovered your 25 minute music video ‘Reisene Til Grotter Og Odemarker’. Those dark and smoky corridors and stone towers were the perfect accompaniment to your sound and your image. Would you be open to doing something like this again? Or is this something that you lost respect for over the years?

Mortiis: I didn´t lose respect for it. VENOM did shit in castles, so how can I lose respect for it? Haha! I just completed filming for a new video to be used for some Era 1 stuff down the line. It´s not in a castle, though, but it´s pretty damn dark stuff anyway.

Michael: Can you remember back to a time when these ideas of “Mortiis” first came into your mind? Were you a child, imagining these dark images and soundscapes, or did this come to you later as you began discovering black metal and the darker side of the global community?

Mortiis: The first lyrics I wrote that became the Mortiis mythology, in the summer of 1992, were all supposed to be used for a planned Emperor concept album. That never happened obviously, since I didn´t last very long in the band after that. I had sketched out a dark otherworld in those 10-12 lyrics, and I brought them all with me, because I knew I wanted to base my music around them. That´s how it got started.

Michael: Politics are on everyone’s minds these days. No need to give an affiliation or ideology, but I wonder how you generally feel about this political landscape? Will it all calm down, and life go back to the mundane boring nature of the last 30 years, or are we headed for darker, more uncertain times?

Mortiis: Well it´s steadily been becoming more and more uncertain, and increasingly hostile and violent, and we have world leaders that seem more occupied with feeding fear and stroking their own egos, than actually going to work, so as it stands right now, I don´t think it´s looking that great. I hope things will get better. I have kids, and I don´t want them to grow up in some sort of dystopian, cynical future. But when people think they can run the world like a company, with no real interest in ramifications and the ripple effects of your actions…Who knows where things will end.

Michael: Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers, which I have overlooked?

Mortiis: Thanks for your interest. Check out www.mortiiswebstore.com for vinyl, CD, shirts and other merchandise. Thanks!

Mortiis Links:
Official Website, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram,

Teahouse Radio / Hypnagoga Press – Interview

Over the last few years we’ve seen a huge increase in the output of Pär Boström. Once known only for his oldest (main?) project, Kammarheit, Pär Boström has since created a multitude of wonderful albums, always more or less focused on dark ambient, as Cities Last Broadcast, Altarmang, Bonini Bulga, and now his latest project Teahouse Radio. Near the beginning of this recent bloom in releases, he partnered up with his sister, Åsa Boström, to start the publishing house/record label Hypnagoga Press, as well as collaborate on their first release as Hymnambulae. After my previous interview with them in 2016, not long before I started This Is Darkness, I thought it was time to catch up with the siblings and find out from Pär about the new Teahouse Radio album, and to get some general clairvoyance on the label and future releases from Åsa. Enjoy with a cup of your favorite tea and be sure to check out the new Teahouse Radio album, which you can stream in full below.

Interview with: Pär & Åsa Boström

Conducted by: Michael Barnett

You can also read our review of the Teahouse Radio debut here.

Michael: Teahouse Radio is your latest project to be released through Hypnagoga Press. Since, over the last few years you have been working on a growing number of projects, I wonder if you could tell readers what makes Teahouse Radio unique for you? How does it stand apart from your other endeavors?

PärOne intention we have with Hypnagoga Press, is creating a house encompassing all our projects. Even the ones that have been or are still brewing in the background. For one and a half decades, Teahouse Radio has served as a counter-point during a difficult psychiatric evaluation and treatment. It took me this long to decide to finally share the music. What makes it unique, for me, is how it managed to keep its roots in the children’s books I read, as a kid. A sort of honesty and naïveté that resonates well with me. Things like Narnia, Winnie the Pooh and the Moomin books have been a big inspiration for this project. There is something in those books that connects to my own early encounters with melancholia and existential questions. I don’t really have the words for it, only the music. Some would say it’s not as dark sounding as my other projects, but I would say it has some of that as well. But more than anything, it has a different form of melancholia and dreaminess.

Michael: How long have you had the idea to work on a Teahouse Radio album?

Pär: The oldest songs on this album are from 2004, maybe a bit earlier than that. But, I can’t recall exactly when and how it started. One day it was there. A new friend you feel like you’ve known forever. I don’t know if I had the intention, initially, to publish an album. All my projects start this way. Something personal, a place to visit for as long as I need. Somewhere along the way, I invite people to take part in it. Then, the music sets out on an adventure of its own, becoming a part of other peoples lives, as well.

Michael: Can you tell us a bit about the process behind creating the Teahouse Radio debut, Her Quiet Garden?

PärIn 2016, I stayed in my sister Åsa’s old summer house and guest studio. My intention was to make an album, using a semi-acoustic guitar and a few effect pedals. I often do this, bring equipment with me somewhere secluded. It was supposed to be a singer-songwriter thing. Early on, I noticed that what I was making was similar to what I had already been recording as Teahouse Radio, years before. I had a notebook with me to jot down technical details about chord progression, lyrics, etc. Instead, immediately it turned into a studio diary, with reflections on what I was making. I wrote about my cat Kosmos who had passed away three years earlier, picturing her in this peaceful, dreamy garden. As I was sitting in the rocking chair listening to the new recordings, I wrote about the weather, the bumblebees and about loss, in general. About mental illness. Somewhere in those notes, the album began to emerge. Half of the songs had been recorded sporadically since 2004. The rest were created during a few days late that summer, in that idyllic countryside setting.

Michael: Hypnagoga Press, the label run by Åsa and yourself, has focused on releasing music by your various projects. Of course, some of these projects are your solo efforts, but others have been collaborations, for example: the Hymnambulae or Altarmang debuts are collaborations with Åsa Boström and Kenneth Hansson, respectively. The new Teahouse Radio album looks to be more of a solo project, in line with Bonini Bulga or Kammarheit. Was this, in fact, a solo project, or did you collaborate with any other artists on this one?

PärTeahouse Radio is initially a solo project, but I would like to select a few collaborators further down the road. The songs on Her Quiet Garden were sent to Simon Heath, who added a few extra touches on some of the songs and mastered the whole album. I am very grateful for the way he made the old and new material blend together.

Michael: Is there any specific importance behind the names Teahouse Radio and Her Quiet Garden?

PärThere was a tiny wooden house, an elk tower, in a field outside the city where I lived during high school. Due to my insomnia at the time, I sometimes bicycled there, and had a cup of tea while trying to find radio stations on a small radio I insisted on carrying with me. When deciding on names for this project, that memory came back and Teahouse Radio felt like a suitable name. As the first album is centered around loss, my deceased cat Kosmos became the main symbol. To imagine a garden for her. A calm, quiet garden.

Michael: You’ve given followers some hints about this release, over the last year or so. Was the process behind its creation similar to other albums? Meaning, do you usually use journals in this way, capturing your ideas for later translation into music?

Pär: I don’t think I’ve shared anything from my journal entries before. Not translated and shared almost in full like we did in The Solar Zine Vol.3. I often write about my music, looking closely for clues on how to best proceed with what I’m working on. Most studio notes are about changes I want to make and title ideas. But, this notebook went further. I will experiment with this on future albums, as well. To my defense I want to add, that when combining a rocking chair, a loop pedal and a summer house with a beautiful lake and garden view, there will be some thoughts running through your head. Dramatic weather only further added to the mood.

Michael: The album art for this release has an incredibly unique and surreal feel. What is the importance of this image and how was it created to have such a unique look?

PärI am constantly drawing. Strange animals, trees, figures interacting with each other or dealing with sleep in different ways. It has been like this for almost two decades. I decided early on, that Teahouse Radio should try to fill a gap between my music and these drawings. So, for Her Quiet Garden I made a lot of different paper landscapes with trees and a pond. I tried all kinds of papers to make it look like water and other transparent papers to get a fog like effect. Not many of the photos I took were used for the final artwork, but I will continue with these kinds of images in the future.

Michael: Will Teahouse Radio remain an active project after this release?

Pär: That’s my intention. The illness, the need to take a break from the world, to dream and drift, will likely never change. And there will always be the need to make music for weather and cats. Aural tales.

Michael: What does the future hold for Teahouse Radio? Do you intend to do any live performances as this project, or will it remain a studio entity.

PärFor now, I wish to remain in my studio for quite some time, before doing live performances again, with any project. I’m happy to be able to create now. I’ve had long periods of inactivity before, or have felt a big need for distance and avoidance, so I want to make sure I’m making the most of this moment. As I said earlier, I hope to collaborate with different musicians in the future. Hopefully animators and paper landscape artists, as well. Her Quiet Garden is merely the introduction.

Michael: Is there any interesting news happening with any of your other projects, currently? I’m sure you have a lot going on, but anything you are willing to share?

PärA new Kammarheit album is completed, but it might still be some time before it can be released, as it is a soundtrack and must be synchronised with a product that isn’t finished yet. I have yet another unknown project I will share soon, and then it is hopefully time for new material from Altarmang, Hymnambulae, Cities Last Broadcast and Bonini Bulga. It moves in cycles. Even with Hypnagoga Press, I feel like we’ve barely started yet.

We Didn’t Tell Each Other How Wounded We Were by Åsa Boström

 

Michael: Transitioning to label matters, Åsa, would you like to tell us what has been happening lately around Hypnagoga Press? Any new plans, projects or developments that you would like to speak about?

Åsa BoströmWe’ll open the publishing house part of Hypnagoga Press soon, and to begin with, publish some of my books. Going forward, the music label and publishing house will overlap. Literary texts, voice, spoken word will be embedded in our music publications, and our literary publications will include music components.

Onward, we’ll also be focusing more on collaborations. Recently, we made a remix for Carl Abrahamsson, featuring on an album set for release at the end of May. It also contains both music and spoken word, with Carl’s and my voice overlapping.

Michael: Hypnagoga Press has already done releases in several formats: CD, Cassette, Zine, will you continue expanding into different forms of media?

ÅsaYes, we’ll continue expanding into different media formats. Explore multimedia products – music, literature, art – as well as various packaging formats. Boxes. Hybrid products. Possibly include objects as a part of the packaging. In my art-making, one medium I work with are sculptural objects, a form of ritual objects, made from materials collected on travels. Some of this might also turn up in our packaging. We’ll also introduce vinyl and more types of fine art prints. We intend to keep the physical editions very limited.

I Had Words Left, You Found Them by Åsa Boström

Michael: So far, Hypnagoga Press has been a conduit for you and Pär’s creative output. Will there be plans to search out talent from other individuals, or are you happy to keep this a close-knit sort of personal operation?

ÅsaHypnagoga Press is mainly a space for realising our own projects. But we’re planning an outlet for collaborations with others, an imprint or a series of publications, in the future.

Michael: Hypnagoga Press is still quite a new label, with your first release being Orgelhuset in 2016, by yourself and Pär as Hymnambulae. What has the startup been like? Are you happy with the current position of things, or have there been any setbacks?

ÅsaI’m very pleased with our first music releases – the debut albums by Hymnambule, Altarmang, Bonini Bulga, and now Teahouse Radio. Projects with narrative depth, supported by interesting creative processes, and I look forward to their progression.

Hypnagoga Press will be built long-term. It’s intended as a life’s work, with our creative and spiritual practices interwoven with creating experiences in which others may take part. Our publications serve as a form of tools, also for others to utilise, forming their own path and journey. To step in closer, reach further, manifest more.

Life also interfered in our startup. I got ill, due to mold in the countryside house where I was living, in the woods in northern Sweden. A house we’d made our Hypnagoga Press headquarter, where I had also set up my own studio space and a guest studio. All of that had to be taken apart and some of our publications got delayed. Now I live in Umeå, where Pär also lives, which makes running Hypnagoga Press together easier. Forces more joined and space freed up for what’s ahead.

Prayer Book by Åsa Boström

Michael: Are there any topics you would like to tell readers about, which I haven’t mentioned?

ÅsaI’d like to add a few words about our new release by Teahouse Radio. I’ve followed the development of the project for almost 15 years now. It’s a good example of how our individual projects often influence each other. I’ve been listening a lot to Teahouse Radio while writing my novel The Seafarer, which we’ll be publishing soon. And Pär has read The Seafarer while working on Teahouse Radio. Initially, we had planned to release them simultaneously.

Michael: Thank you so much for your time, it is always a pleasure!

Pär/Åsa BoströmThank you Michael, likewise!

Links:
Hypnagoga Press: Website, Facebook, Bandcamp, Youtube
Teahouse Radio: Website, Facebook, Bandcamp
Hymnambulae: Facebook, Bandcamp

Pär’s projects reviewed on This Is Darkness:
Altarmang – Void (2017)
Atrium Carceri & Cities Last Broadcast – Black Corner Den (2017)
Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast & God Body Disconnect – Miles To Midnight (2018)
Bonini Bulga – Sealed (2017)
Kammarheit – The Starwheel (2005)

 

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