Category: Interviews (Page 1 of 4)

CrAwE – Interview

I’ve been wanting to speak to CrAwE ever since I first heard his amazing We Have Met The Enemy And They Are Us album. His music is full of dark and brooding dark ambient / guitar based drone that sounds like the soundtrack for the end of the world. I hope you will all enjoy this interview, and consider supporting the artist. He has some great work on his Bandcamp page, which is linked to at the bottom of this article!

Interviewer: Rich Dodgin
Interviewee: CrAwE


Hi CrAwE! First of all, a massive thank you for this opportunity to interview you for This Is Darkness, and to give our readers a chance to learn more about you and your music.

No problem it’s an absolute pleasure, I’ve followed This is Darkness for sometime and love the community you have built so it’s an honour to speak to you. 

Can you start by telling us a little about yourself.

My name is Adam I live in the UK in the east of England in a county called Norfolk. I’m fascinated by sound and the way human beings interact with it, particularly the way sound can be used as a method of escapism and therapy. 

For those who aren’t familiar with your music, can you provide a brief overview of your musical project(s) and the music you have released.

I’ve been in a number bands over the years mainly playing guitar or bass since I was a teenager. Most of these bands have tended to be in the noise rock, punk or shoe gaze type end of the sonic spectrum, but I have always been fascinated with the concept of the drone even within these projects. More recent bands have been sugarmouse and NurseOnDuty. Throughout my work with bands I’ve always enjoyed the more soundscape side of things and have tended to be the main song writer, in terms of the music. Around 2015 I moved house and purpose built a home studio/ practice space from the start, with the intention of channeling the money I was spending on studio hire on equipment and learning more about recording. Then as one of my last band projects, sugarmouse started to fade out, I found myself recording more and more on my own which coincided with me massively getting interested in dark ambient and drone. At the same time I was starting to develop new techniques of playing guitar with a cello bow. All these factors came together and I formed CrAwE my dark ambient/ drone project and what was initially going to be a bit of a side project, somehow became my main current musical creative outlet.

Do you have a preferred approach to creating your music, and what techniques and / or equipment do you use?

Most tracks tend to start via improvisational looping on guitar, which I play exclusively with violin and cello bows in CrAwE. Bowed guitar allows me to work with infinite sustain of notes but also brings the element of the neoclassical in. In the last few years I have got into heavily customising and modding guitars just to play with a bow, to the point I forget how to play ‘normal’ guitar at times now! However as much as the guitar is the sound generator as such, guitar effects pedals and rack units tend to be my main instrument and inspiration. I have been obsessed with effects and their creative potential since I first picked up a guitar as a teenager, and turned up my amp full, to make feedback and weird noises and to try pretend I was in Sonic Youth or something.

Once the skeleton of the track is there with the guitars, it then tends to be about adding layers of synths, field recordings, more guitars etc where ever inspiration takes me, and a track tends to take shape as loops form on top of loops.

The wider inspiration to create can come from a number of places from reading a news article, a picture, going for a walk and being in nature or even an emotion or feeling. 

Do you have a particular personal belief system, or outlook on life, and if so how is that reflected in music?

Politically I’m certainly left of the spectrum! and I certainly identity philosophically with anarchism and communities and individuals ceasing control of their own destiny through mutual aid. I’ve worked in public services with the most vulnerable members of our society for the majority of my adult life. Sadly I have had to witness first hand the pain and suffering money, capitalism and greed cause to so many people. So sadly I can’t help but not be inspired by these experiences and often being creative and making a piece of music or art is the only way I can make sense of and process some of the horrible things that take place in world. 

I am also incredibly fortunate to live in a really beautiful part of the UK, so going for long walks with my dog is my way of grounding myself. Observing the sun set through the trees or the waves crashing against rocks on the beach, have a huge impact on me.  More and more I have been reflecting on the importance and beauty of all life on this planet, and the importance of not having a human centric view on everything. There is nothing more humbling and inspiring than the beauty, majesty and power of nature. Getting into nature making field recordings and taking pictures, observing the landscape around me has become hugely inspiring process more recently, but this is always in contrast with sadly often the more darker human and ultimately economic impact upon these things.

Do you perform your music live? If so, how do you find that experience, and do you prefer it to studio work?

I do perform live, it tends to come in batches as these days I’m pretty rubbish at going looking for gigs and I only tend to play live when directly requested to do so by someone. I both really enjoy and absolutely hate playing live in equal measure! 

When it goes well there is no better feeling of having a wall of cranked amps behind you and feeling the vibrations of the sound through your feet, however using tons of equipment has resulted in some stressful moments over the years. Particularly when playing with bands, on hideous crammed five band pile up nights in the past, often with ignorant promoters profiteering off you with no understanding or respect for music, not so fun. Drone/dark ambient/ experimental nights or those put on with a true DIY spirt and passion for music, tend to be far more chilled affairs and far more enjoyable to play. People put on these sorts of nights because they genuinely care and are passionate about the music, rather than for individual profit or popularity. As a result you tend to get a real sense of community and mutual respect running through the event and that’s when it’s fun. Those types of nights and DIY venues and spaces seem to be on the rise again more recently, which is awesome to see, so I may be lured out of my studio more! However, ultimately what I most love, is being locked away in my own studio lost in the creative process.

Can you tell me about your own journey of musical discovery and experimentation? How did you discover / fall in love with ambient / dark ambient / drone music, and how did your creation of music develop over the years?

I’ve always had a love of the drone and soundscapes even before I really knew what they were. When I was a young kid I was obsessed with sci-if movie soundtracks. One of my earliest memories was nagging my parents to put on the War of the Worlds on an old reel to reel player. I was just in love with those spacey noises and atmospheres, but hated the singing parts, I wanted the soundscapes to get lost in! That love has carried on through my life and one of the albums that inspired me most recently was Hans Zimmer’s recent Dune sound track. When I look back through the years I’ve always loved anything with a sense of repetition and escapism, walls of noise you can lose yourself in. Sonic Youth and Godspeed you Black Emperor! were my gatekeepers as a teenager, music was not so available online then, so it was all about reading interviews and then trying to track this wonderful stuff down via public library’s or ordering things into local record stores blind. I have always obsessively collected music. Then as the whole world of everything became more and more available online, and you could grab some obscure Japanese’s noise record or a krautrock band from Ecuador or whatever you want instantly, this only kept expanding. Now with the era of Bandcamp I love it that musicians can circumvent navigate away from the clutches of the mainstream music industry, and musicians and tiny labels can send their music out all over the world with ease, though some days I do miss the thrill of the chase, searching every charity shop and record shop I could find, in hope of finding one of the ‘mythical records’ I had read about but never heard, whether that was Brian Eno or Crass

My love of dark ambient and drone really took off when I started playing that type of music personally and the more I went down the rabbit hole the more I enjoyed it. I have always loved the abstract. When I painted I was always driven by the concept that I always enjoyed art more, that didn’t hand everything over to the viewer and left space for creativity and imagination in the viewer. I would rather have a Rothko on my wall than a Constable painting, because there is always something new to see and interpret, a new perspective I have never seen before, where as a landscape painting becomes quickly boring to me. Dark ambient and drone music is the aural equivalent of that for me, it leaves space for listener to engage their own creativity and imagination rather than being a passive consumer, 100 people can reach 100 different interpretations and they are all correct and valid. This concept connected with me instantly and I’ve never looked back since, and although I listen to and love a wide range of music still, that space for imagination makes ambient or drone music my primary love now, I couldn’t imagine it not being in my life, both to listen to and to create.

Are there any particular musicians who have inspired or influenced you?

As mentioned Godspeed You Black Emperor! and their associated projects have been inspiration for a really long time. But the list is endless really, I love Stars of the Lid, Brian Eno, Sunn o))), Atrium Carceri, Northumbria, Thisquietarmy, The Star Pillow, Ashtoreth, loveliescrushing, Earth and lots of ambient drone’y  stuff people might or might not expect me to listen to from hearing CrAwE, they are all huge inspirations and continue to inspire me everyday but I am equally inspired by lots of punk, hip hop, doom, dub and other varied forms of music, basically most things made with genuine human emotion, energy and passion, those things can’t be faked, although lots do try, sadly! 

I also love soundtrack composers as mentioned the less commercial side of Hans Zimmer, but also John Carpenter, Hildur Guðnadóttir and Johann Johannsson they are all massive influences, I love that skill of creating an imaginary landscape through sound. In fact working on soundtracks or video game music would be my dream job! In terms of stuff people may not of heard of as widely, I highly recommended Kaya North, Dhyana, Pool of Light, Jettenbach & Dragon, Opollo, Inner Demons Records releases, Hycnth, The Owl and Owlripper releases these all deserve far bigger profiles than they have currently, and are all on bandcamp, go find them!

How would you describe the current state of ambient / dark ambient / drone music?

Really healthy, as I mentioned the era of Bandcamp and online music has massively expanded accessibility for all. I love that you can grow up now in the middle of nowhere in a rural area and still have same access to experimental and more niche music as someone living in a big city and that only has to be a good thing, in terms getting the music out there, but equally inspiring the next generation to create. I think the pandemic, lockdowns but also an increased interest in mindfulness and mediation have also increased a wider interest in more ambient type music and opened that world to a wider audience compared to say even a decade ago.More people seemed to embrace the concept of actively listening to music and bands like Sunn o))) are selling out big venues now, which again has to be a good sign particularly in an era of such rapid disposable culture, however, it would be nice to see ambient and drone music being picked up more on a regional live music level and not just in the bigger cities, but this might just be my own little echo chamber.

What are your future musical plans?

Write, record and release lots more music as always, the next CrAwE LP is well on to the way of being finished already.

Hopefully I will force myself out of the studio more and play more live gigs. I also have a number of potential collaborations lined up and will be maybe expanding my live sound by adding other musicians, playing with others in turn normally increases my own creativity. After working almost completely on my own with no outside perspective for 6 years and 8 albums and an EP later, I know it will do me good creatively to do so. However working completely solo has been a really important stage, in terms of understanding myself and my own creative approaches in greater depth without outside influence, and I will therefore continue to do this as well.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Be kind to each other and other living things where you can, it only takes few seconds to stop and think “be kind”. Try to find space in your day just to actively listen to the sounds around you, inspiration is all around us and anyone can create. Also try to find time to support small scale artists and labels, even if that’s just a ‘like’ or comment on social media or simply sharing with others and telling them about what you have discovered.

Thank you so much for your time Adam !!!

No worries it’s been an absolute pleasure.


CrAwE Links





Shadow Echo Canyon – Interview

I’ve been wanting to speak to Shadow Echo Canyon ever since I first heard his amazing Shiver EP. His music is heartfelt, melancholic and solemn, with moments of brooding darkness, skillfully combining elements of dark ambient, drone, and field recordings that together create something truly special. I hope you will all enjoy this interview, and consider supporting the artist. He has some great work on his Bandcamp page, which is linked to at the bottom of this article!

Interviewer: Rich Dodgin
Interviewee: Shadow Echo Canyon (Luca Tommasini)


Hi Luca! First of all, a massive thank you for this opportunity to interview you for This Is Darkness, and to give our readers a chance to learn more about you and your music.

Thank you for this opportunity, it is a pleasure.

Can you start by telling us a little about yourself.

My name is Luca Tommasini, I have peasant origins and before being a musician I have always been a great listener, a listener of everything, places, people, musical genres.

For those who aren’t familiar with your music, can you provide a brief overview of your musical project(s) and the music you have released.

At highschool I played drums in a noise band, then when that disbanded I took up solo drone guitar. Then I sang and played keyboard in a doom-drone band called Oracle with whom we did a demo and a vinyl record. When that experience was over I switched off because I was looking for a sound that could be emotional and innovative at the same time. Putting these searches aside, I started playing again 3 years ago, in various forms and projects. Shadow Echo Canyon is the darker part, A Distant Shore the more harmonious and luminous part, Asylum Connection is a digital noise project. Then I participated in the Spectrum Audio Collective together with many artists around the globe, and from time to time I join Chelidon Frame’s Asynchronous Orchestra.

Do you have a preferred approach to creating your music, and what techniques and / or equipment do you use?

The main part is always improvised first. Sometimes it is a chain of effects, a new tuning, the sound of certain objects; there is no real rule. The only real rule is not to make music I already know. Then I find this main part, everything is deconstructed until I reach the result I like. I use poor equipment, a Doepfer Dark Energy, a Danelectro DC12, a couple of delays, a couple of reverbs, a contact microphone, a Tascam for field recording or I record directly on the phone. The phone has a rather raw and grainy sound that makes things quite strange and often interesting. The deconstruction is a cut and paste make directly on a multitrack on computer.

Do you have a particular personal belief system, or outlook on life, and if so how is that reflected in music?

For a long time I experienced self-destruction in many forms and ways, then I decided to take a deep decision and change my life. I started practising and studying Buddhism. Buddhism was and is exactly what I needed, a light that ignites hope in the murkiest darkness, I found myself in many things and the more I delved into that world, the more my life took constructive and improving paths. This approach to life has given me the opportunity to give more value, care and importance even to the darker side of my sounds that previously remained unexpressed.

Do you perform your music live? If so, how do you find that experience, and do you prefer it to studio work?

I don’t play live, I prefer working in the studio or doing collaborations. It is still impossible for me to get my sounds on stage in a interesting way, just as it is not easy to find the right mood within me to express myself. But in the future who knows?

Can you tell me about your own journey of musical discovery and experimentation? How did you discover / fall in love with ambient / dark ambient / drone music, and how did your creation of music develop over the years?

When I was a child my parents practised thai-chi with a tape playing in background. The tape contained Micheal Jarre‘s Oxigene and Tangerine Dream‘s Phaedra. That music hit me from the start and has never left me since. My adolescence was deeply marked by Sonic Youth and Motorpsycho, then in time I moved on to more ambientish-psychedelic like Deathprod, Fennesz and all of Kranky Records until I discovered Windy & Carl.

Are there any particular musicians who have inspired or influenced you?

The musicians who have influenced me the most are Brian Eno, Thomas Koner, Windy & Carl, Deathprod, Fennesz and John Cage.

How would you describe the current state of ambient / dark ambient / drone music?

There are many active and fantastic realities in every corner of the planet, there is a lot of excitement and a lot of beauty, just as there is sometimes a lot of superficiality. After the worldwide craze for Basinky-tapes and SunnO)))-guitars I think these genres are being reborn from the ground up in new forms and increasingly interesting possibilities.

What are your future musical plans?

Nothing really especial. I am into two new albums, and I just want to continue to play and record my stuff.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Thank you for your curiosity and interest that has led you to read this far.

Thank you so much for your time Luca !!!

Thank you so much for your support.


Shadow Echo Canyon Links



Esmam La Crowned – Interview

I’ve been wanting to speak to Esmam La Crowned ever since I first heard his amazing Coup De Grace EP. His music is melancholic and soulful, skillfully combining elements of dark ambient, drone, and electronica that together create something truly special. I hope you will all enjoy this interview, and consider supporting the artist. He has some great work on his Bandcamp page, which is linked to at the bottom of this article!

Interviewer: Rich Dodgin
Interviewee: Esmam La Crowned (Azmain Ishmam)


Hi Azmain! First of all, a massive thank you for this opportunity to interview you for This Is Darkness, and to give our readers a chance to learn more about you and your music.

I appreciate having this opportunity to speak with you and share my work and the creative process. I also would like to say that I have been following this magazine for a considerable amount of time. Moreover, this was motivating.

Can you start by telling us a little about yourself.

My name is Azmain Ishmam (he/him). I was born in a small city district in the north of Bangladesh. My father, who was an engineer, used to take a lot of pictures. He was a prolific photographer. He actually gave me instructions on how to use a camera and how to look through the viewfinder. That’s what I did. The world I saw was also very beautiful and blue. Because the camera was Yashica Electro 35. The viewfinder used to have blue glass or it was broken or something, but it was Beautiful.

I’ve loved music and taking pictures since I was a young child. However, I’ve never taken music seriously enough to consider it as a career or anything else. The same goes for photography. Although persistent, it was never particularly serious.

For those who aren’t familiar with your music, can you provide a brief overview of your musical project(s) and the music you have released.

In 2018, my father passed away. For me, it was a very difficult time. I was unable to do pretty much anything for a year. I was unable to complete my college final year. It was a very tough time, which is why I was very disconnected and isolated. I used to listen to music during that time, especially ambient. Some of my favorite artists include Loscil, 36, Brock Van Wey, and Rafael Anton Irisarri.

My music is mostly inspired by the deepest, darkest part of my life and humanity. I suppose I could say I don’t love any emotions in my music. My music should not contain any sadness or joy. It’s kind of raw emotion for me. The judge must be the listener. I want the listener to give my music emotion. But it all depends on them.

I have quite a few musical projects that I have released, but some of them are pretty significant. I’d like to talk a little bit about two of my releases.

01. Art of Living Alone (2020): The birth of the album was when I was at my lowest. At the time, I fell in love with ambient music and wanted to start composing, but I lacked the motivation. so that I can find my motivation. I was going through my old computer files since I used to always produce music, but only for my own enjoyment and never with the intention of selling it or using it in any other way. And I discovered around 20 or 30 of them, some of which I loved. Then I thought about making an album with 15 tracks. So, I gathered 15 of my favorite songs and put them out. The project was not entirely original. It was a compilation of ideas, and that’s incredibly significant to me. The record is not flawless, and you probably already know that. I released it, and a few members of the ambient community as well as my friends seemed to like it.

02. Isolated Dreams (2021): The year was 2021. After COVID-19, the world was also beginning to open up. I went to see my grandmother after more than a year of living alone. Moreover, the place was lovely with its green fields and deserted roads, which was breathtaking and motivating. Even though it was absolutely stunning, it was isolated from the rest of the country. I was truly inspired by that location to write this album. The simplicity, beauty, and remoteness of the location are all captured in the album.

Do you have a preferred approach to creating your music, and what techniques and / or equipment do you use?

I have an audio recorder that I primarily use to capture different sounds. and later I prefer to create a synth or use the sound’s texture. I like using Ableton Live to create music. in particular, while using the session view. I make a lot of loops and keep adding sound to them because I love to experiment with sound. When I’m creating a track, I do make a lot of noise. However, the outcome must be very minimal. I prefer to choose those that complement one another. My favorite synth is Audio Damage’s Quanta Granular Synthesizer.

Do you have a particular personal belief system, or outlook on life, and if so how is that reflected in music?

I’m a thinking individual. Though I’m not very religious, I do think that religion has played a significant role in human history. I used to be afraid of being alone, but after some time, I began to appreciate it. Silence is beautiful and loneliness is a code in my life. And loneliness has played a part in my art and will continue to do so.

Do you perform your music live? If so, how do you find that experience, and do you prefer it to studio work?

Both have unique ways to amaze listeners, and I find both methods enjoyable to use. In my latest project, I build a patch for my synthesizer, play it live, and record it. And the EP had five tracks and all are live recordings that I have released. Dream And Bliss (2022). And I have a dream of playing those patches live.

Can you tell me about your own journey of musical discovery and experimentation? How did you discover / fall in love with ambient / dark ambient / drone music, and how did your creation of music develop over the years?

I could say that my environment had a significant impact on how I came to discover the musical idea. I never imagined being like them when I was practicing on a toy piano and listening to top 40 songs. But I liked how Aphex Twin sounded. For a very long time, I had no idea but I wanted to learn how to make music like that. And I’m still learning and making. And this is how I got to know about the world of ambient music.

Are there any particular musicians who have inspired or influenced you?

It’s bvdub (Brock Van Wey) Loscil, 36 and Rafael Anton Irisarri.

How would you describe the current state of ambient / dark ambient / drone music?

I think it’s fantastic. Bandcamp has made it really simple for anyone to express themselves, and there is so much new and exciting music.

What are your future musical plans?

My upcoming musical project will be called “Black Days.” The record is inspired by a historical occasion. About The Project: The History Is Very Dark. During The Liberation War of Bangladesh against Pakistan. On 14 December 1971 Sensing Imminent Defeat Pakistani forces collaborated with a group of betrayers and abducted and killed Bengali intellectuals and professionals. in order to make a nation mindless.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I currently work for Trans and human rights with many humanitarian organizations. I’m an activist, and the stigma I’m trying to eradicate in this nation is risky. Because the people are influenced by religion and are not open-minded. People don’t respect the gender-diverse population as a result. We also lack the right to free expression

Thank you so much for your time Azmain !!!

I’m grateful for the chance to speak with you today.


Esmam La Crowned Links



Bonzaii – Interview

I’ve been wanting to speak to Bonzaii ever since I first heard his amazing A Person / Life on a Blade release. His music is filled with a wistful poignancy, featuring evolving drones and expertly blended field recordings that together create something truly special. I hope you will all enjoy this interview, and consider supporting the artist. He has some great work on his Bandcamp page, which is linked to at the bottom of this article!

Photo credit: Sophia Caroline Bittinger


Interviewer: Rich Dodgin
Interviewee: Bonzaii


Hi Bonzaii! First of all, a massive thank you for this opportunity to interview you for This Is Darkness, and to give our readers a chance to learn more about you and your music.

Thanks for having me!

Can you start by telling us a little about yourself.

I live in Hamburg, Germany and have spent roughly the last 10 years as a musician with various bands/projects and also studying literature and history. I play in German post-punk band ‘Der Ringer’, hardcore/blackmetal project ‘FERMIUM’ and for indie artists ‘Ilgen-Nur’ and ‘Fritzi Ernst’.

For those who aren’t familiar with your music, can you provide a brief overview of your musical project(s) and the music you have released.

Bonzaii has existed in my head and on my hard drive for about 6 years. It started out as a way mainly to calm myself down when I was taking long overnight trips by bus to visit my girlfriend in Paris. The drive was around 13 hours and I could never sleep, so I spent most of those times writing some of the first Bonzaii tracks. Around the same time I was also touring Southeast Asia and China with one of my bands and that was also where a lot of the initial inspiration came from.

I first started releasing Bonzaii tracks via Bandcamp in the first months of the pandemic. It was the first time in ages that I was at home for a long period of time and so I was finally able concentrate on starting this project and also writing new tracks.

Do you have a preferred approach to creating your music, and what techniques and / or equipment do you use?

My goal is always to minimize the use of analog/modular synths and synth plug-ins and use modified samples instead. Over the years I’ve created quite an extensive sound library to draw from, which includes stems from recording sessions with my bands, as well as field recordings that I recorded on tour, while traveling or simply roaming through my local forests with my dog. I mostly use a Tascam recorder and sometimes (when it’s not windy) even my iPhone. Using these samples allows me to create original sounds more easily, because I am using sounds from my past that nobody else is using. In a way, it’s like modifying my sonic diary.

This method also ties to what I am trying to achieve with Bonzaii conceptually: To re-create memories, dreams and nightmares in a kind of stream-of-consciousness state were I use sounds from my past to illustrate how I felt at that point in time, what my outlook on life was, what my fears and my hopes were. My life does not usually feel “clean” or “hi-fi” and so I’m trying to reflect that in my music, to allow for imperfections and roughness.

Do you have a particular personal belief system, or outlook on life, and if so how is that reflected in music?

I would describe myself as an agnostic with a certain interest in spirituality outside of religious structures and this certainly reflects in my music.

I grew up in a highly religious Christian community and have spent the better part of my adult life trying to come to terms with this upbringing. When I decided in my teens that I was no longer Christian, that meant that the existential questions in life weren’t solved after all, that there were no easy answers, and this truth crashed down on me with considerable force. It took me years to process this and arrive at a better place mentally, where I learned to accept and even enjoy uncertainty.

Bonzaii is a creative vehicle to address existentialist fears about life after death, the cosmic horror of being a tiny grain of sand in an enormous universe. I want to show that there is beauty to be found in uncertainty and in discovering meaning in unforeseen places.

Do you perform your music live? If so, how do you find that experience, and do you prefer it to studio work?

I’ve had some requests in the past, for art installations and such, but it didn’t work out for a number of reasons. To be honest, I’m not 100% sure I like the idea of performing ambient/drone live, since for me as an artist and as a listener it really is a lot about enabling a contemplative state of mind and that is very hard to achieve in a live setting, with other people around. It could work, but it would have to be a very special kind of time and place. I definitely prefer the writing process to playing live.

Can you tell me about your own journey of musical discovery and experimentation? How did you discover / fall in love with ambient / dark ambient / drone music, and how did your creation of music develop over the years?

I’ve played in “guitar-based” bands since I was a teenager and that was my starting point musically. But I noticed quite early on that I enjoyed the ambience of interludes, intros and outros at least as much as the actual songs and I always tended to like the atmospheric bands like My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive the most. Some bands then cited as influences artists that I had never heard of, like Steve Reich, Brian Eno or Aphex Twin. So I quickly dove deeper into similar musicians and found there was a whole world to discover. I actually didn’t like Brian Eno very much in the beginning, because he had lots of piano parts in his tracks and that felt a bit posh to me. The really atmospheric, drony tracks like Aphex Twin’s ‘Rhubarb’ or William Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’ were really my first love within ambient.

Are there any particular musicians who have inspired or influenced you?

There are so many, I’ll just try and name a few, in no particular order: Steve Reich, Liz Harris (Grouper), Axel Willner (The Field), Chelsea Wolfe, Ryuichi Sakamoto.

How would you describe the current state of ambient / dark ambient / drone music?

I think it’s fantastic how cheaper recording equipment and platforms like Bandcamp have leveled the playing field in experimental music. In my opinion, there’s more happening creatively in ambient and drone music now than ever before because more people are able to contribute.

What are your future musical plans?

I have a new Bonzaii album done that will be coming out via Decaying Spheres in May 2023. A collaboration with my Italian friends ‘Arieti Rilassati’ is also coming up. And, as always, I will regularly be self-releasing shorter EP’s on Bandcamp in the coming months.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Make Racists Afraid Again!

Thank you so much for your time Bonzaii !!!


Bonzaii Links



Rojinski – Interview

I’ve been wanting to speak to Rojinski ever since I first heard his amazing Winter album. His music skillfully blends brooding dark ambient scores with cinematic soundscapes and subtle field recordings – resulting in rewarding audio experiences that offer something truly special. I hope you will all enjoy this interview, and consider supporting the artist. He has some great work on his Bandcamp page, which is linked to at the bottom of this article!

Interviewer: Rich Dodgin
Interviewee: Rojinski


Hi Rojinski! First of all, a massive thank you for this opportunity to interview you for This Is Darkness, and to give our readers a chance to learn more about you and your music.

It’s an honor for me, really.

Can you start by telling us a little about yourself.

Well… It’s always difficult to tell about myself… I compose, sing and play music since I was 15 years old (I’m in my 50s). I have been pro for a long time. I’ve been signed in Belgium by BMG Ariola, Indisc, ARS Records, etc… I started playing New-Wave with a band, in the mid-80s. In the early 90s, I met the woman who is my wife today and we had a son. Then, I wanted to spend my time with them. I think being a popular musician is not compatible with a family life. And to be honest with you, I hate the “music business” world. But I went on composing soundtracks for short movies, one-man-show, theater, etc.

In 2007, I started a project (Planets Citizens), on a very “confidential” level based on dark pop, synthpop, EBM, cold wave and dark electro. I had a track signed on a compilation in the US. After that, I’ve stopped that project in 2011.

For those who aren’t familiar with your music, can you provide a brief overview of your musical project(s) and the music you have released.

At the moment, my main project  is composing dark ambient, drone, cinematic and atmospheric music under my name, Rojinski. I still compose soundtracks for short movies, animation shorts (my son is character artist in the 3D industry and had a movie selected for a famous festival in Belgum), a web serie in the US (The Sorrow, by Neil Gorz), etc. I have also a project with two other composers (Handalien from Brazil and Omensworn in the US)…. But it’s a work in progress…  I’ve released all my music (for free) composed since 2012 on Bandcamp. We are living difficult times regarding the global situation. That’s why I’m fighting to keep things free on my side. People need their money for food, water, Energy, health cares, etc…. It’s very important. So, I follow the path my conscience is showing me…

Do you have a preferred approach to creating your music, and what techniques and / or equipment do you use?

I’m influenced by several themes like : sciences, geo-politics, philosophy, life… but it depends also on my state of mind. And like I said, I have no reason to be optimistic. My life have been impacted, 3 years ago, by a heart attack. They saved my life just on time…. Two minutes later, it should have been “game over” for me. It changed my way to approach music too… We are fragile beings and we have to face the big challenges to come. All these things are influencing me.

About my equipment, I keep this under the seal of discretion (big smile).  Few synths, a pc, a master keyboard (M-Audio), few plugins and FL Studio as DAW. I’ve bought it 20 years ago when it was named “Fruity Loops”. It’s developed by Imagine-Line, a Belgian company. Before 2000, I worked in great recordings studios like “Katy Studio” (Marvin Gaye, etc), “ICP Studios” (The Cure, The Stranglers, Paul Young, etc.) and with great sound engineers like Marc Nuettiens, Christian ‘Djoum’ Ramon, Dietmar Schillinger (The Clash, Kim Wilde, ABC, The Art of Noise, Talk Talk) with my project SX-96 (Belgian New Beat). All these persons taught me everything I know today. But now, I’m working in my little home studio and I wanna stay completely independent.

Do you have a particular personal belief system, or outlook on life, and if so how is that reflected in music?

I have a scientific and literary background…. The world has never been as dangerous as it is today. The mistrust that people have towards science amazes me, in the bad sense of the word. Very serious studies show that the overall intelligence (IQ) is decreasing… It is easier to “believe” in simple things stated by people without interests and without knowledge than to study and understand that nothing is simple on this earth. I fear what is coming… Above all, I am very sad for the future of my son…

This human civilization arrives in the era of idiocracy, ultra-egoism, disinterest in true culture in favor of an industry made up of influencers and people who want to be famous, without having talent, without working hard, without learning…. Just by showing off and dumbing down the crowds. Who is better known between Kim Kardashian and, for example, physicist Stephen Hawking? It is now more important to appear and to have rather than to be. This puts us in a delicate position to face the challenges ahead. We are going to be the next victims of Darwin’s law if we go on like this. We refuse to adapt to a new situation, to the changes in progress… Many people will bury their head in the sand of believes, of ignorance, of intellectual emptiness and self-centeredness… I am not optimistic. I’m just realistic. Sadly realistic.

That’s why, I try to make all the contrary in my daily life…. I swim against the tide… And my music is a good tool to spread what I think, what I feel…. I have several albums that “speak” about it. Without words. The themes are obvious. I don’t wanna be rich or famous… I just wanna share true things… I like to stay in the shadow when there are a lot of people who want to show up!

Do you perform your music live? If so, how do you find that experience, and do you prefer it to studio work?

No, I don’t perform my music live. Not anymore. I made hundreds of concerts and shows (tv, live radios, etc). Now, I leave it for the next generation. I focus on the sound and my family. I always loved the studio work. It gives me the emotions I’m searching for… And also, I can create more things…. To be completely honest, my health is not perfect either but it’s another story…. And I don’t wanna talk about it…. There are people under the bombs, losing their life, their friends and their family…. It’s more important than my small person.

Can you tell me about your own journey of musical discovery and experimentation? How did you discover / fall in love with ambient / dark ambient / drone music, and how did your creation of music develop over the years?

When I was 14 years old, I’ve discovered artists like Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk… A pirate radio in a university was playing a lot of that kind of music and also a lot of cold wave, new-wave, etc… It helped me to study, to sleep, to dream and to have inner-trips… I was not the usual teen (big smile).  I appreciate different genres of music but ambient and electronic music always had a special place on my tapes. Yes, I said tapes… OMG… I’m old, huh ?

Then, more recently (few years ago), I discovered Cryo Chamber, a wonderful label created by Simon Heath. This man is amazing and multi-talented. Music (Atrium Carceri, Sabled Suns, etc) but also visual arts (3D, 2D,etc.). He signed very cool composers and artists like Alphaxone, Dronny Darko, ProtoU, Ugasanie, Apocryphos, Kammarheit, Mount Shrine (Cesar Alexandre, the brazilian man behind the project, died last year because of that damn’ thing named Covid) and a lot of others. I like them all, really. It makes me travel without moving. That’s the effect I’m searching when I’m listening or making this kind of music. A few months ago, I discovered Omensworn (USA) and Handalien (Brazil) and I like their music a lot too ! We have a project but…. Well… You will hear it… (smile).

I compose as I feel it. So, yes, I must be influenced by a whole life of music, from punk to dark ambient, from classical to darkwave…. Someone told me, one day, that all the harmonic suites have been used since Mozart…. I don’t know what will be the future of my music… It will depend on the future of the civilization, I guess…. And also, I’m getting older…. (smile again).

Are there any particular musicians who have inspired or influenced you?

I think people like Peter Gabriel, Jerry Goldsmith, Wagner, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and a lot of others like Depeche Mode have fueled my unconscious.

How would you describe the current state of ambient / dark ambient / drone music?

I have subscribed to a lot of dark ambient / drone / cinematic groups on Facebook and I have to tell you, there are a lot of people creating music in this particular genre. Well, there are not as numerous as the rappers, the commercial productions and it’s good like that…. We are a part of a minority… And I feel comfortable in it. That’s culture. Everyone needs some…. Whatever it is.

What are your future musical plans?

As I said before, I have no plan on the long term…. I compose for The Sorrow, season 2 , an american web series based on dark mystery, a bit of horror…. small budget, big hearts and souls. I will make something too with my two friends Handalien and Omensworn. It’s in progress. But I’ve learned that making projects on the long term is dangerous. Carpe diem, my friend.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Times are difficult and very dangerous. Stay safe. Whoever you are. Wherever you are.  Let’s try to be better human beings to build a better civilization. Listen to music. Read books. Learn. Feel. Love. Create. Be instead of have. Cultivate yourself. Don’t get manipulated by toxic people and hypocrites. Choose to be rather than to have.

Thank you so much for your time Rojinski!!!


Rojinski Links



Scott Lawlor – 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!

I’ve been wanting to speak with Scott since I first heard the album Life Passes Slowly Unto Death. Scott’s music is sometimes dark and edgy, other times lighter and relaxing – but it’s always powerful, soul-stirring stuff that cannot fail to move you. I hope you will all enjoy this interview and consider supporting the artist – he has some great work on his Bandcamp page, which is linked to at the bottom of this article!

Interviewer: Rich Dodgin
Interviewee: Scott Lawlor


Rich: Hi Scott! First of all, a massive thank you for this opportunity to interview you for This Is Darkness, and to give our readers a chance to learn more about you and your music.

Scott: Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity.

Rich: Firstly, can you tell us a little about yourself.

Scott: I am a socially introverted, totally blind stay-at-home dad who has a curious mind about many things and uses music to express myself as I have found that, after dropping out of graduate school, where I was getting a degree in counseling, I found that I put sounds together much better than words.  This is a bit ironic since I have a double major in English and Psychology and originally wanted to be a novelist after my undergraduate adviser talked me out of pursuing a career as an English teacher.

Rich: For those who aren’t familiar with your music, can you provide a brief overview of your musical projects and the music you make.

Scott: I am the type of person who doesn’t like to do the same thing twice, or at least, not twice in a row so my musical explorations range from light ethereal ambient, to solo piano, cosmic space music, dark ambient, some progressive rock and even a bit of noise music under a different side project that I don’t release too much in these days.

Rich: Do you have a preferred approach to creating your music, and what techniques and / or equipment do you use?

Scott: Most of the time, I just sit down at the keyboard, hit record and just start playing.

I used to exclusively use hardware but after hearing about Native Instruments and their Komplete keyboards which have accessible features for the visually impaired, people in the blind community spent literally years trying to convince me to take the plunge into software synthesizers.  I was always nervous about doing this because I thought it would be too complicated and I would rather spend my time creating music then learning about and troubleshooting new technology.

After a while, when I didn’t feel so inspired by the limited number of sounds available on my Roland synth, I decided to just go for it and so within 5 days of getting my new keyboard and all the software I would need, I was up and running and recording.


Rich: Do you have a particular personal belief system, and if so how is that reflected in music?

Scott: That’s a complicated question and my answer could probably be a novel on the subject.

I was raised Catholic but went to a southern  Baptist university and discovered that I didn’t fit in very well when it came to trying to talk theology to the fundamentalists.  It was a frustrating experience to try to encourage them to go beyond the literal interpretation of scripture and I remember one short conversation that summarizes the problem quite well.

My friend: “If the bible says that Jonah was swallowed by a Whale, then I believe it.”

Me: “what does that story say about his journey spiritually or psychologically?”

If I could see, I probably would have seen my friend roll her eyes and just walk away.

Then there was the professor who had issues with the notion that Jesus went to hell for 3 days, or so tradition says.  The Baptists at that time just weren’t interested in exploring those kinds of things, so again, I just felt out of place when it came to religion.

After going to a Catholic graduate school, I learned of things like Centering prayer and some of the existentialists like Rollo May, Erik Fromm, Saurian Kierkegaard and the like and I turned to more new-age ideologies but it all morphed, at some point, into deism, you know, the idea that God is the clockmaker who wound up the universe and doesn’t really intervene.

After my brother died in 2017 from an 11 month battle with stage 4 sarcoma, and my music took on a much more personal meaning with a trilogy of albums, some of which were nominated for ambient album of the year, I began to read about and listen to different accounts of people who had near death experiences and how these had profoundly influenced and changed their lives.

I am still fascinated by the topic to this day but I don’t really have any specific spiritual practices like prayer, meditation or going to church.

Rich: Do you perform your music live? If so, how do you find that experience, and do you prefer it to studio work?

Scott: When I was living in Akron Ohio and the surrounding areas during most of the 1990’s, I performed live at different coffee houses, restaurants, a few malls, and even an outside wedding for a friend.  performing live was okay and at the time, I had an ensoniq sq1 keyboard where I would preprogram a lot of the backing tracks to my music and do improvising over it in a live setting.  On occasion, the system would crash and I’d have to stay up all night to redo everything for the gig the next day.

This was before I discovered ambient music and I was playing more new-age material, inspired by people like Suzanne Ciani, Yanni and artists like that.

Once, a coffee house owner paid me in coffee beans for my performance so I ended up getting 9 pounds of coffee for that gig.  We ambient musicians, we’ll take anything.


Rich: Can you tell me about your own journey of musical discovery and experimentation? How did you discover / fall in love with ambient / dark ambient / drone music, and how did your creation of music develop over the years?

Scott: I’ve always been interested in music from when I was a small boy living in Rhode island from ruining my mother’s Elvis collection by scratching the needle across the albums because I liked the sound, to banging on the piano in my aunt Joanne’s basement at her house at cape cod.

I would create weird collages out of different music using tape recorders and record players and I was listening to the rolling Stones and Pink Floyd from the time I was 5 years old, maybe younger.

It wouldn’t be until around 1997 when someone sent me a cassette recording of a Robert Rich sleep concert that he gave in Cleveland, Ohio that my interest in ambient music would be discovered.  After that, I heard the work of Klaus Schulze, Steve roach and decided myself to give writing ambient music a try.  That’s when I wrote my first ambient album called Times Escape which wouldn’t be released until around 16 years later in 2013 on the weareallghosts internet label.

Rich: Are there any particular musicians who have inspired or influenced you?

Scott: Yes, many including the aforementioned Robert Rich, Klaus Schulze and Steve roach along with Tangerine Dream, Lucette Bourdin, John Zorn, Merzbow, Lustmord, Kammarheit, SVARTSINN and Harold Budd just to list a small selection.

Rich: How would you describe the current state of ambient / dark ambient / drone music?

It’s a rather expansive genre with so many people releasing so many albums, yours truly included and the variety of releases out there from artist to artist is pretty amazing.

A lot of people over this last year have commented in general that the limitless options of sonic exploration available to them have provided a lifeline in a world where it feels like almost everything else is spinning out of control.  Music is one of the few grounding therapeutic sources out there and I am humbled and honored to be a part of such a talented community of ambient artists all over the world.

Rich: What are your future musical plans?

Scott: I’ve got a couple of collaborations lined up for 2021, I may still do isolation concerts on YouTube from time to time and I’ve got a sequel to my 2015 album called Journey through the Bootes void that I started working on in 2015 and it’s still not complete.  It’s my longest album to date clocking in at 12 and a half hours.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Not that I can think of.

Rich: Thank you so much for your time, Scott!


Scott Lawlor Links


Hiemal – 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!

I’ve been wanting to speak with Atkiak since I first heard the album Ashen Winter of Chernobyl. His music is haunting, ancestral and primal – conjuring up images of ancient snow-covered forests and forgotten mountain regions. I hope you will all enjoy this interview and the following overview of several of my favourite Hiemal releases, and consider supporting the artist. He has some great work on his Bandcamp page, which is linked to at the bottom of this article!

Interviewer: Rich Dodgin
Interviewee: Atkiak (the man behind Hiemal)


Rich: Hi Atkiak! First if all, a massive thank you for this opportunity to interview you for This Is Darkness, and to give our readers a chance to learn more about you and your music.

Atkiak: Hello Rich. Thank you for asking for an interview. It is a pleasure.

Rich: For those who aren’t familiar with your music, can you provide a brief overview of Hiemal.

Atkiak: Hiemal is an ambient solo project from France, created in 2017. Musically, it is winter-themed drone ambient with layers of field recordings, the objective being to create an immersive, cold soundscape.

Rich: Do you have a preferred approach to creating your music, and what techniques and / or equipment do you use?

Atkiak: I spend a lot of time outside to get inspired. Hiemal is my personal sanctuary and the ambience I create is a reflection of my thoughts. When an idea comes to me, I always start by recording small synth tracks. I overlap them in order to create a first sound layer. Depending on what I want to produce, I add recordings of other instruments: electric guitar, piano, cymbals, etc. The synth I use the most is the Mininova from Novation.

To create a longer, more atmospheric result, I stretch the track and add a deep white noise for the bass. The last step is adding field recordings as a background for a more enveloping ambience, but also to give a more organic feel to the music.

Rich: Do you perform your music live? If so, how do you find that experience, and do you prefer it to studio work?

Atkiak: Hiemal will probably never go live. I think it is best to listen to this music alone, at least it is what I intended. Think of it as a contemplative soundtrack to a long walk in the woods at night.


Rich: Can you tell me about your own journey of musical discovery and experimentation? How did you discover / fall in love with dark ambient / drone music, and how did your creation of music develop over the years?

Atkiak: I discovered and fell in love with dark ambient through black metal. The first releases were more influenced by it, some being pure dark ambient instead of the melancholic drone I tend to record more often nowadays. Hiemal’s general aesthetic (logo and artworks) could be considered black metal. I did create a side project for the darker releases: Astrahentium.

Over the years, I tried many different approaches to create ambient. Faster paced ambient with synth pads, piano compositions, granular synthesis, etc.

Rich: Are there any particular musicians who have inspired or influenced you?

Atkiak: Black metal-wise, Alrakis, Midnight Odyssey, Lustre, Vinterriket and Lunar Aurora to name a few.

The ambient artists that influenced me to start a project of my own are Robert Rich, Ugasanie, Hammock and Steve Roach.

Rich: How would you describe the current state of dark ambient / drone music?

Atkiak: Just like with black metal, it is expanding fast. A lot of new projects emerge every week and it is hard to make a selection. I tend to focus more on older releases then the newer ones.

Rich: What are your future plans for Hiemal?

Atkiak: I don’t have any particular plan for Hiemal. I will continue producing ambient soundscapes in my free time, and participating in collaborations / compilations every now and then.

Rich: Thank you so much for your time, Atkiak!


Here are four Hiemal albums to get you started

Windswept Stillness

Windswept Stillness is the perfect introduction to Hiemal’s winter soundscapes. From the opening sounds of a blowing mountain gale, this album transports the listener to an isolated snow-covered forest, providing an audio experience that is somehow both relaxing and unsettling at the same time.


Wandering Through Withered Memories

This a darker, more eerie sounding album, with the sounds of howling gales and haunting synths creating an underlying sense of dread.


Mist of Dissonance

Despite the name, Mist of Dissonance is one of Hiemal’s lighter albums. The winter soundscapes are still very much present, but the delicate synth work results in music that is more comforting than that on some of his other releases.


Ashen Winter of Chernobyl

This is my favourite Hiemal album. Over the course of almost two and half hours, waves of incredible drone and synth sounds wash over you, taking you away from your surroundings and transporting you to the bleak Russian landscape. The music is beautiful and uplifting in some places, yet haunting and disturbing in others – for example, on Chernobyl’s Shine the use of strings adds an almost unbearable tension to the mix. This is powerful and emotive stuff!


Hiemal Links


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 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
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)
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.

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


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 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,, 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 to a proper 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

Michael Barnett’s Links
Michael’s contact page

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