My love for the dark ambient genre goes back several decades. Although admittedly I started off as just a casual listener, I soon found a love for the eerie soundscapes & deep, ritualistic drones and the emotional state they put me in. Through the years, there have been many artists that have captivated me with their musical ventures, but one that stands out amongst my favorites is Ruptured World. Seamlessly combining dark ambient, piano sounds, and scripted narrations, Ruptured World emerges as a unique entity in a genre known mainly for its minimalism. Additionally, Ruptured World was one of the artists that inspired me to begin writing this blog and ‘Archeoplanetary’ became my very first review. I recently had an opportunity to interview Alistair Rennie – the artist behind Ruptured World – to find out the methods and inspirations behind his visionary craft.
1. First of all, thanks for the opportunity to conduct this interview. In 2019, you continued with the “Planetary” series and released the extremely impressive ‘Archeoplanetary’. Not only was it one of the first reviews for my site, it was also listed in my Dark Ambient Top 10 albums of last year. What what’s the writing/recording process like for this album? Do you have any plans to continue on with this series?
The process is one that starts off with a few nebulous ideas that begin to assume a more direct focus once the music and narrative elements start to form, and then it just starts to fall together and gather a momentum almost of its own.
Once the ideas begin to crystalize and take shape, I think that’s when I start to organise the music and spoken word narrative in more direct correlation with each other.
I never start with fully formulated ideas or a written narrative for the music to be written to. I find that too much planning in advance takes some of the excitement out of it. It’s a bit like getting spoilers before watching a film. So I try and leave room to allow for a certain degree of spontaneity. In saying that, once the first version of an album is done, I’ll go back over it making significant revisions and changes from start to finish. The idea or vision of the work gets clearer and more refined that way, until you have the completed work.
2. One thing that stands out for Ruptured World is the heavy use of commentary and spoken word. What influenced you to incorporate this into your brand of dark ambient?
It really comes from my activities as a writer. I write genre fiction (science fiction, horror and fantasy) and have a novel published and some short stories out there, mainly with US-based publishers and magazines. So it was very natural for me to create narratives that I could adapt to music through spoken word. Dark Ambient tends to be cinematic in terms of its characteristics, so it seemed a very obvious and quite normal thing to do.
3. Dr. Archibald Macrae is such a dignified and compelling character. What kind of research (if any) went into honing this character and his vast knowledge of archeology?
I have a good knowledge of ancient culture in Scotland, and, especially, the North of Scotland where I grew up. So I was able to feed a lot of that into the story through the character of Macrae. All of the places and some of the artefacts referred to in the album actually exist and serve as a basis for the fictional elements to be built on. These are places that I know intimately, some of them featuring also in my family history. So the knowledge mostly comes from lived experience and absorbing and learning over time rather than research. In saying that, I have studied aspects of the Picts at university, so there’s also some formal research that’s gone into it.
4. So, when you’ve created the albums of the “Planetary” series, do you write the music or narrations first?
I’ll start with the music but the narration starts to form alongside the music quite rapidly. It seems to happen as part of the same eruption of materials, overall, driven by the same impulse, both emerging simultaneously. I think there will be some music that has been created first, perhaps something that emerges from new material I’m working on, or something that rises out of periods of experimentation, that stands out and starts to go in a particular direction. And then the words and music will occur simultaneously. At a later point, I’ll start to do the vocal recordings and work on integrating those into the music using the appropriate sound design techniques.
5. I think I follow you on just about all of the major social media platforms and you seem to do a lot of field recordings. How important is this to your music?
This actually follows on nicely from the previous question. I’m now finding that field recordings have a much greater influence on how the music starts off and takes shape. It’s become one of the crucial elements of the music and is increasingly central to much of what I aim to do. In more recent stuff I’ve produced, I’ve aimed to capture the atmospheric detail of specific locations and to use this as the core sound around which to develop the music. I’ve also started making short video productions in which this music is featured, bringing everything together in one setting of audio-visual representation.
6. Where are some of your favorite places to record sounds?
There are certain locations around the coastline of the Northeast of Scotland where there are all sorts of rock features, including wave cut platforms, sea stacks and sea caves, where I’ve started collecting some fantastic ocean sounds from fascinating acoustic settings. It’s a common subject matter in field recording but for a good reason. We never tire of hearing water and the sounds of the sea. The specific kinds of rock formations will present unique sounds and amplifications. The sea caves are my favourite, though. As you can imagine, the way the sounds of the sea resonate within these enclosed geological spaces is fascinating. And I’ll often create additional sounds and percussive sounds using whatever stones and aquatic vegetation presents itself within the caves.
I also like to go inland towards the mountainous areas, particularly in and around the Cairngorm mountains. The glens and hillsides present all sorts of interesting sounds to capture. There’s a lot of wildlife making some great noise. There are rivers and streams constantly flowing. The plant life makes an abundance of sounds you’d never imagine until you actually start listening through field recording.
It’s also a good idea to take things with you to record in the outdoor spaces. Instruments will always sound incredible when you play them outside. And so will playing a digital synth through a portable amp or speakers.
7. You also seem to have a high regard for the visual aspect to your work. Does this also influence the mood of your music?
I’d say it was the other way round, certainly where video is concerned. It’s more the case that the music influences and often shapes the editorial choices and stylistic tenor of the video-making.
8. Speaking of visual art, you have a keen eye for photography and videography. Do you do this as a hobby, or incorporate it into your business ventures?
With video, it’s more like an extension of the music, really, with a definite aim of making it part of the whole aesthetic. It’s something I’m working on more, now, and something I’ve had some formal training in, which always helps.
That’s not the case with photography, which is more of a supplementary activity, always good for putting online. In saying that, I have a friend (one of a few mysterious accomplices of Ruptured World!) who is a very fine photographer with a great knowledge and approach in what he does. Those really great photos you can see on my Instagram page, for example, are his. He did the photo for the cover of “Frontiers of Disorder” on the Ruptured World Bandcamp page.
The not so good photos, the ones taken on a cell phone and put through a filter, those are ones that I’ve taken. I try to take photographs of some of the places I go to for field recording or video footage trips, just to share for interest and fun. Fans of Dark Ambient are almost always people who have an interest in the natural world. So anything I can capture of any atmospheric or dramatic scenes, I’ll put it online in the hope it’s of interest.
9. Getting back to your music; What is your recording setup like? Do you use mainly VST’s, analog/digital equipment, analog instruments, or a combination of them all.
It’s a combination of different things—digital synths, a lot of sampling of sounds, voices and acoustic instruments, as well as objects. A lot of the piano sounds I’ll use are recorded live on a really nice Roland digital piano I’ve got. It can bring some really good room ambience, and sometimes the noise of the keys, that I really like, giving it a sort of haunted feel. Samples and sounds derived from field recordings, as well as voice samples, are things I use more and more. I have some percussion instruments, too. I’ll have some core sounds or samples that I tend to use regularly, but with lots of room for experimentation and trying out new things.
10. Other than your Ruptured World project, do you have any other main musical ventures?
Just Ruptured World! I did dabble with some horrorsynth stuff a while back, and it’s a type of music I enjoy. But it’s not where my interests lie, really.
11. I know that you recently contributed to the ‘Hastur’ Cryo Chamber collaboration album – which was phenomenal by the way. Have you been featured on any other collaboration projects?
Glad you enjoyed it! I haven’t yet featured on any other collaborations, but there may be a couple of things in the pipeline to look out for!
12. Do you have any recording plans for 2020?
Yes, I’ve actually got another “Planetary” album currently under production, so look out for that one. And I’m also working on music for video productions like the ones I’ve already produced and put on YouTube, with an aim to putting together an album at some time in the future. And there’s one or two top secret collaborations that may soon be underway. So a few things going on.
13. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions. Do you have any final thought for anyone that may be reading this?
My pleasure. Thank you! I would just encourage people to keep listening, keep supporting the artists, and keep searching the skies for the gods of Dark Ambient, who must surely be out there, watching over us as we speak.