It’s almost mind numbing to see how great the Dark Ambient genre has not only grown, but expanded in sound. It seems as if harsh noise and industrial ambience is coming more into existence and coupling with the bleak intonations of Dark Ambient soundscapes and drones. The albums in this list represent change, growth and also homage to the influences of modern day Dark Ambient music. I hope you enjoy these summary reviews as much as I did putting them together.
1. The Owl – Beyond The Vastness Of Infinity
The Owl specialized in noise terror and monstrous modulations that are presented in a controlled chaos offering. ‘Beyond The Vastness Of Infinity’ is an improvised endeavor that plays on the decline of normalcy and the abruptness of ataxia. Rigid guitar tones set against the strident sounds of industrialized soundscapes and eerie narrations set a precedence of tonal despondency. As mesmerizing as it is turbulent, this albums is just another gem in the vast The Owl discography.
2. Aleksis Tristan Shaw – Loud Nothing
Multi-talented, multi-genre artist Aleksis Tristan Shaw, once again dabbles in the world of Dark Ambient music with the twisted oblation, ‘Loud Nothing’. Combining the forces of demented horror sounds, spacious soundscapes and drifting drones, this is a compelling story of electronic proportions. Elongated drones provide a hypnotic state while supernatural subtleties and sequences keep the listener from completely going under with hints of smoldering tension. At times, spacey, and other times downright grim, this recording is a full offering of Dark Ambient amusement and is fascinating to say the least.
3. Crepuscular Entity – Zwolf Bagatellen
‘Zwolf Bagatellen’ is an exercise in harsh frequency delivery and the chaotic amplification of audial discord. Consisting of twelve tracks of white noise, with belligerent modulations, this is a test of determination and surviving the true grit of noise ambience. Filled with abrupt soundscapes and extreme reverberation, this album is a massive overdose of music that is meant to overtake the sense and infiltrate the mind. Listen at your own risk but prepare to be amazed at the indulgence of extreme electronic music.
4. Drone Islands – Volume I / II / III
‘Drone Islands – Volume I /II / III’ is a massive collection of ambient magnificence, containing beautiful audial offerings from an array of artists. This album combines the work of all Drone Island releases to include, ‘Land Rising’, ‘The Lost Maps’ and ‘Stellar’. Some of the biggest names in the Dark Ambient community lend their services to this recording such as Ashtoreth, Kammarheit, BlackWeald, Taphephobia, Alphaxone and Infinexhuma. These types of collective albums are a real treat, as you get a cluster of unique musical achievements in a single album. This is an exemplary collection that must be heard.
5. Long The Night – Illusion
‘Illusion’ is an assemblage of beguiling drones with cinematic-like production. Although starting out with a light ambient vibe, the mood swiftly changes on track two, “Untold Mind” and a belligerent tone is thrusted into this space ambient endeavor. These songs sequentially crescendo into a mammoth-like sound and slowly fade out into oblivion before shifting to the next moment of surprising moments. There are moments that are influenced by the Warhammer 40k sound, while the majority of the album is like a dark space excursion. This is an excellent album that fits right in with some of the top names in the genre.
6. Pavor Nocturnus – Bosch
Pavor Nocturnus specializes in flowing light drones that are delivered in an obscure pallet of ominous soundscapes, torturous industrial sounds and peaceful samples and field recordings. All fused together, this is an eerily harmonious endeavor that will be pleasing to fans of multiple Dark Ambient sub-genres. ‘Bosch’ is eclectic blend of soulful modulations that don’t have a particular flow (from track to track), but works very well in the overarching concept of the album. This is an amazing recording that I cannot recommend enough.
7. Sij & Textere Oris – Reflections At The Sea
Sij & Textere Oris is one of the most fascinating Dark Ambient collaborations on the Cryo Chamber label roster. Although only having released two albums on the giant label, they are both top quality endeavors that are unique in their own way. On latest effort, ‘Reflections At The Sea’, soothing drones are met with enchanting vocal melodies and theatrical reverberations that produces a theatrical-like sound. From piano chops to random sound effects, this album is put together magnificently and will warrant multiple listens. This is definitely one not to miss.
8. Melanohelios – The Durance Machine
In my opinion, Melanohelios doesn’t put out music often enough. There is something very addictive with Melanohelios albums and I can’t quite put my finger on it. However, I can say that what you’ll get with each album is an exclusive listening experience – one just as good as the next. On ‘The Durance Machine’, there are two tracks of mind-melding drone work that lasts the better part of thirty six minutes. While listening, you’ll find yourself drifting between peaceful experiences and terrifying moments that flow together with extreme transparency. This is another alluring album from such a reclusive entity.
9. Marco Pianges – Somewhere
Dark tones and blistering keys set the backdrop for this escapade of quality electronic tracks. With a plethora of samples and soundscapes, this short album is a cacophony of aggressive moment and angst-filled resilience. The genius aspect of this album is the malevolence hidden in the peaceful details – like a field of beautiful flowers in the dead of winter. Even with just twenty minutes of playing time, this five track album is a beast to contend with and will surely please all fans of Dark Ambient music.
10. Northumbria – Isolering
If you’re a fan of Dark Ambient music, you should at least be aware of the haunting entity known as Northumbria. With a list of unrivaled albums on the Cryo Chamber label, the stringed duo often ventures out independently and continues to produce quality ambience. On 2021’s ‘Isolering’, we’re presented with four ominous tracks containing nearly seventy five minutes worth of mesmerizing intonations. These extended efforts take the listener down a blackened path and instill a relentless blend of lethargic tones and reverberated modulations that are simply paralyzing. In my opinion, this is one of their best efforts and the mood that it sets is quite compelling.
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Logically speaking, big things come in small packages. That’s the first thing that comes to mind after listening to Maronian Athenaeum’s fascinating album, ‘The Fall Of Svælinørg’. Two tracks of uncompromising Dungeon Synth with a playing time of nearly thirty two minutes. Going in to this without knowing what to expect, it’s easy to assume that there may be a lot of build up between active moments, as well as a lot of backing ambience to set a particular mood. However, upon the initial listen, I was quite impressed – blown away actually – at the variety of music and how the various parts fuse together seamlessly to express a fascinating Medieval story.
The first track, “The Great Stand Of King Svænim”, proceeds in a dreamy, theatrical way as the opening sequence showcases an inspiring Synth melody that emits a tone of melancholic unease and sadness. The heavy reverb gives it a grande sound while soothing melodies compliment it with graceful harmony. Bits of percussion are slowly induced to form an ebullient cadence around the heart of the track. After a brief moment of field recordings, the track blasts into overdrive with a soundtrack-like refrain that is sure to get the blood pumping. Staying true to traditional Dungeon Synth characteristics, a mournful synth effect creates an atmosphere of anguish and dreariness. As this sixteen minute track continues, other facets of electronic music are interpolated, further expanding upon the normal traditions of a track of this magnitude. From whimsical to bombastic tones, this song provides an extremely magnified listening experience. Thinking that I’ve heard the best of what this album has to offer, the second (and final) track is what really blew me away. “Min-Min’s Reign” is a mesmerizing sixteen minute escapade through an assortment of synth genres that are merged in a magnificent sequence of meticulous song writing. Commencing with the soothing sounds of rain and polarizing sequences, patterns of retrospective synthwave begin to take shape. With a mild tempo and addictive arrangement, it doesn’t take long for the lister to be fully engaged with this masterpiece. Soon after, a complex arrangement of hasty rhythms shows a change in pace and an algorithm of futuristic vibes. I sense a mild Berlin School influence as the keys affix in a looping pattern while the song builds around it. Industrialized effects continue the element of malevolence that are sure to cause moments of anxiety or discomfort. This pattern slowly ascends into an ambient tone, creating a dark space for the remainder of the track. Celestial keys contribute to the bleak, spacious atmosphere with haunting relevance as this daunting song comes to an end.
I am more than impressed with Maronian Athenaeum and the variety of music that is included on ‘The Fall Of Svælinørg’. Using Dungeon Synth elements as the base for these tracks, a multitude of other electronic sounds forge an impressive blend of music that is sure to resonate with fans of a variety of synth genres. These tracks certainly do tell a compelling, mythological story that has no boundaries for self-interpretation. I highly recommend this album to everyone that loves synth music and I can’t wait to hear what this artist has in store for us in the future.
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I almost don’t like putting together these year-end Top 10 lists because it’s so hard to pick 10 albums out of the hundreds or thousands of Dark Ambient releases in a given year. However, at the same time, I do want to show my respects to the albums that held the highest entertainment value for me, thus equating to my FAVORITE Dark Ambient albums of 2021. I really hope you enjoy this list as much as I had putting it together and if there is anything that strikes your attention on here, please check them out and show your support for these amazing artists. Without further a due, I present to you my favorite 10 Dark Ambient albums of 2021.
10. Blackweald – 666 Minutes In Hell
What better way to get this list started than an album consisting of nearly eleven and a half hours of diabolical Dark Ambient. ‘666 Minutes In Hell’ is that album and just the length alone is downright captivating. As for the music itself, this is some of the most sinister Dark Ambient I’ve heard in a long time and the endless supply of field recordings and soundscapes are enough to make an actual trip to hell seem like an endless endeavor. This is a very creative album that sets a gloomy atmosphere and only Blackweald could pull this off with such a grim attraction.
9. Xerxes The Dark – Soundtrack To The Blind Owl
Xerxes The Dark continues his string of impressive releases with the Industrial-styled, ‘Soundtrack To The Blind Owl’. One of his most chaotic and abrasive releases yet, this album is not to be taken lightly, as the amount of discord and pandemonium contained within can be alarmingly harsh if not expected. However, for me, I love this type of audial chaos and for nearly fifty three minutes, XTD thrashes the listener through a gauntlet of maniacal sounds and glitches by way of synth and guitar manipulation. Definitely check this one out if you’re into the more extreme side of Dark Ambient music.
8. Dead Melodies – Fabled Machines Of Old
For the past couple of years, Dead Melodies has been one of the busiest and most consistent Dark Ambient artists around. From amazing solo efforts to haunting collaborations with the likes of Zenjungle and Beyond The Ghost, he has amassed quite the discography of varied material. ‘Fabled Machines Of Old’ is another prodigious notch in his belt with a ferocious blend of Dark Ambient tones, haunting acoustic guitar passages and the warm embrace of dark noir styled jazzy impulses. The result is an album full of assorted & gloomy characteristics that are extremely fulfilling and a breath of fresh air for the Cryo Chamber label.
7. Mora-Tau – Wellcome Back, Nuclear Summer
Mora-Tau has quickly become one of my favorite Dark Ambient artists with his brand of exhilarating improvisations. Releasing a magnitude of albums on his own Bandcamp page, as well as several other labels, it’s hard to pick a favorite album – especially since they are all so amazing. However, one that I keep returning to the most is the dispiriting ‘Wellcome Back, Nuclear Summer’. These four tracks describe a dismal scene of a bleak, post-nuclear atmosphere of nothingness and regrowth. Using an assortment of synth effects and drones, Mora-Tau is like a voiceless narrator for a scene filled with disaster and radiance. I’m so glad that Mora-Tau exists at this point in time and I highly recommend checking out his whole discography, but starting with one of my year end favorites, ‘Wellcome Back, Nuclear Summer’.
6. Wampyric Solitude – Echoes Of Undying Darkness And Bloodshed
Dungeon Synth maestro, Wampyric Solitude has not only created one of my favorite Dungeon Synth albums of the year, but he’s also produced one of my favorite Dark Ambient album, ‘Echoes Of Undying Darkness And Bloodshed’. Expecting another Dungeon Synth masterpiece, I was both shocked and blown away by the sounds of menacing drones, ominous atmospherics and apocalyptic styled soundscapes that decays from within. This is bleak adventure that I can’t stop listening to and I would to love to hear more of this type of dynamic caliber from Wampyric Solitude in the very near future.
5. Dahlia’s Tear – Adrift On The Edge Of Infinity
Anyone that is familiar with the works of Dahlia’s Tear can agree that there is a recognizable sound throughout the impressive discography. However, it’s the Cryo Chamber releases that finds the artist at his best and the post-apocalyptic presentation is as doleful as it is hypnotizing. Just when you think you’ve heard the magnum opus effort by Dahlia’s Tear, along comes another album of equal or better quality. ‘Adrift On The Edge Of Infinity’ is a driving force of intensity that exudes melancholic proportions with a haunting soundscape. I eagerly await new albums by Dahlia’s Tear and this one was no exception and it surely doesn’t disappoint.
4. Sydalesis – Living Machine
‘Living Machine’ is a masterclass in Berlin School styled Dark Ambient music. This mammoth recording hosts 14 tracks of lenitive, atmospheric anthems that expands beyond two and a half hours of playing time. Mixing ambient music with Berlin School sequences has become one of my favorite styles of electronic music and I tend to get completely mesmerized by its output. ‘Living Machine’ elicited that exact result from the initial listen back in April until now. This album remains a fascinating experience and it – unfortunately – didn’t get the attention that it deserved. I highly recommend checking this one out immediately.
3. Hilyard – Division Cycle
The albums that Hilyard produces for Cryo Chamber are just different – in a great way. He seems to pull out all the stops when making music for the giant label and ‘Division Cycle’ is my favorite Cryo Chamber label release for this year. An excellent blend of Space Ambient and minimalistic droning, this album was an immediate hit and greatly surpassed all of my expectations. Subtle soundscapes and industrial undertones generate an atmosphere of endless tranquility, darkened by blissful aggression. This is one of the most meditative albums of the year and I still can’t get enough of its bleak embrace.
2. Delmak-O – The Colony
I must say that ‘The Colony’ was quite a surprise upon initial listen. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. However, what I got was one of the most impressive Ambient albums that I’ve ever heard. Fusing Berlin School sequences with Space Ambient drones, otherworldly soundscapes and a Sci-Fi conceptual story, this album is a masterpiece from start to finish. This is one of those albums that you can blast in a pair of good headphones and be taken away on an astral adventure without any care in the world. A very enjoyable album that brings a much needed variety to the Dark Ambient community.
1. Sumatran Black – A Taxonomy Of Grief
I’ve been a Sumatran Black fan for a few years now and equally love the other projects by the same artist, Black Box Memories and Atasehir. Even though the output of dystopian style Dark Ambience has been quite impressive, ‘A Taxonomy Of Grief’ is light years ahead of previous efforts. For nearly two hours and twenty minutes, the listener is treated with a melancholic blend of mesmerizing synths and mournful soundscapes that depicts a gloomy reality of dealing with personal bereavement and loss. Each track completes a cycle of majestic aplomb through soothing arrangements that are insanely breathtaking. Because of these alluring intricacies, ‘A Taxonomy Of Grief’ is easily my favorite Dark Album of 2021.
I present to you my final round of Celestial Ephemerides for the year 2021 and I hope you enjoy the following Dark Ambient recordings as much as I have. I certainly wish that I had the time to give these albums a long form review but with the amount of request that I get on a daily basis and the actual time I have to spend on doing them, there just isn’t enough time in the day, week, month or year. At any rate, I hope these summary reviews will do and again…enjoy!
1. Beyond The Ghost – The Desolation Age
One of my favorite Dark Ambient artists, Beyond The Ghost is back with not only his greatest achievement yet, but a sensational recording that incorporates a magnitude of synth styles. With the deep drones in tact, he manages to include elements of synthwave, retro synth and a ton of melody to make this one of the most triumphant releases of the year. Emotional highs run rampant on tracks such as “Exodus”, “Pale Conquerers” and the piano-heavy “Slow Motion Downfall”. The Cryo Chamber label hits another home run with with valiant effort and I’m glad to see Beyond The Ghost release another effort that supersedes all expectations.
2. Max Corbacho – Nocturnes III
What an honor it is to be alive during the existence of Max Corbacho. He is a world renowned ambient artist that has no problem producing either light or dark ambient and anything in between. On Nocturnes III, he darkens the mood on his brand of bleak, yet powerful ambience. Tracks such as “Altar Of Stillness” and “Lunation Sequence” produce a celestial boundary of deep space vibes and ominous sound effects. It’s easy to get lost in these long tracks as the mesmerizing drones continue to captivate from start to finish. Another brilliant album by the Ambient Master himself.
3. Kalte – Morphology
Kalte puts the “minimal” in minimalistic with the starkly austere ‘Morphology’. Four tracks of space-like drones with the occasional soundscape that sounds like looping, industrialized textures that are sure to creep you out. “Stochastic Resonance” and “Coleoptera” are my favorite tracks on this short, thirty four minute EP. However, as a whole, this album contains epic creations that are sure to please fans of both Dark Ambient and Industrial Droning. Looking forward to hearing more from this promising artist.
4. Uburgrund – Dionelos
Uburgrund doesn’t hold back with their maniacal version of noise ambience. Harsh, looping effects and industrial-like distractions creates a whirlwind of discontent and uneasiness. However, there is a mesmerizing sensation when listening to this album as a whole that goes unmatched. Standout tracks include “Colonia De Sarcopti Din Palma (Swarm Of Another Life)” and “Trusa Iua Hinton (Rubik In Wonderland)” with endless fusillade of extreme modulations and frequency manipulations that will send the sensory glands into maximum overload. Also, at times the music seems audibly unbalanced but I think that’s another tactic that is completely relegated in this insane group of recordings. Highly recommended but listen at your own risk!
5. Cities Last Broadcast – The Umbra Report
Cities Last Broadcast always brings a warm, vibrant tone with his brand of Dark Ambience. Including loops, tape hisses and various oddities that embrace a particular twilight, you can always expect a nostalgic walk down a darkened noir path. The Umbra Report is no different, as it entwines the same smoky sentiment found on the ‘Black Stage Of Night’ and ‘Black Corner Den’ releases with Atrium Carceri. Tracks such as “Unvocal”, “Disembodied” and “Antumbra” carry the minimalistic torch while creating a spacious, articulate texture that embraces more warmth than darkness. Simply put – another brilliant album by Cities Last Broadcast!
6. Dr0ne – Nimb
Listening to Dr0ne’s ‘Nimb’ is like a complete exercise in futility. If you can make it through this one hour nightmarish drone-fest, then you can get through just about anything. With just two tracks – each almost thirty minutes long, this is like a bleak excursion like no other. These tracks slowly rip away your soul until there is nothing left but a skeleton of audial dissonance. At times, a deep plunge into darkened chambers occurs, taking the listener to cold outlets of deafening voids, while at other times, perpetual static remains consistently mesmerizing. This one is definitely worth checking out, especially if blasphemous droning is your thing.
7. Daughter Of Dawn – Crushed Into Dust By The Weight Of The World
Fans of Peter Bjärgö should not pass up on this tasty offering of blissful, folk ambient by Daughter Of Dawn. These compositions are excitedly serene, but it’s the overall melody that will heighten your emotional state and draw you in for a near thirty minute ride down a soothing atmospheric aurora. Album opener, “Juniper Boughs Collide Upon My Shores” is quick to set a euphoric mood with reverberated acoustic guitar chops and dreamy vocals. “The Liminal Space In Which I Reside” has shades of shoegaze and dream pop genres that are feverishly fused with masterful songwriting and constructive vocal harmonies. This is a fantastic album that must be heard to be believed. Don’t pass on this magical offering.
8. Alphaxone & Proto U – Back To Beyond
Alphaxone & ProtonU create a spacious, sonic atmosphere like no other. On their second collaboration effort, ‘Back to Beyond’, they produce a colossal space ambient recording that takes the listener to the far reaches of space and set them in a drifting motion that transcends the relevance of time and speed. As if floating through a galaxy of stars, a gathering of soundscapes and effects paint a galactic portrait of uncharted territories. With a mix of light and dark drones, standout tracks such as “Dreams Of Solace” and “Delusions Of Omniscience” present a space odyssey like no other. It’s always a magical occurrence when these two artists join forces and I hope this wont be the last recording of its kind.
9. Bonzaii – Death In The Cities
Bonzaii is a unique artist for the Dark Ambient genre and they successfully combine two of my favorite things on the ‘Death In The Cities’ EP, and that is emotional Melodie’s and distorted synth effects. Although both of these sound qualities are at distant ends of the musical spectrum, together they provide a monumental output that can be both soothing and terrifying. Tracks such as “Liturgy” and “Eyes In The Water” stand out with their breathtaking atmospherics and masterful arrangements. The looping synths are at times retrospective and borderline on Berlin School sequences without actually maintaining a stronghold on that style. All in all, this is top quality ambient music and recommended for those that know no boundaries when it comes to genre styles.
10. European Drought – By Ways Of Winter Past
“By Ways Of Winter Past” is a single, twenty eight minute long track of austere winter synth that catapults the listener right into the eye of a winter storm with no end in sight. This immensely minimal track is so chilling, that it can be downright alarming at times due to the notion of unknowingness around every corner. Synth effects remain absolute throughout this recording, representing the cold adventures that are experienced along the way. As the track continues, there is a sense of overwhelming chaos that takes over and deafening tones signal the downfall toward an icy oblivion. Nothing about this track will sent the mind at ease, but it will set a chilling mood for mindful atonement.
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Over the past few years, Dark Ambient producer Dead Melodies has been extremely active by creating one high-caliber album after another. Whether recording solo spectacles or excelling on collaborative musical endeavors, the consistency has paid off by making him one of the most respected Dark Ambient artists as of late. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the mastermind behind the project and learned about its beginnings, lineage and what keeps the creative processes flowing.
1. I’d like to thank you for this interview opportunity and for creating some of the most impressive Dark Ambient releases in recent years. How was Dead Melodies formed and did it rise out of the ashes of another project?
Thanks for the kind words and for the opportunity to discuss my work.
Dead Melodies was indeed a rise from the ashes project, borne out of the need to rebrand after my old moniker, Indigolab became saturated and lost its direction. I have this tendency to dabble in many genres and after 10 years of covering a lot of ground from dub to folk to industrial, electronica and much more the project had totally lost its identity to me, so I wanted to start afresh with a newly focussed output. The initial premise for Dead Melodies was and still is at its core, storytelling through ambient music with dark ambient naturally being the perfect musical playground for this conceptual approach. Inevitably my cross-genre tendencies have crept their way into Dead Melodies, but something that’s always been essential to me for pushing art forward is fusion, so I think I just have to roll with the variety of styles in my head while ensuring each deviation works as a fully developed concept album.
2. For some artists, it seemed like 2020 (the year of COVID) created many constraints but for Dead Melodies, the project was extremely busy, releasing 3 albums (1 solo and 2 collaboration). Where did all of this creativity come from?
What an awful time I hope we’re seeing the other side of now. I think many artists found solace in music during the lockdowns, and I’m no exception there with the extra time hidden away from the world and the angst of what might be pathing the way for a lot of new ideas and more importantly the thinking space to develop them. The first two albums in 2020, ‘Anthropocene’ and ‘The Masterplan’ were actually recorded in 2019 as I’m usually a good while ahead of actual releases so it was in fact ‘Crier’s Bane’ and ‘Fabled Machines of Old’ that were I guess my real ‘lockdown albums’ feeding off all the strangeness of 2020.
3. The album ‘Anthropocene’ was in my Top 10 Dark Ambient albums of 2020. How did this collaboration effort with Zenjungle come about?
Thank you, I was incredibly proud of this album. Phil Gardelis of Zenjungle and I have been friends since 2011 in the early days of Soundcloud after sharing thoughts on each other’s music and chatting in general. I remember being totally blown away the first time I heard his music and trying to get my head around the unreal sounds he creates with a saxophone. Long before ‘Anthropocene’ we worked on several tracks together as well remixing each other’s music with the results being up there with some of my personal favourite collaborations. I’d always wanted to see if we could put out a proper collaborative album so I was really pleased when the opportunity presented itself.
4. Was there a concept in mind for the album or did you guys pass around ideas until a solid foundation was formed?
It started with me buying a new bass guitar and exploring its sonic capabilities using an ebow and a few other experimental approaches. As soon as I realised what I was working on was starting to tap into a dark noir field I ran the early drafts by Phil to see if he wanted to add some saxophone or anything else and the collaboration was born. Initially it was more just the sound that was the underlying theme, but as we started refining the arrangements the underbelly of the city concept fell into place, which of course was pushed to the next level once Simon Heath constructed the concept artwork to go with it. Most of the tracks came together quite relatively quickly, whereas the spralling 17 minutes of ‘The Lowering’ ended up being a huge feat to complete. I think it turned out well, or at least it’s my personal favourite from the album, if only for the effort we both threw at it and for bringing a slight variation to the instrumentation of the rest of the album.
5. ‘Crier’s Bane’ was also a solid masterpiece with an exceptional concept and sound. How was it working with Beyond The Ghost and will you guys be releasing anymore collaborations in the future?
Much like with Phil, Pierre Laplace of Beyond The Ghost is another friend from the early Soundcloud days – they truly were great days to be a musician self-publishing online with a community spirit I’ve yet to witness since. Nevertheless, Pierre and I made friends back then talking about music and I also remixed something for his dark folk band of the time, The Sandman’s Orchestra. We got talking again when he branched out into dark ambient and soon after he joined Cryo Chamber putting out some incredible albums. He’s a very talented guy and being a multi-instrumentalist like myself, we both contributed a whole range of different elements to the album. I think this collaboration worked so well as we often lend a critical ear and feedback on each other’s works in progress, speaking frankly about strengths and weaknesses in compositions and mixes which set a great foundation for working together. As to whether we’ll collaborate again, we’ve both said a follow up would be fun.
6. Did you go into that project with a Victorian-era theme in mind or did it culminate once the musical process started flowing?
The initial idea behind this was to craft a dark ambient album that carried the atmosphere and mood like that of Tom Waits’ Victorian/Vaudeville styled world. I’ve long been a fan of Waits’ music and it struck me one day there was some real mileage in the atmospherics behind his music that I really wanted to explore on a more ambient level. I started off playing around with a mic’d up melodica trying to simulate an accordion squeezebox, which worked surprisingly well with the right effects and layered with some field recordings I’d taken at a Christmas market the year before. Once I added some acoustic guitar ambience the foundations of the sound I’d envisioned was starting to take shape. Up until a few tracks in it was a solo venture, but I felt the vision needed a wider viewpoint to fully realise the world so knowing Pierre also had a wide taste in music I pitched the idea to him. Needless to say, he was on board and ideas and concepts bounced back and forth, with us both bringing our interpretation of English and French 19th century themes to the table – ultimately it ended up being set in the iconic and murderous East End of London with accounts of Whitechapel, Workhouses and Jack the Ripper inspiring some of the tracks. Once this was set in stone I had some fun writing the narrative, picturing the story through the eyes of the town crier, who went on to become the album’s namesake.
7. On 2020’s ‘The Masterplan’ it seems like you went for a more desolate & ominous sound instead of the space ambient approach that was on 2019’s ‘Primal Destination’. Was there a particular influence behind this shift in direction?
This always feels like a strange album in my catalogue. I’m very happy how it turned out, but it did feel almost miraculous that the original idea actually turned into something audibly cohesive. There were two key drivers in the sound when I started out; the first was an unpicking of the twisted technical elements of Drum & Bass and underground UK techno (my first musical home, producing and DJing in the 90s). I wanted to capture some of the bass and tech inspired sounds and reform into an ambient setting. The second element was using a technique, which I call guitar tapping, though it might have a proper name; essentially using pens, sticks etc to percussively play the strings like a dulcimer. I used a few different guitars, but the main instrument used throughout the album was a battered old mandolin which gives a really unusual Eastern tone when mic’d up and tapped and scraped. As the recordings progressed in production, with some work I managed to get the two elements to work together then with some synth layering the sound of the album came to be. To get back to the original question though, I think the influence was ultimately just the challenge of trying something different.
8. ‘The Masterplan’ seems to be themed around emptiness and corruption leading to an apocalyptic demise. Was the the concept you had in mind for the music?
Yes, exactly that. The technical aspect mentioned previously felt very final and apocalyptic once paired with the sorrowful guitars and warm drones so I pitched the narrative this way to compliment that mood. I did actually feel quite self-conscious when it was released in April 2020. The pandemic had taken its grip with the whole world feeling like the end was upon us and I’m releasing an album with the fictitious demise of humankind at its heart. Just felt a bit wrong, though I had written the music and narrative a good six months earlier and it was pretty well received, so maybe it tapped into the general morose mood of the time.
9. Do you approach your music and songwriting construct around a story or concept idea, or is it the other way around.
It varies to be honest. Sometimes I start recording with a clear vision in mind setting myself the challenge of capturing a sound, style or mood but equally as often I just hit record, follow the grain and shape the concept around the sound. My most recent album, ‘Fabled Machines of Old’ started with the sound and the story/concept came as the album developed, whereas my Cryo Chamber debut, ‘Legends of the Wood’ was a concept I had more or less fully mapped out way before I even started recording, all inspired by an old forest I used to knock about in as a kid where it was always rumoured there were some spooky goings on. In contrast to those, my second Cryo Chamber album, ‘The Foundations of Ruin’ started out with absolutely no concept in mind but when listening back to some eerie recordings of me playing an out of tune upright piano, I heard a glimmer of Resident Evil/Silent Hill lurking in the melodies, so I built an album and concept around those recordings.
It’s fun to approach each project from a different angle, not only to keep the creative process interesting and to test my abilities but also to ensure the end product has its own identity. Something I always hope each album has.
10. One of my favorite Dark Ambient albums of this year is ‘Fabled Machines Of Old’ in which you – once again – show your versatility with musical direction and instrumentation. Did it come natural to start including acoustic instruments as an element of your music?
Thank you, I put a lot of time and energy into this carefully trying to get the balance of acoustic guitar in a dark ambient setting right. I knew it was a risk with the acoustic being an odd choice for the genre but when I ran some early demos by Simon he was encouraging and of course ended up collaborating with me on the album as well as creating the utterly mind-blowing cover art.
The instrumentation was pretty natural to me as it’s something of a hark back to a huge amount of my back catalogue, pre-Dead Melodies when I recorded as Indigolab. The general premise of that project/band for around 10 years was fusing acoustic and electronic instruments. At first it was acoustic guitar in a dub techno or trip hop setting but over time I developed a style over a few albums I called Ambient Folk – a kind of chilled out mellow sound consisting of picked guitars, synths, nature ambience and live percussion. Much more uplifting and warming than my current output but the sound palette was not too dissimilar to ‘Fabled Machines’ – that was an unusual phase in my recordings where I just couldn’t find it in myself to write dark music, no matter how I tried (I think due to becoming a father around the time) but I just rode the creative wave putting out a lot of more welcoming and positive sounds than I normally would until I found my dark groove again. It actually changed the way I approach music in general in finding that using warmth and essentially happy music in contrast with darker elements worked well in lulling the listener to a false sense of security before unleashing the darkness. Much the same way in a horror movie where the story and setting usually starts off serene and peaceful before things go bad. Anyway, since starting Dead Melodies I’d been trying to figure out a way to bring the acoustic back to the forefront of my music to see how far I could push the ambient folk concept into dark ambient, but without crossing the line too far into another genre and this album was the result.
11. What’s your gear setup like and has the dynamics of it changed over the years from album to album?
I keep it relatively simple these days but have been through a lot of gear over the years. Right now I have my guitars; electric, acoustic, classical and bass, a Hydrasynth as my main hardware synth/controller and I use microphones and field recorders for capturing anything from vocals to instruments to experimental found sounds. My PC and software obviously plays a huge part in the studio with Cubase being the heart and soul of everything I work on. I’ve used it since it was just a humble midi sequencer back on the Atari ST and can’t imagine ever having to learn another recording environment as it’s like a second language to me. In previous studio incarnations I’ve been lucky enough to have owned some fantastic instruments which I’ve loved and used for a while then sold on to fund new gear and keep things fresh. I generally keep quite a streamlined set up as I’m more productive without the distraction of hundreds of shiny machines, plus I find the less is more approach pushes me to really squeeze the most out of an instrument. In fact, when I bought an Access Virus b back in about 1999, I stopped producing music for about six months, spending the time truly mastering the synth and building hundreds of sounds. Gave me a huge insight into synthesis and armed me with a suite of sounds I continued to use for well over a decade. I don’t own that synth any more but cherish the skills learnt on it and feel an equally magical relationship starting with the Hydrasynth a year into owning it
12. 2022 is right around the corner, do you have any plans to release more solo albums, collaborations or play live?
I’ve not long finished a new album exploring yet another theme and direction in sound which should be out next year. Among other things, it includes my early exploration of the Hydrasynth and some of the cool textures it can generate.
As for what’s coming after that, I’m currently playing around with some interesting noir concepts which if they continue well may end up forming an album – it’s early days but given the dark winter months are upon us when I’m most productive, I’m hopeful something good will come of it. I’d also definitely also like to explore a collaboration or two; there’s a number of talented artists I’d like to work with and I’m always game for new musical challenges, so watch this space!
13. I really appreciate your time and most of all, your spectacular music! Any final offerings for those that may be reading this interview?
Thanks again for the opportunity to discuss my work and thank you also to those reading and listening. It’s always refreshing to actually talk about my strange and almost secretive music making habits; as I’m sure is the case for many other musicians, it’s a subject most normal people don’t get, or know what to say about it, but with it being something I spend every spare hour working on or thinking about I really do appreciate the questions digging deeper into where the music comes from.
When it comes to Dark Ambient music, I’m always searching for a certain level of obscurity. After all, it’s supposed to be the bleakest form of ambient music so I’m looking to be drawn into a cold world of chaos and emptiness with a degree of emotional grit. There are many artists that surpass my expectations, leaving me with one simple question – How does this genre continue to fascinate me on such a high level? One such artists that I’ve recently been drawn to is Josh Sager. On his latest album, ‘Heterodox’, Josh pulls no punches when it comes to desolation tones and simultaneously excels at embedding poignant melodies that elicit moments of seclusion and bliss. These seven tracks provide a perfect storm of sentimental soundscapes, rhythmic drones and the ability to capture the listeners soul, albeit momentarily, and establish a length of remembrance for every single note that is played.
The albums lead off track, “The Plague Doctors” begins with the subtle sounds of distant turmoil. However, as the modulations grow louder, an eerie chaos can be detected and it draws the listener in like a trance-like frequency. Synthwave harmonies and looping keys lead creates a twisted sensation while a massive build up of sound effects and drones amass a sonic wall of discord. “A Dread Of Something Abnormal” immediately commences with a heavily distorted drone that is reminiscent of an industrial wasteland commotion. Sophisticated effects weave in and out of the elongated note, turning the empty space into and angst-filled void. Drum pads and muffled guitar tones blast their way in, producing a varied space that makes this soundtrack worthy material. “Lurkers” is definitely where the creep factor comes into play, pushing this album to extreme new heights. A thumping bass sound leads a slow cadence while a symphony of noise begins to construct around it. The creepiness slowly turns into a melancholic sensation, rendering an audial passage of despair. This is one of the most haunting ambient tracks that I’ve heard in a while and is seriously worthy of repeated listens. “Monsters Make Monsters” starts with a reverberated piano tone that has a grandiose sound and succeeds at clearing a particular headspace for a dreamy adventure. While the listener continues to be mesmerized by these simply played notes, an establishment of field recordings and synth effects slowly crescendo into a retrospective outlook. I can imagine listening to this track while driving down a long, narrow road during the break of dawn. There is a particular crispness in this sound that offers a serene clarity and the results are amazing. “Ghost Of Mortis” is the most alluring tracks on the album as the delicate melody that is played throughout is full of decadent vibrations and somber emotions. Even though this song is over six minutes long, it ends sooner than expected due to the layers of melody capturing the heart of the listener at multiple intervals. “Fugitive Glances Of Strange Landscapes” is a droning adventure that exhibits various levels of industrial conduct by the waning effects used for the effortless use of distorted modulations. It’s like being trapped in a post-apocalyptic city filled with complex buildings structures that are corroded beyond any livable means. The final track on the album is “Death Is Just The End”. This is another slow builder, but when everything comes into full focus, it’s a force of controlled chaos and magnificent refrain. This is another nostalgic effort that stands out and sounds even more menacing at loud volumes. This is one track that I wish wouldn’t end; it’s that incredible and addictive.
Josh Sager is a really impressive Dark Ambient artist. The way he incorporates melody and makes reference to the retro synthwave era of 80’s compositions is spectacular. This is an album that can easily be played through in one sitting without skipping any tracks and I’m quite sure it will stand the test of time. Do yourself a favor and check it out by listening (or downloading) from the link below.
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I love how Dark Ambient continues to grow and find ways to expand beyond the typical means of uniformity. While the baseline of stimulating drones and gloomy soundscapes are a permanent fixture in Dark Ambient music, the use of textured field recordings and the fusion of other genres show an increased variety in the music created for this genre and how it is able to expand. Welcome to round three of Celestial Ephemerides for my Dark Ambient summary reviews and I hope you savor these broad spectrum of releases and appreciate them as much as I do.
1. Secant Prime – Wavelets
For starters, this album is a few years old but after have been introduced to it, I knew that I had to write about it in some form or fashion. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill Dark Ambient recording, as it is filled with pulsating modulations, harsh industrialized noises with random samples and soundscapes that make this a horrifying affair. However, these five tracks present an hours worth of entertaining dark electronic music that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and trapped in a dark post-apocalyptic world.
2. Ulvestad – Fall
On the other end of the spectrum, Ulvestad presents the drone-laden, “Fall”. This minimalistic adventure commits the listener to a world of obscurity through elongated drones that build around cinematic soundscapes and grandiose production. This is as disturbing as it is tranquilizing and these four tracks tell a story through masterful synth and pad arrangements.
3. Tarme Til Alle – Blood Moon Prophecy
‘Blood Moon Prophecy’ is a unique recording in that it contains all of the elements of a theatrical and climactic Dark Ambient album but in a harsher sense. The tone and volume on the instrumentation is mixed louder than usual, creating a level of acerbity and distortion not normally experienced in this genre. Whereas Dark Ambient (at times) tends to be calm and soothing, this album is more abrasive, presenting more of a realistic approach to post apocalyptic and industrial themed tracks. Fortunately, it blends perfectly and I need to hear more of this!
4. Mindspawn – Daemon
Mindspawn excel at creating a drone masterclass with the ominous ‘Daemon’. Extremely minimalistic droning with the help of some very demonic sounding effects, this may not be the album you want to fall asleep to. However, I do recommend this for those times where you need bleak soundscapes to set a harrowing mood. The modulation variants are very creative and the arrangements couldn’t be any better for a one hour recording of ominous sounds from the underworld. Don’t sleep on this one!
5. Flowers For Bodysnatchers – Infernal Beyond
Flowers For Bodysnatchers epitomizes the conceptual experience with each of his albums. From start to finish, you can expect an enthralling journey through realms of the obscure. On ‘Infernal Beyond’ the use of bleak soundscapes and field recordings propels this journey beyond expectation and the results are a sinister cluster of tracks that will leave the listener in a maniacal disarray. An absolutely amazing album from one of my favorite artists!
6. Snake Eggs – The Birdland Chakras
‘The Birdland Chakras’ is a deep dive into the dimension of industrial-tinged experimentation. The variety of sounds and noises, mixed with Dark Ambient undertones creates a frantic output and the outcome is a horrifying collection of intonations that will dismantle your very core. At times whimsical and other times sadistic, this is a well blended assemblage of sounds that is very appeasing and completely entertaining. Can’t wait to hear more from this artist.
7. Bocci/Arrighi/Lepore – Anagrammi
Now for something a bit different. Bocci/Arrighi/Lepore combine their compositional talents to create a piano-based album full of darkened arrangements and jazzy undertones. Their masterful piano and synth manipulations present a soothing, yet gloomy take on Dark Ambient and experimental music in general. Consisting of just four tracks, the listener is provided with a forty minute journey of alluring ambience that borders improvisational madness and supremely structured tunes. This one is highly recommended for fans of dark noir themed music.
8. Melkor – Hall Of Bats
‘Hall Of Bats’ embodies the minimalistic listening experience with dark, depressive drones and occasional layers of grim soundscapes and field recordings. Interestingly, there is a sparse sense of melody used throughout this recording, keeping it from become a completely bleak experience. However, it’s used as an expression of dread and increases the grandeur of this Dark Ambient spectacle. This album must be listened to from start to end to gain an appreciation for the full compositional encounter. At times, it’s like having an out-of-body experience.
9. Kammarheit – Thronal
‘Thronal’ is the perfect Dark Ambient album to listen to if seeking a completely melancholic experience. Agonizing synths accompany deep and slightly distorted drones to produce a deplorable sound that is not only addictive, but mesmerizing to the point of total submission. This album is like a minimalistic soundtrack for misery and sadness and I can’t get enough of it. Highly recommended for those seeking a dark and emotional audial dialog to accompany your own personal experiences.
10. J. Donovan Malley – Echoes In A Cage
J. Donovan Malley packs more into this twenty two minute album than a lot of artist in an album twice the length. From warm piano ballads and soothing soundscapes to industrial-based noise fills and vocals (both operatic and harsh), ‘Echoes In A Cage’ is a compelling Dark Ambient album that goes beyond standard drones and synth modulations and explores the psyche of emotional projection. This is another expertly crafted album that I highly recommend checking out immediately!
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Sometimes, the best albums out there are the ones that haven’t been heard yet. There are many gems hidden away on bandcamp and often it’s like a diamond in the rough, searching for the one that offers pure cosmic bliss. Fortunately, Bandcamp is one of the best platforms for music these days – especially for obscure genres – so finding an album as impressive as ‘Ultratumbra’ by Trajedesaliva is certainly appeasing to these ears. Combining all of the elements that I love about esoteric music, ‘Ultratumbra’ delivers forty two minutes of musical euphoria that fuses Dark Ambient, noise, spoken word and retrospective synthwave. The modulations that prowl behind every corner are unexpected but are eagerly welcomed, as this album is supremely put together and most of all, enjoyable on multiple levels.
Sonic album opener, “Todo Era Blanco”, sounds like an immediate drift back into time when retro analog synths ruled the airways and the break of dawn demanded its own sound signature. This track builds in grand layers with a lot of reverberation to thicken the sound. The synths are clean without being crisp, like a morning fog clearing before a beautiful day. Spots of percussion can be heard throughout without going overboard and this is such a grand way to start this amazing album. “A Casa Por Las Vías” continues on the strengths of the first tracks with massive, elongated synths that are slightly muffled but concise in the mix. We also get our first listen of a spoken word bit (spoken in Spanish) and it sounds so bleak with the terrifying layer of noises and percussive elements happening in the background. Upon the completion of the spoken word element, there is a climatic shift in music as it builds up in devious fashion before collapsing into a beautiful and melodic synthwave track. “Familia Ferro” commences with a loud, constant tone, followed by a short spoken word piece. It immediately unfolds into harsh noise modulations that shake the foundation with its strident industrial intonations. Next up is the multi-faceted, “Arenas Calientes”. Beginning with a single keyboard chop and then quickly expanding into multiple layers before suddenly unfolding into a mechanized tone, this track goes through several pitch shifts and succeeds at altering ones mood from dark to anxious to downright maniacal. Toward the end, sharp whispers can be heard throughout, adding some mysticism to this already terrifying song. “Mamá Es Un Animal Morado” starts with a jolting tone, like a large turboprop airplane already in mid flight. However, other sound effects are introduced, creating a spacious melody and then spoken words take over. The track deviates from the harshness and turns into a somber affair and the spoken words continue to complete the calming nature of everything that is fused together up to this point. “Mammillaria Sempervivi” is another melodic affair with dreamy keyboard harmonies and a compelling bass line that’s adds a great bit of depth. The spoken words continue to tell their tale and then 80’s style keys and beats commence, adding yet another aspect to this incredibly diverse album. “Queremos Verte” maintains the keyboard harmonies of the last track but adds an extra layer of emotion with superior song writing and haunting production. Even the spoken words sound different in this track, as the narrator seems to be at ease or in a more comforting situation than previously. The final track on the album is “Ultratumbra” and it immediately begins with a line of spoken word before fusing into a harmonic keyboard composition that sounds straight out of the 80’s. This track is magnificently arranged and contains all of the elements that I love about Trajedesaliva. Although it starts out smooth and alluring, there is a middle section that begins to fill out with harsh noises and drum rhythms that’s simply infectious to listen to. This song is so wonderfully arranged, I just wish it would never end.
Although Trajedesaliva is a new artist for me, they’ve been around for over twenty years. It’s a travesty that I’m just now getting to know their craft but I couldn’t be more pleased with what I’ve been exposed to so far. From the retro compositions, nostalgic arrangements, well placed spoken word bits and great use of industrialized noise, ‘Ultratumbra’ contains everything I could ever ask for in an album. I highly recommend checking this one out so please click on the link below and support this amazing artist.
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These days, Bandcamp is my go-to platform for a wide assortment of music. I love how it’s given artists unlimited creativity and the ability to showcase their musical aptitude regardless of style, genre or other unconventional standards. One artist that demonstrates this capability is Sumatran Black. Not only is it the name of the labels flagship artist, but it also represents the Bandcamp page itself – Sumatran Black Records. This Dark Ambient/Necrochill page is also home to Black Box Memories and Ataşehir – two other fantastic creations of the Sumatran Black composer himself. The albums produced by Sumatran Black Records are some of my favorite in recent years and although each project is different, they bring a needed variety of memorable compositions to the dark electronic community that are eagerly welcomed. I recently had the opportunity to interview the composer behind the label to find out more about each project and what the future holds for Sumatran Black Records.
1. Thank you so much for this interview opportunity. I’m constantly amazed by the impressive and unique projects that you have going on with your Bandcamp page. Have you always had a vision to create multiple projects, covering an array of themes and sonic adventures?
I’ve always really enjoyed other artists who have released music under pseudonyms or side projects etc for example, I really love the Smackos project by Dutch artist Legowelt, and in terms of dark music I think the Lurker of Chalice project by Leviathan is a really good example of how using a different project name can open up a whole range of opportunities for musical expression.
To be honest when I started out, I didn’t really have any distinct vision or plan for either the music releases or the label. I just wanted to record some music after very long hiatus from having anything to do with music creation and just take it from there. I tend to believe that once you get the ball rolling on something artistically, it will often guide you in its own direction and you can kind of shape the overall ideas into something more focused and concrete. Which I think is an accurate description of what happened with the Sumatran Black Records label. As I began to take it more seriously and produce more music it was obvious there would have to be different names for different projects just to maintain a sense thematic clarity.
2. If I had to guess, I’d say that Sumatran Black was your flagship project. Was this your first endeavor in the Dark Ambient arena or was there something else before that?
Sumatran Black was the first.
3. Were you involved with any other musical endeavors prior to Sumatran Black? If so, what were they and what led you to Dark Ambient?
I’ve been involved in lots of projects before but most of my music endeavours previous to Sumatran Black involved writing music for theatre (Opera and Musical Theatre). Unfortunately despite my best efforts, nothing made it to the stage. I still have hopes to resurrect some of these ideas in the future.
With regards to my journey towards darker music and dark ambient, I guess my character helped steer me in that direction. And I should add that I wouldn’t really class myself as a purely Dark Ambient composer. I think what I’m trying to do is often less textural and less static in terms of movement than a great deal of Dark Ambient. I would also add that I’ve tried to avoid presenting my music with an overly polished sound (in terms of production) in general. Which is something that I would associate with a lot of Dark Ambient. Hence the term Necrochill. As the genre has become more popular through the good work of labels like Cryochamber and the inclusion of Dark Ambient music in mainstream video games, it seems that the Dark Ambient sound has become more homogeneous and less distinctive between artists. I want to avoid this.
Of course my music does have many elements that are common with Dark Ambient and I have no problem with it being categorised in those terms.
4. ‘A Taxonomy of Grief’ (by Sumatran Black) is one of my favorite Dark Ambient experiences of the year so far. Can you tell us a little bit about the Necrotrilogy and how this album came about?
The Necrotrilogy is a trilogy of releases under the name Sumatran Black designed to be thematically and musically linked, and to introduce the audience to my concept of necro chill. Which is essentially just a funny name to categorise my main musical interest which is dark music that is cathartic, emotional and has strong elements of lo fi and some elements of the 2nd wave of black metal necro sound but reimagined in a more ambient context.
‘A Taxonomy of Grief’ is the third and final part of the Necrotrilogy. Musically it’s supposed to be a summation of the sound of the previous two albums. Thematically it’s the most personal of the trilogy and is in the simplest of terms an album about loss and recovery.
5. What are the other albums that make up the remainder of the Necrotrilogy?
Part 1: In the Dread
Part 2: Fathomz
Part 3: A Taxonomy of Grief
Not part of the trilogy: A Page of Madness Soundtrack, Elegy for a Lost Cosmonaut.
6. Do you already have plans for any upcoming Sumatran Black albums?
Not an album but I have an EP ready to go into the next stage of recording. The demos are complete, and the EP is a spiritual successor to Elegy for a Lost Cosmonaut. Its working title is Broken Timelines.
7. Let’s shift gears to Black Box Memories. Another stellar project that combines Dark Ambient and lo-fi electronica. I’m so intrigued by this project but how did it come about?
Usually when I’m in the final stages of a project in terms of mixing and mastering I tend to get bored of listening to the tracks over and over again and so I often do some recordings in the middle of this process just to give myself some variation almost like a palate cleanser if you will. And so when I was finishing off In the Dread (which took a long time), I had a lot of other tracks I had been working on which would not fit that project but I thought was strong enough musically to stand alone in a music project in their own right. Those tracks would form ‘Transmissions’ the first Black Box Memories album.
8. Although the Black Box Memories recordings are very modern, they have an excellent retro vibe to them as well. Is this a sound that you were planning for or did it just come about through experimentation?
I don’t really know where the sound came from first and foremost it was initially probably a reaction to the sound of In the Dread. That album is very claustrophobic and employs some quite extreme audio processing and I guess Black Box Memories is sonically just more open and less demanding of the listener. And as I said before musical projects often dictate their own outcomes. So in the case of Black Box Memories the first demos had a very nostalgic and lo fi vintage sound to them and so as more tracks will created they became influenced by the initial demos. I think also at the time I had access to more sounds, I’d upgraded my system and invested in some 80s retro synth clones and my thinking was how can I create a musical idea that uses the nostalgic sounds of my musical youth but recontextualises them in a kind of more dark arena. if you can imagine how vaporwave manipulates old samples in a way to produce something that has a completely different emotional flavour. I thought maybe that would be possible with say for example a Yamaha DX7 VST. Could I take a very recognisable electric piano sound and then sonically manipulate it in a way that sounds even more vintage/lo fi – almost like a musical exaggeration – and then use this sound design in more dark and almost psychedelic musical compositions.
9. On ‘This Loving Presence’, you use a lot of narrative samples – which blend perfectly with the arrangements. Is there an underlying story with these, or are they used to create a particular ambience for the listening experience?
I guess ‘This Loving Presence’ was greatly influenced by my mood and habits at the time of composition which involved lots of late nights and lack of sleep and watching YouTube videos to try and remedy the situation. Most of the narrative samples are heavily edited ASMR style video quotes. I took those snippets of dialogue and then edited them in a way that would create sentences that had a very sharp and poignant emotional resonance immediately.
10. Now, I definitely have to bring up Ataşehir, because out of all of your projects, this one is probably my favorite. This project is a bit more minimalistic and desolate that your others; what were some of the influences for creating this one?
Although it probably sounds nothing like it, the main influence at the beginning of the Ataşehir project was the work of Stars of the Lid and also GAS. Probably my two favourite drone and ambient artists.
11. I reviewed 2020’s ‘AVM’ album and I loved the theme that was represented within. Are all Ataşehir albums created with a concept in mind?
I think that I can safely say that pretty much every album and EP I’ve recorded (not only Ataşehir) has been what would broadly be described as a concept album. Sometimes I give an explicit explanation in the liner notes, sometimes the concept is hidden in the album and song titles.
12. On the latest album, ‘When The Time Comes’, the drone work is absolutely fantastic and has a wide range of melody in it. How did you go about creating these sonic soundscapes?
I think with Ataşehir I always have this overriding influence of abstract expressionism and then I’m always trying to find ways of manifesting that musically. I was lucky with ‘When the Time Comes’ because I found a very particular VST that I used throughout the whole process. I won’t name it because I don’t want to give all my secrets away but the person who designed the instrument is aware of the fact that it was used for the entire album.
Maybe I can just describe the overall composition technique that was used. Most of the tracks consist of maybe three or four drone layers that are intersecting with each other to create a musical foundation – and this is the drone element. Then on top of that the melodic element you refer to are improvisations with a synth or a guitar. These improvisations are cut and edited and looped in an asymmetric way to create kind of melodic tension across the pieces.
13. I love the song titles that you come up with for this project. Do they have a particular meaning, and how do you come with those?
I usually take a long time with song titles I really enjoy that aspect of creating music and it’s something I have a lot of fun with. In the case of the album ‘When the Time Comes’, the titles definitely all have a meaning and maybe I can try and clarify that. The album is supposed to describe a near future or alternative future Istanbul after some strange cataclysmic event. Therefore, the song titles refer to numerous locations in the city but some of those locations are real and some of them are imagined future locations. So, for example, the Istanbul Canal does not exist but it might do in the near future. Also, Levent 4.2 does not exist, but Levent 4 exists. If anyone is interested, on the bandcamp album notes I have included a location guide which kind of explains everything.
14. I recently became familiar with one of your older projects, Haram Tapes. These albums are a lot of fun and seem to defy genre limitations. What makes this project so different?
The main reason that project is so different is because it involves two people. Myself and my collaborator See Safari. It would take a long time to go into detail about all the concepts and ideas behind Haram Tapes, but here is a recent interview we did.
15. Are there plans for more Haram Tapes releases?
Yes, we are discussing the concept for the next album at the moment.
16. Speaking of “releases”, do you have any physical releases (I.e. CD, Cassette, LP..) of any of your projects?
Yes, there are cassettes available for Haram Tapes. Logistically, it hasn’t been possible for me to produce physical releases for Sumatran Black Records. However, it’s my plan that all Sumatran Black Records will have physical versions available from now on. This will begin with a new dungeon synth project I’m currently working on. I also plan to slowly but surely add physical releases to the entire back catalogue.
17. Do you have a home studio in which you record and produce your work?
Yes I do. It’s quite minimal and now I also have made it portable. Before all my music used to be created in my home studio desk setup with big monitors etc but recently I’ve tried to do all my initial work just on a laptop so I can be portable add more flexible with my workspace. ‘When the Time Comes” and “This Loving Presence” were recorded and mixed almost entirely on a small laptop with headphones and they were only moved to my larger studio area (the big computer as it were) during the mastering process.
18. What is your gear setup like? Do you have a preference of analog equipment over digital (VST’s etc..)?
I tend to avoid talking about gear and setups too much because I’d like to encourage all musicians to just use whatever they have available. You don’t need expensive analogue gear you don’t need the latest DAW, you just need ideas and some dedication. the first Sumatran Black album was recorded on GarageBand with no third party VSTs for example.
But to answer your question I really do love both analogue and digital but my priority is practicality and pragmatism. So, I can tell you at this moment I own two or three very good analogue synthesisers but they’re not in the same country as my studio (and not one note from them has appeared on any of my records). I’m doing everything in the box just using vsts because that’s what I have available. I’m planning to build something more substantial in the near future with the aim of implementing some more outboard gear.
19. Again I appreciate this opportunity for the interview and I’m always looking forward to new music by you. Do you have any departing thoughts for your fans that may be reading this?
Thanks for listening and reading. If you got this far, please consider following Sumatran Black Records on Bandcamp as this is my main hub for all news and info about new releases. New Dungeon Synth project coming soon.
If you’ve listened to Dungeon Synth, Berlin School or any style of Synth music in the past few years, then Jenn Taiga needs no introduction. For all others, well, you’ve been missing out on one of the most talented musicians across a broad spectrum of genres. Last years ‘Plight’, was in my Top Ten list for synth album of the year and remains one of my favorite synth albums of recent years. As time and space progress, I find myself anticipating new releases by my favorite artists – Jenn Taiga included. Earlier this month saw the release of ‘Lunar Nocturnes And Esoteric Incantations’, a collection of six exquisite synth songs that embrace a world of retro darkness and euphoric bliss.
Album opener, “Six Of Swords” first appeared on last years ‘Apostles Against Hegemony, Vol. I: Transitive Properties’ compilation and it was one of my favorite songs from that huge assortment of impressive tunes. Beginning with a dreamy arrangement that slowly builds with haunting leads and cosmic sound effects, this track will surely generate a hypnotic state for the listener and prepare them for the mesmerizing characteristics that gracefully infiltrate the remainder of the album. “Strength” has a beautiful (but mild) Berlin School backing arrangement that is completely lenitive and soothing, while layers of concordant synths provide a rollercoaster of emotive vibes that are unmatched in their scope of memorable influence. Although this track is five minutes in length, I wish that it lasted another ten minutes or so. After a short nostalgic intro on “King Of Swords”, we are treated with a hefty dose of conventional, Berlin School patterns that are soon combined with an ominous arrangement of swaying synth leads and celestial soundscapes that are otherworldly and reminiscent of 70’s retro Space Rock/Synth music that popularized the genre several decades ago. “Justice” is the shortest track on the album at just under three and a half minutes long. However, it’s a monstrous synth piece filled with melody and tasty backing arrangements, making this compact offering a delightful listen. “Braziers Are Burning” commences with a grueling sound, like a distorted warning alarm terrifying an unsuspected community. After that startling lead in, majestic synth offerings come into being and provide a mystical journey of harrowing cadence, cinematic effects and layers of sonic resonance that reveals one of Jenn’s most complete compositions to date. The final symphonic piece on this mesmerizing album is “…As Our Offerings Rise To The Heavens”. At just under nine and a half minutes, it’s the longest track on the album and is an epic ending to this modern-day trip down memory lane. It’s starts with a somber synth fill that sways of lush movements. At just over two minute in, Berlin School melodies permeate the audial channels and we find ourselves falling deep into another legendary excursion. The retro synth patterns are simply amazing and this track is like a continuous build-up to a never ending story. There are several layers of harmony that can be heard in a couple of spots that are hypnotic and could be considered the transcendent soundtrack to a trance-like state of mind. As you continue to ingest the enchanting rhythms of this track, it suddenly fades into the black, leaving you wanting more.
For me, Jenn Taiga is one of the ultimate musicians in the world of synth compositions. Never afraid to venture out beyond a single genre, Jenn Taiga pulls from a wide array of musical aspects to create a sound of her own. Although there is a huge amount of influence from retro synth styles, it’s the polished, modern take on electronic song writing that makes this (and other Jenn Taiga albums) stand out. Whereas ‘Plight’ was in my Top Ten synth album of 2020, there is no doubt that ‘Lunar Nocturnes And Esoteric Incantations’ will be in my Top Ten list for 2021. If you’ve not heard this mind-blowing album yet, please click on the link below and relish in the greatness.
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