[Announcement] Short Production Pause

Dear Endarkenment subscribers,

Changes in my medical situation are forcing me to pause my work on the Endarkenment newsletter interviews. I expect this production pause to last about two months (through August and September), with the next exclusive-tier issue releasing in October.

Exclusive-tier subscribers have three options:

1) (for monthly subscribers) a two-month pause during which your card won't be charged

2) (for annual subscribers) a two-month subscription extension at no charge

3) allow your subscription to continue as it is, with no changes

Gift subscribers (including a few that recently expired) don't need to take any action. I'll simply reinstate your gift subscription when the production pause is over, so you'll receive two more months of gift access to the exclusive tier.

If you're an exclusive-tier paid subscriber and you'd like option 1) or 2), please hit 'reply' or email endarkenment.dark.ambient at gmail.com and indicate which one you'd like. For option 3, you don't need to take any action.

Thank you,

- Danica Swanson

P.S. A copy of this notice has been posted on the website and sent to all subscribers to ensure that everyone is up to date.

[Playlist] Blood of the Earth: Dark Ambient for Ecological Grief

Chthonic Cathedral Project by Danica Swanson

Tracklist

  1. Conduit Closing - Dark Roads

  2. Valanx - Drowned World

  3. Out of Hell - Beyond the Horizon

  4. New Risen Throne - Lands Filled With Silence and Grief

  5. Skadi - Inget Ljus av Hopp (No Light of Hope)

  6. Atrium Carceri - Across the Sea of the Dead

  7. Yen Pox - Scorched Earth

  8. New Risen Throne - Signs of the Approaching Wastefulness (II)

  9. Vestigial - Last Extinction Prayer

  10. TeHÔM - The World Ended

  11. Triangular Ascension - Howling Earth

  12. Shrine - Scrinivm

  13. Phragments - Song for the Burning World

Listen to the full uninterrupted playlist HERE. (Total time: 1 hr 34 min)

Liner Notes

"One of the most important things we can do right now in this culture is to grieve, because it is a protest against the collective agreement to turn our backs on what is happening…It is easy to shut down. What we need are people who are willing to feel this and to respond."

- Francis Weller, The Geography of Sorrow

As an animist, simply scrolling through news headlines on an average day stirs up grief that I struggle to process. How, I often wonder, can we appropriately grieve losses as enormous as ecosystems or species extinctions?

In a previous piece, I pointed out that dark ambient music can be a tool for coping with ecological grief. While it's not a substitute for social support, I've found that dark ambient can offer a measure of solace in the face of ongoing but intermittent grief cycles that aren't adequately addressed by the support available elsewhere.

Solastalgia is a neologism coined by philosopher Glenn Albrecht to describe existential distress associated with environmental changes, especially those taking place close to home. Climate change, fracking, strip-mining, sea ice melting, parched-earth soil-borne "valley fever," entire cities being leveled by wildfires…these are but a few examples of the structural and ecological violence wrought by humankind.

Our loss of certainty that there will be a future for us on Earth is the central existential reality of our time, yet so much of this grief remains repressed.

Letting this reality sink in means allowing the links between the Earth's pain and my own pain to rise to the surface of my awareness. In a culture that expects us to hold ourselves at a "safe" distance from grief in public, dealing with our sorrows in private and donning a mask of "positivity" so we can keep trudging off to our jobs, that's not easy to do.

And there are so many layers of grief to contend with. Jessica Pierce writes that

"Ecological mourning is complicated because although we care about what we have lost or stand to lose in the future, we are also complicit in the loss. […]

"In some cases, the loss has not yet happened, so we are engaged in anticipatory grieving (and at the same time, participating in the very practices that are driving the losses). And for many people, the scale of our grief is so vast that we fear drowning in it, if we dare open the floodgates, and thus we find it easier simply to keep our grief dammed behind a wall of denial."

Increasingly, the wall of denial is cracking. Awareness of ecological grief is growing. The zeitgeist has shifted. More and more of us are recognizing that grief, despair, anxiety, rage, and depression in these contexts are not "only" personal, individual experiences; they are also appropriate responses to ecological conditions, including the loss of connection to ancestral land-based ways of life.

It's one thing to read about fossil fuel depletion or climate change, however. It's another thing entirely to come to terms with the visceral awareness of ecological catastrophe as it affects us in our bones, cells, and flesh. That's where dark ambient music can serve us well, if we let it.

The playlist opens quietly and slowly with "Dark Roads" by Pittsburgh-based artist Conduit Closing, "Beyond the Horizon" by Boris Tyurin's amazing project Out Of Hell (who will be interviewed for a future issue, by the way) and "Drowned World" from the final album release by Valanx. "Lands Filled With Silence and Grief" by New Risen Throne and the dramatic "Inget Ljus av Hopp" by Skadi carry us forth into heavier emotional territory.

Is that a bird chirping that I hear just before the 4-minute mark in the Atrium Carceri track "Across the Sea of the Dead"? Whatever it is, I know I love the way it gradually builds into a cathartic crescendo starting around the 5-minute mark. It masterfully mirrors the progression of many of my grief cycles, without ever descending into the bleakness of despair.

The eerie metallic tones of Yen Pox in "Scorched Earth" bring to mind the wildfire smoke that chokes my city in August, and the literal scorched earth of the coal mine fires in Centralia, Pennsylvania that have burned underground for over half a century.

And what, I ask my fellow dark ambient fans, would an ecological grief playlist be without tracks from Triangular Ascension, Shrine, Vestigial, and TeHÔM? "I'm recording this in case anyone ever finds it so you can see…you can see how the world ended."

Indeed. All I can say is that I hope there's such great dark ambient music in the afterlife.

The playlist concludes with the orchestral industrial elements of the classic "Song For The Burning World" by Phragments.

Dark ambient music helps me come to terms with the truth that I must learn to live with ecological grief for the rest of my days. It is not something I'll ever "get over." In a culture constrained by repressed and denied grief, dark ambient music brings me the welcome respite of emotional authenticity. Dark ambient doesn't try to "fix" anything, or coax me out of a grief cycle before it's completed of its own accord. It simply creates space to acknowledge the difficult truths that are already there.

Acknowledgment of difficult truths, in turn, creates space for gratitude to emerge. Francis Weller writes:

"The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering."

"Blood of the Earth: Dark Ambient for Ecological Grief" is a playlist designed specifically for those who perceive the connection between the visceral grief in our bodies and life in an age of global threat. Dark ambient music can help us bear witness, acknowledge the pain that is there, and deepen our gratitude.


Notes about my playlists:

1) Whenever possible, I link the tracks I recommend directly to the artist’s Bandcamp or website to save my readers some search time and make it easy for listeners to support the artists by buying their music directly from them.

2) I accept theme requests! You can reply to any of the playlist emails or comment on the Substack website to suggest themes for a future playlist. I read and consider all suggestions.

3) As part of my Chthonic Cathedral Project to promote music-based contemplative practices, I offer a dark ambient music consultation service through which I put together custom playlists for events, gatherings, meditation groups, and so on. I direct half of any donations from this service to support the musicians whose tracks I recommend. Contact me for details.

4) I gratefully receive feedback on my playlists, whether it’s praise or constructive critique. Which tracks were your favorites? Where could I improve? Feel free to let me know.
More playlists HERE.

Archive of all previous issues for both subscriber tiers here.

UPCOMING INTERVIEWS FOR THE EXCLUSIVE SUBSCRIBER TIER ONLY:

* Alexander Leßwing of Skadi
* Martin Stürtzer of Phelios and Sphäre Sechs
* Dark Ambient Sound Bath
* Matej Gyarfas of Phragments
* Boris Tyurin of Out Of Hell

PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED EXCLUSIVE SUBSCRIBER-ONLY INTERVIEWS:

* Scandinavian Heritage: An Interview with Ulf Söderberg
* A House Between Worlds: An Interview with Hypnagoga Press
* The Power of Nature: An Interview with Northumbria
* Where Curiosity Leads: An Interview with Desiderii Marginis

ALL-ACCESS READER FAVORITES:

* Book Interviews: Quotes from Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture (in-progress book manuscript)
* Playlist - No Light in Sight: A Dark Ambient Hymn to the Northern Winter
* Dark Ambient Journalism: Interview with the Writers



Special thanks to Staffan Damm for recommending Out Of Hell (and many other great artists).




Update on Cryo Chamber Interview + New Search & Discussion Thread Features

Dear readers: Regrettably, the publication of the Cryo Chamber interview with label founder Simon Heath has been postponed until an undetermined date later this year. While I don't guarantee specific publication dates for interviews, I do my best to deliver new work as regularly as possible.

The good news is that the interview material is "evergreen," so it will be just as relevant when you read it later on. When the interview is released, I'll work something out with all subscribers so you can read the full Cryo Chamber interview at no charge. Thanks for your patience with the delay.

Other good news: Substack now has a search box at the top of the web archives page for the newsletter, so you can enter a keyword, album name, artist name, etc., to see if I've published anything on it. Give it a try!

Substack has also just launched a great community discussion thread feature which allows comments from readers. I'm using that new feature to deliver this post to you. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to comment to try it out. It's public, so all readers from both subscriber tiers can comment.

What do you enjoy most about the newsletter? How could I improve it? What great dark ambient music are you listening to lately that you think other Endarkenment readers might enjoy?

Reply →

[Noteworthy + Sneak Peek] Cryo Chamber, Phragments, Skadi, Phelios, Dark Ambient Sound Bath, & Why I Love This Job

by Danica Swanson

It's a pleasure to be "back." What a challenge it is to carve out sufficient stretches of time and attention for the sort of deep engagement with music and writing that enables me to produce this newsletter! Deep, sustained attention is a precious and finite resource. Many forces encroach upon it every day, and creating space for it requires diligence and even ruthlessness at times. I'm also learning over and over again why meditation practice is essential for a writer who works the way I do. It helps me keep the right channels open.

For this issue I've got a sneak peek from my interview with Cryo Chamber label founder Simon Heath, which is now in the final stage of production. Exclusive-tier subscribers will receive this long-awaited interview the moment it's published.

In This Issue:

  1. Sneak Peek: Cryo Chamber Interview

  2. Forthcoming Interview Announcements: Phragments, Skadi, Phelios, & Dark Ambient Sound Bath

  3. Why I Love Being a Dark Ambient Music Newsletter Writer & Publisher


1. Sneak Peek: Cryo Chamber Interview

[From the intro] With increasing success at attracting listeners from realms far beyond the industrial scene that originally hatched the dark ambient genre, Cryo Chamber's reach is a mark of distinction. […] It certainly hasn't escaped my attention that the label's headquarters in Eugene, Oregon is within reasonable travel distance of the Endarkenment newsletter publishing studio in Portland (where framed Cryo Chamber album covers grace the walls, I might add). Might there be occasion for an in-person visit to interview Simon in his element for a future issue of the newsletter one day? Only time will tell…

Danica Swanson: You describe Cryo Chamber as a dark ambient/drone label with "a collaborative focus…on high quality dark ambient with a cinematic edge." I'd like to hear more about the reasons for the label's collaborative focus. In a recent interview, writer Michael Barnett of This Is Darkness stated that he thinks this community-first philosophy is what ultimately drives Cryo Chamber's success. Do you agree with that assessment? What factors influenced this decision to focus on community-building, and how does this emphasis shape your artistic and business decisions as the label continues to grow and expand its reach?

Simon Heath: "It probably started with me wanting to collaborate with artists I was a fan of, which turned into working with all of the artists on the label. Being able to work together globally in the internet age is invaluable, and we improve each other's skills when we work together like that. […]

"I agree with Michael Barnett about the community-driven philosophy…We all promote each other's work, and are each other's biggest fans. We learn and grow together as the label does, and great friendships have formed as a result."

Danica: If I understand correctly, Cryo Chamber is growing steadily, even as some of the most long-standing and respected stalwarts in underground music struggle with the changing climate of music distribution. Can you provide a general overview of the financial aspects involved in building a thriving dark ambient label, and the challenges that make it a difficult endeavor? I imagine there are a few aspiring label owners out there who would appreciate some reassurance that niche music labels can do well enough to support a sustainable business, even with the many challenges they face.

Simon: "I think a common mistake when building a label is insufficient re-investment in the label and its artists. As a struggling label manager, it's easy to succumb to extracting your percentage of sales directly into your pocket to help pay the bills. But the more you reinvest, the higher the payoff long term for everyone: label manager, artist, and fan. […] At the end of the day, if you aren’t creating something of value, no one will support you. If you do create value, then people will."

2. Forthcoming Interview Announcements: Phragments, Skadi, Phelios, & Dark Ambient Sound Bath

I'm pleased to announce that the annual October long-read special issue this year will feature an extended interview with Matej Gyarfas of the acclaimed Slovakian project Phragments, including a series of statements about each of the Phragments albums.

Here's a brief capsule review of All Towers Must Fall (2016) from my Bandcamp fan page:

"The aura of foreboding and apprehension is near-palpable in these richly layered orchestral dark ambient soundscapes...yet somehow, underneath the surface tumult and the ominous drones, an expansive quality makes itself known. It makes sense: there is comfort and hope in the fact that towers fall and empires crumble, after all. Polished to perfection, with great care and attention to detail, this is Phragments at their finest."

In the meantime, enjoy this excellent but unreleased Phragments track: "The Followers."

Another interview I'll be working on in the coming months features virtuoso Alexander Leßwing. Although he's been recording music under the name Skadi since 2001 and continues to release brilliant albums such as the recent Isolation, his work remains relatively unknown in dark ambient circles. His evocative album Eliwagar, originally released in 2006 and later reworked for release on Bandcamp, remains one of my all-time favorite releases in the entire genre.

As with Ulf Söderberg, there is precious little information out there about Alex's work. As far as I know, only one interview with him has ever been published in his entire career, and it's no longer available online. I consider it a privilege to have this opportunity to fill this unfortunate gap in the scene history.

Also booked for this summer is an interview with Martin Stürtzer of the renowned Phelios and Sphäre Sechs. A few months ago I wrote about my interest in "living room concerts" and my appreciation of Jan Roger Pettersen's Svartsinn performance last year on Facebook Live.

Martin, however, was ahead of his time in streaming living room concerts. Neither YouTube nor Facebook had a streaming service in 2011 when Martin hosted a dark ambient living room concert featuring several top-notch musicians. For the newsletter, Martin will provide some insight about the extensive technical and artistic requirements for producing good live-streamed concerts, plus a subscribers-only bonus.

While you wait, you can read Martin's thoughts on why he started the esteemed Phobos Festival which recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary, and watch his amazing and hypnotic live performance at Phobos IX.

Also coming up in the latter half of the year: an interview with the folks responsible for Dark Ambient Sound Bath, which they describe as:

"…an improvisational concert of sound and vibration geared toward healing and relaxation [using] electronic music as the base of our sound. […] Most sound bath experiences are centered around love and light. While those can be helpful and useful, we found a deficit in the recognition of our primal, shadow selves. […] The Dark Ambient Sound Bath invites you to look deep within your shadows through meditation, breathwork and live ambient music to honor your primal self."

They've indicated interest in coming to Portland for a performance, so I may even have a chance to meet them in person. I hope so, as their project seems very much cut from the same cloth as a smaller-scale series of interconnected projects I've done for rituals and yoga classes (with pre-recorded music) under the names Chthonic Cathedral, Black Tent Temple, and Dark Ambient Church.

In this video they discuss what a dark ambient sound bath is and why they started it.

3. Why I Love Being a Dark Ambient Music Newsletter Writer & Publisher

When this newsletter hit the six-month mark and I reflected about where I'd like to take it in the coming years, I came to realize that although this is some of the most demanding work I've ever done, I also enjoy it more than I expected to. I mean, I did expect to enjoy it, of course. But the joy of it runs deeper than I could have known before I began.

Interviewing my favorite musicians, especially, is among the most satisfying work I've done in all my days. Perhaps that sounds like hyperbole, but it isn't.

I don't mean that the work never involves frustration, or that I'm always floating on a fluffy cloud nine of bliss while I work, or anything like that. The work contains endless challenges, and many of them are tedious, or at least not what I'd call "fun." (Formatting, for example.) I mean that I've had a great many jobs in my life - paid and unpaid - and none of them have ever hit the "trifecta" or "sweet spots" in the specific ways this job does.

A friend asked me to go into more depth about why I love it, so I sat down to answer that question. In less than an hour, a list of over 50 reasons poured out of me. I'd like to share with you a sampling from that list.

  • It deepens my own appreciation for the music I write about.

  • I'm doing it in service of the dark ambient community as a whole.

  • It brings out the best in me and in those I interview.

  • It calls forth my highest abilities and improves my craft.

  • The business model for the Substack-hosted newsletter is based on trust, non-coercion, solidarity with artists, and creative integrity.

  • The newsletter is based on sincere appreciation, not empty promotional jargon or overzealous fangirl-squee. (Okay, maybe a little fangirl-squee.)

  • I listen to the artists' music and let my relationship with the music suggest the questions to me.

  • I doubt I'll ever run out of brilliant artists I want to interview!

  • It provides an excellent vehicle for giving back to dark ambient musicians some of the joy their work brings to me.

  • It helps newcomers decide what's worth their time to listen to.

  • It lets the musicians know they're loved and their work is recognized.

  • It provides space for contemplative, slow-paced, deep-dive music writing driven by appreciation rather than release schedules, and by enjoyment rather than journalistic obligation.

And on that note: thank you for reading. I'd like to live in a world where everyone could have opportunities to do work that suits them as well as this work suits me. Thank you to everyone whose support makes it possible for me to do this work.


PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED EXCLUSIVE SUBSCRIBER-ONLY INTERVIEWS:

* Scandinavian Heritage: An Interview with Ulf Söderberg (long-read annual special issue for 2018 - his first interview in over a decade!)
* A House Between Worlds: An Interview with Hypnagoga Press
* The Power of Nature: An Interview with Northumbria
* Where Curiosity Leads: An Interview with Desiderii Marginis

ALL-ACCESS READER FAVORITES:

* Book Interviews: Quotes from Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture (in-progress book manuscript)
* Playlist - No Light in Sight: A Dark Ambient Hymn to the Northern Winter
* Dark Ambient Journalism: Interview with the Writers

Archive of all previous issues for both subscriber tiers here.


A digital subscription to Endarkenment at USD $5/mo. or $50/year makes a great gift for a fellow dark ambient aficionado! More details HERE.

Image credit: graphic art by Pär Boström (text layer by Danica)

To find out more about the company that provides the tech for this newsletter, visit Substack.com and read the posts in the On Substack archive.



[Book Interviews] Quotes from 'Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture'

Part one of the collected interview quotes (2013-2018) from the in-progress book manuscript

Dear readers: If you've followed my work elsewhere, the quotes in this issue will already be familiar to you. Nonetheless, I wanted to present them here publicly in the context of my other published writings on dark ambient music, so everything can be easily tracked in one well-organized place.

From 2013-2018 I maintained a Facebook page to share quotes from my book project Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture as I gathered together all the book interviews. The page is no longer visible, but it may come to life again when the book is closer to publication.

In the meantime, here are some highlights from the early book interviews. Part two of the interview quotes from the 30 interviews I collected for the book will be released in a future issue of the newsletter.

But first, a bit of dark ambient amusement: comments from YouTube listeners of dark ambient music!

“What movie is this from?”
“Where’s the beat? Where’s the rhythm?”
“This isn’t music.”
“WTF did I just listen to?”
“Are these people Satan worshipers?”
“I must have missed the vocals.”
“Only made it to 0:12, got too scared.”
“Reminds me of a Satanic Enya.”
“Now I won’t be able to sleep for weeks.”
“Where is the guitar solo?”

~ compiled by Jeffrey I. Michaels


Hristo Gospodinov of Shrine


Q: How and when did you first get involved in dark ambient music?

A: “Back in the late ’90s, Arcana’s Dark Age of Reason album was extremely popular among the black metal community in my home town…it was a kind of a “bridge” that led some of us to dark ambient…because it was a CMI band. […] It was 2001 when someone came up with that …And Even Wolves Hid Their Teeth… CMI compilation, and I remember that the buzz around it was because of the Arcana track. My then-roommate told me it was definitely worth listening to the whole sampler: “I think you should listen to this – there is a band there that was recommended by Greg Chandler of Esoteric in an interview”. Well, Esoteric was a pretty big name back then in the metal genre, and also a band that always stood apart from trends, so I was curious about their recommendation.

“The “band” recommended was raison d’être, and by the time I decided to give the sampler a listening, the guy who initially spread the compilation already had a full length album in his possession – Enthraled By The Wind Of Lonelienes.

“I have no idea how people were able to find such underground releases back then. There were no music stores dealing with this type of music over here. The internet was so slow that nobody was using it for music yet, and it wasn’t possible to order from abroad unless you were OK with sending cash hidden in an envelope; there was no other way. It feels like the “dark ages” now, but back then everything was so exciting – not only because of the music itself, but also because it was so hard to find it that it was like treasure hunting, in a way. It remains a mystery to me how the guy came across that album, but anyway I got my hands on it.

Enthraled By The Wind Of Lonelienes is the album that turned me on to ambient in general, especially its opening track – “The Awakening”. It’s my favorite raison d’être track ever. I’ve listened to this track hundreds (if not thousands) of times and the magic is still there. I was lucky to start with such a musical album instead of some monotone droning. I think the mind needs some “training” for that – you can’t just start listening to deep drones after years of being into more dynamic music. I remember I was really disappointed when I heard Lustmord for the first time, and it took me years to start appreciating his music, while raison d’être immersed me right away.”

– Hristo Gospodinov of Shrine


Simon Heath of Cryo Chamber

Q: Dark ambient is an obscure musical style with a tiny subculture. Why do you think dark ambient music has such a small fan base? Would you like to see this kind of music become more widely known?

A: “Instrumental genres always tend to be smaller than their vocal counterparts. It’s also a sub-genre, which makes it even smaller. I think dark ambient is a genre of music that will eventually be swallowed up by a larger umbrella by some other name. Most people that hear dark ambient for the first time have a very hard time pinpointing where it belongs, which is why we have been stuck with the “industrial” label for such a long time.

“I would love for dark ambient to be more widely known. I would however not like for it to be so commercial as for artists to be provocative just for the sake of driving sales, like having album covers with Satanist imagery and pentagrams. While I have zero problem with those symbols, it becomes cliché quickly.”

Q: What do you think would be the ideal venue for a live performance of dark ambient music, and why?

A: “A dark room with fantastic acoustics, dampened by cloth and big couches, and a black screen covering the artist so that all focus is on ourselves…I have always gone to concerts with my eyes closed, trying to find the optimal spot for the best acoustics.”

~ Simon Heath of Atrium Carceri, Sabled Sun, and Cryo Chamber


Miljenko Rajakovic of TeHÔM


Q: How and when did you first get involved in dark ambient music?

A: “I came to ambient and industrial music in the mid-1980s with what was then a brand new sound, with artists such as Lustmord, The Anti Group (T.A.G.C.), SPK, and Graeme Revell. SPK’s fascinating album Zamia Lehmanni influenced me greatly in those days. It was the second dark ambient album I heard – the first being Lustmord’s Paradise Disowned in 1984. These two albums invited me into the world of dark ambient music. I also enjoyed old experimental Delerium material, including Stone Tower and Spiritual Archives, both from 1991.”

Q: What do you think would be the ideal venue for a live performance of dark ambient music, and why?

A: “Catacombs, maybe, because they provide an authentic dark atmosphere. TeHÔM had the honor of performing at the Wave Gothic Treffen Festival 2015, in the catacombs of Leipzig, in the amazing Moritzbastei venue. It was a really nice place with good sound, video, and wonderful people – great for dark ambient music.”

Q: How would you describe the esoteric or mystical significance of dark ambient music to a curious outsider?

A: “I think the main advantage of dark ambient music is mysticism and deep spiritual feeling. In some cases, as with TeHÔM, there are a lot of ritual elements…I think dark ambient with ritual rhythms may be better accepted among outsiders who never listen to “that esoteric dark stuff.”

~ Miljenko Rajakovic of TeHÔM


William Leighton Fisher


“I look at dark ambient as a spirit, and we as listeners can allow ourselves to be its eyes and ears in the world. I have reached altered states of consciousness using dark ambient in meditations. During these sessions I wasn’t under the influence of any chemical agents. I would just open my mind and completely surrender myself to the music…I feel the music in every cell of my body. I look at dark ambient as the language before I was taught how to speak.”

~ William Leighton Fisher, artist and dark ambient fan


Q: Scholar Kennet Granholm, in his 2013 article “Ritual Black Magic: Popular Music as Occult Mediation and Practice,” has identified within the black metal scene a growing movement of “explicit, systematic, and sustained engagements with the occult.” Members of this scene, Granholm states, “explicitly claim their artistry to be an expression of the occult – as divine worship or communion, an expression of and tool for initiatory processes, and/or an explication of seriously held beliefs.” Would you say that a similar or parallel movement is taking place in dark ambient music and culture? If so, who would you say are some of the key artists involved in this movement?

A: “Sure, I believe the interest is there and that there are a handful of artists from the new generation (Lamia Vox, Ouroboros, Temple of Not, etc.) exploring this realm, but I do not believe that artists are flocking to it in the same scope that black metal projects are…I can imagine it is also a daunting task to try to live up to the legacy of artists like Zero Kama, Archon Satani, Halo Manash, and the underrated Black Seas of Infinity. How exactly can one listen to the legendary The Secret Eye of L.A.Y.L.A.H. and hope to surpass it?

“Still, yes, I do believe that this is a very valuable area for which artists can look to evolve their craft. Personally, I’d like to see these artists look towards releasing in multiple medias though. There is so much more that dark ambient can be when combined with literature or visual additions. The collaboration between Lamia Vox and Krist Mort on Cyclic Law is proof enough of that.”

~ Sage Weatherford of Heathen Harvest Periodical


Jan Roger Pettersen of Svartsinn


Q: How and when did you first get involved in dark ambient music?

A: “…it was in the mid-to-late 1990s. For a long time I was searching for some kind of music that could help me in many of my personal struggles…

“I tried classical and other genres, but only a few works here and there did anything for me. But when I heard dark ambient for the first time, it was pure emotion and atmosphere, and I loved it instantly. I also knew instantly that I had the urge to create this kind of music. I felt I had it in me – that this would be my creative outlet and a “healing tool,” so to speak.”

~ Jan Roger Pettersen of Svartsinn


Marcus Stiglegger of Vortex


Q: What was the first music you heard that you would describe as dark ambient?

A: “…the first track on Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack of William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977). I still love this album.”

Q: What kind of role, if any, does dark ambient music play in your spiritual life or esoteric practices?

A: “I create the music of Vortex with a deep rooted shamanic spirit as part of a ritual act. Thus Vortex is dark ambient ritual music. The live concerts are special events often connected to pagan events like solstice or Samhain…Drones and organic rhythms are a pathway to the subconscious. The original idea of the musician is the drumming shaman.”

Q: Do you have any esoteric group affiliations – Pagan groups, Heathen kindreds, magical lodges, witchcraft covens, etc.?

A: “Yes, I am part of a small pagan brotherhood working with Nordic mythology, symbolism and early shamanistic techniques. This is the basis of our live rituals with Vortex and also my folk-band MARS.”

~ Marcus Stiglegger of Vortex


Q: What do you think would be the ideal venue for a live performance of dark ambient music, and why?

A: “I’m going to go with my personal experiences and say that the Phobos Festival IV I attended, which was held in an old church (and proved to be an amazing event) was more enjoyable than attending MZ.412, which was held at a standard music bar. Though I’d like to state that this choice is not based on the quality of the artists performing, but rather on the key point of this question – the venue.

“…sitting in a visually pleasing area is as much a part of the experience as any other element. The church was absolutely beautiful, internally and externally, and the large amount of space not only made it more comfortable but also provided a much grander sound spreading through the much more spacious building.

“Personally though? I’d love to see a dark ambient festival being carried out in an observatory or something similar; somewhere you could have all the visual elements to portray the effects the music has on your mental stimuli.”

~ Steven Williams, founder of Kalpamantra


Todd Janeczek of Withering of Light


Q: Dark ambient music has been described as a particularly effective facilitator of introspection and inner journeys. One artist called it “…a special kind of music, requiring a special kind of attention.” Do you think this is true? Why or why not?

A: “Absolutely. I feel it puts you, or at least myself, into the proper head space needed for such a thing…for me this all came about due to certain esoteric subject matter…I am an Odinist/Asatruar – whichever you wish to call it – and am a Master Mason as well.”

“There are all sorts of cultures throughout history that use droning music, along with perhaps incense and other substances, to achieve a meditative state. I think that the tones that resonate from such things are keyed into our psyche or spirit.”

~Todd Janeczek of Withering of Light


Hærleif Langås of Northaunt


Q: How and when did you first get involved in dark ambient music?

A: “This was slightly more complicated back then. I looked for this type of music without realising it for a few years, listening to sound-art on radio and later when my friends got into metal, and heard the occasional “ambient” track, but found these banal. Still, I felt this music direction had much more potential. Then I started getting albums randomly from mail order companies, CMI and the like. Keep in mind I grew up on the countryside in Norway and this was before Internet was available. I found the music I was looking for in the dark ambient albums of the time. This was in the early nineties.”

Q: What was the first music you heard that you would describe as dark ambient?

A: “The very first that I can remember was the track ‘Le Cerf Malade’ from My Dying Bride’s 1993 mcd The Trash of Naked Limbs. I remember thinking: “Why don’t they make entire albums like this…?”

~ Hærleif Langås of Northaunt


Q: Dark ambient is an obscure musical style with a tiny subculture. Why do you think dark ambient music has such a small fan base?

A: “Well, I’d say the dark ambient genre pretty much self-selects for people of lengthy attention spans, high intelligence, a fair bit of uninterrupted leisure time to listen to all those hour-long tracks, and a taste for darker music in general. And frankly, there just aren’t that many people in the world who fit that profile. So the limits to growth here are built-in.”

~ Anonymous, dark ambient fan


Rüdiger of Apoptose


Q: Dark ambient music has been described as a particularly effective facilitator of introspection and inner journeys. One artist called it “…a special kind of music, requiring a special kind of attention.” Do you think this is true? Why or why not?

A: “Due to the solemn and slowly evolving character, the music helps you to move your thoughts away from the distractions of everyday life…So it sets the right mood to let your thoughts wander freely.”

Q: How would you describe the esoteric or mystical significance of dark ambient music to a curious outsider?

A: “I can’t explain that. But I’m sure everybody with some empathy will understand it while listening to the music for 5 minutes.”

“For me the process of creating music is definitely a spiritual thing.”

~Rüdiger of Apoptose


Matej Gyarfas of Phragments


Q: What do you think would be the ideal venue for a live performance of dark ambient music, and why?

A: “I have played and still enjoy playing a lot of strange places – an old underground war bunker, classic venues of various sizes, a huge squat, an abandoned monastery with no electricity (using fuel generators), a castle…it is always a feast when I get to play in an atypical space. I think these places have a very strong presence – their own personal “memories.” They just emanate some sort of magical energy that changes the live performance into something rare, festive…you might even say a ritual of sorts.”

“Dark ambient is definitely a big part of my spiritual life…It almost functions as a gate to another reality, where different rules apply. It’s like reading a great book or looking at a painting, but much more intense, faster, and more direct.”

~ Matej Gyarfas of Phragments


Ketil Søraker of Taphephobia


“This is a genre which demands something from the listener…I don’t think this kind of music is for everyone…it is not an easy listening matter. Dark ambient can well be compared to a mystical book which is not easy to read, but after having understood it, it becomes your favorite.”

“…there are powers out there that I cannot explain…I feel a certain magic in the room when I create something, a magic that cannot be explained. Just as if there were another person who actually creates the music.”

~ Ketil Søraker of Taphephobia


Johan Levin of Desiderii Marginis - photo by Azuel


Q: What kind of role, if any, does dark ambient music play in your spiritual life or esoteric practices?

A: “Creating music is, to me, in some ways similar to esoteric or magickal practices in the sense that it’s about internalizing and channeling a specific emotion or concept, and by doing so you conceal it, or incorporate it into the work (like you would a sigil for example) and then expose yourself and others to it when hearing it. If I for example listen to a track that I recorded 20 years ago under those circumstances and in that state of mind, the feeling may come back as a sense of accomplishment and insight that it is in the past and has been dealt with. If I listen to something more recent it may surface as a sense of determination or urgency. In this sense my music is my magick – it is how I begin a process to accomplish something personal.”

Q: What do you think would be the ideal venue for a live performance of dark ambient music, and why?

A: “I think old cinemas and theaters work pretty well, provided they have a good sound system. They generally have good acoustics, great surfaces for visuals, people can sit with reasonable comfort, and the lights can be turned off completely and the doors shut. I’ve played in Soviet bunkers, ruins, churches and old factories that were very striking visually, but when the lights go out and the music starts the room you are in becomes less important.”

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of the dark ambient genre?

A: “I think it’s here to stay. What interests and engages people at a certain time will of course oscillate, but I find it hard to believe that this type of music would disappear completely. As for the rest, time will tell.”

~ Johan Levin of Desiderii Marginis


Przemysław Murzyn of Santa Sangre and Embers Below Zero


Q: How and when did you first get involved in dark ambient music?

A: “I remember a funny story – my internet connection was so slow and expensive that I wasn’t even able to download samples from labels’ websites. One day, though, I managed to download one raison d’être track. Unfortunately it turned out that the file was somehow corrupted, and I could only listen to the first 10 seconds of the piece. I fell in love with those 10 seconds! I listened to them over and over again, and I knew that this kind of music was for me.”

Q: Dark ambient is an obscure musical style with a tiny subculture. Why do you think dark ambient music has such a small fan base?

A: “I think most people instinctively look for three things in music: vocals, rhythm and melody. If any of these three attributes is missing in a song structure, it automatically becomes less interesting for the majority of people. And that’s only when one of these elements is missing. In dark ambient, often all of these elements are absent. Sometimes artists use vocal samples, rhythmic structures, or melodies. But plenty of dark ambient tracks consist of nothing but static drones and abstract soundscapes. For an average listener, such a composition is unacceptable, because it doesn’t contain elements that are easy to approach and ear friendly.

“I once played a couple of dark ambient tracks for a friend who didn’t know anything about the genre, but was very open-minded. It didn’t reach him at all, except for a Sephiroth composition – a track that had dynamic rhythmic elements to break up the monotony. Patience is the virtue that is required to appreciate dark ambient, and most people don’t have enough patience, nor do they have the will to learn. Not to mention a specific, hard to describe sensitivity that…I don’t know, you have to be born with it I guess.”

Q: Dark ambient music has been described as a particularly effective facilitator of introspection and inner journeys. One artist called it “…a special kind of music, requiring a special kind of attention.” Do you think this is true? Why or why not?

A: “…it’s not a coincidence that ambient music is the closest to the sounds of nature. And just like the sound of sea waves, whistling of the wind, or howling of the wolves can affect a sensitive soul deeply, drones can do it as well. Dark ambient requires patience, but can be very rewarding. It’s perfect when you’re in a half-asleep state – then the drones can sneak into your mind more efficiently than any other kind of music. Plus, the tracks are often very long; they have no lyrics nor other elements that might distract the listener. I can’t really imagine any other kind of music that haunts you so entirely, overwhelms the body and the soul, and takes you into another world. It’s a link between the mundane and the world beyond.”

Q: What are your thoughts on the role(s) of the visual and performing arts in relation to dark ambient music?

A: “For me they aren’t a necessity, but if they’re well made, why not? I can imagine that for many people, staring at a person with a laptop for an hour or more can be too much, even if the music itself is top notch. But the visuals have to be good and carefully thought out, not just random sequences from horror movies. Dehn Sora from Treha Sektori is one of the best in this business. I loved his visuals during a show I had the pleasure to see during the 2015 Wroclaw Industrial Festival.”

~ Przemysław Murzyn of Santa Sangre and Embers Below Zero


Dehn Sora of Treha Sektori


Q: How and when did you first get involved in dark ambient music?

A: “I think my first contact with this genre was through movie soundtracks. Cinema plays a major role in my life. Half of the work of a movie comes from the sound. I also had early exposure to music. My father used to play bass – jazz and especially modern. Later, my path also led me to black metal.

“What struck me most was the atmosphere. However crude it may have been, with music you feel something that takes you somewhere else, and lets your emotions speak. And some bands used intros or interludes that were connected to dark ambient and industrial music. I didn’t know anything about music scenes at that time, but I found Lustmord once – I don’t remember how – and I felt that it didn’t need any “traditional” instruments to bring on a storm of emotions.

“I wanted to express emotions with music. I tried a black metal band with some other musicians, but nothing happened – no magic. So I started to try things on my own. What came out, without thinking about anything, was Treha Sektori.”

Q: What kind of role, if any, does dark ambient music play in your spiritual life or esoteric practices?

A: “The practice of music is a ritual in itself. I need to be vulnerable to get everything out, and that requires a particular state of mind. The more I grow, the more I am satisfied when things get out of my control. When I am just so fed up with my emotions that everything needs to get out so I can let go of it, I do things that make sense.”

Q: Would you like to see dark ambient music become more widely associated with spiritual life, ritual, and the esoteric? Why or why not?

A: “I think dark ambient is strongly connected to the esoteric already. I think about Halo Manash and the Aural Hypnox label in general, for example. They have built a bridge between their spiritual concerns and research, and they show it with their music, including the listener in their gates.

“Some projects have led me to interesting discoveries regarding spiritual meanings. I think about “Blutopfer” from Apoptose, an album that is inspired by and built around the Semana Santa – the holy week processions in Spain. Even if you don’t have faith in any kind of monotheism, it was a journey about devotion, and those percussive sounds gave me so many mental images. It opens perspectives.”

Q: How would you describe the esoteric or mystical significance of dark ambient music to a curious outsider?

A: “I would say that music can be the best instrument to lead you to your own magic.”

~ Dehn Sora of Treha Sektori


Thank you for reading and supporting the work of independent artists!

This newsletter is published by writer, editor, and proofreader Danica Swanson. If you enjoy reading it, please recommend it to others.

You can click the little heart to 'like' your favorite issues, and you can add your thoughts on each issue by clicking on the little dialogue box next to the heart. All comment threads are visible to the writer, the featured musicians, and other subscribers, and will remain visible on the archived copy of the newsletter at the Substack website.


UP-AND-COMING INTERVIEWS FOR THE EXCLUSIVE SUBSCRIBER TIER ONLY:

* Simon Heath of Cryo Chamber
* Matej Gyarfas of Phragments
* Alexander Lesswing of Skadi
* Martin Stürtzer of Phelios and Sphäre Sechs, organizer of the Phobos Festival

PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED EXCLUSIVE SUBSCRIBER-ONLY INTERVIEWS:

* Where Curiosity Leads: An Interview with Desiderii Marginis
* Scandinavian Heritage: An Interview with Ulf Söderberg (long-read annual special issue for 2018 - his first interview in over a decade!)
* A House Between Worlds: An Interview with Hypnagoga Press
* The Power of Nature: An Interview with Northumbria

ALL-ACCESS READER FAVORITES:

* Dark Ambient Journalism: Interview with the Writers
* Uneasy Listening: Dark Ambient Music Appreciation for Pagans
* Playlist - Haunted From the Depths: Ghostly Dark Ambient

Archive of all previous issues for both subscriber tiers here.


A digital subscription to Endarkenment: Contemplative Writing on Dark Ambient Music Appreciation at USD $5/mo. or $50/year makes a great gift for a fellow dark ambient aficionado! Half of all net subscription income supports the musicians. More details HERE.

Image credit: graphic art by Pär Boström (text layer by Danica)

To find out more about the company that provides the tech for this newsletter, visit Substack.com and read the posts in the On Substack archive.




Loading more posts…