[Noteworthy] Hypnagoga Press, Ambient Church, and More

by Danica Swanson

In each Noteworthy issue, I explore one of the more newsy aspects of this newsletter project: short takes on selected articles, interviews, and other notable happenings on my radar. I talk a bit about why each item attracted my attention, and comment on its significance to the aesthetics, history, philosophy, and/or culture of dark ambient music.

This issue begins with a special treat: a sneak peek from my interview with Hypnagoga Press, which will be released for the exclusive subscriber tier next week!

As always, I take my time and work mindfully to produce each issue of Endarkenment, in keeping with its focus on contemplation and appreciation.

In this issue:

  1. Sneak Peek - A House Between Worlds: An Interview with Hypnagoga Press

  2. Bandcamp Daily - Dark Ritual Ambient Blends Haunting Music With Spiritual Energy

  3. Essay: The Eternal Drone by Marcus Boon

  4. The First Ambient Church Event in Portland, OR, USA

  5. Antikatechon Launches New Bandcamp Site

  6. Ghostly Shadows - Halloween Dark Ambient Radio Show on Hearts of Space

1. Sneak Peek - A House Between Worlds: An Interview with Hypnagoga Press

Siblings and creative collaborators Åsa and Pär Boström founded Hypnagoga Press in 2016, after years of careful consideration and planning. Both are accomplished and sought-after artists, designers, writers, and musicians in their own right; their label provides a publishing home for their many projects, including Hymnambulae, Altarmang, Bonini Bulga, and Teahouse Radio. Åsa and Pär kindly offered me a glimpse into the inner workings of the respected label. Here's a sneak peek at our conversation:

Danica: In your studio notes you wrote that Hypnagoga means “to journey and map.” Hypnagogic states are often described as liminal - i.e., neither sleep nor waking, exactly, but a hybrid state residing somewhere in the interstices between wakefulness and the onset of sleep. How did you select the name for the label? Did it emerge through your own personal liminal journeys?

Hypnagoga Press: Yes. All we do through Hypnagoga Press is informed by our own liminal, inward journeys. When we were young, we first came across the terms hypnagogia and hypnagogic via the Swedish poet and mystic Gunnar Ekelöf. His work has been highly influential for both of us. These journeys and the subsequent publications are of equal importance. All that we return with has this depth, with its roots elsewhere.

2. Bandcamp Daily - Dark Ritual Ambient Blends Haunting Music With Spiritual Energy

In a recent piece for Bandcamp Daily, Louis Pattison highlights a selection of musicians in dark ambient whose artistry draws on ritual and spiritual practices. In a particularly intriguing passage, Rob Fisk of Common Eider, King Eider describes the band as “vessels,” and their music as a vehicle for channeled energies "to use as they see fit." In keeping with their animist worldview, they also direct funds from their music to ecological protection and indigenous land rights struggles:

"Rooted in the philosophy of animism—the belief that plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena have a living soul—their recording sessions are literal rituals…"

While I prefer Graham Harvey's take on animism as "a way of living in a community of persons, most of whom are other-than-human," I'm pleased to see artists in this genre talking about their animism openly.

Perhaps my favorite of Pattison's selections for this piece is from Time Machines, a 1998 Coil side-project, which "…drew on Tibetan sacred music and the effect of psychotropic drugs to create what Balance called “temporal slips”—moments in which the listener has the sensation of falling outside of time." As a writer who sometimes uses "7​-​Methoxy​-​β​-​Carboline- (Telepathine)" to enable light trance states as I work, I can confirm that it works exactly as specified.

The author also calls Lustmord "the godfather of dark ambient" - an assessment with which many (most?) dark ambient listeners would agree, but which Brian Williams himself would not encourage, as I learned when I contacted Brian about an interview!

In any case, it's nice to see the dark ritual ambient subgenre getting some good press outside the most common channels. I'm hearing from several sources that the audience for this music is growing steadily, albeit slowly. It's worth noting that this piece has received over 4000 shares on Facebook so far, while a 2017 Bandcamp Daily piece on dark ambient ("Music to Soundtrack the Apocalypse" by George Grella) with equally excellent music selections drew about 1000 shares.

3. Essay: The Eternal Drone

In his cerebral 2003 essay for Undercurrents: The Hidden Wiring of Modern Music, writer Marcus Boon takes a fairly deep dive into what might best be termed "philosophy of the drone." Exploring some of the ways drone music facilitates shifts in consciousness - and calling dark ambient a "mutant drone subgenre" with "moody horror film sound" - he probes into the question of why we find it enjoyable to be immersed in what David Toop has deemed the "ocean of sound."

Along the way he touches on alienation and existentialism, consonance and dissonance, pitch relationships, and the drone's relationship (or lack thereof) to conventional and unconventional notions of the sacred. Drones can be poorly suited to formats such as the CD, he argues, not only because of their length, but also because they rely so heavily on the acoustics of the space in which they're produced. And why, he asks, did the word drone acquire connotations of boredom, lack of differentiation, repetitiveness and even irritation?

An interesting question indeed. Worth a read, especially for philosophy- or psychology-of-music geeks.

4. The First Ambient Church Event in Portland, OR, USA

Speaking of drones: this weekend I'll have reason to be grateful - for the moment, anyway - that I live in Portland. I'll be attending the first-ever Ambient Church event taking place in this city, including a performance by Loscil ("Endless Falls" is a favorite of mine). The series began in New York, recently expanded to Los Angeles, and is now reaching more cities thanks to a partnership with the Kranky label. It's a two-night multimedia performance that hosts ambient musicians in churches, employing immersive lighting design tailored to the architectural features and acoustics of the performance space. The organizers also emphasize their mission to put women and non-binary artists in the spotlight, given that women were among the first composers to embrace this music technology. They also credit Tangerine Dream with the idea for "the original ambient church."

Attending a performance like this is something I've dreamed about ever since the days of my entheogen-induced journeys accompanied by Lustmord's seminal album Heresy in the early 1990s. I've even called my vision a "dark ambient church" at times.

If I have my wish, one day before I depart this mortal coil I will establish a "dark ambient shrine room": a small-scale acoustically enhanced religious space dedicated to Norse deities, featuring appropriate music and coordinated lighting design to enable deep engagement with the music and the divine. I’ve been using dark ambient as a facilitator of spiritual experience for many years, and I hope to create a space entirely devoted to this practice.

Andy Beta writes: “What strikes me about the audience at Ambient Church shows is the level of respect shown to quiet, delicate, or ‘ambient’ music—it’s similar to the kind of audience behavior you might encounter at a classical music performance.” [...] “That dedicated audience also allows for the musicians to go deeper into their own music, knowing they won’t have to compete with bar sales and idle chatter during performances."

As an advocate of music-based contemplative practices who also happens to be a non-drinker, I approve. One thing I appreciate about the dark ambient community is that its culture doesn't easily lend itself to nightclub environments centered around bars. Or doesn't have to, anyway.

I’ll be wearing my Desiderii Marginis t-shirt and my Phragments hoodie to the performance. Perhaps I’ll have a chance to discuss dark ambient with other attendees…? We shall see!

5. Antikatechon Launches New Bandcamp Site

As a huge fan of Bandcamp, I've spent untold energy over the past six or so years trying to convince dark ambient musicians to get their albums up on this platform for a long list of reasons, including the fact that more of the funds go directly to the artists. (My first success in this endeavor was Skadi.) So I'm delighted to hear from Davide Del Col of Antikatechon that his full catalog of releases is now available through his new Bandcamp site. 'Tis as good a reason as any to revisit what I wrote about Priviliegium Martyrii in Volume 3 of my series on underrated dark ambient albums for the venerable I Die: You Die music zine:

"Released in 2011 on Italian label Silentes Minimal Editions, this is Davide Del Col’s first release as Antikatechon, and to my mind it’s one of his finest. Winsome choral elements lend a poignancy and a sacral feel of grandeur to the tracks, as if a full choir will burst into song any moment now, and transport the listener into a reverie. “Summa Obnubilatio” is the noisiest of the tracks, but no less saturated in mystery.

"While the album is certainly dark in mood and style, it’s impossible to miss the enduring sense of optimism and promise that dwells within these refined soundscapes – a far cry from the desolation, bleakness, and doom that dark ambient fans have come to expect from a certain segment of releases in the genre. Wisps of ethereal melody fill the air, especially as the album closes, bringing to mind one reviewer’s alluring description of the album as “cathedrals of sacred drones.” If you’re among those who appreciate the sort of dark ambient music that evokes imagery of dark processionals or a cloister walk in a monastery, look no further."

7. Ghostly Shadows - Hearts of Space Halloween dark ambient show

On a recent Halloween show featured on Hearts of Space, guest producer David J. Egan writes: "…musicians of the "Dark Ambient" genre…weave together deep drones, disembodied voices, melancholy wailing, frigid bells, and gloomy strings—with a dark galaxy of powerful electronic and environmental effects to create truly epic electro-acoustic worlds…"

A listener comment reads: "This has been one of my favorite HOS seasons, but lately it has lost its edge. I am thankful I have the old shows to listen to."

My first thought was: "No need to stick to Halloween playlists. There's an entire musical genre called dark ambient, with a wealth of excellent new music released every month that you can find quickly if you just know where to look. Would you like a brief overview, or a guided tour of some of the highlights? If so, let me know!"

Now, of course I don't have any clue whether this person has actually explored the dark ambient genre or not. But his comment isn't the first I've seen that tempts me to introduce the genre to someone who would probably enjoy it - if only they knew it existed. I don't see a whole lot of overlap between "mainstream" ambient listeners and dark ambient listeners. From what I can tell, mainstream ambient listeners often find their way to ambient music through more widely known genres such as jazz and New Age, whereas dark ambient listeners typically find our way to the genre through gothic-industrial subcultures, black metal, and film or gaming soundtracks.

Among the comments I hear most frequently from yoga and meditation teachers about my custom themed playlists is some variation on: "I don't generally listen to "dark" music, but I like this music a lot more than I expected to, and a couple of my students asked about it too. Why haven't I ever heard of it before? Where can I find more?"

That's one of the reasons I started this newsletter: to attract newcomers to the genre and build a collection of writings that might inspire them to dig in deeper. Glad to be of service!

Image credit: graphic art by Pär Boström (text layer by Danica)
Table of contents with archives of all previously published issues HERE.