A warm welcome to the influx of new subscribers who signed up for the Endarkenment newsletter in the wake of my recent cross-interview with Michael Barnett of This Is Darkness. I enjoyed that cross-interview immensely, and it was a pleasure to work with Michael and turn the spotlight on one another for a change. Thank you for the interest and positive feedback!
In light of the enthusiastic response to these interviews, we—meaning myself and a few other dark ambient music writers—are considering an occasional "dark ambient writers' roundtable" series in which we conduct a back-and-forth exchange focused on a specific theme in our community. Each of us covers different but overlapping sections of the dark ambient community in our publications, and we emphasize different things. The roundtable discussions would give us a chance to "talk shop" a bit, share news and views from our respective vantage points, and reach a wide cross-section of our readership.
I'm also delighted to announce that I've lined up an interview with the brilliant Matej Gyarfas of Phragments! This one will follow the interviews I'm currently working on with Desiderii Marginis and Cryo Chamber.
Have I mentioned lately that I love being a dark ambient music writer?
In this issue:
Living Room Dark Ambient Concerts
Reader Correspondence on Music for Meditation, Yoga, and Spiritual Practice
Essay - Drones: A Brief History by Emma Hacking
Artist Mini-Spotlights: In The Absence of Words and Ghost of Sodom
1. Living Room Dark Ambient Concerts
A few months ago, Jan Roger Pettersen of Svartsinn surprised and delighted his fans by performing an unannounced 40-minute "living room concert" on Facebook Live, streamed from his beautiful living room in Norway. The concert attracted over 1500 views; listeners all over the world appreciated the cozy ambiance Jan set up, complete with fireplace, background video, and appropriately dimmed recessed lighting.
I'd like to see this idea catch on in dark ambient. Many musicians in other genres are doing online concerts, of course, but I think live-streamed living room concerts can work especially well for dark ambient performances. Live performances of dark ambient music are few and far between, but living room concerts can reach people all over the world. There's no additional expense for venue booking, travel costs, or hauling gear, and no crowds or bars to deal with. With proper setup and camera placement, everyone watching can have the "best seat in the house," with the personal touch of being invited into a musician's home.
Of course living room concerts can't duplicate the joys of in-person live performances. Nonetheless, they still offer many attractive benefits, especially for people like me who love the music but find the environment at most venues sorely lacking.
When I think about what I appreciate most in live performance of dark ambient music, the first event that comes to mind is the Phobos Festival. Although I’ve not yet been able to attend in person, videos from Phobos consistently rank among my favorites, and I’ve appreciated the write-ups after the event. Here's a tidbit I wrote on Facebook after being blown away by the video of Hristo Gospodinov's performance at the 2018 festival:
"If you’re a fan of dark ambient (or "ambient industrial") music at all, and you haven’t yet seen this marvelous performance by Hristo Gospodinov from the recent Phobos Festival, I recommend you remedy that. Seeing Shrine play live is a rare treat, and he’s in top-notch form here. Excellent music + high-quality well-edited video + mesmerizing visual backdrop + choice location in a beautiful church (no booze, smoking, audience chatter, cell phones, or other such distractions from the music) = captivating performance. I especially love the alternate version of “Somnia.”
"In my opinion Shrine ranks right up there with the classics of the genre. His work should be much more widely recognized and appreciated.
"Thanks to everyone who makes performances like this happen. This is everything I love about dark ambient music."
A living room concert is obviously much smaller-scale, but I wonder what could be done with the format with more planning? What if a few artists collaborated in one artist's living room (or basement, attic, etc.) to host live-streamed concerts? I've been reading up on projection mapping techniques, for example, after being inspired by the first Ambient Church event I attended in Portland. These effects can bring amazing atmosphere to even the smallest spaces. And perhaps journalists could conduct live mini-interviews with the musicians, either before or after the performance.
Projection mapping at Ambient Church in Portland, OR, USA, Nov 2018.
Concert-streaming service platforms are already available, even for world-class operas. Sooner or later there's bound to be one with an artist-centered business model similar to that of Bandcamp or Substack that allows independent artists to set their own ticket price, free of third-party advertising, with the platform taking an appropriate percentage of revenues. Maybe such a platform exists already.
What do you think? Would you enjoy living room dark ambient concerts? If the artists organized them in private homes and streamed them, would you buy tickets or otherwise subscribe to support these efforts? Feel free to comment on this issue with your thoughts.
If you missed the Svartsinn living room concert, and you're on Facebook, you can view it here.
2. Reader Correspondence on Music for Meditation, Yoga, and Spiritual Practice
What kind of music, if any, do you usually associate with meditation, yoga, and spiritual practices?
When I pose this question to casual acquaintances, the answers I get typically mention New Age music, Hindu or Buddhist chanting, or "chillout" ambient music such as one might hear on the long-running Hearts of Space program. Occasionally someone mentions well-known ambient artists such as Brian Eno or Sigur Rós. Dark ambient, however, is virtually never mentioned unless I'm talking to an insider.
Why is that? Many reasons, I'm sure. For one thing, many people don't know it exists. On that note, I'd like to share a bit of correspondence I received from a new reader of this newsletter:
"Thanks for the info sources on dark ambient. I had no idea there were people writing about this. The "Stalker" album was my gateway and I've loved it for years but have since just sort of stumbled across things.
"I'm checking out your newsletter and I bought the This Is Darkness compilation.
"I was excited about this information because I honestly didn't know there was so much out there. My searches over the years have not turned up much, not sure why. I actually started searching years ago for "dark" ambient as a descriptor and didn't realize for a long time people used that label. I was just looking for ambient that didn't sound cheesy.
"I'm very interested in how people perceive these things. I've had people say "what's that creepy music you're listening to?" and it's surprising because it doesn't seem creepy to me. I'm not interested in serial killers, I don't like true crime stories, none of that. Dark ambient for me is music that is relaxing, spiritual, and not cloying."
- user bongo_x on MetaFilter
"Relaxing, spiritual, and not cloying."
I've received many similar comments about dark ambient music from the yoga teachers, ritual organizers, and meditation groups I work with. If these comments are any indication, there's a large segment of "mainstream" ambient listeners who would also appreciate and support dark ambient music, if only they knew how and where to find it. For many years I've done what I can to reach these potential listeners, but admittedly publicity isn't my strong suit. Many ambient listeners would simply never be exposed to dark ambient music unless it turned up in an algorithmically-generated playlist on Spotify or a Halloween special on the Hearts of Space radio show.
When you meet people who appreciate ambient music for meditation, yoga, or spiritual practice, but don't yet know about dark ambient, why not offer to introduce them to the genre? I'd love to see this music reach more people outside the usual channels of industrial, black metal, and film or gaming soundtracks.
3. Essay - Drones: A Brief History by Emma Hacking
Like the reader I quoted above, I too am fascinated by perception of music. One of my favorite probing questions to ask my fellow dark ambient & drone aficionados is: "Why do you enjoy dark ambient music?" Recently, while pondering this question in relation to my in-progress book manuscript (Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture), I rediscovered Emma Hacking's insightful 2010 essay "Perfect Drones Forever, or Drones: A Brief History" on the psychological and musical paradoxes of drone music. Hacking writes:
"Clever use of drones can trick the listener into hearing a constantly changing soundscape, which simultaneously sounds unchanging and constant. Not only that, but drones have a habit of sounding very sparse but also very lush and full – even when they are only two or three notes played together."
She also writes that drones have an "uncanny ability…to make us feel two contradictory feelings simultaneously." That's something I particularly appreciate about this enigmatic genre. Drones are equally suitable for "drug-fuelled expression" and "monastic abstinence and religious devotion," as Hacking writes. Somehow drones manage to occupy both minimalist and maximalist territories, heightening our senses while simultaneously imparting a pleasant sense of numbness or flattening.
I find this especially useful in providing a sense of respite from the dominant culture of false "positivity" in the U.S., as this music provides contexts in which a multitude of seemingly contradictory and "dark" emotions can somehow make perfect sense.
4. Artist Mini-Spotlights: Ghost of Sodom and In The Absence of Words
Ghost of Sodom
If you haven't yet heard the work of Arpe Eriksson from Luleå, Sweden, a.k.a. Ghost of Sodom, I recommend you remedy that…especially if you're also a fan of industrial. "Cold, desolate and dissociative landscapes from the dark side of Tornedalen," he writes from the home of the Torne River. He describes Ghost of Sodom as an "audio-cultural project and concept" that began in 2004, and himself as a "musiker och kulturmarxistisk bekämpare av den koloniala svenskhetsmyten och förfäktare av den norrbottniska."
If my Swedish translation is correct, that translates to: "musician and cultural Marxist fighter of the colonial Swedish myth and advocate of Norrbotten." Give my favorite Ghost of Sodom tracks "Guovssahas" and "Isigål" a listen, check out his SoundCloud, and see what you think.
In The Absence of Words
I discovered the music of Scott van Dort in a rather unusual way for a reclusive dark ambient fan: I met Scott in person before hearing his work. I got to know him as a fellow writer when our paths crossed at the 2017 Cold Meat Industry 30th anniversary event, where I also met many of my long-time favorite musicians. Only later did I learn that Scott was also a musician.
One of my first thoughts upon listening to his tracks was: "Impressive. This is mature, hypnotic work that deserves a much wider audience. If labels haven't approached him yet, I'll bet they will soon. I'm going to write him and encourage him to keep up the great work."
His Bandcamp page features a series of dark ambient, drone, and noise tracks; each is arranged and numbered as part of a "chapter" in a year-long story, and paired with evocative winter landscape cover art. Employing field recording elements, In The Absence of Words explores themes of grief, tapestries of mood, and dramatic natural landscapes. One of my favorites is "Of Times Passed" (VII). Scott writes that he composed this piece shortly after the CMI event, and mentions that "…the influence from that label is quite apparent." I'm inclined to agree.
Other favorites include the sublime "That Which Can Never Be Replaced" (VIII) and the wistful "This Is All There Is" (IX). Newly released this week is "Memento Mori," a meditation on mortality and the darkness of winter.
A few months ago, in the intro for my interview with Ulf Söderberg, I wrote of "tender places in the human soul that words can never reach." Much as I appreciate words - and I've been a bibliophile and voracious reader since I was a child, so that's a great deal - it is music that ultimately fuels my work as a writer. Thanks to In The Absence of Words for the boost of fresh inspiration.
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. Half of all net subscription income supports the musicians.
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:
* Johan Levin of Desiderii Marginis
* Simon Heath of Cryo Chamber
* Matej Gyarfas of Phragments
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
ALL-ACCESS READER FAVORITES:
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.