[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:
Sneak Peek: Cryo Chamber Interview
Forthcoming Interview Announcements: Phragments, Skadi, Phelios, & Dark Ambient Sound Bath
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.
"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)