Welcome to the third installment of the Mindspawn Guide To Creating Dark Ambient Music. Today we’ll cover the final bits of necessary hardware that you need to start doing dark ambient music. Those who have been following along thus far might recall the hardware we covered last time; black t-shirt, computer, high end microphones, and distortion device.

The complete list is included below for anyone who missed it before:

  • At least one black t-shirt. Preferably vintage.
  • A computer, preferably vintage, with massive amounts of lifting power (dark ambient is very heavy).
  • At least 3 extremely high end microphones, preferably vintage, maybe costing as much as $50US.
  • A minimum of one vintage distortion device.
  • A massive analog modular synth with lots of lights. Preferably vintage.
  • A few dozen softsynths to ridicule, each costing a minimum of $50US. Preferably vintage.
  • At least one hardware synth with a keyboard. Preferably vintage.

Today the focus is on the final three bits of necessary kit. Namely a massive analog modular synth, softsynths, and a hardware synth.

You must have a massive analog modular synth. Please don’t be daunted by details like not knowing what synthesis is about. Most of all, this is to provide the right kind of ambience in your studio or at a live performance. It must have a lot of lights. It will be your main light source when working in the studio or at a gig. Without adequate lighting you could severely injure yourself or others.

Analog Modular withy plenty of lights
Now we’re properly lit….

It’s not necessary that you understand how to make sound with the analog modular, it really isn’t necessary that it makes sound at all (we’re getting to the sound maker shortly). You should spend a good part of your budget on this piece. It needs to be pretty huge if you want to potentially create a dark ambient hit. There’s a reason so many dark ambient artists use modular synths. The lights help them see the music. This is especially true at live gigs. Ever see a dark ambient artist on stage hover over their analog modular? They are desperately trying to see their crib notes, and or lyrics, for the performance. Hence, without enough lights on the modular, this becomes impossible and you’ve likely blown the gig! Invest in those analog modular lights!!!

Your analog modular should also be old, vintage of course. Almost all the great dark ambient artists use vintage analogs. However, you might need to add a few lights as older synths sometimes have a dim light or two. Sometimes buying an extra module, even a new module, just to add more lights will be necessary for safety. Spouses and significant others often do not entirely understand this. That’s okay, this is art.

You’ll also need a few fairly expensive softsynths that you won’t actually use In all likelihood.

Max, the real deal.
Perfect vintage soft synth.

You don’t even need to bother installing them. They are for ridiculing with your dark ambient peers. Again, quality counts here, so don’t skimp by just getting freeware, drop some coin. In addition, try and find vintage soft synths on eBay or something. It’s especially relevant to have vintage soft synth boxes. The best ones will have manuals  written exclusively in German, Chinese, or Enochian.

If you don’t have an array of expensive softsynths that you pretty much ridicule constantly, almost no one will take you seriously. That leads to lost sales and soon you’re on the street with former dark ambient superstars…. Remember Satan’s Juicebox? No? He refused to ridicule soft synths, and it was rumored he actually used them. Consequently, one night he’s on top of the dark ambient world, massive tour, lots of money. The next day, completely obscure, unknown, almost as if he never existed. I heard he ended up working on the dark ambient cruise ship circuit… (editor’s note: Satan’s Juicebox actually teaches dark ambient at an inner-city private pre-school as of this writing).

The final bit of gear you need is a hardware synth. This is definitely your main gigging tool.

Old Synth Broken Right
This is what you want. Vintage and broken keys to the right.

It needs to have a keyboard with at least one intact key. Make sure if it only has one intact key that it exists on the left end of the keyboard. That’s money right there.

Old Synth Broken Left
Note the broken keys on the left. Probably best to avoid if possible, but note the single key to the far left…. still usable on a budget.

While you might still be able to pull off some sounds on the right side of the keyboard just don’t expect too much.

Only one key is needed. As a result, you’ll see in the next installment, you’ll learn to focus your chi into one finger and stick it… well, I’m getting ahead of myself. It should make some sort of sound, too, although in a later episode I’ll explain how to use the keyboard without sound. Finally, it should be vintage if at all possible.

Tune in next time for an overview of the various methodologies. We’ll start putting together the hardware with the concepts, so make sure your brain has been well oiled. Yes? No? We’ll cover that in a later post, too.

Welcome to the second installment of the Mindspawn Guide To Creating Dark Ambient Music. Today we’re going to cover the gear requirements in a bit more detail. You may remember from the last episode that all aspiring dark ambient artists need the following bits of kit:

  • At least one black t-shirt. Preferably vintage.
  • A computer, preferably vintage, with massive amounts of lifting power (dark ambient is very heavy).
  • At least 3 extremely high end microphones, preferably vintage, maybe costing as much as $50US.
  • A minimum of one vintage distortion device.
  • A massive analog modular synth with lots of lights. Preferably vintage.
  • A few dozen softsynths to ridicule, each costing a minimum of $50US. Preferably vintage.
  • At least one hardware synth with a keyboard. Preferably vintage.

Let’s examine each of these required bits of gear in a little more detail.

Mindy Black TAt least one black t-shirt – necessary to balance the dark energies when creating dark ambient music. Regular shirts or long sleeved t-shirts or shirts of any other color simply won’t do. You might think you can ignore this requirement, but you can’t. Trying to create dark ambient with the wrong kind or color of shirt will end up with you just making ambient music. I have actually seen an incorrect shirt type result in inadvertently making pop music.  Vintage black t-shirts will greatly enhance the whole effect and are highly recommended for beginners. Even cooler are black Ts with awesome band logos on them. Pants are optional.

Da ComputerA massively strong computer – Dark ambient is very heavy, and it takes a lot of computer power to manipulate it. Don’t scrimp, get the heaviest computer you can find. Remember, vintage is best. The very best ones are those old beasts from the 1950s and 1960s that have those round bits on the front. You may be told you’ll need to punch cards, but that is a myth. You’ll want a full deck of playing cards to be sure, but you should set them on fire instead of punching them. Your music will be much more dramatic with the cards burning. Lots of smoke also aids with ambience.

Da MicThree extremely high end microphones – Don’t scrimp on this one, especially if you plan to incorporate method 3, Field Recordings, into your creative process. Yard sales are great places to find vintage mics that were once bundled with old cassette recorders. Those are the very best as they convey an air of mystery unlike any other microphone. Make sure you pay at least $20 each for these. Even if the seller has them at a cheaper price, paying more actually enhances the quality. Paying $50 for one of these mics will maximize its performance potential to the highest levels.

Da PedalOne vintage distortion device – At least one old scratched up, dented and otherwise mangled distortion device is an integral part of your kit. You can sometimes find vintage distortion pedals on eBay selling for upwards of $500. Those are perfect. Get two or three if you can afford to. The cool part is, these don’t even have to function to add depth to you and your music. You just ned to own them.

Next episode I’ll finish covering the rest of the necessary gear, and please, be patient. Do not jump ahead and start trying to create with only part of the gear requirements. Otherwise, no one will take you seriously. It’s imperative that you’re serious or at least that you’re perceived to be.

Dark Ambient 01Part 1 – Getting Ready

Greetings faithful. A little something different today. I’ll be presenting a multi-part guide to creating dark ambient music. If you don’t know what dark ambient music is, so much the better. If you do know, or perhaps even create dark ambient music already, I’ll be presenting techniques that will undoubtedly speed up your process and correct all the things you’re doing wrong.

The process – knowing how to do it correctly.

All dark ambient music, without exception, is the music of the devil, so let’s get this straight from the outset. You cannot do quality dark ambient music without being in league with the devil. Doesn’t matter which devil, mind you, just pick one. Maybe you’re tastes run to some obscure Goat God from the Ozarks, or Great Cthulhu, or Baphomet, or Mr. Pointy Toes, whatever your flavor of devil or demon, just make sure you’re a card carrying member in good standing and you’ll be halfway to your goal of creating amazing dark ambient music. If you’ve been slipping in your proselytizing, worshipping, sacrificing of small (or large) creatures, this is the time to get squared away. Not having this part in place will only hurt the process later, especially when we get to the mastering process (which is 95 percent about your godlessness quotient).

There are three basic methods for creating dark ambient music.

  1. Take existing sound and manipulate it according to the Rules Of Dark Ambient
  2. Find one of the many hidden dark ambient presets on your favorite synth
  3. Make field recordings of construction or industrial sites

Once your squared away with the devil of your choice, the next part of the process involves picking one of the three basic methods (mentioned above) to start creating your music. There are a handful of other methods (usually only employed by beginners who don’t know any better) but there’s really no point in wasting your time with those. In this series we’re concentrating on the real deal. It may be tempting to try and combine more than one method or even all three into a single dark ambient piece, but such an undertaking is only for the most advanced practitioners of dark ambient, let me assure you. We will explore each of the three methods a bit later in the series, but right now we need to make sure you have all the necessary dark ambient gear…..

No matter what kind of dark ambient method you decide on, you will need:

  • At least one black t-shirt. Preferably vintage.
  • A computer, preferably vintage, with massive amounts of lifting power (dark ambient is very heavy).
  • At least 3 extremely high end microphones, preferably vintage, maybe costing as much as $50US.
  • A minimum of one vintage distortion device.
  • A massive analog modular synth with lots of lights. Preferably vintage.
  • A few dozen softsynths to ridicule, each costing a minimum of $50US. Preferably vintage.
  • At least one hardware synth with a keyboard. You guessed it, preferably vintage.

Estimate of total cost: You need to spend at least $20,000US or five times your current salary whichever is greater.

This may seem like a lot, especially for those on limited budgets, but you’ll have to find some way to secure these items to be able to achieve the results you want and to be truly dark. Don’t scrimp, get a job if you must, but make sure the gear above is in place before you begin.

Next episode, we’ll explore each of the gear requirements in more detail as well as offer explanations of the major methods that are used to create dark ambient music so you can choose the best one for your particular style.

 

Remarkable in its lack of features, rather dull matte rust-brown color, maybe one centimeter thick by four centimeters wide and maybe half again longer, the rectangular object really becomes interesting when one picks it up. Not only is it heavy in weight far beyond what a terrestrial mind expects, it exudes a strange cold that causes your very bones to ache, yet it doesn’t seemingly harm the flesh. Some claim they hear a strange hum emanating from it, yet there has been no recorded evidence by any instrumentation to support such claims. In fact the object defies explanation by even the most rigorous rites that the tech priests subject it to.

Of course, there have been no tests performed on the object by tech priests, harlot seers, hex masters, or any other qualified or non qualified cogitari in more than five millennia. The object, called The Lot, is and has been in the private collection of the House Banáin for at least half a millennia. The Lot resides in a hyper secure vault that the paranoid Banáin bloodline use to hide their multitudinous sins from rival houses and the public at large. This night the slovenly patriarch of the family is ruminating on The Lot while undergoing a regular blood cleanse that allows his kind to appear human under the rites of genetic scrutiny.

The family members of House Banáin were once possibly human, but that has not been the case for many millennia. It is a sin they are fervent to hide considering their predisposition for persecuting any who stand in the way of their pursuit of amassing wealth and power. They promote genetic purity and loyalty to the state by way of force, defamation, and separatist policy. They are ruthless and highly successful. By their own definition, they would be considered mongrels were their genetics to be subjected to the very tests they use to evaluate others, as they long ago muddied their DNA with the strands from beings known commonly as the Magistra. It is, however, that very mixing of their DNA with that of the ancient Magistra space-farers that help them to hide their deviant genes.

The occasional infusion of pure human blood allows their genes to create a kind of gene-persona that most instruments of the cogatari class are incapable of discerning from actual genes, and which mask all vestigial markers from the ancient aliens that have combined with House Banáin DNA. In effect, most rites of genetic scrutiny reveal a member of House Banáin to have a direct DNA link to the distinguished House Of Martyrs who fought so ferociously against the Magistra in ancient times.

House Banáin also employs a number of deviant hex masters under the command of the   miscreant, Moldicius, a lapdog of House Banáin, who proliferates propaganda and injects aberrant coding rites into generally benign servitor codexes that perform a multitude of menial tasks. Moldicius considers himself a trusted advisor and confidant of House Banáin, yet this night his sweat drips down the small of his scaly back in a notable torrent of effluent stench, for this night Moldicius’s fear hangs like the heavy taste of rotting synthmeat in the back of the throat.

One of Moldicius’s deviant hex masters, Laste Ar Mhor, a spy masquerading as a member of the House of Dhran, was caught and then killed while in the custody of one, Jurist Shaym. That would generally be a minor inconvenience, resolved by the death and auto-triggered mental wipe that most hex masters are subject to when in custody of a Jurist of the Omnistras. However, this Laste Ar Mhor was actually a minor son of the Banáin bloodline, and while that in itself might deserve some careful doctoring of data to conceal his real identity and connection to House Banáin, this unfortunate son underwent Holy Confession after death… a procedure that can lay bare the hidden sins that House Banáin has so successfully kept concealed these many millennia…

Thus, Moldicius sweats as the Banáin patriarch brings The Lot near his now trembling form….

Years ago, in the early mid nineties, I wanted to create a persona for my solo musical project and I chose the name Mindspawn to be my moniker. It was an ambiguous name and that perfectly suited my sense of what the project was about. Things spawned by the mind, and things controlled by the mind… a reflection of the soundscapes and and sonic tapestries I was creating coupled with the discovery of sounds found, sounds revealed, and sounds manipulated beyond recognition. Mindspawn seemed a fitting summation of my process at that time… It still does.

The Mindspawn project, or persona, originally covered all my electronic endeavors from the more ambient styles to the more beat driven styles. Over time it’s the soundscapes and ambient styles that have come to be more recognizably associated with Mindspawn. I never feel restricted to that when I’m working on Mindspawn tracks, but it is what I tend to gravitate towards or orbit around…. Dark ambient is the simplest distillation I’d offer for ease of explaining the sound to someone who hasn’t heard it, and if the dark ambient genre isn’t familiar to someone I might suggest that Mindspawn’s sound is sometimes like the sort of things you hear in science fiction and horror movies. I’m not a musicologist so I leave any final categorization to others… The possibility that anyone might bother to sort that out is amusing to say the least.

What the Mindspawn project is to me, that is something I can expound on. At the core, Mindspawn is a powerful metaphor for looking at things in novel ways. Here I would include elements that have nothing to do with sound or music, like writing, visual art, and general self expression. There are elements of poetry, film, even cocktails that really have little to nothing to do with sound and music that I certainly consider to be Mindspawn in their origins. Thus, at it’s core, Mindspawn is one of my personas for self expression. I use the plural personas rather than persona, as I, like many people, have more than one public facing affectation, Mindspawn happens to be my current favorite for exploring new visuals and sound that tend to be of a dark, occult, unknown, or philosophical nature. Mindspawn is kind of a thematic umbrella in that respect.

Moving from generalization to more specific elements, Mindspawn is a place of questioning in my artistic endeavors. I’m one of those souls that enjoys chasing knowledge, discovery, and poking my nose into places unknown. Quite often I’ll have an idea for some expression that gets lost in the perspectives, and I see this as desirable. An idea goes far beyond my own expectations, or sometimes it goes far beyond my ability to comprehend the message, if there is a message, or sometimes the absence of a message is a message in itself. Yes, there’s often a lot of tail-chasing involved in my process, and I’m fine with that. I’m an artist and that’s one of the many things I do as an artist.

These processes are a means to self express and share my art with the greater part of humanity, but they are also very personal as a means of self discovery. Being the self-centered creature that I am, I spend a lot of time in self discovery, figuring out who I am, or why am I here, and more so, in actively being me whatever that is at a given moment of time. That’s harder than it sounds and at the same time the most simple process imaginable. I mean think about it…. Who am I? What sort of mental masturbation spawns a question like that…? Yet, I suspect most people may have to pause to answer that… Others will state with sublime eloquence, “well I’m me, obviously,” and that’s certainly true, but that doesn’t really answer the question being asked. Who are you? Are you controlled by your perception of what you or someone else thinks you are (mind’s pawn), or are you an unfettered creation of yourself (mind spawn)…? See what I did there, brought it all full circle… or at least an oblong circular shape… Doesn’t really roll off the tongue when you say brought it full oblong circular shape, though….

Who am I? That has to be one of the more accursed phrases plaguing modern humans. As I said, it’s simple, and it’s complex. A lot of the answer will depend on the asker. Are you investigating who you are to yourself, or who you are to others? Who you are as a human, or who you are as a collection of atoms? There are some hints at a potential answer in the question itself, as there generally always is… Who am I…? emphasis on the I. I is singular, so you are one it would seem. Who could be characterized by its definition as a relative clause, as in “the Queen of England, who is a monarch…” And am is be, or in Latin sum. So, a possible answer to the question of Who am I might be I am that which is the singular sum… and now we see why it’s such a huge question, for it asks what is the sum of you, if you add all that you are, all that you represent either by choice or by situation, calculating for the effects of the past and future, and add twelve and carry nine, dividing it all by infinity. Now we’re close.

The answer to, who am I, is also going to lean heavily on a person’s perception at the moment of examination. Certainly perceptions change and for that matter so do we. We are constantly changing. In fact, in the half hour or so that I’ve been actively thinking on this subject and relating my response around three billion new red blood cells  have been formed in my body with a loosely similar number being lost. Our bodies frequently experience episodes of mass extinction, with respect to our cells. There is even a special function called ‘apoptosis’ or programmed cell death that is built into all of us. This apoptosis works like this: A cell that has basically done its job is set to self-destruct. For example, we lose a lot of brain cells when we’re born (I’m not kidding) as they’re no longer useful to us, so a mass extinction event occurs among those cells. Another mass extinction of brain cells happens when you become a teenager. In fact, the main reason we get old and die is that cells stop repairing and replenishing. In other words, we are programmed to die. It seems obvious that immortality is not something we were ever made for, albeit there’s certainly a lot of research happening to try and achieve some semblance of living forever….

My Mindspawn cells are still doing their job and have much more to do, so I’ll be donning this persona for some time to come before those cells self-destruct. In the meantime, I’m glad for those of you that have joined with me… the tremendous loyalty and support that you have shown to me over the past twenty odd years is really appreciated. I hope that you’ll continue to follow my experiments, broaden my horizons, challenge me, and share your own creations with myself and the rest of the world. This is how we learn, how we grow, how we become something greater than we started. Look outward and dream, look inward and awaken. Share both, share yourself, you, your life is art.

The sharing mentioned above is one of the greatest things that Mindspawn has brought to me. Sharing my stories, hearing the stories of others, traveling and performing, making lifelong friends with people from every corner of the globe…. This Mindspawn persona, for all it’s darkness and occasional isolation, has taught me to be attentive to all the ways each of us are similar, and acknowledge the ways we are all different. We are human beings…. In the words of the greatest fighting philosopher of my time, “Under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family.” (Bruce Lee – for more about Bruce Lee visit brucelee.com)

Dark Moons

This is it, the final installment of The Long Night series. Before I prattle on about the background behind the last record on the list, Dark Moons, let me offer sincere thanks for taking the time to read, listen, and maybe laugh along with me during these ten days of darkness. Your time, virtual camaraderie, and support are truly appreciated, so thanks again…. Perhaps I’ll make this an annual thing… my Purge… we’ll see.

Dark Moons had pieces of itself laying all over my Audio Sanctum, scattered like body parts from a date with Jason Vorhees. Some bits were from unresolved ideas, some were snippets originally intended for other compositions, and others were sound beds made for this work in particular. The shit was making me crazy…. er…. Each of these disparate pieces was like an independent entity, all orbiting the idea, all saying slightly different things to me, and all of them seemed to obfuscate their meanings. The one bit they all shared in common was their shrouded natures. Dark moons…..

A new moon, a dark moon, is still up there in the cold vacuum of space, it’s just not generally visible to the naked eye. Whether or not a dark moon can be seen, it’s influence is still felt, tides still rise and fall, it still helps protect the Earth from space rocks, it still affects the Earth’s crust and the magma beneath, and it still drags on the Earth’s rotation. Thus, even unseen our dark moon exerts its effects on our world.

Dark matter could’ve been chosen to serve as my example, for it too exerts its influence without us being able to see or observe it in any fashion save by the most abstract methodology. Nevertheless, in this instance I think a dark moon provides for reflection on things we can sometimes see and other times we cannot. The moon also has a more deeply rooted place in our mythology, at present, than does dark matter. When you interpret information about the moon it is often colorized by its place in your mythology, and here I use the term, mythology, as metaphor for whatever you believe, whether or not that has any connection to actual facts. You mythology might support the opinion that the Moon is green cheese or Chang’e, Hecate or torn out chunk from an impact in Earth’s distant past, a wandering satellite captured by Earth’s gravitational field or Sin, and so on… in the words of the master philosopher, Bob Ross, “you decide.”

The moon is also an example of the cyclic nature of so many things. Days and nights, seasons, a night path that is sometimes illuminated, sometimes not. It is generally easier to navigate a path when it is illuminated, one can more easily see pitfalls and objects that might trip us up. Yet, when the moon is dark, when its illumination isn’t present, we actually see the stars far better. It can be very similar with the navigation of own essence. We more easily navigate immediate hazards when we can fully see them, yet sometimes the fainter things, the things farther away from where we are, are easier to see if we don’t rely on our illumination, but rather seek enlightenment from the unknown, the obscure, and the incredibly distant. When your mind cannot grasp, observe the obscured with your heart, with your essence… this is the place and time of the Dark Moons….

In closing, for this installment and the series on The Long Night, consider that our knowledge does a great deal to guide us, to aid us in navigating both the inner and outer worlds. Yet I posit that the unknown and unformed can also be equally beneficial in our understanding. To walk through a place unknown, a place of dark stillness, is to trust without understanding, and thus trust grows more keen. Stillness can create ripples all around it. A perfectly still rock with water rushing around it creates a flow and a current. Even deep in stillness, you still influence the world around you. Your words, your actions, all leave a part of you with everyone and everything they come into contact with, and that influence is there whether or not your physical self is. Even unseen, like the dark moon, your influence still happens.

This is the substance of The Long Night, to choose not to fear the unknown, to understand the power of creation whose promise can be obscured by illumination and is sometimes born from destruction, to see revealed in darkness who you are, no mirrors, no reflections, to let your existence be confirmed and valued by just being.

Your mileage may vary…..

Finally, for those who celebrate the western New Year, I hope each of you has a (darkly) joyous, safe and happy New Year… Very best…. =)

The Fearsome Isle

The Fearsome Isle was initially inspired by the work, The Fearsome Island, by Albert Kinross, who claimed to have appropriated it from, Silas Fordred, Master Mariner of Hythe. It is a tale of shipwreck on an uncharted island replete with supernatural entities and events, a dangerous mystical castle, and more eldritch things to get into the mind just before a long evening of nightmaring.… the garbled heavily treated voice that dresses some of this auditory dish is, Ruth Golding, narrating the tale penned by Kinross. You can find the original recording on Librivox.org.

I love old tales of times past, and thus I drew from the imagery that the story presented, focusing on the unease, the constant vigilance, the feeling of something not quite right…. and removed it to another place, another time. Whether this place is a worldly location hidden somewhere on the seas of this Earth, some other world in another backwater of our cosmos, or an otherworldly realm glimpsed while scrying the reposed liquid black character glistening on the fluid of the soul, I leave deciding such matters to the listener.

In truth, as is so often the case with these things, the short composition but hints at the stories therein. A story such as this can be repurposed, rearranged, lengthened, abbreviated, and generally applied to a variety of tellings, each more fantastic, or mundane, than the last, building to a crescendo of suspense and myriad endings. My initial inclination was to summarize the work as a whole, and create an overview that touched on the characters, the motivations, and the backstory of the place itself. It was not to be, at least not right now….

Instead, I kept circling back to the introduction of my sonic investigations, almost like trying to capture only the damp of a cave and nothing else. Maybe it’s more of a signpost on the road to some oblivion one is not yet aware of, but whatever its constituent parts or lack thereof, it became about the setting of the scene. The tale as scribed by Kinross became a glimpse into possibility, and for this piece, that became my desire, to set the stage for entering another realm, another plane of existence, not simply another story but a plethora of stories piled high on a mule train of giant worms. Without venturing too far inland, there are shapes, vague impressions of possibilities grown fat with their own potential, yet none so distinct as to demand attention at this primordial juncture. It is standing on the precipice and looking down. The vertigo of this moment whirled about as the vastness of what might be hammered my frail psyche with promises of indiscrete oblivion. It seemed important to simply stand and look without the need to define, categorize, or otherwise attempt to make sense of what I saw, to guess at what could be there…. but also to be wary of traps unseen, of cloying scents and titillating visions, of siren songs and the ignis fatuus, for a misstep at the threshold might cage one’s soul for an eternity on The Fearsome Isle.

detail of cithara (zither)

The eighth installment of this ten part series is about the story behind, Strands In The Mind’s Eye, a record that is a combination of found sound, found broken old instrument, and manipulation of frequencies that may or may not have an effect on the pineal gland… or maybe the third eye…. or maybe the abused beast that is cloaked with the title of the psyche…. can’t remember for sure…. but I digress, which is far from unusual.

I inherited an ancient zither, gifted to me by a friend who no longer had room in their life for excessive numbers of broken and decaying instruments. Initially, I thought it might make for a few good photos or perhaps I might end up repurposing the parts for other projects. The photos were taken, but in that process, before I really paid much attention to the random sounds emanating from the old beast, its essence began to infect me.

During the process of taking the photos the intimacy of the act conjured audio visions of what tunes might’ve been played on this aged construction of wood and metal. Ghostly sounds wafted through my mind like smoke, curling about, taking shape only to dissolve again into something else. While I continued to find other angles and more details that told some of the history this decaying zither, the handling of it was creating little incidental noises, sounds that were at once representative of the instrument’s current state as well as hinting at the ghosts that were trapped within…. my karmic penance for once being a trapper of things roused in dissent, I must free these auditory ghosts!!!

And so I did… The camera was put away and the microphones were brought out. Over the next couple hours I prodded, poked, picked, banged, scraped, and otherwise performed intimate ancient rituals of sound exorcism on the aged cithara until we were both exhausted…. well I was…. the zither seemed no worse for wear in spite of my occasionally heavy handed approach to the exorcism of its old ghosts… Nor was there much, if any, resistance. The old box seemed more than happy to give up or, at the least, share her ghosts with me.

There was a certain reverence emanating from the old zither that began to be revealed during the ministrations, like thoughts stolen by a dream thief, somewhat surreal and fragmented, but taking shape like a phantom revealed by the receding fog…. the travels, from tall tree and unrefined ores to this thing of shapes and sounds, were documented in the essence of the sounds I was hearing. It’s stories, the life it lived, the lives it touched and the life it continues to build upon, were all becoming more defined, revealing secrets I never thought of asking until now.

The next several hours were spent in the audiens laboratorium, pairing the sounds coaxed from the old relic with new sonic palettes and hints of melodic structure, aligning parts, dilating and severing here, contracting and multiplying there… It was a slow build, but in reverence for the source, I thought it best to allow it whatever time seemed necessary to find the Strands In The Mind’s Eye.

Ill Winds Blow

Ill Winds Blow, and that can be a good thing…. a loose paraphrasing of the idiom, “it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.” The typical meaning behind the phrase is that no matter what is seemingly bad, someone or something likely benefits from it, and if nothing benefits then it is very bad indeed. I offer the following slightly off-center interpretation: what is perceived is only necessarily the perception of the perceiver, and might be wholly or completely different to another, hence bad could be good and vice versa, when perceived by more than one perceiver, but if all agree on a thing, then it bodes ill. When everyone recognizes goodness as good, there is already evil.

The above is something to perhaps ruminate on while I detail a bit of the background behind the track. It started early on a weekend morning, the sun barely spilling over the shadows of the trees, the air still transitioning from warm blanket of night sounds to the serene sounds of a late autumn morning…. That is, until my peaceful reverie was blasted asunder by howling banshees in the form of an army of leaf blowers…. to be fair, I harbor no ill will towards the workers that were brandishing these screaming artifacts, pushing air, debris, and my serenity along a path to disposal. I accept there is money to be made and that money buys food for full bellies and puts clothes on backs. That said…. really? on a weekend…? at this hour…?

My mind quickly played out relentless scenarios where the people that were paying for this job to be done, who recycle, wear hemp, drive a hybrid, and go to the gym, implode and return to a state of never being… of torturing them slowly while pointing out they could further reduce their carbon footprint by skipping the gym, raking leaves by hand, thereby saving on fuel and vehicular wear and tear while simultaneously not engaging in inconsiderate noise and air pollution being pumped out by the two cycle screaming blower army that howled relentlessly in the pursuit of a pristine yard…  and they’d get a good workout. Nevertheless, none of the scenarios of death, destruction, self righteous indignation, or anything else occurred. Just the ongoing, relentless droning of the blowers… the droning… harmonic overtones, oscillating sounds… I grabbed my recording device…

That device, my iPhone equipped with a Shure MV88 microphone, I laid in the now open kitchen window and began capturing the symphony of hell machines that were rending my thoughts of a mellow morning of contemplation into a torn and bloody mass of twitching sensibilities, open and bleeding, but now with renewed purpose. I recorded this cacophony of howling, sputtering, blue-smoking artifacts, this mechanical murder herding decaying tree matter like some biomechanoid cowboys corralling animated bits of dismembered zombies, for fifteen minutes or so.

Once I got this recording into my audio lab, I laid bare its soul with my instruments of dissection. Here I carved a huge chunk of frequency, there I pitched down the din, and elsewhere time was dilated or stretched. Many more twists, oscillations, filters, and dark rituals later and I had three wonderfully tasty sonic paintings of several seconds each. These offerings to the Lords Of Audio were joined by other tapestries, other sounds that would decorate this space… and eventually, I was thankful for the ill aspected noise that had sundered my early morning reverie.  There is a special kind of joy that comes from changing one’s perception so that even something grating and annoying can be turned into… well, a different kind of grating annoying thing…. but it’s my thing…. Ill Winds Blow.

Leviathan Ship

Of The Kingdom Of Darkness grew from a swan dive down a rabbit hole littered with mythology, largely threaded with tales of the Leviathan. I’m sure there are facets of those stories that have become lodged in Of The Kingdom Of Darkness, but at one point or other the track became it’s own story. The catalyst occurred after coming across a document called Leviathan by, Thomas Hobbes, a deep tome about western statecraft. Part four of the book is entitled, Of The Kingdom Of Darkness, and it tries at length to reconcile christian scripture, secular law, and the common views of the times, and this is decidedly not what the musical work that now bears the same title is about… but it did form  a part of the inspirational ingredients from which this particular sound dish was stewed.

After reading Hobbes book and in particular part four, Of The Kingdom Of Darkness,my original concept of a great space faring being, a living ship perhaps (a whole other rabbit hole awaits there….), a great derelict drifting through the Void, altered to the current concept; the story of the craft’s origin. From whence did this great ship come, what culture, what beings, could create such a ship that I perceived through my mind’s eye?Details of the ship, its construction, materials, decoration, purpose, all became small insights to the place from which this massive vessel was launched. It was ancient,  traveling through the cosmos across untold eras, eldritch symbols visibly worked into the construction, some almost painfully familiar but still alien, as if encompassing a prototype, but also something pure, unembellished, and unflinching in purpose. Like the utterance of the first word, understandable only by the speaker, yet the power of that simple thing perceivable by all who heard it. All these perceptions seemed to change after regarding the vessel for any length of time, much as the meaning of words can change after numerous iterations or a change of locus… focus.

Over the course of many days, or nights, I coaxed ancient tales from this ship that rested becalmed in my mind. The oft fluid and changing shapes of the hands that formed its bow, the length of the crew’s stride, or slither, the unknown lands from which ores were coaxed to the surface, there to be smelted, diluted, flayed, and eventually stretched across the frame of the ship to form the hull’s skin…. The strange stars that these worlds orbited, the spaces in-between that birthed the beings that would navigate on the great ship’s decks, this was the source, the kingdom of darkness…

The kingdom of darkness appears to have no stars that light is sky…. it is cloaked in unending night, stretching endlessly in every direction. Immense in its scope yet akin to claustrophobic in its feeling. This is a place of the unknowable, a place of human ignorance as we are bereft of the senses to perceive what is here. I strive to grasp this place, to hone other senses so that I may know this place. It is impenetrable and will not yield before my pitiful powers to comprehend…. but in a moment of quiet, my struggles to understand subsiding in gentle waves that wash over me, I am changed, relieved from my relentless pursuit to grasp the ungraspable with hands that have no fingers and eyes that see nothing. In that moment it is as if the veil of light is drawn back and darkness becomes us.… and now spires rise across the horizons, filigree dresses the corners of my vision, hinting at the shapes beneath that undulate like a familiar lover’s sigh…. the darkness is abundant with, flowing with, distracting the eye with, even as the heart sings a new melody that, and I relax into, and I need know no more, Of The Kingdom Of Darkness….