Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Dark Fiction: The Dust Mote Collector

Dark Fiction: The Dust Mote Collector

By Casey Douglass

There was a man who came to the realisation that his time was worth less than anyone else’s. No matter what he tried to cultivate or create in his life, to give others, or to take pleasure in, the returns on his temporal investment were either zero or negative.

The society around him was full of overly simplistic platitudes that only served to wind up the springs of his dissatisfaction engine. Fluffy ideas, such as the one about how working hard pays off, or the one about how finding your passion leads to a worthy life. It was nothing less than motivational porn with no happy ending.

The man reasoned that, as his life and his time seemed to be worth so little, he might as well spend it doing the most meaningless activity that he could think of. One without hope or pressure, one that grabbed his attention, one that had no end point, something that he could do until the day that he died.

The man walked to his cutlery drawer, rummaged amongst the smallest spoons and lifted out the one that seemed to feel the most balanced as it straddled his palm. He moved to a room in which the afternoon sun shone brightly. His hand pulled the curtains almost closed with the quiet rattling of plastic runners. A two inch gap was left in the middle of the join, for the sunlight to breach the shadows of the room.

The man stood just to the side of the sun-beam, his eyes taking a moment to adjust to the light conditions. A small darting movement at the edge of his vision caught his attention. He turned to look more closely but lost it. Another flitted by. He lost that one too. And so his life as a Dust Mote Collector began.

The early days were filled with him trying to track the motes. They acted like the tiny fish you might see on a wildlife documentary, shooting away as his small spoon approached them. The man got better though. He learned to move slowly, to hold his breath, to anticipate, and to stay perfectly still when it was needed.

The first mote that he collected glowed as it fell. Once it reached the shiny metal of the spoon, it appeared to vanish into thin air. The man knew that he’d caught it, even though the spoon felt no heavier. He caught the next one soon after. It danced and floated near him for some time before he successfully brought the spoon beneath it, giving it a secure, safe home.

As the weeks and months went on, the man sometimes found that he slipped into a pleasing reverie as he captured his targets. Sometimes the motes seemed like twinkling stars in the night sky, his hand becoming some kind of roaming black hole. At other times, he fancied he was some giant spiritual being, catching and ferrying the souls of the dead to the afterlife.

The spoon dazzled him when it caught the sunlight, his hand often trembled, and his body ached all over. His mind was largely free of thoughts, but the peace or tranquillity described as often coming with this state by spiritual or New Age literature, proved to be just more propaganda that didn’t apply to him. He wasn’t particularly surprised. Not thinking was reward enough.

He’s in his darkened room right now, standing in the shadows, his small spoon flashing in the light as he captures another intangible with its metal. His clothes rustle gently as he lifts the spoon closer to his eyes, searching for something in its shining bowl. Maybe one day, he’ll see it.

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Corona - This Global Sickness Conspires Against Us

Dark Ambient Review: Corona - This Global Sickness Conspires Against Us

Review By Casey Douglass

Corona - This Global Sickness Conspires Against Us Art

Illness, and the threat of illness, have been staples of life for the last 18 months. Thanks Covid! Fear peddling, u-turns in public guidance, and the loss of many things that people take for granted, have picked up the glitter-covered dog turd that is life, lifted it to pursed lips and blown away the damned glitter. It’s no real surprise that Covid has become the inspiration for many creative projects. Corona - This Global Sickness Conspires Against Us is a dark ambient album from The Great Schizm, one that gives audio expression to the pandemic madness.

The album contains two long tracks, each of which were created at different times during the pandemic. The first, Corona, was created in Spring 2020, the time of the first lockdown in the UK. The second, Mutation, during the first six months of 2021, taking in the third lockdown, the explosion of a number of more infectious variants, and the vaccine rollout. The album description also explains that there was limited access to equipment during this time period, so I’d imagine that this imposed a fair few creative constraints on the project, or at the least, required a different way of thinking about certain things. (As a small aside, Ian Bogost’s book: Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, The Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games, is a worthy read on the notion of constraints aiding fun and creativity.) 

The first track, Corona, for me, had elements of an “abandoned factory” aesthetic. There’s a drone, clinking glass, hissing and hints of voices. A wind-like howl transforms into what seems like a warped radio transmission, and on into a more concrete voice. There are breath-like swells in the soundscape, sensations of mechanical movement and low vibrations. The track felt like walking through a large rusty inside space, weaving through rusted machinery, feet crunching on gritty concrete, golden sunlight fighting its way through dirt encrusted, high-up windows. As the midpoint approaches, things change into a quieter space, with what feels like a building rasping hiss that peaks in a distant, rumbling detonation. And this repeats a number of times. This second space feels more peaceful and lighter in many ways, quivering tones and warbling notes creating a feeling of things having moved on but still being bleak.

Track two, Mutation, for me, felt like a more “outdoorsy” space. It seemed windy and deserted, with church bells chiming above silent streets and birds chirping. It basically has a 28 Days Later vibe, although the early part of the film, not the “being chased by rabid sprinting zombies” part. Around the five minute mark, the impression of a number of whistles even gave me the idea of gangs hunting the streets, whistling in communication with each other. There are moments where I felt like I was inside again though, such as the time it felt like I was in an abandoned train-station, a dark chanting tone and faint gong impact seeming to suggest some kind of cult eking out an existence among the debris of the nine to five life. Things change up around the twenty minute mark however, when the sounds in the soundscape, such as a kind of marching rhythmic beat, led me to pondering if a robot police force was out on patrol. Yes, for me, this track was a little bit horror and a little bit science fiction. A pleasing mixture.

Corona - This Global Sickness Conspires Against Us is currently set to Name Your Price on Bandcamp. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys facing the darkness of life head on, not turning away and losing yourself in fluffy distractions, head over to the album page and take a closer look.

I reviewed this album by streaming it through the Bandcamp page.

Album Title: Corona - This Global Sickness Conspires Against Us

Album Artist: The Great Schizm

Label: Cloud Hunter Records

Released: 30 April 2020 / June 2021

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Taoist Story “Maybe” Modern Rewrites

Taoist Story “Maybe” Modern Rewrites

Written by Casey Douglass

Taoist Story “Maybe” Modern Rewrites

I enjoy koan or parable style stories, as they often contain nuggets of wisdom in an easy to digest way. After such all-stars as the sound of one hand clapping, and the one about the tree falling in the woods, the story that I most often encounter is the Taoist tale about a Chinese farmer. This tale is often called “Maybe”, so that’s the title I’ve stuck with.

The story states that the farmer’s horse runs away. When other people find out, they commiserate with him and say “Bad luck!”. He just shrugs and says “Maybe.”

The next day, the horse returns with some wild horses in tow. “How lucky!” everyone exclaims, all except the farmer who shrugs again and says “Maybe.”

A short while later, his son is trying to tame one of the wild horses, but is thrown from its back, breaking his leg. “Oh dear, how unlucky!” the neighbours say. No prizes for guessing what the farmer says.

A war breaks out, seeing young people being drafted from the local village. The farmer’s son is spared because of his broken leg. “How lucky!” people cry. The farmer says... “Maybe”.


I love this story for the way that it depicts the virtue of patience and of withholding judgement from a situation. I also enjoy how it hints that the things that initially seem bad might turn out to be a blessing in disguise and vice versa.

In this social media, 24 hour newsfeed world, a dose of what this story is offering would certainly work wonders in the over-reactionary, over-emotive way that many of us view the world. Every setback is a catastrophe, every victory the most amazing thing ever. You know how you sometimes get someone doing sign-language at the side of the news broadcast? I’d like to add a weathered farmer who shrugs and says “Maybe” after every judgement about a situation!

Mind you, if I got my way and that actually happened, how long before he becomes the subject of an idiotic internet story that goes viral? Maybe something saying that the “Maybe Man” is a danger to society for fence-sitting, for failing to condemn evil actions and seemingly revelling in spreading uncertainty. You just know it would happen! Damn it!

The Maybe story isn’t all rosy for me though. Sure, it illustrates some nice concepts, but its simplicity is also a little irritating. If only life were so simple that every “bad” thing actually proved to be a blessing, and every “good” thing couldn’t be trusted to not kick you in the backside. A more realistic scenario for many would be that a good thing turns out to be a curse, and then three or four bad things happen that also turn out to be genuinely bad. Yeah, not such a wise tale now.

I still like Maybe though. I find it fun to think about (as if you couldn’t guess). A short while ago, I had the idea/urge to rewrite Maybe in modern terms. I mean, a farmer losing his horse and it coming back with some wild horse friends is very lovely, but how relevant is that to someone living in 2021? With that in mind, below you’ll find two of my attempts at bringing Maybe kicking and screaming into the technological age. The first is intended to be the most realistic. The second is a horror and humour-inspired rewrite with a few twists added to the formula. I hope you like them.

Maybe 2021 Rewrite

There was a young woman who spent her spare time coding a video-game. It was a labour of love that one day, she released. Even though it didn’t make much money, it was hers. Hackers got into her digital platforms and stole her source-code. They cracked it and released the game online for free. “How terrible!” the woman’s friends commiserated. “Maybe,” she replied.

The next day, the woman found that the exposure given to the game by the hackers had resulted in a massive surge in her legitimate game sales. Her game now sat near the top of the indie game charts. “How wonderful!” her friends cheered. “Maybe,” she replied.

The game went on to reach number one. At about this time, a flaw in her code was discovered, one that posed a serious risk to the personal data of the players. News spread and the store forced her to remove it from sale until she could fix the issue. She was unable to, and had to put it on the back-burner, and so the game stayed down. “Such a shame!” her friends comforted her. “Maybe,” she answered.

A short while later, an email landed in her inbox. It was from a large video-game publisher and it offered to buy, fix and distribute her game. The money offered was enough to set the woman up for for at least the next five years. “You’re so lucky!” the people around her cried. “Maybe,” the coder replied.

Maybe Horror Rewrite

One day, the zombie outbreak finally happened. No one really expected the leap from fiction into reality, least of all a young boy and his family. They waded through body-clogged city streets, and finally made it to a military refuge. The other displaced people told them that they were so lucky to get there just before it reached full capacity. “Maybe,” the boy replied, as he had an uncommonly wise head on his young shoulders.

During the night, the family woke to screams and cries, a previously undeclared bite had turned the whole camp into a buffet. The family grabbed what supplies they could and managed to sneak away. The streets stank of gas and fumes. The boy’s mother suggested that a pipe-line had cracked. She warned them not to even use their torches, as the smallest spark might grill them all. “How unlucky!” she hissed. “Maybe,” the boy hissed back, and got a clout for his troubles.

The family crept forward until the air seemed free of the smell of the gas. A rumbling flash of orange lit up the night sky back the way they’d come. The angry roars of cooking zombies floated to the family on the breeze. The father said that they were lucky not to be caught up in that. He stared at the boy, daring him to open his mouth. Maybe, thought the boy.

The family moved on for quite awhile, but it wasn’t long until the whup-whup of a helicopter pounded over their heads. It was heading to where the explosion had happened. It didn’t see the family, it didn’t even turn its searchlight on until it was more than a mile away. “The fire brought it!” the boy said to the glum-faced adults around him. “Fuck me!” he added, for effect. “Talking like that will get you in trouble!” his father warned. “Maybe”, the mother replied, as she watched the buzzing helicopter over the distant rooftops.

Monday, 6 September 2021

Dark Film Review: The Influencer

Dark Film Review: The Influencer

Review by Casey Douglass

The Influencer

Social media is the amplifier of our time. Whatever you bring to it, it boosts it and shoots it out to other people who think like you do, while its algorithms feed similar themes from others, back to you. Certain people become very well known, gaining a massive following that businesses with bundles of cash eye greedily as an untapped revenue stream. The Influencer is a dark comedy thriller that follows one such popular person as they grapple with their “brand”, the lucrative contract that comes their way, and the forces that want to use them as a pawn in their own machinations.

The Influencer

Abbie Rose (Kasia Szarek) is a fashion, makeup and lifestyle vlogger, trying to manage her business and her brand. Nutrocon, an exploitative cosmetic company that treats women badly, tests on animals and pollutes the environment, offers her a tasty contract, one which promises to ease her money worries. Abbie signs and a short time later finds herself suffering a home invasion by bickering masked activists. What then unfolds is a manipulative scheme, one with Abbie as the key component, the activists making use of her large following, her image and the power of technology, to try to pull off their aims.

As a thriller, The Influencer does present the viewer with a number of mysteries to ponder, and I felt that it did a decent job of answering these questions as the story ticked along. I did successfully guess what was happening a number of times, but there were certainly moments that I didn’t see coming. One of these happened almost at the ending, where the actions of one of the characters did cause me to reappraise my opinion about them, which was a pleasing and satisfying surprise.

The Influencer

When a film sees its characters make use of technology or the internet, how these actions are portrayed becomes very important if the viewer has any hope of following along. Thankfully, The Influencer does a really good job of mimicking and representing the social-media apps and websites integral to the story, a smooth, clear user-interface sitting comfortably over the live action beneath. Another aspect that I really enjoyed was Thomas Yount’s electronic, retro-feeling score. It felt like just the right kind of soundtrack, both warm and bouncy yet dark and ominous too.

There is humour in The Influencer, but I have to admit that most of it wasn’t really to my own taste. The element that I found most humorous were the jokes that poked fun at the frequent shallowness of social media, particularly the scenes where Abbie’s captives threatened to release her private, “badly lit” pictures to the world if she didn’t play ball. This sees Abbie crumple to the ground in tears, fearing for her image and her brand, something that Kasia Szarek plays wonderfully. There is also a scene early in the film, where a group of dead-eyed interns fail to be roused by Abbie’s enthusiasm, which did tickle me.

The Influencer

The Influencer is a quirky look at the dark side of how some influencers can behave when large financial enticements become a factor in their lives. Sure, it takes things to extremes, but how often do we see someone raving about the latest video-game, headphones or fashion accessory, and then never mention it again? One of the most poignant quotes from the film for me was “It’s crazy the kind of influence you have when no-one knows who you are!” I’d guess that extends to the influencer in question not knowing themselves properly either, which just goes to show how complicated us humans can be.

Look out for The Influencer from 14 September on streaming platforms including iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. It will also be available on DVD and through various cable and satellite TV services.

I was given access to a review copy of this film.

Film Title: The Influencer

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller

Production Company: Daisy Eagle Films, Wizard Cats

Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures

Written, directed and produced by: Meghan Weinstein

Releases: 14 September 2021

Starring: Kasia Szarek, Shantelle Yasmine Abeydeera, Thea Cantos, Mark Valeriano, Victoria D. Wells, Ian Jones.

Music: Thomas Yount

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Syfynetiks EP

Dark Ambient Review: Syfynetiks EP

Review By Casey Douglass

Syfynetiks EP Album Art

Artificial intelligence is a ripe topic for speculation, the questions of if, when, how and what will happen when it arrives, happily consuming the minds of both scientists and creatives alike. Nyctalllz’s Syfynetiks is a dark ambient space album that provides the soundtrack for what might happen if our own eventual AI made contact with the AI of an alien civilization, without our knowing it. It’s an interesting question. I mean, how would your phone or computer describe you and your characteristics to an alien race? Would you even get mentioned at all? Food for thought.

Syfynetiks contains three tracks, each of which feature a host of sci-fi electronic tones, beeps and drones. It feels like catching hints of voice through radio static while equipment throbs and pulses around you. It feels crisp and indifferent to the eavesdropper, but also rumbling, like the gates of hell might be opening up and there's nothing you can do about it.

The first track is Spacetime’s Crack and it embodies the feeling that I mentioned above. The rumbling opening is buffeted by soaring electronic beeps and sparkles. A rasping distortion rises and falls, like a demon gargling radio-waves, soon to be joined by a strange voice that seems to speak in a stilted, simulated way. This track feels jagged and droning, and is infested with radio swirls and squeals. There are hints of a feminine “ahh-vocal” around the midpoint, making me wonder if I was listening to the two AI’s beginning some kind of virtual fling. I hope that no one is being catfished...

Next up is Spirals of Time. This short track opens with a low buzz, one that sits in a space that feels windy and hollow, but in a simulated, digital kind of way. There is the sound of something spinning up and down, and a low drone. The soundscape feels like it’s boiling and gritty, and that it’s populated by a roaming, warping, electronic harmony. As the track continues, it feels more and more like it has a kind of inhaling and exhaling quality, and feels like it’s fizzing in the air. A strange, rumbling space.

The final track is Parallel Observers. This is a track of chiming tones and rustling static, one with a distorted, digitized impression of nature. It feels almost like being outside, but not. There’s a persistent jackdaw-like chittering in the distance and a low tone that bends and twists upwards. After a short time, a warbly, robot-like voice or tone begins, “dripping” echoes pinging off into some murky distance. This is another track that also feels like it fizzes and pulses. The chimes and echoes create a relaxing yet ominous space, and created a kind of “meditating on the Event Horizon” effect, for me at least.

Syfynetiks is a dark ambient album for lovers of space horror, bleak sci-fi themes, and the alien, magical feel of advanced technology. The three tracks on the EP all give the listener some fascinating spaces to explore, or to witness, and while you might feel quite alone in doing so, the idea that there are two AI’s conversing around you kind of means that alone is the one thing that you are not. Whether you matter, or are even noticed though... that is another question.

Visit the Syfynetiks page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Syfynetiks

Album Artist: Nyctalllz (Morego Dimmer)

Label: Zāl Records

Released: 6 August 2021

Monday, 23 August 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Mithra

Dark Ambient Review: Mithra

Review By Casey Douglass

Mithra Album Art

It’s a real pity that we can’t hop in, on, or don our own time machine and flit back in time to the periods that interest us. Actually, knowing humans, it’s probably a damn good thing that we can’t. We always seem to want to rewrite history in a purely mental fashion, the damage we’d cause if we could actually go back would probably be apocalyptic. Music is safer. Ager Sonus’ Mithra is a dark ambient, atmospheric journey back to the time of Rome, and to the time of the Cult of Mithras.

Mithra is an album that is very strong on the instrumental front. There are piano notes, strings and horns, to name but a few. There are also plenty of instances of environmental sounds and drones, delicate plucked string notes often sitting easily with the sound of the wind, or the quietly echoing dripping of water. The eight tracks of the album are all pretty smooth and chilled. Mithra feels like the quintessential album to listen to by cosy firelight.

Beneath is one of the tracks that most appealed to me. It opens with a low drone and a vocal-like resonance. The soundscape has the dripping, echoing aesthetic of a cave, with new tones and quiet pipe-like notes emerging as the track progresses. There are swells of pulsing tone, and at some points, a kind of “laughing” feeling suggested itself to me, like something malignant in the atmosphere chuckling at the audacity of humans. This felt like a lovely dark track to me, one of delving into the earth and into a different realm.

Ritual is another track that evoked similar feelings. This track starts with an echoing chiming and what sounds like distant, ghostly vocals. There are string notes, shimmering cymbals and a deep, slow drumbeat. This track felt like it was full of chittering shadows. It’s the kind of track that would accompany someone as they walk into a dark cavern, flaming torch held aloft, strange air currents carrying the distant scent of incense and dark workings to the explorer. Exploration and darkness is a heady mixture.

Mithra wasn’t all darkness and creepiness though. Dawn is a much lighter track, and one that I enjoyed for different reasons. It begins with low string tones and a relaxed piano melody. There is the sound of the wind and a bird chirping. There are footsteps lightly crunching through grass or leaves, a warbling, horn-like tone and a sparkling quality to the soundscape. This, unsurprisingly, felt like seeing the golden sunlight of dawn bathing a peaceful landscape in warm, soft light. The soundscape does have undercurrents of things twisting later on, notes and tones that create a feeling of things not being as idyllic as they appear. I enjoyed this track for this very reason, as things are never wholly good or bad, lucky or unlucky, in my opinion at least.

Mithra is a peaceful dark ambient album, one that takes the listener into landscapes and scenes of yore, mixing in the light and the dark elements in a pleasing ratio and manner. It has a dream-like, magical quality, and also the feeling of antiquity. On a personal note, I also enjoyed that it led my mind to pondering the concepts of Stoic philosophy, Marcus Aurelius etc. as this would also have been around at about the same period as the Cult of Mithras, as far as I’m aware. A very fine album.

Visit the Mithra page on Bandcamp for more information. You can check out the track Ritual below: 

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Mithra

Album Artist: Ager Sonus

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 26 March 2019

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Cenozoic

Dark Ambient Review: Cenozoic

Review By Casey Douglass

Cenozoic Album Art

The Cenozoic is the current era in which we find ourselves, a period that stretches back sixty six million years. That’s a mind boggling period of time, so Cenozoic is also a great name for a dark ambient album that’s themed around some of the giant mega-creatures that wandered the planet during that period.

Paleowolf’s Cenozoic is described as a collection of tracks that convey a symbolic representation of the force and energy that these creatures embodied, and is also said to be the spiritual successor to Megafauna Rituals, another album themed around the teeth, hooves and thunderous calls of prehistoric life.

Cenozoic makes great use of a variety of human vocals in creating its soundscapes. There are various grunts, huffs and chants, and these are accompanied by atmosphere shaking ritual drum-beats and rattlings. Field recordings are used to great effect too, letting the listener reflect on the wind rustling leaves, and strange knocking impacts that echo back from weathered cave walls and tree trunks.

One of my favourite tracks is Megatherium (a kind of Giant Sloth). It begins with static-like sound and a looming drone. Distant impacts echo through what feel like trees, a shrill pipe note piercing the soundscape, a lower note poking at the atmosphere. There are bird-calls, a slow, thumping beat, a sense of the wind, and wooden knockings and rocky scrapings that feel nearer over time. This soundscape felt like a gentle space, but also a threatening one, one in which a gentle creature is trying to survive, but dangerous predators are only over in the next clearing. I liked this feeling.

Mastodon is another favourite track. This one opens with a fast rumbling drum-beat and an elephantine trumpeting call. A vibrating tone rises and falls, creating a sensation of something unstoppable on the move. A swaying rushing sound soon begins, maybe hinting at fur rippling and rubbing on massive flanks. The beat stops near the midpoint and the space becomes airy before the sounds seep back into a chant-laced second half.

Finally, I really enjoyed the last track of the album: Argentavis (giant bird). I think this track stood out to me because it was a pleasing departure, or change of pace, from the land-based creatures of the previous tracks. This track features the howling wind of altitude, and high quivering pipe tones that sit amongst a low throbbing vibration. A bird-call sounds, and things feel easy and calm. A bird-screech echoes from the hard places, a brief drum-beat sounds, and leads to an airy, agitated second half of the track, like the air is full of busy insects and life trying to survive.

Cenozoic Artbook Image
The album also includes a digital artbook featuring the artwork of Andjelko Kuzmanovic.

Cenozoic is an earthy and yet dreamy visit to a distant time. The field-recorded sounds, chanting and meaty drum-beats often give way to airy, swirling periods of dream-like impressions, beautifully hinting at the shamanic elements of the creatures and the journey to see them. These dreamy periods cleanse the mind of its familiarity with a soundscape, and then let the sounds emerge again, in a kind of second chance to be appreciated. It’s funny how a rhythmic drum-beat that you’re lulled by, suddenly stopping, can be just as interesting as the beat itself. On a personal level, I do slightly prefer Megafauna Rituals over Cenozoic, but this is more to do with the animals featured. They are both very fine albums though.

Visit the Cenozoic page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out the track Megatherium below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Cenozoic

Album Artist: Paleowolf

Label: Prometheus Studio

Released: 26 July 2021