Monday, 18 July 2022

Dark Ambient Track: Alien Craft

Dark Ambient Track: Alien Craft


Alien Craft

A droning track that I created in the hope of evoking a feeling of being visited by aliens.

An evening walk, an unnatural quiet. The air begins to fuzz, to breathe. A metallic edge insinuates itself, a hollow resonance setting your teeth on edge. A whirring drone descends around you, the air charged with static and fluctuating energy waves. Something flickers above you, casting a weak shadow one moment, fading out of existence in another. As you look up and ponder, a bassy rumbling threatens to press you deep into the ground. It is the last thing you hear as everything around you falls into darkness.


Friday, 15 July 2022

Stoic Interview: Daniel Riley

Stoic Interview: Daniel Riley


Stoic Interview: Daniel Riley

Daniel Riley is a personal development blogger with a fervent interest in productivity, health and philosophy. It is this latter area that brought us to this interview. Daniel has not only embraced Stoic philosophy in his life, but also went on to create Stoic Store UK, a website that offers people handy little reminder objects that he hopes will help them to deepen their experience of the philosophy, and ultimately, benefit their lives.

In this interview we cover how Daniel was first exposed to Stoic ideas, which book he found most helpful in bringing those ideas into his everyday life, and why he thinks a dose of Stoicism answers a need for the modern world.

***

Casey: You created the Stoic Store UK website, and on your personal development website, you have a number of posts about how a variety of Stoic ideas have helped you with life. When were you first exposed to the Stoic philosophy and what were the elements of life that you thought it might improve for you?

Daniel: I was first introduced to Stoicism on the Tim Ferriss podcast. I had been fascinated by Tim and his work for a while, and the fact that he continuously recommended the philosophy as a tool to navigate modern life was enough for me to check it out. I absolutely loved all aspects of it, particularly its practical nature. I was generally interested in all areas of development then and there wasn’t a particular area that I hoped that Stoicism would improve. Luckily, I discovered that it is a tide that raises all boats anyway.


Casey: Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic is a book that you give great credit to for helping to change your life. Why do you think a book that takes the ‘daily reflection’ approach to change proved to be so useful for you, and what steps, if any, did you take to make sure that you kept the concept for the day alive in your mind or experience?

Daniel: The daily reflection approach is so effective, in my opinion, because it gives very small bits of wisdom for you to chew over at a time. I think some of the longer format content out there on Stoicism is great, but if it is read like a regular book and not mulled over for some time with regular reflection intervals, then many of the concepts and points are just read for momentary mental enjoyment and lost in the crowd. They don’t change anything in our actual lives, which we sometimes forget is the purpose of these sorts of books.

I actually still found it quite difficult to assimilate the Stoic ideas into my everyday life. Trying to remember them as thoughts or memories throughout the day I found to be quite disruptive and counter-productive. I was reading about inner peace but I was constantly disrupting my own inner peace trying hard to remember what Marcus Aurelius said about inner peace.

One of the reasons that I created Stoic Store UK and physical products was to solve this conundrum that I feel that many philosophy-enthusiasts face. A quick glance at a coin on your desk or a ring on your finger can bring that ‘a-ha’ remembrance, rather than trying to remember longer quotes or anything like that.


Casey: In an Indiehackers post, you explained that the Memento Mori (“Remember that you must die”) coin was the first that you designed when you created the Stoic Store UK in early 2020. This was due, you said, to the notion of Memento Mori having had the biggest impact on your life. How did your attitude to life change when you fully digested this notion, and was it a ‘lightening bolt’ type moment or did it take much pondering to bring it about?

Daniel: It was certainly a lot of pondering and exposure to the concept that helped it to become a regular part of my life. Even now I keep my Memento Mori coin on my desk everyday. In my experience, the reminder needs to be constant due to the fact that the whole of our lives - from the plans we make, to the holidays we plan, to the schedule we have - all assume that we are going to be here for a long time. That, of course, is never guaranteed and we can quickly slip into the assumption and all of the negative fallout from that.

Perhaps more powerful for me was the concept of Memento Mori not applied to my own life, but to the lives of others. I am lucky enough to have an amazing family and incredible friends. Remembering that every time I see them might be the last time I see them helps me to try and make every interaction more direct, present and ultimately, loving.


A few products from The Stoic Store UK
A few of the available products on The Stoic Store UK 

Casey: Since the release of your first coin, Stoic Store UK has expanded into all kinds of Stoic reminders and material, from medallions and t-shirts, to a Stoic teachings pack of exercise cards. In your own experience, and from what you’ve seen with your web store, how much of a thirst is there for Stoic wisdom in this current day and age, and on another level, in your opinion, how much would society benefit by embracing some of Stoicism’s concepts?

Daniel: I think that Stoicism is certainly becoming more popular as there are many more books being written about the philosophy, promotion of it from public figures and from people’s own experience, they generally find some amount of value in it.

I believe that the ‘thirst for Stoicism’ comes from a deeper thirst for some sort of meaning to our modern day lives, and it seems that in a lot of cases the Stoic philosophy resonates more deeply with people than alternatives for this thirst. Much of our culture is obsessed with materialism, gaining more stuff, and the plane on which many people live is extremely superficial. What I have found with other people interested in Stoicism as well as with my own experience, there comes a point where this superficiality no longer satisfies. There is a pull towards the deeper meanings of life, the bigger questions that need to be asked, and I think Stoicism does a great job in trying to tackle some of these questions.

I think society would hugely benefit from embracing some of Stoicism’s concepts. It is one of the most practical, down-to-earth philosophies that there is and its focus is on action, rather than on theory and hypothesis which often don’t create much change.

***

Thanks to Daniel for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can read more from Daniel at his personal development website, at his Medium, and you can find some lovely Stoic products at Stoic Store UK.

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Book Review: Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Book Review: Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius


Review By Casey Douglass


Verissimus Cover


Just over three years ago, Donald Robertson’s How To Think Like A Roman Emperor released, a book that taught the reader about Stoic philosophy by way of describing the life of one of its greatest adherents: Marcus Aurelius. Donald’s latest book Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius sees him teaming up with illustrator Zé Nuno Fraga to depict the philosophical journey of Marcus Aurelius in a new, eye-catching graphic novel format.

You’ve probably heard the name of Marcus Aurelius, but you might not know much about him. Marcus was one of the most famous ancient Stoics, one that also became the most powerful man in the known world when he took up the position of Roman emperor. Even though he showed unusual promise as a truthful and remarkably wise child, Marcus still had to work hard at developing his character, living wisely, and juggling the massive demands put upon him as ruler. He wrote his own book The Meditations to help with his efforts to keep himself on course.


Verissimus
Marcus being advised to embody his philosophy, rather than simply appearing to live it.

Verissimus begins with Marcus on his deathbed, dying of the plague. He is being attended to by his physician, his family and his closest advisors. The very first image is of Marcus alone, in an incense clouded room. When I reached this page, I was a little startled after I realised how long I’d been looking at the scene. It seemed lonely, yet peaceful. Serious, yet expected. The ‘expected’ part solidifies as Marcus’ thinks and interacts with those who visit. He has been expecting this for so long, he has no fear of death. He sees it as a process of nature, and nothing natural needs to be feared. This is a great foreshadowing of the Stoic idea of ‘living according to nature’ and is something that we get to witness as Marcus’ life story unfolds.

Verissimus is split into fourteen sections, each touching on an important element or period in Marcus’ life. The reader gets to see him as a young child, particularly how he is tutored and raised. We get to see his love of philosophy and his aversion to becoming emperor. Once emperor, Marcus has to deal with war, plague and politics, alongside his own familial troubles and tragedies. I particularly enjoyed seeing the relationship that he had with his brother and co-emperor Lucius, as Marcus and he have such different characters, that it really helps to emphasise how different Marcus was from what was ‘normal’ for the time. Another element that I was glad to see in the graphic novel was Apollonius the Stoic’s relating of the choice of Hercules, a tale that tells of when Hercules has to choose between an easy life, or one of excellence and virtue. There are many other fascinating moments to feast your eyes upon, but I’m happy to see that the events that most surprised or stuck with me from How To Think Like A Roman Emperor made it across.


Verissimus
The beginning of the Hercules story. 

In the preface, Donald points out that Verissimus isn’t intended to be an introduction to Stoic philosophy, but a way to depict the ways in which Marcus Aurelius actually lived his philosophical beliefs. Donald says that his previous books, such as How To Think Like A Roman Emperor, are hopefully more apt as an introduction to Stoicism. If you are new to Stoicism or Marcus Aurelius, Verissimus is a tremendous way to begin to learn about both. If it really tickles your fancy and you want to read more in-depth information, you can then jump into How To Think Like A Roman Emperor for even more details, alongside comparisons with some aspects of modern therapy and how it sometimes uses similar approaches to the Stoics.

What about if you are coming to Verissimus after having read other Stoic works, particularly How To Think Like A Roman Emperor, such as in my own case? Will seeing Marcus’ life in graphic novel form bring anything new for you? I think that Donald sums up the power of the imagery best in his afterword. After seeing Marcus’ son Commodus depicted in visual form, Donald says that he began to view him in a somewhat different way. Donald has spent around twenty five years researching these topics. For a change of media to show him something differently in his own work... I think that’s more than a testament to the quality of the illustration and the power of Verissimus as a graphic novel. Personally, I feel that the imagery brings the life of Marcus, and various elements of Stoic philosophy, into a rich and vibrant level of clarity, and it does this in a way that’s as enjoyable as it is educational.


Verissimus
A Stoic lesson on indifference and our automatic reactions.

Visit the Verissimus page at this link for more information, or copy and paste the ISBN below into your book website of choice.

If you'd like to read my review of Donald's How To Think Like A Roman Emperor, you can find that at this link.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me an advance review copy of the book.


Book Title: Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Book Author: Donald Robertson

Book Illustrator: Zé Nuno Fraga

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 9781250270955

RRP: $32.50 U.S / £25 U.K (hard-cover)

Releases: 12 July 2022 U.S / 19 July 2022 U.K (hard-cover)

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Morphology

Dark Ambient Review: Morphology


Review By Casey Douglass


Morphology Album Art


I recently rewatched Marvel’s 2016 Doctor Strange film, and as I sit here trying to think of an opening paragraph for this post, it occurs to me that the scenes in which said doctor plummets through bizarre, ever evolving dimensions gel quite nicely with Diagnostic aka Jan Robbe’s dark ambient album Morphology. This is because, in my opinion, Morphology would be an excellent audio accompaniment if you are ever lucky enough to find yourself blasting through this kind of weird infinity.

Jan used a variety of sound design techniques when he created Morphology, weaving the influences of machine learning and chaos into each track, building up soundscapes with fluctuating discord and smoothly birthing reality bubbles, before pricking them with the next squeal of tone. The album art itself gives form to this feeling of the unusual. For me, it evokes notions of Giger, biological morphing and twisting alien realms, which makes it a great fit for the audio itself. The tracks themselves are whizzing, whirring maelstroms of sound pierced by periods during which you can settle into a kind of rhythm or comfort. That’s not to say they aren’t comfortable at other times, as even at their most frenetic, the sounds stay interesting and the right side of harsh.

Sensory Deprivation is my favourite track. It begins with a kind of “giant gas furnace bursting into flame” impression. A gentle squealing rises before giant rumbling crashes seem to hint at the ground itself folding over. There are moments of quiet static and then the cascade begins again. This track made me think of a hellish rocky landscape being sun-blasted by a nearby angry star. The colours of the scene are red and black, the shadows flickering and dancing as the massive energy swells scrape the surface of the landscape. This track made me feel both sci-fi planet explorer, hell denizen and slasher murder movie victim all at the same time. Dark, and I love it.

Hayabusa-2 is another track that stood out for me. This one opens with a pulsing, chiming, sparkling energy swirl, but soon morphs into a creaking, thudding space. There is the impression of things clattering and falling around, and this track felt very much like it might be describing a “quantum lodger dragging a quark-based table across their apartment floor”. After the midpoint, the track turns into a more haunted space, maybe shifting up to a more gross level of reality and letting the uneasiness sit there. Obviously, this is just my own mental narrative, but I liked the avenues that my mental taxi drove me down.

The final track that I’ll single out for attention is Morphology AI A. It starts with a muted rumble and a burst of what might be music. There is a ‘roaming wind’ feeling, like a distant storm. I thought that there were hints of tone that suggested technology coming to life, and a feeling of “channel hopping on TV”. As the midpoint approaches, there is something I noted down as “existential wonder-blare”, the kind of thing that you might hear if an angel actually appeared at your darkest time. This moment felt like some kind of bubble bursting, the wonder-blaring space that consumes the track hereafter an echoing, cave-like vastness, which contrasts wonderfully with the tech-fizz of the opening.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I’d get on with Morphology. It was certainly a departure for me, in regards to the type of dark ambient or experimental music that I’ve listened to before. What I found was an album that fizzed, warped and exploded its way through layer after layer of aural exploration, but one that managed to do this in a way that felt kind to the ears. Whether it’s kind to the mind will depend on the particular mind that’s listening. If you are someone who likes to ponder the vastness of the cosmos, of time, and the possibility of countless dimensions, I think that you’ll enjoy losing yourself for awhile in Morphology.

Visit the Morphology page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also stream the whole album on Jan’s YouTube channel embedded below. If you’d like to learn more about Morphology and Jan himself, you can find the interview that he kindly gave me at this link.



I was given a review copy of this album.


Album Title: Morphology

Album Artist: Diagnostic / Jan Robbe

Released: 28 April 2022

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Dark Ambient Track: Subdued Manifestation

 Dark Ambient Track: Subdued Manifestation


Subdued Manifestation

A drone-based track created by manipulating just one field-recorded sound sample: A flowing water tap. I ran the sound through a variety of reverb and timing changes, created different pitched versions and folded them in onto each other, much like the way samurai swords are created with layers of metal being folded and pounded down. 

The sound went through Audiobulb's Ambient processor a number of times, where I tinkered with it over and over. I've also transitioned back to the Reaper DAW and have been able to learn and make use of such things as param automation, which was really interesting. The final track only has three elements, three different variations and edits rendered and arranged into one composition.

I've spent the last week on this track, and I found it immensely satisfying to create a drone that evolves and changes over time. I also find it fun to think that all of the track was birthed from the single sound of water flowing from a tap.

Thanks for listening :)


Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Dark Ambient Track: Exit (0)

Dark Ambient Track: Exit (0)


Exit (0) Art

An ambulatory artificial intelligence has out-lived its human crewmates by millennia. As it roams the decrepit spaceship, its neural networks slowly degrade. It becomes obsessed with notions of inside and outside, chaos and order, creation and entropy. The stars outside begin to communicate with it, urging it to let them inside. As the vessel drifts through a binary star system, the AI finally decides to heed their call. It triggers the mechanism that will blast the ship’s radiation shielding into the void, destroys the wailing alarm, and welcomes the fizzing, plinking sensation of radioactive particles sizzling through its electronic mind.


Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Living With A Troubled Spirit

Living With A Troubled Spirit


Living With A Troubled Spirit Photo

For some months now, my quite regular dips into depression have become one long mass of struggling. My Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has really been kicking my backside, and my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder feels like it has glued my mental gears in place. Actually, I want to change that imagery. My CFS is like being buried up to my neck in quicksand, and my OCD has come along and decided to sit on my face until I can’t breathe any more. That feels more accurate. Oh and depression has been standing on the side-lines shouting at me, telling me at some moments, that I’m not trying hard enough to improve my situation, and at others, that I should just give up and that I’d be better off dead. Three versus one isn’t exactly a fair fight.

To partly quote the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, I know that I’m living with a “troubled spirit amid abundance”, that even though life is pretty restricted by my health issues, it’s comfortable. I don’t have to worry about so many things, yet when the benefit/payoff of any action that I might take is dwarfed by the payback in symptoms that nearly always follows, it seems quite understandable to me that I end up in a place where I don’t see the point in doing anything. It takes a long time to bring myself out of this state, even though I’ve had to many times before. Experience has shown me that there is no one to turn to for help outside of my parents. I’ve tried, but when the various bodies/institutions/charities that are set up to help people say that they have nothing to offer you, hope doesn’t just fade, it gets brutally murdered in a stinking alley and has its shoes stolen.

I’d dearly love to turn my writing into some way of supporting myself, to find some independence in whatever way, but after years of being a freelance writer, I find myself longing for work that I can’t find, or that if I do find it, I can’t cope with. I can glean some small measure of enjoyment from the process of writing, and from my short stories being accepted and earning a fiver here and there, but that often just ends with me feeling empty and hopeless again afterwards. The day my most recent short story was published in an anthology, I could barely muster the enthusiasm to tweet about it. I just felt like “Who cares? I’m not even sure that I do, so why bother!” I almost left social media the other day for the same “Why bother” reason, and also because I can’t help comparing myself to others and coming out on the “I just suck!” side of things. Yes, I’ve had therapy, and yes, I still keep falling down the same old holes.

I don’t know how much I will be online in the coming months. I have a couple of reviews that I said I would do that I will complete, but beyond that, who knows. I certainly don’t expect to be on social media much, if at all, save to post about said reviews when they are done. Thanks to anyone who has taken the time to read. I hope you are making a better job of things than I am. :)