Thursday, 12 September 2019

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown Out Friday 13th

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown Out Friday 13th


Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown is a new anthology of dark tales, tales in which the clown is the victim or hero, rather than the gurning evil-grin wearing psychopath. This particular anthology contains one of my own dark tales too.

The blurb: In a world filled with menace, dare to paint on a grin. The world is full of images of scary clowns: packs of grinning figures with knives plaguing towns; pom-pom clad serial killers; loners who like children in the wrong way. But clowns can be a force for good: it takes a kind heart to put other people’s joy first; keeping children entertained is honest work; what better disguise than one that makes the villains laugh? 
What if, rather than being childhood-spoiling serial killers, clowns were the victims or heroes of the story? When all the children at a party are poisoned, an entertainer’s profession and past both make him a prime suspect. An anti-corporate prankster discovers his guru might be just as callous as the capitalist world-view he claims to reject. A clown attempts to redeem the image of his profession by saving a group of teenagers from a serial killer. And twelve more stories of clowns facing humanity’s baser natures.
Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown releases tomorrow, Friday the 13th September 2019, and is available from the following retailers, among others, with the paperback costing £7.99 and the eBook version coming in at £3.99.

Amazon:


Kobo:


Barnes&Noble:


iBooks: 

Monday, 2 September 2019

GAME REVIEW: Flowscape

Flowscape is a kind of meditative creativity tool, the soothing music and gentle animation helping the player to create scenes and views that they might want to escape to. It also has a map-making feature for any DnD'ers out there. You can read my full review over on Geek Syndicate.

Flowscape

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Davidian

Dark Ambient Review: Davidian

Review by Casey Douglass


Davidian


Davidian is a dark ambient album from Council of Nine, and it’s an album that is themed around the twisted and corrupt things that come from the way cults and mass followings can rob humanity of, well, its humanity. The album art above is pretty stark in its imagery, a silhouette watching a church or temple burning in the distance. Sadly, it was one of only a few images that Davidian gave me.

To qualify that last sentence... one of the things that I most look for in the dark ambient that I listen to is the way that it can kick-start my imagination, the soundscapes prodding and hinting at images and scenes. Davidian is at the smoother end of the scale of dark ambient, and while relaxing, and containing a maudlin melancholy at times, it didn’t really enrapture my mind.

To be sure, there are some nice textures and touches. The first couple of tracks contain sounds that seem to hint nicely at some kind of buzzing hive-mind type activities. Revelator seems to embody a kind of electronic-surveillance-type aesthetic, and to also evoke a sunlight-through-dusty-windows-shining-on-a-dead-body feeling. Day 51 also has tones that made me think of a desert hallucination, but one taking place in the middle of the night. Certain notes and melodies seem to repeat through different tracks, tying them together into a cohesive whole, which is also something that I can appreciate.

I didn’t dislike Davidian, I just think that at this particular time, it probably isn’t for me. Maybe in the future I’ll come back to it and feel differently, but if I was going to listen to a Council of Nine album right now, I’d probably go back to the excellent Trinity as that was an album that really did grab me. Davidian is an album of tender tones and contemplative struggle, I’d just have liked it to have a harder bite.

Visit the Davidian page on Bandcamp, and check out the track Day 51 below:



I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Davidian
Album Artist: Council of Nine
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: August 13, 2019

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

GAMING NEWS: PC Building Simulator is Now Available on Console

GAMING NEWS: PC Building Simulator is Now Available on Console

PC Building Simulator

I always keep an eye on the various simulator games available for PC. It's one of the reasons that I love PC as a platform, as you get to see all sorts of interesting and niche creations. The Irregular Corporation's PC Building Simulator might have been deemed one of those games, once upon a time, but now, it's only gone and flipping released for PS4, Xbox and Nintendo Switch!

The original version of PC Building Simulator started out as a free tech demo on Itch.io and went on to sell 750K copies as a full release. It certainly seems to be a great example of an idea proving itself viable, which is refreshing in this day and age of rehash reboots and compulsive sequelitis.

PC Building Simulator
Tim's RED HOT Repairs sounds like a porno movie waiting to happen...
PC Building Simulator does come with a story mode, one in which you find yourself taking over your uncle's PC workshop, having to diagnose and fix your customers' PCs. There is also a Free Build mode in which you can build goliath PCs that you would likely only ever dream of owning in real life. As a consequence, the game features a variety of real world brands and components, so you can aspire to churn out those quad-sli gaming PCs to your virtual delight, and not have to remortgage your house to pay for them! The only thing you'll be missing out on are the sore thumbs from having to insert so many cables, and the swearing session as that CPU heat-sink assembly always ends up needing a lot more pressure to clip in place than you anticipated.

PC Building Simulator
If a GPU isn't overclocked, you obviously worship at the altar of Warranty.
Visit PC Building Simulator for a more in-depth look at the game, and keep an eye open for it in your gaming console's store. The pictures above are all from the PS4 version and the launch trailer below is one from the PC version. Just FYI.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Dinner Lady Doom and the Loss of a Maverick


Dinner Lady Doom and the Loss of a Maverick

By Casey Douglass



Casey Douglass


I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on various things that feed into who I am, whether my mental health issues, my health in general, my personality traits and even juicy things like Jung’s notions of the shadow aspect and repressed anger. While doing some general reminiscing, I came once again to the time in my life when I was only then starting school. I remembered two events that still make me a bit angry, and one, unrelated, but also in that same time period, that made me burst out laughing in the street. (I was already out for a stroll, I didn’t rush out there to burst into laughter, that would have been weird!). I’ve decided to have some fun with it, maybe channel my inner Bill Bryson, who knows. I’ve injected my own special brand of humour too, so it should be worth the read.

The events I’m going to talk about occurred when I was in infant school, so I would have been anywhere from five to seven years old at the time. It’s that time of life when all adults are pretty godlike to a little person, if for no other reasons than their height, and that they get to drive cars! When you falsely incur the wrath of even lesser gods, such as dinner ladies, it might just make the needle of doubt prick your skin, causing you to doubt their infallibility, and to doubt yourself. That sounds a lot darker than I was aiming for. Don’t worry, these are small events that aren’t scary or distressing, they are just ones that seem interesting for me to reflect on.

We were sat around a table in the dining hall eating lunch. I think everyone had those plastic lunch-boxes, the kind that flip open to reveal the packed lunches that our gods at home had so neatly provided. It was some time during this feast of sandwiches and Monster Munch that one of the dinner ladies came to our table. I remember her as the jokey friendly one; she was always light-hearted. Before I knew it, I’d been plucked from the table. I’d been accused of saying something heinous about her by a fellow diner. I have mental images of a spinning half-eaten square of sandwich, rotating lazily in the air and hitting the tabletop moments after my baffled face was closed safely inside the nearby classroom. I can’t ever remember being that cavalier with food though, and I’d like to think I wolfed it down like a trooper before being hoisted away.

So what had I said? Apparently, I had said that this particular dinner lady was a... I can hardly say it... it’s so deviant... a... a... silly old woman! I mean, wow, what a little gobshite! The thing was, I had no memory of saying such a thing, none at all! And by all accounts (one person) I was accused instantly after the foul words had been uttered by my mouth! I honestly don’t remember having memory problems back then, but then, how would I know? It felt like the 80s equivalent of a Twitter witch-hunt, but without the all-caps and bad spelling, which is saying a lot considering we were all still learning our apples from our elbows at that age. Sorry, I digress.

I told them (‘the man’) that I didn’t say it. I told Mum that I didn’t say it, after they’d unleashed the heavily artillery and sent a letter home with me. I remember saying that I didn’t know what they were talking about as I was standing at our living room window, looking out into the garden while I ate a banana. Further proof that my memory is pretty damn good! I also don’t only remember events when a banana is present. Just saying. I think it was around this point that I must have thrown in the towel and decided to say sorry anyway. I mean, what else was I to do? You know those stupid sayings like “If you swear, a kitten dies!” or something? I’d imagine there’s an equivalent for a kid having to say he did something just because there was no other way, maybe “If you say you did something that you know you didn’t, a trainee lawyer rips up their paperwork and becomes a reality TV star!” I don’t know.

Shortly after this, there was another incident with another dinner lady. This one was not the nice one, she always seemed to be in a grump and was generally avoided by the kids. I think it was a lunchtime where we couldn’t go outside because it was raining (kids in the 80s were obviously highly soluble, so thank the heavens we were spared a messy end that day!). I think I might have been talking too loudly or being over-excitable, or something like that. Whatever it was, I remember I had been doing it. I had no problems being punished for stuff I’d actually done! I was marched across the room to sit alone, quietly in the corner, but with the embellishment that apparently, I’d kicked this particular dinner lady in the leg as she’d led me! It was Silly Old Woman Gate all over again! I had no memory of it! And it’d just happened! Why did this keep happening to me? I can’t remember if I said sorry this time or if I just stayed quiet and sulky (or even both), but I wasn’t impressed.

Now I don’t want to overstate these two events too much. All kinds of things go toward making a person who they are today. Thinking about why I’ve always struggled with self-confidence and that I’ve always tended towards being a “people pleaser”, it’s interesting to me that these two events have never left me, and I don’t have that many memories left from that time in my life. To be accused of something you know you haven’t done is horrible, but to buckle under and say sorry because you’ve no other option? That really sucks. I also wonder if it helped feed into my later OCD, particularly with regards to wanting to be understood and being afraid that people will misunderstand me. I mean, shit! If you can be punished for something you didn’t say, the sky is the limit for all the ‘people-pleasing-obsessive-word-checking’ your energy can muster!

Hang on, I hear you cry, where is the event that made you giggle with glee in the street? It’s coming, I haven’t forgotten. I do just want to say before I move on though, that I’m not angry at the dinner ladies, I know they were probably doing the best they could and that these almost ‘nothing’ incidents would only likely matter to the person at the heart of them, which was me. I’m also glad that I knew nothing about the unconscious mind or the shadow aspect to our personalities back then, as if the right chain of thoughts had struck me, I might have pondered: “What if I did mutter nasty things about elderly ladies and kick the grumpy people who tell me off? Why wouldn’t I know? Maybe there is an evil Casey that comes out when my mind is elsewhere!?” etc. That would have been a real cluster-fuck to deal with at five years old.

Now, onto the humour. I think I was seven, so in my final year of infant school. It was lunch-break, apparently my witching hour time of the day, that time of the day when life’s strange stuff seemed to happen for me. Well I was seven, midnight didn’t exist for me back then. I was walking down the corridor and I remember thinking that, in all the time I’d been at school, I’d never wet myself. When you start school, there are always kids who have ‘accidents’, misjudgments of timing and whatnot. They get whisked away from the seat next to you, the only hint of their having been there a little yellow puddle with the odd bubble popping on the surface. Maybe this is why we weren’t allowed out at lunchtime? It was too close to looking like we’d dissolved! Anyway, for some reason, I wondered if I was even capable of wetting myself. I think I kind of prided myself on my bladder controlling abilities, I didn’t think I could purposefully override them. Dubious, I walked into the toilet to have a go.

Now I know what you are thinking, I’m just not sure if you are stuck on the “Why on earth did you want to try to pee yourself!” or if you have moved on to “Why go into the toilet if you are going to try and piss yourself?” Answer to the first, I was curious, and maybe I felt that the window of opportunity to do such a thing, and not get told off, was closing for me. As for the second question, to be honest, I think it was a concentration thing. No-one was in there so I could just stand and think. Focus. Go with the flow. I’m very happy to report that I surprised myself and succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

It was as I stood there, alone in a toilet, with a warm, wet leg, that I realised that I hadn’t fully thought this through. It was more than the amount of urine where you could just think “That’ll dry. That’ll be fine!” I went to find a dinner lady and might have said something along the lines of “I’m afraid I’ve had an accident.” I’m certain I didn’t admit to the experiment. There was no drama. No real embarrassment either, on my side at least. I think I was given a towel to dry myself off and then I got on with the rest of the afternoon. This is the thing I’ve been chuckling about all day today, from having the original thoughts about all of this, to writing the thing just now. And hey, a tale of a dinner lady where I wasn’t told off for something I hadn’t done! How quaint!

Thinking about it now, what I want to know is, where has that maverick kid gone, the one who wanted to find out if he could piss himself, so he just tried it? I admire my younger self. He wondered if he could do something, he tried and he succeeded. Sure, he might have benefited from taking a moment longer to think about the after-effects, but it was a decent experiment. In the present day, I tend to wonder if I can do something, and then often decide that I can’t, without even trying. Or worse, in a way, I wonder if I can do something, I do it, and then still think that I can’t, that it wasn’t good enough or worth doing.

Three years after this, when I was ten, my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) began, triggered by a few stray thoughts and a massive mental overreaction, by a personality that was likely already struggling in ways I have no idea about now. And possibly because of a bump on the head that happened on the same day. Before that day, I might have had my issues, but after that day, I was like a different person, nervous, timid and racked with anxiety.

Thinking back to the moment that I passed The Golden Test (as I’m now inclined to call it), I can only wonder at that seven year old chap who took a risk, just because he could. Post-OCD beginning, even post-treatment, I find myself living with a mental life containing so many rules, so much ‘do-goodism’ and ‘people pleasing’ that I wonder if this little piss-soaked maverick is still inside me somewhere, shaking his head and urging me to ‘Go with the flow!’ more often. I’d like to think so, and I’d like to get in touch and let him know that I need his help.

(The picture at the top of the article is me on a trip to some kind of safari park. I think I may have been slightly older than seven, but it was still at a time when my OCD hadn't emerged, so basically, happier times. I don't have any beard stubble, so it's not that recent at least.)

Sunday, 11 August 2019

My Top Dark Ambient Relaxation Albums


My Top Dark Ambient Relaxation Albums

By Casey Douglass


My Top Dark Ambient Relaxation Albums


It occurred to me the other day, that the selection of dark ambient albums I carry around with me on my smartphone really have become mainstays of my ambient listening. While I enjoy the more jagged variety of dark ambient, those albums that contains clanks, bangs and screeches from the netherworld, they aren’t the most conducive to relaxation. Relaxation is one of the main purposes that my music listening serves, which is possibly why dark ambient, as a genre, has even begun to push heavy metal down my pecking order. The albums listed below are all dark ambient albums that have been mainstays for me, many of them for years.

Azathoth
Azathoth – Cryo Chamber Collaboration - When Azathoth came out, I was a tiny bit “It’s not as good as Cthulhu”. Little did I know that over the years, Azathoth would slowly supplant Cthulhu as my most listened to dark ambient album. In a large part, it’s my “go to” depression album. That’s not to say that it depresses me, but that there is something about the soundscapes on Azathoth that really suck me in and spit me out feeling a little bit better. In one particularly bad spell, I remember it was winter, but sunny outside. Naturally I closed my curtains. I got into bed under the covers and laid a variety of pillows across my body and face, leaving just the smallest of gaps for my nose to take in fresher air. I had my headphones on and Azathoth playing.

The opening swirls of Azathoth are like an inky blackness that just pull the listener down. For me, it’s the audio equivalent of burrowing through the earth, sliding down to dwell where the dark gods live. Rusty chains swing from caves that are seen for only an instant, nebulous mists billow and waver and the very air tastes ancient and yet sustaining. If I drop off to sleep, and I often have, I am woken by the swells of sound at the end of track two, swells and sways that make me feel like a lost ship buffeted on a roiling sea. I genuinely feel renewed after its two hours of darkness, so it easily goes at the top of this list. One thing I will say though, as a warning, is that some way intro track two, there is a segment of what sounds like a pebble being thrown hard at a cave wall. It happens a few times and, if I am half asleep, occasionally it does jolt me with adrenaline.

Cthulhu Cthulhu – Cryo Chamber Collaboration - Cthulhu was my previous number one... but we are still on good terms. If you always wondered what it would be like to listen to Cthulhu rising from the deeps, this is the album for you. Wet feet patter on stone, water glugs and leviathans moan as the listener delves deep into the sea. I think one of my favourite parts is when the soundscape begins to warp and judder, like a strange distortion has settled over things, twisting sounds and muffling the various bassy rumblings. I often doze off after that part hits me, maybe it does something to my brain. As with Azathoth, there is a part that sometimes jars me. A voice begins to intone the well-known Cthulhu R’lyeh prayer at one point, and that often stirs me to wake up. On the plus side, this means that I get to hear the sirens and screams that sound near the end, just as Cthulhu rises and scares the crap out of people.


The Edge of Architecture
The Edge of Architecture - Proto U – To be honest, I could have picked a number of albums by Proto U to add to this list, but I think The Edge of Architecture edges it. Ha! The first track is a little ‘harsh’ to relax to, featuring the chatter of air traffic controllers as it does, but the tracks that come after are smoother. One features the audio effect of notes popping like soap bubbles, another contains the clever use of radio static. Others feature some kind of field-recording that adds a pleasing layer to the tones and drones that stitch everything together. I find The Edge of Architecture a very peaceful album, and this is why I think I listen to it as much as I do. Another album that is also well worth looking at is Earth Songs, one in which Proto U teamed up with Dronny Darko to give us an album that follows the evolution of our planet. Earth Songs has dark soundscapes, but also ones alive with the bustle of birds and nature, and it’s a very pleasing ‘chillaxing’ album.

Myth About Flat WorldMyth About Flat World – Creation VIMyth About Flat World is a more shamanic-feeling album to me, especially with regard to some of the rattlings and beats it contains. It has meditative, whimsical soundscapes, ones that conjure the images of myth and legend, the shamanic tree of life, chanting, sighs and whispers. It’s a rhythmic foray into more primal themes and archetypes, and an album that I find enraptures my mind. It feels a bit like going on a holiday, but the kind of holiday where you get stuff done and aren’t just lazing around by a swimming-pool, watching tourists' fat backsides chewing on overly tight swimming costumes. The kind of holiday I mean is where you explore, go off the well-trodden paths, and learn something about yourself along the way.

Ghosts on Broken Pavement
Ghosts on Broken Pavement – Mount ShrineGhosts on Broken Pavement is the most recent album on my list, but one that has quickly established itself in my permanent listening habits. If you find rain relaxing, take a listen to this album. Mount Shrine does stuff to rain that makes it sound even better! In my opinion of course. Each track on Ghosts on Broken Pavement seems to take you on a slow stroll, from the inner city and out into nature, the wind and traffic giving way to a lonely train-station and the mountains beyond. The field-recordings that pop up are soothing and scene-setting, from a "wind blowing around a courtyard" to the gentle ting-ting-ting of said train-station's bells. It just feels very soothing, and again, like a pleasant stroll away from the cares of everyday life.

***

There we have it. Scanning back, I see I wrote the most about Azathoth, by some distance, but I feel I gave a good accounting of why I like each album that I’ve listed. I genuinely listen to most of these albums at least once per week, and considering some have been out for four or five years... that’s quite something. There are plenty of other albums that I’ve reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed, but it’s not always easy to guess which ones will end up in my continuous listening pile. These ones have, and here I stand, shouting about their virtues to all who’ll listen.

Thanks for reading. If you have any other dark ambient albums that you find particularly relaxing, please feel free to let me know what they are called and why they appeal to you. You can do this below in the comments or by finding me on social media :).

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Citizen Science, Anxiety and Mars


Citizen Science, Anxiety and Mars

By Casey Douglass



COSMIC


I was browsing YouTube... well, browsing is too active a word for it really. I was looking at stuff the YouTube algorithm decided to sling my way... and I came across a video by Anton Petrov about a mysterious dimming star. As part of this video, Anton talks about citizen science, a way for non-expert people to take part in the analysis of data that is just too vast to tackle in the usual way. A site he mentioned, Zooniverse.org, looked quite enticing, and I really liked the idea of spending a bit of time now and then, helping out with some of the more space orientated projects.

That all sounds quite good, I thought. I didn’t realise however, that it would feed into my anxiety issues, and almost lead me to quit in the attempt. Not due to anything wrong with Zooniverse or how things are presented; the issues I encountered were the usual old ‘Casey’ issues. I didn’t quit though, and I’m now in a more comfortable place with it. I thought that I would write this post as a way to reinforce what I’d learned (or reminded myself of) and that maybe, someone, somewhere, might also find that interesting or be helped by it.

Once I was signed up on Zooniverse (a very quick process), I was able to browse the various projects that were looking for help. Whether I was just over-tired or just not bright enough, I was taken aback by the complexity of some of the tasks. I had a hard time choosing which one I wanted to try. I eventually settled on a project called Cosmic, an endeavour that has volunteers labelling images from Mars.

Cosmic stands for Content-based Object Summarization to Monitor Infrequent Change. Space exploration is limited by data bandwidth between the Earth and whichever equipment is being remotely controlled. Usually the camera-laden robot sends the data direct to Earth and only gathers as much data as can actually be sent. Scientists look at the results and decide where to point it next. This leads to downtime for a robot that could be put to much more use. It also isn’t conducive to the robot reacting to real-time events, such was the weather, as they happen in its environment.

The Cosmic project aims to use machine learning to train a system that will help in the development of future Mars orbital spacecraft, ones that can continuously gather and analyse data themselves, sending the most interesting stuff home first. The project on Zooniverse is designed to help with the development of this software, and it entails the volunteers inventorying pictures of various types of surface activity on Mars. At the moment, these surface features fall into a number of categories: Araneiforms (spider-like features), Trough networks, Linear features and ‘Other’. These are further split into ones with ‘deposits’ or not, and a description of the image background brightness.

COSMIC

I read through the background material, the tutorial, and the Field Guide that you can draw on for more help, and I unexpectedly found myself stressing and picking at things. I think I instantly put a lot of pressure on myself to make the right decision on each image, even though the FAQ explicitly states that each one will be labelled by many people, and that they would be reviewed once again before use. This should mean that multiple people would have to make the same mistake and even then, an expert would likely pick up on it before conclusions are drawn. You’d think that would have made an impression on my mind when I first read it, but I think I was already feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Overwhelm is a pain in the backside for a tired, anxious mind (yes, minds have backsides in this post, get over it). So is being overly perfectionistic, intolerant of uncertainty and having the general urge to avoid mistakes, to be a ‘good’ person, and to not let anyone down. If you wanted to mix a head-fuck cocktail, those are some pretty potent ingredients. I was tired, I ‘tipped in’ the Field Guide sections about araneiforms, light and dark deposits, troughs and all the other stuff, and gave it a good ol’ shake. There wasn’t much room for the small mental voice that tried to get me to chill-out. I didn’t even hear it when it said “You’ve only just read all of this stuff and you expect to digest it instantly? Relax!’

I started to look at other projects, ones looking for local group clusters, gravity ripples and other kinds of research. All had their own levels of intricacy and overwhelm, and none seemed to be something that jumped out at me as ‘easier’ to get into. So I persisted with Mars. Good old Mars.

My next session of trying to give a label to photos went a little better but still ended with an exclamation of ‘Fuck it!’ and a switching of browser tab to see what was happening on Twitter. Sometimes it’s just a bad time to attempt certain things. It wasn’t until my next attempt (these attempts were on different days) that I felt more at ease. I still had the mental chatter rabbiting away about making a mistake, not being good enough, bright enough, whatever enough, but I was able to label some interesting Mars features with a little more confidence, and to also not feel too inadequate for clicking the ‘Unsure’ button a number of times.

COSMIC

As with most things that cause anxiety, exposing to it in small doses can gradually coax the mind into not overreacting to it, to ease off on squirting adrenaline into the body, to generally acclimatize to the discomfort you feel. I know this. I know it back to front and side to side. It still catches me out in periods where I’m extra tired, stressed, or even in times of being overly happy. Emotions are tricksy things, setting off all kinds of associations and reactions and memories. I usually pick up on it before it forces me away from something, but this time I was kept asleep at the keyboard.

Maybe if I’d been doing something more selfish I would have avoided the ‘do goody’ imperative, but I dare say I’d have just felt guilty for pissing away my time on something less worthwhile. Whatever happened, I came through it though, and that’s the main thing. I wouldn’t say I look forward to looking at pictures of Mars's surface features again, but I don’t dread it now. In time I hope to gain a little sense of achievement and of helping with something that just seems so cool to me, but for now, not wanting to pack it in is a sign of things moving in the right direction. I also hope that I’ll remember this post when I trip up again (and I will trip up again).

Thanks for reading. If you didn’t already, visit Zooniverse.org for more information about citizen science, and also visit Anton on YouTube, he makes some great space videos and is clearly passionate about the wonders of the universe.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Dark Ambient Review: The Substance of Perception

Dark Ambient Review: The Substance of Perception

Review by Casey Douglass


The Substance of Perception


Life gets tainted by many things. The things we enjoy always come with drawbacks. Sometimes the feeling of something being “off” is obvious. Other times, it’s more subtle. The Substance of Perception is the debut, collaborative album from NERATERRÆ, and one of the things that I really enjoyed about listening to it is the way that it shows this “more subtle tainting” in an interesting and audio-based way.

The opening track, Shadows of Regret is a case in point, and is one of my favourites on the album. Gentle and airy tones mingle with the patter of rain or snow. It’s like the opening to a marshmallow-cloud-filled-dream-castle sequence. Then the “taint” enters, a high pitched tone that unpicks this sense of safety and whimsy. It pulses and whines, and is soon joined by a dark drone, and a voice talking about dreams and coming to hate yourself. Talk about a change in direction! It’s the audio equivalent of a summer meadow that hides an escaped tiger, or a pleasant white picket fenced house with a prisoner chained in the basement.

Seeing as I’m opening with a favourite track, I will skip straight to another that I liked just as much: Becoming the Nightmare. It opens with a dark exhalation and looming atmosphere, with a rumbling soon rising in the soundscape. Then the screeching begins. I can only describe it as the screaming of what sounds like a female creature of some kind. My first thoughts on hearing it were that it might be what a trapped succubus might sound like. Voices and chanting emerge and after a short time, a bestial ‘thrump’ sound occurs, as if something much larger is in dialogue with the captive she-demon. I don’t know what kind of ritual or rite is occurring but I’d imagine anyone happening to walk in on it would immediately go grey and run for their lives. Or get our their smartphone and film it. This is 2019 after all.

Another track that I wanted to say a little more about is To Reveal the Unseen. It’s another that features a kind of dark chanting aesthetic, deep “Oms” brushing up against a drone that later gives way to a quiet, dripping, introspective space. A shimmering whistling in this latter space seems to hint at the lifting of the veil between worlds, or some kind of barrier at least. The shortest track on the album but no less impactful for its brevity.

The other tracks do sit well alongside the ones I’ve already mentioned, each with their own aspects to appreciate. The Wicked Pulse of Conscience features the kind of off-kilter feeling of “taint” that I’ve already expressed my admiration for, but in its own way. That Which Shall Not Be Witnessed includes whispers about which I can’t decide if they really are whispers, or just a sound that seems similar. I like this “not knowing”. Beyond, has a strange ‘trilling’, like something you might hear in a Lovecraftian tale of horror, and Echoing Scars has gentle “tainted” melodies and rainfall. Beautiful stuff.

The Substance of Perception is a dark ambient album that treats the listener to soundscapes that pick at the edge of their most nebulous dreams. A bit like that feeling you get when you wake up and know that you were having a nightmare, but are confronted by a sunny morning with the birds singing. Your mind lags behind the apparent scene of safety, like a paranoid looking back over their shoulder into the receding night. If the idea of this sensation excites you, take a proper listen to The Substance of Perception by visiting this link. You should also watch the music video for Shadows of Regret:



I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: The Substance of Perception
Album Artists: NERATERRÆ, Northaunt, Alexey Tegin from Phurpa, Treha Sektori, New Risen Throne, Flowers For Bodysnatchers, Taphephobia, Ugasanie, Xerxes The Dark and Infinexhuma
Label: Cyclic Law
Released: April 26th, 2019

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Dark Book Review: The Other Side of the Mirror

Dark Book Review: The Other Side of the Mirror

Review By Casey Douglass



The Other Side of the Mirror


The Other Side of the Mirror is the noir tale of Detective Carl Duggan and his duties in a depraved city. As you might expect, it starts with a body being discovered: a pregnant nineteen-year-old woman found washed up on the banks of the river. It’s not long before other dead bodies are found in other locations, their demise causing much head-scratching for the Detective. If this wasn’t enough, someone also appears to be killing gay men, which adds an extra touch of menace to the already foreboding city.

The first thing that I noticed upon beginning The Other Side of the Mirror, was the appeal of the location it is set in. Not that I’d want to go to a city like that, but the seedy, corrupt bleakness just sets in, even from the very first pages. The river Styx runs through the city, splitting it into two parts: the East and West. The West side is wealthy, the East side run-down and poor. “Poor filth and rich filth, separated by an expanse of ebony water.” The river itself gained its nickname from the number of bodies that have been pulled out of it. A nice touch. Definitely more intriguing than “The River Shopping Trolley” or “Condom Estuary”.

Carl lives on the East side but events see him having to cross the East and West-linking Steel Gate Bridge a number of times, hating it every time he does. He views the East side as more honest in its depravity, and that the West side is just “crime with a more expensive price-tag”. Much like in the real world, money paves the way for a variety of averted eyes and sins being washed away. I enjoyed the split in locations and the parallels to other ‘split’ elements in the story. As much as I enjoyed the city though, and the seeming perpetual snow and ice it was cloaked in, I did get slightly tired of the “Once you come to the city it doesn’t let you leave” vibe. But only slightly.

Carl, as a protagonist, is a Detective not afraid to bend the rules, in no small part due to him being one of only a few who aren’t in someone’s back-pocket, which is ironic if you think about it. He has a decent heart, but doesn’t hold back when violence is needed. He also treats the victims and witnesses of crime with respect, which is more than some of the others do. He balances a lot of spinning plates but ultimately, I think, is ready to let them fall. As the story progresses, things ramp up, and he becomes more disgusted with the city and its residents than ever before.

The denizens of the city are an interesting bunch, from a swashbuckling gang of rich psychopaths to a religious hit-man, but not all residents are steeped in violence. Some are just trying to get by, doing the best that they can in whatever job they are lucky enough to have. Pimping, prostitution and drugs are common, and homelessness too. If people are sometimes up shit creak without a paddle, these unfortunates aren’t even in a boat, and are struggling to keep their mouths above the brown sludge that they are bobbing along in.

As far as the narrative, I enjoyed it. There was enough happening to keep me happily rolling along with events. The chapters are, for the most part, short and punchy, and when things begin to intertwine, a few pennies dropped in my mind. There were things I guessed, others that I didn’t see coming, and the ending I kind of guessed but was only half right, which is a result that I am more than happy with.

The Other Side of the Mirror is an enjoyable noir murder mystery, set in a flavourful location and peppered with degenerate characters and struggling innocents. The action is swift and brutal, the consequences seeding more discontent in an already dire city. If you enjoy noir thrillers in settings like this, you should certainly consider giving this book a closer look.

I was given a review copy of this book.

Book Title: The Other Side of the Mirror
Book Author: Lex H. Jones
Publisher: Hellbound Books

Friday, 2 August 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Memory 417

Dark Ambient Review: Memory 417

Review by Casey Douglass


Memory 417


In Quantum’s cyberpunk ambient album Memory 417 is themed around the near future, but a dark one, one in which things are coming to a head. It paints a bleak picture of a future in which humans have taken their DNA meddling and cybernetic prodding into whole new realms of exploitation and divergence. Post-humans rub up against anti-transhumanists, while semantic networks connect the soulless. I suspect social media still runs on pure outrage too, even though this isn’t mentioned.

What we have in Memory 417 is a dark prophesy, one made up of audio textures and sounds that leave the listener almost tasting the damaged circuitry and abandoned architecture around them. It makes a great use of voices and speech, and does this from the very start, with the opening track beginning with a kind of robotic exhalation, and later featuring a news-cast presentation about nuclear physics and the A-bomb. It creates a compelling effect.

The voice-samples feature in other tracks too, adding a hint of explanation as to what might be happening, or simply hinting at the lack of certainty, such as the “Are we dreaming?” question early in track two: Dream. I really appreciated the flavour that the voices added, the only drawback for me personally being that they jolted me enough that I can’t really use Memory 417 as a relaxation album. They are fine when you aren’t semi-dozing, but can startle a bit if you are dropping off. Of course, I can live with that, but felt it worth mentioning as you might be someone who also enjoys using this kind of music to relax to.

As Memory 417 is a ‘cyberpunky’ album, you can expect the things that go along with this. Warm electronic tones and beeps, echoes and melancholy notes. There are also various cinematic sounds to add extra flavour to the soundscapes it creates. Odyssey features a countdown, followed by an air-raid siren, with an ominous rumbling thereafter. Suicidium is another track that makes a good use of these kinds of sounds, with this one using the sound of rubble raining down and appearing to trap a shocked victim. Away from environmental sounds though, Itarius Mourning was my favourite “mellow” track, as it features a quieter soundscape that eases its way into an airy, piano note fed atmosphere.

I often spend time talking about the mental imagery an ambient album triggers in my mind. Beyond the A-bomb devastations and stifling rubble, Memory 417 brought about a variety of scenes. A good number featured the reflection of neon-lights in puddles, which has always been an image I enjoy. Many mental images featured abandoned buildings, concrete walls falling to moss, and water dripping through floors and apertures it was never envisioned to ever meet, let alone seep through. I also saw shadowy figures who seemed more powerful (or sinister) than any “regular” person I happened to see. Agents of both sides of the conflict maybe? Who knows.

Memory 417 is a gloomy yet illuminating foray into a possible cyberpunk future. It’s an album where mechanical despair mingles with human desperation, with neither side likely to come out on top. Well, actually, there is someone who comes out on top: the listener, as they get to safely dip into this glimpse of a dystopia in the making, and to come back safe and not remotely glowing in the dark. That’s a win in my book.

Visit the Memory 417 page on Bandcamp at this link, and you can also check out Anno MMLXXIV in the video below:




I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Memory 417
Album Artist: In Quantum
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: July 23rd, 2019

Monday, 29 July 2019

Dark Fiction - Golden Glow


Dark Fiction - Golden Glow

By Casey Douglass


Golden Glow

Zep watched the sunlight bloom over the megalopolis that passed as London these days.

‘Eighty-seven floors up and I can still only see about a mile!’ he muttered, trying to ignore the loops his heart was tracing in his chest. He squinted into the murky golden smog that sparkled between the scrapers. He looked down over the edge of his balcony, letting his gaze slide down the smooth walls to the thicker fog below. He wondered what it would feel like to jump, to feel his stomach lurch as he plummeted into the dirty yellow marshmallow cloud below. He almost felt ready to try.

The doorbell farted behind him, the batteries on their last legs.

‘Shit! Who’s this now?’ Zep hissed. He twisted away from the balcony rail in a most unusual movement. His upper body was facing back into the flat a good second or more before his groin and legs followed suit. His spine augment buzzed like an angry insect against his lower vertebrae. He blew out a gust of charged particles from his mouth, golden fireflies dancing in the air.

‘Fucking thing!’

He knew he shouldn't put pressure on it like that, but in a few days, he’d cease caring. The doorbell sounded again as he plodded through his small apartment. He stared through the peep-hole in the door and gaped. He unlocked the door and threw his arms around the man waiting outside, yelling ‘Mo!’

‘Hiya Zep! Long time and all that!’

‘I thought you were down for some prison time?’

‘I was and I did! They let me out early when I cut a deal for some experimental therapy shit. Anyway, you going to let me in or not?’

‘Sorry, come in!’

Zep watched Mo swagger into the room, his trademark holographic tats sliding over his bald head, changing from a Roman helmet to Medusa snakes and onto other more abstract, sometimes pornographic designs.

‘They let you keep the tats then?’

‘Yeah, but I had to turn them off inside. Even now I have to keep to a list of pre-approved images.’

‘The one that just passed, with the woman grinding her crotch along your nose... was approved?’

‘I didn’t say I’d stick to it! You know me, always the agent provoker!’

‘Provocateur?’

‘Same diff. So what have you been up to? Looks like you still haven't been out of here for awhile?’

Zep threw himself onto the sofa and waved for Mo to sit too. ‘No, I still can’t get out.’

‘The phobia stuff?’

‘Yes, and other crap.’

‘That's partly why I’m here. That therapy thing I had, I thought of you, that it might be worth a shot for you!’

‘Oh? What is it?’

‘Re-Attribution.’

‘Fuck Mo! The brainwashing thing? Why’d you let them do that to you!’

‘It’s not brainwashing, that’s just the snowflake media’s slant mate!’

‘It’s left people vegetables!’

‘Tell me a treatment that hasn’t. Real life leaves some people like vegetables too, if you stop to think about it!’

‘They curdle your brain!’

‘They change the attribution of stuff. Don’t be hysterical! Don’t tell me you wouldn’t wanna try something if you thought it’d cure your mental stuff!’

Zep studied Mo, wondering if he could see any sign of things being “not-Mo”.

‘So what did they tackle with you Mo?’

‘They chose to Re-Attribute the thrill I get from thieving... to eating veg!’

‘You what?’

‘I fucking hated veg mate. Loathed it. Now I gorge on carrots and peas like a fatty on doughnuts. If I even think about lifting a new implant from the shops, I feel like I’m going to throw up!’

‘Sounds like Clockwork Orange to me... You know, the film where the guy is treated to overcome his violent tendencies? With his eyes propped open staring at shit on a cinema screen?’

‘Oh yeah, good film! No, it was nothing like that, and it isn’t. Get that out of your brain mate!’

‘Is that all they changed?’

‘Yeah!’

‘You sure?’

‘As sure as I can be!’

Zep watched Mo fidget. ‘You don’t look that sure to me!’

‘Oh I’m pretty sure about them not poking around where they shouldn't have, it’s just... there is the risk of a hole.’

A hole?’

‘Yeah. You know how Re-Attribution works right?’

‘Kind of.’

‘It’s like those old-fashioned pigeon holes that offices used to have. The holes are our emotions. The labels are our triggering events. They swap them around, but sometimes it’s like a clumsy idiot has done it, and has knocked some of the labels off and let them fall to the floor.’

‘Shit!’

‘Yeah. One day you are doing something you've always done, and you feel a vastly different emotion than usual. If it’s something mundane like putting out the rubbish though, who cares... but there’s always the chance that you'll feel different about your wife, family, job or whatever. It can change you.’

‘Sounds horrible.’

‘I guess. I don't know what my hole is yet, if I even have one, so it’s kind of like waiting for a party balloon to go bang. It might, or it might not.’

‘I hope it’s nothing important, if you do have one.’

‘Well I don't really have anyone in my life, and I had a wank straight after they did the procedure, and it was all good!’ Mo roared with laughter.

Zep smiled and looked at the sunlight as it tried to pierce his window. It bathed the room in what he often thought of as a starship glow, a radiance that you might see on a starship diving into the Sun. He felt his stomach drop, his smile followed.

‘You thinking it wouldn't work for you?’ Mo asked.

‘I wasn't thinking to be honest, just feeling. As far as me giving it a go, I wouldn't be able to afford it.’

‘You could always commit a crime! Get it for free then! Bit like the old duffers who don't have any money left and no pension. Find a crime you can do that you can live with, get caught, and get free room and board for a few months, plus a tens of thousands credits procedure, done for nothing!’

‘I can barely stand on my own balcony! What crime could I commit here, with no witnesses!’

‘Network fraud? Hacking something? All you need is to do enough to be a pest, then make a mistake and let them catch you. You were always good with the ol’ gadget stuff. Remember when you hacked the entry pad for the women’s locker room at college? We went in and had a good rummage didn’t we!’

‘I remember.’

Mo nodded, his grin widening. ‘Actually, I have exactly the kind of place in mind where you could start!’

‘Oh?’

‘One of the places I turned over, had a back-room off-the-books type business going on, encryption keys or something.’

‘And?’

‘If I got inside again, I could patch you in, to do your own rummaging.’

‘I’d want the police to catch me, not some mobster who wants to knee-cap me!’

‘But that’s just it! It’s a spook setup!’

‘Jesus! It’ll be more than a bit secure then!’

‘Not with me inside!’

Zep looked at Mo’s zeal. The metaphorical penny didn't just drop, it plummeted to the ground, cleaving a metaphorical businessman who was metaphorically strolling beneath it in two. Zep eyed Mo. ‘How do you feel?’

‘Great mate!’

‘Hmm. Well it was nice to see you, but you can fuck off now. Best do it before I punch you!’

Mo’s face fell. ‘Woah! What’s going on?’

‘This isn't about helping me is it! It’s just you need me to help you with a job you have your eyes on. I’m guessing by the fact you aren't puking everywhere while you’re planning this shit with me, that you never had Re-Attribution either!’

‘I did!’

Zep watched another gratuitous tat spasm across Mo’s head.

‘And there’s no way in hell they would let you keep those porno tats!’

‘I told you that...’

‘Cons get sub-dermal shit like that fried and blocked from reactivation! I remember now, I’ve seen enough shitty daytime TV to know what happens.’

Mo stood, his face turning red. ‘You’re making a mistake!’

‘Well it wouldn't be my first!’

‘Alright I’m going! Shit man, just relax!’ In one quick movement, Mo bent, snatched up Zep’s idling laptop and raced for the door.

Zep flew at Mo but his fingers only grazed the back of Mo’s shirt as he wiggled out of the door. It slammed shut inches from his nose. An angry buzz came from Zep’s spine as his back locked and he fell onto his stomach. 

He coughed, golden particles floated up, his spine augment vibrating and jolting like a hornet. He managed to roll onto his back and laid panting, staring at the ceiling.

For the second time that day, Zep didn't think, he just felt. And it was awful.


THE END


Saturday, 20 July 2019

APP REVIEW: Prana Breath


APP REVIEW: Prana Breath

Review by Casey Douglass



Prana Breath
If like me, you suffer with anxiety and other mental health stuff, the chances are quite high that you might have had cause to use some kind of breath-based relaxation or awareness exercise, just to see if it might help you to feel better in some small way. Recently I’ve been using the free version of the Prana Breath Android app to help me keep track of what I’m doing, and in this review, I will describe how the app works and what I think of the various options it offers.

The main app screen is a simple circle with some timings in the middle. Depending on your training program selection, these will respond to varying durations of Inhaling, Exhaling, Retaining etc. The free version includes eight training exercises, from Clear Mind and Harmony to Anti-appetite and Cigarette Replace. More are available with the Guru version, which I will come to later.

Prana Breath

Once you start your training program of choice, you simply have to breathe along with the instructions on screen. Sounds accompany each state of the breath, and after a few sessions, you will likely feel comfortable enough to listen along with the screen turned off. The sounds you hear are customisable, from the background sweeping sound to the phase transition, there are a number of choices to suit the listener.

If you have your own breathing session in mind, there is nothing stopping you from creating your own program. I created my own Square Breathing (4-4-4-4 intervals) training program as I’ve found this to be most useful over the years that I’ve practised it. Changing the length of the session, Ratio of breath cycle or Seconds per Ratio unit is trivial, and I was up and “breathing” before I knew it.

Prana Breath keeps track of your total time spent practising in the Experience tab at the bottom, awarding you a Total Level and telling you the time you’ve spent on particular training programs. This is nice, and backed up by more viewing options along the top such as a detailed Log and Graph view.

Prana Breath

Next to the Experience tab is the Reminders one, and in this you can set a reminder to perform a certain practice. This Reminder will appear at the set time with a Random Motivator phrase, just to give you a jolt to action if needed. A nice touch.

The free version of Prana Breath is advert free, which is so rare in this current time. There is plenty of functionality in the base-app, and it doesn’t pester you to upgrade to the Guru version. The Guru version does open up more options and settings to tinker with however:
  • Dynamic Training (being able to vary timings within a single session)
  • The ability to use more training programs and patterns
  • More detailed progress charts
  • Infinite training duration
  • Health tests to help you keep track of your progress
  • More sounds to choose between
  • Google Drive Backup
  • An Import/Export Data option

You can gain access to the Guru version by a small monthly subscription, or unlock it permanently by choosing between the prices of £7.99, £9.00 and £12.00, depending on how much you’d like to contribute to help the app. My own feeling is that by using the free version, you will soon be able to guess if you would like these extra features.

Personally, I’m sticking with the free version for now, as money is so tight that I can’t afford to spend anything on apps. I do think the payment options seem reasonable for a well-made and slick app. Some breathing apps are just basic timers and that’s it. Prana Breath genuinely seems to go above and beyond this, and the fact that the free version is ad-free too always gains my respect.

Prana Breath

The only draw-back I might envision for some is that they might want an app that is more secular in appearance, lacking the symbolism and sounds associated with more belief-based meditation. Even to these people I would say give Prana Breath a go, as it’s a great little app. It really helps me to practice my breathing exercise of choice without getting too lost in mentally counting the intervals myself.

As an example of when this comes in handy, I sometimes enjoy slowing and deepening my breath to a rate of two breaths or less per minute. It has been known for my mind to lose count, and I forget to breathe for sometime. When I realise I’ve drifted, I get a bit of a jolt, and this tends to undo any calming or relaxation effects I’d already experienced. So yes, Prana Breath does help with this, to a degree.

Does it help me with relaxation and anxiety stuff? Yes and no. I find I sometimes bring any tension or stress I’m feeling into the exercise I’m trying to do. Even with the best of intentions and awareness, in these situations, the breathing stuff sometimes makes me feel worse. At other times, it helps me to settle and feel calmer. The act of focussing on both breath and audio cues also slows my mind’s usual ruminations too. On balance, I find breathing exercises helpful, but at other times I’d rather just focus on my breathing and watch it rather than change its rhythm.

As always though, you should go carefully with health stuff. Breathing exercises might help some but they could harm others or make things worse. I’m not telling you that breathing exercises will help you, I’m just describing an app that helps me to time the ones that I like to use. Don’t self-treat or self-diagnose blindly, see your Doctor for advice and realise that you are responsible for your own health, and that you try things at your own risk. Be safe and be sensible.

Visit the Prana Breath website for much more information and detailed breakdowns of the various exercises. There are also links to some of the science behind why breathing exercises might help people with various health and emotional problems.

Prana Breath is available from the Google Play Store and the Amazon Store.

***

If you found this review helpful, or think that it might be useful to someone you know, please share it on social media and tag them in. If you have any breathing exercise recommendations to try, please also let me know by commenting below or finding me on social media. I'm always on the lookout for new ones to try. Cheers.