Tuesday 27 April 2021

Dark Ambient Interview: Scott Lawlor

Dark Ambient Interview: Scott Lawlor

Scott Lawlor

Anyone who knows Scott Lawlor will be all too aware of how prolific he is with his music releases. It’s a good thing that his music is well worth listening to! Scott kindly agreed to share a few words with me in this interview. We touch on how he can be so prolific, the challenges of composing music as a blind person, the virtue of creative constraint versus total freedom, and the most mundane sound he feels that he has ever recorded. Thanks for joining us and I hope you enjoy the interview.

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Casey: Scott, even though I am familiar with how prolific you are with your music releases, it still surprises me just how frequently I see that you’ve released a new album on Bandcamp. What are the main factors in your life, that you think may contribute to how you can achieve such a release rate, how does this current rate compare with periods earlier in your musical life, where you felt the need to take a break from things, and what was different between the two periods?

Scott: I am a stay-at-home dad and since my kids are in school, I have a lot of time to compose and release music. Some years have been busier than others regarding actual number of releases but through all of that time, my situation has been the same.

I've got many more albums on our network that I've recorded over the last 7 years, so if I quit writing new music right now, I'd still have releases for a long time to come. I'm always working on new music so the odds of catching up to myself are astronomically impossible at this point.

Casey: As a blind composer, I know that you occasionally tweet about accessibility issues with the tools or apps that you want to use. What kinds of accessibility issue do you find the most irritating, which apps or tools do you use that you feel handle things really well, and more broadly, what is your usual process for composing a new track, which tools do you tend to use the most etc.?

Scott: Well, for a long time, I had a Roland fa08, Sound Forge and Audacity as my main way of composing music and though this set of tools allowed me to create many albums over the 6 years that I used them, they weren't as accessible as the current tools I utilize.

The menus on the Roland didn't talk and I was limited in how I could shape sound from within the synth, so this lead me to using things like Audacity for shaping recorded sound from the Roland into something totally different. Even though it was an interesting experience to do things this way and I got quite proficient after developing such a streamlined workflow, the results from one project to another weren't as different sonically as I thought they'd be.

As an example, Paul Stretch is a tool that I used to use quite a lot in my early work and though it can create some interesting results, if you change the default values, it's something I hardly ever use anymore, or, if I do use it, it's part of something with a good many more layers and elements mixed in.

I think part of the reason PS has such a bad rap in the ambient community is probably because people didn't change the values, and just released things that were run through it with no further processing after the fact. Just look at all the videos of popular songs that were run through this plugin and uploaded to YouTube as an example.

The same can be said for other effects inside the box and so the point of all this is to say that, though for me, this method worked for a while, it's actually pretty easy to tell which effects I used, particularly on the noise projects that I've done over the years.

Now that I've said all that, the tools that I use now are totally different and they're accessible with speech so it's much easier to manipulate sound and add interesting effects where this wasn't possible before. I use Komplete Kontrol from Native Instruments, and various third party instruments by companies like Soundiron, Soniccouture, Luftrum, Sudden Audio and, of course other things from Native Instruments themselves.

The most time consuming part of composing now is deciding on which sound to use. Sometimes it takes me longer to find the sound I want than it does to create the actual work in question.

Casey: In an interview with the From Corners Unknown podcast, you touched on the topic of how constraints can often aid creativity, talking about how contests like the ambientonline.org forum’s One Sample Dare Challenge can give creating a different focus and challenge you in different ways. How much constraint do you enjoy before you feel it becomes a true hindrance, how often might you sit and compose with no purpose in mind, and the theme later suggests itself, and do you prefer one approach over the other?

Scott: Most of the time, I compose without constraint, just letting the improvisation go where it will as I play on the keyboard and upon playback over time, a theme or concept will come to me for the music. I do prefer this approach but am thinking of revisiting the ambientonline.org One Sample Dare challenges since I have new effects, software and hardware that are much more accessible.

Casey: In the aforementioned From Corners Unknown interview, you talked about some of the sounds that you recorded, including workmen breaking your house windows, at the time that it was your turn to submit the sample for the One Sample Dare Challenge. I was wondering, what is the strangest or most obscure sound that you can ever remember sampling, and which mundane thing have you recorded, that gave you the most surprising and satisfying sound, once you started experimenting with it?

Scott: The most mundane thing I've ever recorded was the spin cycle of my old washing machine and I took that recording and created an album called Spin Drone, which, looking back, isn't really that interesting but some people really seem to love that album.

Spin Drone

I think the most interesting thing I recorded was different objects in our old clothes dryer which I then used for an album called the Ambient Series 1, Symphony for Prepared Dryer. I put many different things in the dryer including silverware, wooden alphabet blocks, shoes, coins, and even sweet potatoes, recorded from 19 seconds to 3 minutes, depending on the item and then processed those sounds to create the album.

My wife wouldn't allow me to put her pipe wrench or glass in the appliance and you can hear her promptly rejecting both ideas in the last track of the album which is the documentary for the project.

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Thanks very much to Scott for answering my questions. If you’d like to find Scott’s music, you can find him on Bandcamp at this link.

Sunday 25 April 2021

Rest in Peace Mount Shrine

On the 16th of April 2021, dark ambient label Cryo Chamber shared the following tweet, a tweet announcing that Cesar Alexandre, aka Mount Shrine, passed away from Covid:

Even though I couldn't say that I knew Cesar well, we did share some emails, and an interview he was kind enough to give me. His dark ambient music is brilliant, and I still have yet to come across someone who can make rainy drones as soothing as he does. 

My condolences and best wishes go out to Cesar's loved ones. Rest in Peace Cesar.

Friday 23 April 2021

Dark Ambient Review: glass fawn

Dark Ambient Review: glass fawn

Review By Casey Douglass

glass fawn

During one of my many perusings of Bandcamp, I discovered glass fawn, a dark ambient album from uncertain, a music project from artist Florian-Ayala Fauna. As I previewed the tracks of glass fawn, I was particularly taken with the feeling of bleak melancholy that seemed to manifest in them. It’s for this reason that I decided to write this review.

The opening track is “from falling waters” and it certainly sets a mood and the scene. It begins with a warm, low and pulsing drone, a drone that soon mingles with the sound of sea waves. The waves feel like they are chopped or foreshortened after awhile, and then a juddering, screechy sound joins them. There are other sounds that emerge too, rasping sighs and exhalations at the edge of things, creating a maelstrom of pressure. For me, this whole track created the mental image of a sea of lost soils boiling, not in hell, but in a roiling sea, beneath a black sky, with no land in sight.

“teeth, water and soil” is another track that gripped me. It starts with the strange string notes from the end of the track before, but itself blooms with bat-like chitterings, the muted sound of cascading rocks and an airy drone. The drone has a sacral chant aesthetic, peaceful yet at odds with the sea-sawing string-notes that dance above things. After the midpoint, a buzzing, warbling noise begins, one that put me in mind of the sound sea-birds sometimes make. Not a call but a chuntering. This track furthered my impressions gleaned in “from falling waters”, but this time the waves and wind brush against an island of black rock, a cacophony of seabirds mocking in the sky as oily waves lick the edges.

A lighter track (in comparison to the darkness of the previous ones at least) is “the white stag”. It starts with a high, sparkling tone, and a distant animal call and a rumbling. There is a rustling, and what sounds like fluttering paper, along with a resonant tone that hangs in the air like a snow flake. Slow string-notes weave through the soundscape, and the track, though dark still, feels peaceful. Maybe the white stag of the track title is slowly walking through a snow-dusted woodland, the mist between the trees making everything shimmer. A grinding, rougher quality emerges after the midpoint, a different, gentle tone accompanying it. A lovely track.

The last track that I wanted to write about is “pilgrimage”. If the previous track felt like it was set in nature, this one feels more urban. It features a chimey, droning space, a strange crying call, and has possible “city” sounds in the mix. I thought I heard what could have been the drone of cars passing on a wet road, and after the midpoint, a “garage door” maelstrom begins. If you have ever been near a metal garage door that someone has kicked hard, you might be able to guess what I mean when I describe the vibrating sound in this way. Maybe the stag of the previous track finds itself lost and alone in a hostile city. It seems possible.

As dark ambient albums go, glass fawn is certainly up there with some of the darkest I’ve heard. It doesn’t achieve this darkness by sinister chanting or some of the more “horror” styled tones that you might be used to. The darkness on glass fawn, to me at least, felt more subtle. I also really enjoyed how pretty much every track dove-tailed nicely with the one before and after, the tones at the end of one encroaching into the beginning of the next, sometimes soon to fade, but at other times, to stay a little longer. A fantastic album that is well worth the attention of your ears.

Visit the glass fawn page on Bandcamp for more information.

Album Title: glass fawn

Album Artist: uncertain

Released: 11 Jan 2010

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Isolated Tales

Dark Ambient Review: Isolated Tales

Review By Casey Douglass

Isolated Tales

The Covid lockdowns in so many parts of the world, introduced a good number of people to the raw reality of how many hours there really are in a day. Yes, there are twenty four, but if you are ill, locked-down or alone, each of those hours can feel like its own decade. Isolated Tales is a dark ambient album from ElectronicDeathBlackDogs, and it was conceived during that time of stay at home orders, uncertainty, and creeping despair.

The track Endlessly Searching Through Empty Rooms is a great embodiment of these feelings. It begins with a low, trundling machine-like sound, with pacing footsteps and creaking echoes filling an empty space. There are distant impacts, maybe doors slamming in the wind. There are also closer sounds of the footstep owner shutting doors too. A light, string-like tone begins, floating in the air above what feels like a harsh concrete world of abandonment. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I heard distant shouts or cries. This is a haunting track, and I really liked the way that the footsteps and door shutting kept appearing.

Crushing The Construct is another atmospheric track. This one feels technological though. It starts with a knocking, as if against glass, with what sounds like a flurry of wings answering each time. Maybe this is how a bird in a glass enclosure might react to continual annoyances from its owner. A growing hollow drone emerges, soon joined by electronic screeching that rasps through the soundscape. For me, this track brought about feelings of being trapped and tormented, possibly by technology. It felt high-tech and spiteful. Maybe it’s an analogy for how shit social media can be, especially when people are stuck at home and easily outraged by stuff that doesn’t remotely effect them.

Food For The Trees is the last track on the album, and probably the darkest. It opens with the sound of the wind and a faint, wet, crumpling sound. The sound of a shovel sliding through dirt comes at regular intervals, a deep meditative chant filling the air. Deep impacts begin, languid string-notes aping the tones of the chant. As the track progresses, all of these sounds seem to coalesce to make a clattering, mechanical rhythm. If this isn’t the track to someone digging a grave in the shadow of some kind of catastrophe, I don’t know what is.

Isolated Tales is a collection of dark tracks that really do seem to fit the strange times that we still find ourselves in. Its soundscapes all feel nicely dark and spacious, and many do contain moments of lightness too, just to keep things the right side of gloomy. Isolated Tales is a great album for dreary days and insufferable nights.

Visit the Isolated Tales page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Isolated Tales

Album Artist: ElectronicDeathBlackDogs

Released: 7 Sept 2020

Monday 19 April 2021

Dark Ambient Review: The Sleeper's Night Journey

Dark Ambient Review: The Sleeper's Night Journey

Review By Casey Douglass

The Sleeper's Night Journey

The Sleeper's Night Journey is a dark ambient album from The Great Schizm, an album that takes our nocturnal dreams as its theme, depicting all manner of strange vistas with its drone and field-recording-laced soundscapes.

The tracks of The Sleeper's Night Journey seem to loosely fall into two categories: some feature smooth, delicate tones and drones, the others are more field-recording heavy and scenic. The Platform is track two of the album and is a great example of this latter type of track. It opens with the sound of wind and echoing creaks. A low drone emerges, accompanied by a clock-like chiming that is quicker at times than others. I think this is my favourite track, as it creates such a feeling of being high up on a precarious platform, maybe looking down over a stone ruin of some kind. The creaking comes at regular intervals, almost like breath filling wooden lungs. In the second half of the track, echoing impacts sound, like something bouncing off the collapsed stone walls. An atmospheric and ominous track.

Perception Shift is the track that follows. It starts with a growing low drone that vanishes to be replaced by light, almost quirky tones. These tones for me, felt like the reflection of golden sunlight on gently rippling water. The drone and these tones seem to interplay for awhile, but around the midpoint, the track changes to a darker space. A lower drone takes over, distant squeaking and clattering metal can be heard, a roaming buzz roams, and the sound of voices and distant hammering can be heard. The track lightens again towards the end, a light melody knocking out into the darkness. I liked how the feel of each part of the track seemed to tie into the perception shift mentioned in the title, like seeing things anew each time.

An Unexplored Land is another track that I enjoyed. It opens with a warm drone and faintly clattering chimes. It feels airy yet echoey, and later gives the impression of wind or breath. Around the midpoint, a low pulsing howl or animal call can be heard, echoing drips and a roaming hiss of air. Then comes an industrial “trundling” sound. What this track suggested to me, was someone emerging from a cave-like passage and cresting the hill of a shadowy industrial landscape at night. I found it to be a peaceful track, but also another ominous one, making me wonder what might be happening in the darkened factories that still belched white smoke in the moonlit sky.

There are two other tracks that I also wanted to quickly mention. Distant Realms of the Continent is one. Early on in the track, and throughout for that matter, a strange distant shrilling call can be heard. I really enjoyed this element as it felt like some kind of exotic dreamscape full of strange creatures, but at a safe enough distance to be enjoyable. Sunken Civilization is another very atmospheric track, but this time plunging the listener into a bubbling, water-filled space, with drips, drops and at one point, a strange fun-fair type melody. Both tracks were really fun to experience.

The Sleeper's Night Journey is a collection of dark ambient tracks that really embody the strangeness and ethereal nature of dreams. Whether it’s the lullaby-like high tones or the rushing wind of otherworldly vistas, if I had a night of dreaming that followed the impressions that these tracks gave me, I’d wake up a very happy person.

Visit the The Sleeper's Night Journey page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: The Sleeper's Night Journey

Album Artist: The Great Schizm

Label: Cloud Hunter Records

Released: 14 Sept 2014

Saturday 17 April 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Drone Islands - Stellar

Dark Ambient Review: Drone Islands - Stellar

Review By Casey Douglass

Drone Islands - Stellar

Space certainly seems to be a great fit as the inspiration for music that loves to drone, the vast distances and cold danger just the kind of setting for sounds that seem to continue on and on. Drone Islands – Stellar is a collection of tracks inspired by astronomical events, and features a variety of dark ambient artists.

I think that my favourite track is Planetary Chain from Grey Frequency. It opens with a mid-level drone, one that has a vibrating edge. A siren-like drone rises behind it, the whoosh of what might be a rocket engine too, but the vibrating edge is what set the scene for me. I couldn’t help but think about how spare change rattles on a car dashboard. With the space setting of this album, I had visions of a spacecraft manoeuvring in the inky blackness of space, one of the pilot’s keepsakes buzzing on top of the control station. After the midpoint, wave-like sounds rustle against the ears, piano notes joining them a littler later. This led me to wonder if the ship is headed down some kind of galactic plug-hole.

PLUHM’s Sospensione is another track that I enjoyed, although in the beginning, I wasn’t so sure. It starts with a high, organ-like tone that crackles and breaks. A low drone sounds beneath as the notes echo away, small crackles popping as they distort. A buzzing begins, and when it ends, the soundscape has changed to a different space, one with an electronic heart-beat tone, plucked notes, and with a soaring drone behind. This buzzing occurs again, and once again the soundscape changes. It feels like whatever is going on is evolving, maybe like the stages a star goes through in its life time, or on a smaller scale, the journey an astronaut might make into the stars. By the end of the track, I had warmed to it a great deal, it’s a fascinating listen.

Astral Bridge Severance from Infinexhuma is the opening track of the album, and another one that stood out for me. It begins with a vibrating and echoing soundscape, metallic knocking sounds seeming to stir the space, a low hiss roaming, a distant shimmer beckoning. This track felt like the film Event Horizon to me, a drifting spaceship about which no one knows where it’s been or why it has appeared now. It’s sinister. The soundscape becomes a bit more cacophonous as it continues, a feeling of energy building up or maybe an engine flaring into life. There are rasping drones, female vocals, and an effect that seems like a bestial roar. This soundscape, for me, was one of threat, collapse and unknown forces. I like those things a great deal.

Drone Islands – Stellar is a varied collection of dark ambient space and drone scapes. I tended to enjoy the darker, deeper tracks more than some of the higher pitched creations, but all of the tracks have their own charm. If you like your dark ambient cosmological and droning, you should check out Drone Islands – Stellar.

Visit the Drone Islands - Stellar page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Drone Islands - Stellar

Album Artist: Various

Label: Eighth Tower Records

Released: 2 April 2021

Thursday 15 April 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Infernal Om

Dark Ambient Review: Infernal Om

Review By Casey Douglass

Infernal Om

Normality is a godsend for people who like to create dark art. What better way to frame some strange happenings by comparing them to the “normal” life of someone else? Gravechakra’s dark ambient album Infernal Om, does just that, painting the picture of an ordinary person, experiencing extraordinarily dark things, and having to keep them to himself.

The album description sets this all up nicely. The year is 1963, the place is the USSR. A regular, normal man going about his life, becomes plagued by unsettling voices and creepy visions. He keeps this fact secret, afraid of being thought mad. Luckily, or unluckily for him, he’s not mad, but is in fact receiving messages from a strange order of beings from another world.

The tracks of Infernal Om come in a number of forms. There are dark, musical tracks that give vent to the indecipherable language of the otherworldly order. There are also narrative tracks that give the listener an insight into how the protagonist is feeling about the state of affairs in which he finds himself. I particularly enjoyed how the narrative tracks blended with the others. If the track before ended with gravelly footsteps, these sit at the beginning of the narrative one that follows.

The musical tracks often feature the guttural grunts and invocations of the otherworldly imposters. The album description explains that they are speaking something called Cordoriborium, a language that will only be deciphered in the coming years. In aesthetic, the often multiple voices put me in mind of the kinds of grunting you will hear in certain types of heavy metal. They are often accompanied by unsettling effects in the soundscape, and a variety of drumbeats and electronic tones.

One of my favourite tracks is Invocation of Bestiurgs. It opens with a bass beat, a scuffing sandpaper rhythm, and a prolonged echoing sigh or exhalation. An electronic tone begins, accompanied by the sound of air-raid sirens. Two voices begin to chant or talk from ear to ear, the sirens continuing behind them. Later, things quieten a little, the soundscape becoming a windy space with rasping invocations or shouts. After this period come the wet, glooping sounds of what just might be something being born into this world, or maybe feeding of some kind. I enjoyed the retro-horror feel of this track, and also the mixture of the different electronic tones and drumbeats in the darkness.

Another of the tracks that I enjoyed was Narration 1. It opens with the aforementioned footsteps on gravel. We hear the main character’s voice, and it has some really intriguing lines. My favourite line is “They will now scream me into another world!” And wouldn’t you know it, you can hear them start to do so as he utters the words. I really like the concept that the telltale of the other beings’ approach is the screaming beginning. The fact that it “screams him into another world” just seems so dark and creepy.

Alchemy of Liquid Souls is the last track that I wanted to specifically mention. It begins with an echoing beat in what feels like a cavernous space. It fuzzes at times, and a distant droning seeps in. Hissing whispers pierce the soundscape, soon followed by one of the guttural voices, with a dog-howl accompaniment. There is an electronic tone that sweeps upwards and then repeats. The soundscape feels like one of lifting up or manifestation. Near the midpoint, it smooths to plucked notes and a mellow feeling. The sound of breaking glass interrupts this peace, and the previous sounds resume, as if someone has broken a window and let the other place in again. This is a really fun, brooding track, and I really liked the broken window moment.

Infernal Om is an album that makes great use of field recordings, human voices and electronic beats and tones, to create sinister, interesting soundscapes. The narrative tracks deepen the effect of the soundscapes, and the soundscapes give the narrative tracks a more concrete impact. I haven’t heard anything quite like it and I’m glad that I stumbled across it.

Visit the Infernal Om page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Infernal Om

Album Artist: Gravechakra

Released: 19 Dec 2020

Saturday 10 April 2021

Dark Ambient Review: #44 - The Recluse

Dark Ambient Review: #44 - The Recluse

Review By Casey Douglass

#44 - The Recluse

A few weeks ago, I was browsing my Bandcamp feed, and I saw The Owl’s dark ambient album #44 - The Recluse slide into view. I had a click through the three tracks and promptly decided that this sounded like my kind of thing. It felt dense and mind-filling, and after listening in more depth, I found that it had the wonderful ability to push the thoughts out of my mind, stifling the ever present merry-go-round of inner criticism and depressive predictions.

#44 - The Recluse is almost an hour long and is split into three tracks. The first is Oh, Sweet Catharsis, a track that opens with a warm, low drone. The soundscape felt like it had a rippling quality, maybe like the interference lines of a pebble splashing into a pond, but slowed down to a soothing, slo-mo rate. Lighter tones seem to emerge, suggesting themselves above the bass. These grow, and put me a little in mind of how a church organ might sound. A slight crackling of static soon follows, and then things build and build, with various elements distorting and seeming to compete with each other. At one moment the vibrating bass seems to be the louder, and then the “organ” flares up to out do it. This competing element, along with my notions of the church organ, set up a kind of God Vs Satan contest, an evolving audio tussle between two sides vying for control. That’s not to say it’s a violent track, I found it very relaxing.

The next track is Glacial Beauty. It might just be the suggestion I picked up from the track title, but I do think that this track feels cold. It opens with a low, airy, rumbling soundscape, one that evolves to contain a variety of pulsing elements. A growing static sits on top of this rumbling bass-line, making me think of midnight in the arctic. A deeper vibration begins, not unlike a rough-burning blue gas flame, if you dialled the sound up to mind-massaging levels. Around one third of the way in, a lighter tone begins, floating above the cold mental landscape like a seabird gliding above the frozen scene. A continuous bag-pipe-like whine dances with the warping higher tone of the seabird, the rough-burning gas flame a warm place to enjoy the show. This track is the longest on the album at almost 27 minutes long. It’s long enough to be lulling and comforting, yet also has enough elements to allow a variety of focusses. It builds and evolves, just like the first track, but takes a longer time to reach its peak, before simmering down to a calmer space in the final few minutes.

The third and final track is Emergence of Serenity. This track begins with a low drone, but not quite as low as the others. This one is more like a meditative chant, but there is a faster pulsing tone to keep it company. If the first track began like slow ripples on a pond, this one is the faster version. They culminate and then quietly dip down into a melancholy peacefulness. The first part of this track felt a little sci-fi to me. It had the whiff of space and vast distance, with static fuzzing that distance. Near the midpoint, things become more focussed on the bass end of the scale, a gritty throbbing vibration spreading and pulsing through the mind. The other tones come back with static, the distortion flapping in the listener’s ears, before things settle a little for a milder ending.

#44 - The Recluse is an album that creates some lovely, dense, walls of noise and drone. I wasn’t sure how I would get on with some of the harsher elements in some of the tracks, but they always felt like they stayed just the right side of “vigorous” for me. It was during my second listen (my non-note-taking session) that the album’s thought muffling powers became truly apparent. I’m struggling to remember another album that has engulfed my mind and yet also seen me nod off to it, even at its harsher moments. This is the good kind of nodding off by the way, not through boredom. #44 - The Recluse is currently name your price on Bandcamp below. I suggest you check it out if you like droning dark ambient with textures that bring peace to your dark mind, even if just for awhile.

Visit the #44 - The Recluse page on Bandcamp for more information.

Album Title: #44 - The Recluse

Album Artist: The Owl

Released: 12 Mar 2021

Wednesday 7 April 2021

Dark Ambient Interview: Mombi Yuleman

 Dark Ambient Interview: Mombi Yuleman

Mombi Yuleman

I first became aware of dark ambient artist Mombi Yuleman when our paths crossed on Twitter and he sent me a code for his Storm-Maker Red Horse album. Since that time, I’ve come to appreciate Mombi’s particular brand of dark ambient music, something that I’d describe as part retro horror soundtrack and part “spirit of Halloween in a bottle”. Mombi kindly agreed to an interview, the result of which you can read below. We take in such topics as John Carpenter’s soundtracks, our joint experience of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, religion, music as a means of communication, and of course, dark ambient.

* * *

Casey: You are known for your monster-fuelled, mysterious dark ambient albums, but your music didn’t begin with the genre. How did you discover ambient, and the dark ambient genre in particular, what do you enjoy about creating this style of music, and what role does your love of horror soundtracks play in the way that you create?

Mombi: I got into music production over ten years ago with an industrial project called "Junkyard Apocalypse". I was really inspired by artists like Front Line Assembly and Dismantled but more than anything I was inspired by film scores and soundtracks. I grew up listening to composers like Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone, and most of all John Carpenter. The soundtrack stuff is what I mostly had playing in my ears from as far back I remember. So the cinematic element was very important to me when creating my own music.

After I created an album and some demos, I pretty much dropped "Junkyard Apocalypse" and music as a whole for many years for various reasons. During this period of time I was heavy into creating industrial sculptures and housewares out of found objects. I called this project "Junkyard Avenue". I had a YouTube channel at the time showing how I created these weird lamps and art decor out of metal pipes, pulleys, and giant gears. Much of it had a steampunk theme. I'd listen to a lot of those soundtracks I grew up with while building artwork, but I remember specifically trying to find soundscapes that sounded like a factory in the distance, with steam and metal clangs to further enhance the atmosphere when I was creating these things at home. I found out about an industrial noise act called Stratvm Terror that I fell in love with, and that's when I discovered some mixes by Cryo Chamber on YouTube as well. This would have been circa 2012 or so.

After some years, the "Junkyard Avenue" project fell through because I was moving so much, and carrying hundreds of pounds of found objects from state to state is exhausting. It was sad because I didn't have a passion project anymore. So, after some time I started going to music festivals. Particularly psytrance parties. These events inspired me to get into music again. While, I wasn't attempting to make psytrance music, I thought I would get into weird cinematic influenced EDM again. I branded myself as Mombi Yuleman and churned out a six track EDM EP. It was a good way of getting familiar with a DAW again. I had a lot of trouble getting my ideas together for a second release.

I was listening to all kinds of genres within the underground dance scene. Stuff like dark techno, psytrance, psychill. Thing is, rather than take a genre and really learn it and craft pieces that fell within those genres, I would take ideas from those genres and form my own EDM sound. And in all honesty, many of those tracks were never sounding quite right to me. Too many ideas and not enough focus. One of the things that was recurring within all of these sounds though, was a cinematic mood driven element. My girlfriend would put on a lot of ambient music at night time to sleep to. Some of these tracks were often quite bleak and mood driven. Even cinematic. That's when a light bulb went off and I realized that's the kind of thing I should have been taking a stab at all along! Dark mood driven cinematic music with no real necessity to follow a predictable pattern, rhythm or theme. Soundtracks to films that don't exist. Of course! I totally wanted Mombi Yuleman to represent my own unique take on this whole cinematic dark ambient thing, and dropped dance music altogether under the Mombi name.


Casey: In an interview with horror writer David Allen Voyles, you discussed your Witch-Works album, saying that ever since you got your first synthesizer, you always wanted to make an album like Witch-Works, and then adding that you could probably die happy having now made it. That’s quite a statement! When you listen back to Witch-Works, which elements are you the most fulfilled by, the components that you listen to and know that you nailed it. Also, which pieces of equipment do you most enjoy playing with when it comes to your music creation?

Mombi: Yes, as mentioned, I love listening to film scores, and to the film scores of John Carpenter, specifically the ones where he collaborated with Alan Howarth, had a sound that I was fond of more than any other synth based soundtrack artist at the time. I wanted to compose a soundtrack with a Halloween theme that was in alignment with that same sound but give it my own spin and incorporate some subtle orchestral and industrial elements here and there. I tip my hat to some other horror composers in that one but it's mostly John Carpenter influenced. Jars of Spiders, Dance of the Scarecrows and Through the Pumpkin Swamp are certainly tracks I feel particularly fond of. Leaves is also a sorrowful track that I feel really embraces some of my own inner turmoil.

I really only work with VST's rather than hardware synths, even though I had a Roland JP-8000 for years but it was unfortunately damaged during one of my many moves. I use Omnisphere in almost all of my work. There's just so much I love about the sounds within that magnificent synth. I tend to use a lot of programs by Native Instruments as well, the Symphony Series comes to my aid where appropriate. I lack the knowledge on how to orchestrate full blown symphonies, but using those instruments as elements with a soundtrack or a dark ambient album is so much fun.

Casey: In one of your YouTube videos, you said that you make music because you feel that your life depends on it, with the spectre of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) looming over you. What are some of the ways that your OCD has manifested in the past, and is your creative practise a refuge from the OCD, or does it sometimes encroach on your music composing as well? I ask as a fellow OCD sufferer, and for me, OCD always seems to attach to the things that I care about.

Mombi: OCD made itself manifest in my life at a very young age. It started out by washing my hands over and over. Eventually as years passed, guilt over intrusive thoughts had me performing seemingly bizarre rituals over and over, like running up and down stairs, or I'd stare at walls for hours while I think a certain pattern of thoughts in a particular arrangement, until it felt right to let them go. I spent the majority of my teen years going through this. It wasn't until my early twenties, when I left the town I grew up in that the extreme side of OCD started to lose it's grasp. When I discovered that I no longer felt a need to have religion in my life, things got a lot better as well.

Though I still suffer forms of OCD, it's not nearly as bad as it used to be and I mostly deal with anxiety and the occasional existential crisis these days. There are times where OCD rears it's ugly head during the production process, to some degree it's beneficial. I'm never completely satisfied with my work. I often re-render files over and over to get them to where I feel they are just right, when perhaps the sounds were perfectly fine before. But this is also where I feel OCD benefits me to some degree, as long as I'm not tearing my hair out over it. A lot of work goes into an album and my OCD mostly seems to help me strive to be better for the most part. If it gets out of hand and I'm stressing too much, I recognize this and I take a break from making music altogether. I try to come back to it with fresh ears and usually it's not nearly as bad as I thought it was. I am often quite pleased with where I ended up after I've taken breaks.

Mombi Yuleman

Casey: I’m a big fan of taking breaks from creative work too. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve hated something I’ve written, but after returning to it with a clearer head, I often wonder why I was so critical of it. You mentioned religion, which I know can be a miserable subject to OCD sufferers that happen to suffer with scrupulosity issues. Which religion did you engage with or belong to, and how do you think this interacted with your OCD tendencies? I know that when I was struggling with my OCD at one of my worst points, my interest/mild belief in the occult wasn't particularly helpful. I still have a mild belief/interest, but I'm now more interested in perspectives that simplify or ease my life, rather than make it more complicated!

Mombi: I grew up in a very traditional southern baptist Christian bubble. The fear of Hell was instilled in me at a very young age. The idea of eternity in Hell really messed with me and I'm so happy I became a free thinker in my mid twenties. I understand how if you're constantly validated in a fear-based belief system by your family and friends it's nearly impossible to leave that. A belief system that makes you feel guilty for questioning it can be extremely hard to turn your back on.

When I left religion behind a lot of my OCD left with it. I was no longer afraid of constantly offending a deity I no longer had faith in and I'm so much happier for it. I love philosophy and obviously have an affinity for the occult. Though, because of the monumental task of overcoming the Christian belief system, I've learned to question everything and raise an eyebrow to anything that relies on me having to have faith. Existence, reality, consciousness and the cosmos are a true wonder to behold. Religion, to me, dumbs it down. Reality is much stranger and much more marvellous than fiction!

Casey: In the same YouTube video in which you mentioned your life depending on your music creation, you also mentioned that you are an introvert and that music is your way of communicating with people. What do you hope to communicate, by way of your music, and does the music sometimes reflect something back to you that you didn’t know about yourself previously?

Mombi: In group settings, I don't know how to really communicate. People can be going back and forth and I just don't know how to chime in. I'm the quiet one in a group and I prefer to listen whilst forming and keeping opinions to myself. Creating music gives me a way to boldly speak in a way an extrovert might. I hope the feelings evoked in the music can bring about thoughts that are both fantastic and relatable to those who listen. As in the case of my album, Storm-Maker Red Horse, I had the idea of an album where the subject matter was about a perpetual storm where a tornado just continued to grow and ravished the land until who knows when, as the listener becomes a victim themselves by the end of it. Indeed though, this particular album was much more about my own inner turmoil, depression and uncertainty that I was going through at the time. I do feel like there are folks who can listen to that one and relate to the chaos within.

Certainly there are themes and melodies that are born that I didn't know I've had in me but are very reflective of me upon listening. There's one in particular, a favourite progressive piece of mine written for an abandoned album concept and now I just can't figure out what to release it on. It starts out bombastic, goes into drone, then turns into a piano piece. Truly very progressive cinematic stuff and one that is very "me" that I had no idea was in me. It's been waiting to be released for years but I won't release it until it neatly fits on an EP or album or something. But for the most part, I'd say that I feel more relief that I'm actually able to finally get some of these sounds and melodies out of my head and into the world.

* * *

Thanks again to Mombi for providing such fascinating and in-depth answers to my questions. If you’d like to check out Mombi’s music, you can find him on Bandcamp and YouTube, among other places. You might also like to join his Facebook Group: Unearthing Your Internal Monsters, a group created to bring anyone who struggles with life, and who uses their creative endeavours to cope with it, together.

Sunday 4 April 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Astral Temple

Dark Ambient Review: Astral Temple

Review By Casey Douglass

Astral Temple

When I was a teenager, I loved reading the horror of Dennis Wheatley. My favourite book was Strange Conflict, because it was so heavy with notions of astral projection and sinister magic. Astral Temple is a dark ambient album from Notnotice. It released in 2018 and I came across it when I was having a browse of Bandcamp one fine day. In short, after having clicked through a few of the tracks, I found myself back in that teenage frame of mind, thinking about other planes of existence and the dark things that might dwell there. Which brings me to this review.

From the very first track, Molder of Sleep, the listener gets the impression that the empty space around them is far from empty. Whispers dance from ear to ear, the sounds contained within them almost making it feel like they are dripping into the mind. A throbbing drone sits beneath them, a higher tone quietly sounding at intervals. These elements play together for awhile, the pulsing seeming to afflict each tone to varying degrees. A strange type of dream machine came to mind, a resonant pealing sound carrying the dreamer to the astral plane. In the second half of the track, strange, distant music can be heard, maybe a sinister opera caught on the astral winds, but one that is impossible to actually find. This was an ethereal, bleak and sinister track, and I really enjoyed the atmosphere that it created.

Descent to Lower Levels is another track that I particularly enjoyed. It opens with a rumbling drone, one that is soon joined by distant squealing tones. The soundscape presses and vibrates with slab-like bass, horn notes, and small furtive movements that crackle in what sounds like long stone corridors. This track is both airy and spacious, yet hot and claustrophobic at the time same, like walking into Hell and being simultaneously struck by the overall vista, but also, the immediate tight pathway. This is an ominous track, the horn notes making it feel forbidden and dangerous for the person roaming the scene.

Higher Entities is a track that is ominous in a different way. It starts with a low hollow drone and the buzzing of a radio or an amp. A deep hum or chant begins, tiny scratching sounds scraping their nails down the listener’s ear drums. Distant echoing knocks start to occur, hinting at another soundscape encased in stone or rock. The chant, the crackling and the impression of distance seem to make this track feel “higher” in the way that, rather than weighing you down, it seems to lift you up. Where it takes you still feels dark, but a more refined type of darkness.

Lastly, I wanted to highlight Error of My Mirror. The track opens with an airy, trundling drone, a slight hiss accompanying it. The sound of dripping rain suggests itself, a long exhale-like swell of air soon follows, with small squeaks and hints of clattering metal wrapped in its bosom. The soundscape feels very mechanical to me at this point, like some kind of Hell-machine firing up in the basement of an abandoned church. This basement pulses with strange energies and weird lights, and the rain that manages to reach the small, high windows in the walls, is the only witness to what is really going on in there.

Astral Temple is a dark ambient album full of occult-infused spaces. It strikes me as the kind of album that you can listen to anywhere, and still feel like the veil between worlds is thinning around you. Whether you listen in the warm comfort of a modern home, or a tent on a windy hillside, I think you’ll enjoy how it seemingly brings the otherworldly so near.

Visit the Astral Temple page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Astral Temple

Album Artist: Notnotice

Label: Noctivagant

Released: 8 March 2018

Thursday 1 April 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Shore Rituals

Dark Ambient Review: Shore Rituals

Review By Casey Douglass

Shore Rituals

Anywhere humans want to go, but can’t, whether because of their physiology or a lack of technology, tends to be the fertile stuff of myth. Ever since we had a name for it, the sea has been home to all manner of monsters and gods. Ruptured World’s Shore Rituals is a dark ambient album that gives voice to these superstitions and fears, letting the listener almost feel their ears dipping below the surface of the briny water.

Common sounds that can be heard on Shore Rituals include the field-recorded movements of the sea, the wind, and the waves. A number of the tracks begin with these sounds, dipping down below the surface into a world of different tones and impressions, before returning to the surface once more. Other sounds that appear more than once, include the use of warbled radio voices or music, and piano notes that warp and bend, almost as if the pressure of the depths itself is having an effect on them. I particularly enjoyed the periods of radio activity, as it is a lovely way to knit the otherworldly more closely with this world.

Opening track, The Merman, is one of my favourites. It begins with the wind, waves, and tinny radio squeals and chatter, a light drone looming behind. It felt like listening to a fishing boat at sea, bobbing away under a moody sky. A short time later, the sounds do the thing that I mention above, the waves quieten, the listener seems to dive underneath the surface, and the soundscape becomes a peaceful, vast space. A hint of gentle male vocal floats along, whistling, almost sonar-like notes further emphasising the expanse around the listener. There are small sounds that plink and croak, almost frog-like. There is also some piano melody as the surface-level sounds reappear. This whole soundscape feels mysterious, deep, and at the end, a little jaunty or playful.

The piano notes make a strong return in another favourite track of mine: Catharsis II. The track opens with a lurching, drunken piano melody, a light tone in the soundscape taking up a similar aspect, maybe even a mocking aspect. A deeper, slower, tone takes over, the space deepening with a dark drone. A high pitched vocal-like tone shrills and billows, like ghosts flitting around a doomed ship. I enjoyed how this soundscape starts almost whimsically, and then warps into something far more creepy, the ghostly tones probably the highlight for me.

The Human Vessel is another track that I really enjoyed. It opens with the sounds of the sea and a high, sustained tone, tinny radio music warbling behind it. There is an airy rumbling and a metallic knocking, and things start to feel heavier and ominous. A warping piano melody takes over from the radio tones, the soundscape juddering and creaking around it. A male monologue begins a short time later, talking about staring into the void and a tomb of his own wishes. The piano resumes accompanied by a light tone, the sea waves returning to see the track out.

Shore Rituals is a salt-laced windswept album, one that I think does a great job of helping the listener experience some of the majesty, mystery and magnitude, of the liquid that covers so much of our planet. Its tinny radio sounds and strange piano melodies act like an anchor for the mind, the sea and the things beneath it always pulling and pushing at the edge of the imagination. If you enjoy your dark ambient sea-soaked and mythical, you should check out the Shore Rituals link below.

Visit the Shore Rituals page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also listen to the track Catharsis II below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Shore Rituals

Album Artist: Ruptured World

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 23 March 2021