Friday, 2 December 2022

YouTube Review: The Order 1886 (PS4)

 YouTube Review: The Order 1886 (PS4)

I mull over the merits of The Order 1886 seven years after its release on the Playstation 4, a game that I enjoyed far more than I hoped to.


Sunday, 27 November 2022

App Review: Syntropy

App Review: Syntropy


Review by Casey Douglass



Syntropy

Syntropy is a word for the way that order forms from chaos, which is an apt name for a well-being app that was created by a company that itself, was formed during Covid lockdown. In the broadest of strokes, Syntropy is an app that uses art, music and breathing science to help the user to relax or to lift their mood.

If you’re anything like me, the “breathing science” part of that intro might have tickled your fancy. There are many studies that show the link between the breath and our state of relaxation or alertness and the Syntropy app utilises a mixture of audiovisual breath pacers, music, and art therapy to help bring about positive changes in the user’s state. Some of the benefits that the user might experience include improved cognitive performance, stress reduction and increased coherence between bodily systems. If you’ve read my reviews of the HeartMath Inner Balance, or of the Syntropy breath pacers when they were available separately, I get more into the science there. I'll link to those reviews at the end of this post.


Syntropy

When you enter the Syntropy app, it’s a good idea to click on the information icon at the top left of the screen. This opens up a selection of tutorials about how to best use each element of the app, the kinds of meditation that it aids, and it also offers more information about the artists involved. Once you’re back on the opening screen, below the video of the week, you’re presented with three categories of experience: Breathe, Relax and Elevate. Making a selection leads you to a screen on which you can choose from a number of galleries, each gallery tending to offer seven videos that you can view. The Breathe galleries are geared towards helping you to pace your breathing along with the animation of the video. The Relax section is tailored for the user to simply watch and go with the flow, and the Elevate offerings present art and music that hope to uplift the viewer’s mood.


Syntropy

I enjoyed the quite eclectic selection of artwork on display, and I was able to find a fair few that appealed to me. A number of the videos make excellent use of light, videos that seem to hint at the sparkling quality of sunlight as it gently reflects from rippling water, or the soft glow of sunrise and/or sunset. Two of these are in the Chromatic gallery and are called “Tabula Rasa” and “Breathe in the Light”. As far as I can tell, the Syntropy breath pacers that I reviewed previously can be found under Breathe>Geometry and Relax>Energy Centers respectively. Once again, I'll post the links below.

I found that using Syntropy proved to be a nice little break in whatever I was doing. As someone with chronic illness and perpetual anxiety, I often make time to be in the moment or to focus on a couple of breaths. I’m not always that sure that it helps to any great degree, but I do feel a little worse if I don’t. I guess like many things in life, it’s the tiny acts building up over time that make the biggest differences, for the most part. The Syntropy app is an additional way to take some time for yourself, and if you’re like me and have a very ruminative mind, having the visuals to focus on and the music to listen to often proves engrossing enough to free whichever cog is stuck in my mental cogitating machinery.


Syntropy

The Syntropy app’s interface is clean and easy to navigate. There is no clutter, and I found the app to be responsive and reasonably intuitive. I did encounter an issue with switching between dark and light mode however, insofar as it wouldn’t switch. I have an older android phone, so this could possibly just be a phone issue, but upon choosing light mode, the app hangs on a loading circle for minutes on end and doesn’t do anything. Even if it had worked, I’d have much rather preferred being able to switch between light and dark mode on the main screen or in the settings, rather than only seeming to be able to once I started to watch a video. Luckily, it was a minor issue for me as I do prefer the dark videos anyway.

Another area that I’d like to see tweaked is the option to download the video to your phone. This can only be done once the video is streaming, and on a slow connection, this can make it take a looong time. If you want to playback the downloaded video, you cannot play it in the same manner; you have to go into Settings>Downloads and choose it from quite a boring list of filenames. Ideally, I would like to be able to download a video from the gallery screen, and then to see some kind of visual indication that that particular file is downloaded, and then to browse the gallery when offline and be able to see which video is which. As it stands, with no net/data connection, the gallery interface doesn’t work. These two issues were the only real qualms that I had with the Syntropy app, and the download issue is just me being really fussy. I know it.


Syntropy

When it comes to the cost, there are a number of options. Firstly, new users get a one month free trial, which is a good way to see how you get on with things. After your trial is up, you can subscribe for £2.99 per month or pay £29.99 for a year’s access. This seems very reasonable to me, especially as Syntropy are continually expanding the number of videos available, and supporting international artists in the process. On a personal level, I also appreciate how they are bucking the trend of releasing a subscription-based well-being app that doesn’t have truly eye-watering yearly subscription prices.

The Syntropy app is a good way to give yourself some extra tools for your mental toolbox. If you’d like to check it out, you can visit the Syntropy website for more information, or you can find the app itself on the Google Play and Apple Store.

As promised, you can read some more in-depth information about certain of the breath pacers here and here. You might also like to check out my Inner Balance review, which is a gadget that helps you with the kind of breath-work promoted by the Syntropy app.


I was given free access to Syntropy for review purposes.


App Name: Syntropy

Available on: Google Play & Apple Store

Price: One Month Free Trial / £2.99 per month / £29.99 per year.

Saturday, 19 November 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Solaris

Dark Ambient Review: Solaris


Review By Casey Douglass


Solaris Album Art

I often find it funny how the darkest or most sorrowful music often feels the warmest, to me at least. Sasha Darko’s drone ambient horror album Solaris is full of tracks that embody this kind dichotomy, the bleakness seemingly swaddled by the warmth in some way, maybe in much the same way as the golden light of the Sun gently heats up the cold bodies of the dead in some kind of horror flick.

The tracks contained by Solaris are themed around the idea of a Telegram channel of the same name. Each track represents a strange and unsolved cold case, with the album description mentioning people dabbling with time-travel and disappearing, or answering the phone to their future selves and being warned about how they are set to die. I went into my listening sessions very much primed with a horror and sci-fi “thought anchor” nestling into the murky bottom of my mental swamp, and this is something that shows in the imagery I've used to describe the tracks that grabbed my attention the most.

Opening track Flight to the Sun had a Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe to me, no doubt due to how the first film ended with a break for freedom at sunrise. Flight to the Sun opens with a low, gently distorting ominous rhythm. Warm, easy synth notes rock back and forth over the top. Darting jaggy tones flit bird-like in the higher reaches of the soundscape, softening a harsher whine that sits behind them. After a short while, these tones plummet like falling stars. As the midpoint approaches, things turn into a more juddery, distorted space, like reality being twisted and shredded by strange alien fingers. This is a pulsing, windy space, one that ratchets up over time. As the track reaches its end, the easier synth tones return with plucked notes along for the ride, maybe signalling a return to “almost” normalcy, but having changed something that cannot be undone.

The Mutation is another track that stood out for me, in no small part because it makes deft use of uncomfortably high tones throughout, which is something I’m not sure I’ve come across before. It opens gently enough, a sustained high drone with gentle fluctuations and beeps nestling into it. It feels like a meditative robot playing a quiet church organ. A higher pitch begins to emerge, turning into a sustained, slightly twisty, resonant whining echo as time progresses. It feels part hearing test, part dog-whistle, but not as harsh. The high tones are met by a throbbing pulsing tone after the midpoint, and this also sets up a kind of off-balance, off-kilter feeling in the brain. By the end of the track, my ears felt quite strange, like they had been echo-pulsed into a different phase of being. If nothing else, check out this track on Bandcamp, just for the experience.

Wake Up is another track that tapped into my horror fan-ship. For me, this one had Freddy Kruger written all over it. Being called Wake Up probably played a role too! It begins with a pulsing high-pressure shimmer that instantly brought Mr Kruger’s boiler room to mind. A short time into the track, a bell-like tone holds a sustained chime; the effect tapping into the 80’s horror film synth part of my brain. Things slowly grow more ominous until the end of the track is reached. A track with a simple charm for a horror fanatic.

I'll end my review by talking a little about Suspiria (feat. Corpoparassita), one of the darkest tracks on the album. It starts with low creaking echoes and a roaming, pulsing low drone. There are judders and strange echoes, and a sense of pregnant expectation. Some of the judders almost seem like creatures exhaling in a dark underground space, waiting and biding their time before they flood into the daylight world and shred everything they find there. This is a creepy, dark ambient horror soundscape, and it was a great place to visit.

Solaris is a dark collection of ambient and synth-based tracks, one that, for this listener at least, takes you on a tour of horror nostalgia alongside fresh terrors. I really liked the idea of a mysterious Telegram channel and how the tracks related to sinister cold cases, and it really helped to wrangle the variety of feelings evoked by the sometimes quite different moods each track embodies. As I said in my opening paragraph, I felt a sense of warmth that ran through many of the soundscapes, a fuzzy “look at this” feeling that was no doubt heightened by the cold harshness that creeps into the tracks at other times. I like horror films, books etc. that depict terrible and scary things that happen in the daytime, partly because it shows that evil doesn’t just come out at night, which makes it all the more dangerous. Solaris, for me, is horror by daylight, and that’s great!


Visit the Solaris page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also visit Sasha Darko's own website here.


I was given a review copy of this album.


Album Title: Solaris

Album Artist: Sasha Darko

Released: 30 August 2021

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

My Easy Christmas Cracker Whittling Project

I wanted to whittle something festive so I came up with this Christmas cracker design. It only needs easy cuts and takes around 20-30 mins once you get into the swing of things.

Saturday, 12 November 2022

My Dark Ambient Album Deep Space Impingement is Out Now

Almost one month ago, I collected some of my own dark ambient tracks together into an album and released it on Bandcamp. It's called Deep Space Impingement and I've decided to give myself the artist name of Reality Scruncher. The album is themed around a deep space starship and its descent into weirdness and madness. The full album description is:

A starship journeys far beyond the known, delving into strange twisted distortions of the reality that birthed it. 

Presences watch it. Probe it. Toy with it. The starship can take it. The crew... not so much. 

A droning, rumbling, space-infused album, one created in the hopes of transporting the listener into vast, futile, and malignant soundscapes.

The full album is also up on YouTube and I`ll embed it below if you'd like to check it out that way. If you listen and find yourself liking it, it's currently a free download on Bandcamp. I will also paste some Bandcamp codes at the end of this post if you'd like to add it to your library in a more permanent way. 


Bandcamp codes to redeem at https://realityscruncher.bandcamp.com/yum :

hsg6-udjl

4h22-eh8e

4cla-uebu

qssg-judq

b443-y5xt

5csl-ufab

8j4h-jquw

2fsh-yte4

dahs-b7fa

vvbd-uccb



Monday, 18 July 2022

Dark Ambient Track: Alien Craft

Dark Ambient Track: Alien Craft


Alien Craft

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

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


Friday, 15 July 2022

Stoic Interview: Daniel Riley

Stoic Interview: Daniel Riley


Stoic Interview: Daniel Riley

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

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

***

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Book Review: Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Book Review: Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius


Review By Casey Douglass


Verissimus Cover


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

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


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

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

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


Verissimus
The beginning of the Hercules story. 

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

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


Verissimus
A Stoic lesson on indifference and our automatic reactions.

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

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

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


Book Title: Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Book Author: Donald Robertson

Book Illustrator: Zé Nuno Fraga

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 9781250270955

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

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

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Morphology

Dark Ambient Review: Morphology


Review By Casey Douglass


Morphology Album Art


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



I was given a review copy of this album.


Album Title: Morphology

Album Artist: Diagnostic / Jan Robbe

Released: 28 April 2022

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Dark Ambient Track: Subdued Manifestation

 Dark Ambient Track: Subdued Manifestation


Subdued Manifestation

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

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

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

Thanks for listening :)


Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Dark Ambient Track: Exit (0)

Dark Ambient Track: Exit (0)


Exit (0) Art

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


Sunday, 22 May 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Colossus

Dark Ambient Review: Colossus


Review By Casey Douglass


Colossus Album Art

Depth is something that seems to be all too fleeting in recent times, with both the important issues, and the less important, mangled by the machines of rhetoric and sophistry. I can’t speak for anyone else, but it often brings me to the point of ceasing to give a fuck about any of it. When I’m feeling this way, rather than merely sticking my head in the proverbial sand, I switch off, and delve into a far deeper experience, losing myself in some rich dark ambient soundscapes. Atrium Carceri and Kammarheit’s Colossus is an album that’s more than suited for leaving “all of this” behind for awhile.

As is becoming a habit when I review a Cryo Chamber release, I feel that I want to spend some time on the album cover art, as they always set the mood so wonderfully. Here, a lone figure stands between two decaying structures, a small bright light on the end of their staff providing a meagre illumination of the dark cavernous space. What I like about this is how it brings to mind the way that, once we’re used to low light conditions, even the smallest glimmer of an LED can seem to light a whole bedroom. Well, it does mine at least. When you “quiet the noise of the every day” whether by turning away from the 24/7 news churn or literally shutting out the daylight, who knows what else you might discover. I also appreciate that the figure in the album art seems to be standing contentedly at rest, feet side by side, calmly experiencing the scene that surrounds them. I guess they strike me as a figure that is alone, but likely not at all lonely, and as someone who really doesn’t want to be anywhere else.

The Colossus album description gives us a number of ways that the notion of depth manifests in the album’s theme. It reveals that it is set deep underground, which for me, always brings to mind a kind of “sinking into the Earth” feeling. It aligns this with the notion of exploring forgotten civilizations, which does a wonderful job of unlocking the doorway of time, therefore conjuring ideas and dreams of long epochs stretching back into unknowable temporal dimensions. As with anything of a great age, things tend to degrade and decay, and the soundscapes reflect this in a kind of “found footage” way, with “dirty tape reels”, crackles, buzzing, and other signs of degradation.

Opening track Subpulse is a great example of the above. It begins with a low pulsing drone, and quiet rattles and crackles. A slow, multi-element beat begins to build, one that’s cosseted by choral vocals, and wet buzzings and flappings. The imagery that came to mind was of an ancient altar, one populated by a fossilized insectoid creature that’s slowly shedding the mineral deposits from its carapace, coming to twitching life. This is a track full of crackling echoes, soothing static and a kind of throbbing, wave-building atmosphere. It’s relaxing and yet energizing at the same time.

Title track Colossus is a different beast. It opens with an undulating drone, seemingly backed by a horn-like sound that I’d describe as similar to the lowing of cattle. A shimmering high tone emerges, the audio equivalent, for me, of “fairies flickering around an ancient statue in a dark place”. An occasional thumping beat sounds, and is joined by some male choral chanting. An echoing, tapping beat proper soon appears, with things in general turning more raspy and juddery after the midpoint. This track feels both shamanic and also sacral, yet the “cow lowing” sound seems to anchor it firmly into the earth. I enjoy how these elements sit in a soundscape that seems to balance the forces that it’s depicting, with everything hanging in a pleasingly tense space.

The next track, Interwoven, is another that serves up something slightly different. It starts with a muffled, watery drone, with a hint of a distant chant and high tone. There are notions of thunder, warm swells and glugging water. The lower tones feel church organ-like. The higher tones, string-like. At times, the soundscape seems to sigh and flow, and at others, there are what could be hints of chugging machinery or circular-saw-like metallic squeals. As the track progresses, things warp and twist and blare a little more. The imagery that came to mind for this track was the explorer in the album art coming across ancient technology, but tech that mirrors some of our own, showing that we aren’t nearly as different or as advanced as we might think that we are, both civilizations seemingly ‘interwoven’ in space and time.

Colossus is a dark ambient album that contains a softly throbbing, ancient darkness, one that doesn’t feel hostile or dangerous. If it is inhabited by a spirit, it might feel ancient, sad and forgotten, but it has no acidic bitterness towards events or the people involved. It just is and it just watches and waits. If you like your dark ambient music to warmly smother you with the weight of years and the echoes of antiquity, while plucking you from the modern world and setting your mental wanderings in the depths of the Earth, you should check out Colossus.

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



I was given a review copy of this album.


Album Title: Colossus

Album Artist: Atrium Carceri & Kammarheit

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 15 Feb 2022

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Dark Ambient Track: Frog Holding A Pulsing Brain

 Dark Ambient Track: Frog Holding A Pulsing Brain


Frog Holding A Pulsing Brain Image


I dreamt about a small frog, standing on its hind-legs, holding a tiny pulsing brain, while other strange things were happening around it. I wanted to create a track that tried to capture that weirdness.


Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Dark Ambient Track: Inverted Piosity

 Dark Ambient Track: Inverted Piosity


Inverted Piosity Art


I've been fucked in the head for the last week. Can't concentrate, can't do much of anything. Inverted Piosity started out as a track with some complexity, but it just didn't sound right and when I came to think about it, I just felt depressed. I cut the elements right back to only a couple of sounds that seemed to sit well together, ending up with a more pure droning track. 

Thanks if you decide to check it out.


Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Dark Ambient Track: Obstressive Compulsor

 Dark Ambient Track: Obstressive Compulsor


Obstressive Compulsor Image


With half an eye on Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, I wanted to create a track themed around my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). 

Hellish. Trapped. Alone in my own head. Those are the feelings that I was aiming for. 

Thanks if you decide to check it out :).


Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Dark Ambient Interview: Jan Robbe

Dark Ambient Interview: Jan Robbe


Jan Robbe

Jan Robbe is a composer, programmer, artist and sound designer, one with a love of broken rhythms, experimental electronic soundscapes, and the possibilities afforded by using technology in the creative process. Along with co-founding the netlabel Entity, Jan has various music projects to his name including UndaCova, Atomhead, Duncan Avoid and Diagnostic, the last of which is how we began chatting.

In this interview, Jan reveals how he got started with the tracker scene back in the 90s, the perils of getting stuck in one type of creative style, and who his inspirations are. He also tells us which software and hardware he likes to utilise, how he uses neural networks as an aid to his creations, and why he thinks that humans using A.I for creativity is a dance that benefits us greatly.


* * *


Casey: The description of the latest album under your Diagnostic name, Morphology, tells the listener that you utilised things such as non-linear feedback loops and neural networks, among other approaches, when you created this album. Before we get to that though, in the 90’s, you experimented with tracker software on hardware that was far less powerful than that which is available today. What brought the young Jan Robbe to music creation, and what sort of software and hardware were you using back then?

Jan: Back then my interest in music creation coincided with the discovery of the tracker scene. Simply searching for free music on the internet, that was also small in download size (actually a factor at that time) led me to the Fasttracker / Impulse Tracker software that many artists were using. I remember being shocked by how good the music actually was, even though netlabels were putting it online for free, it was a true explosion of creativity.

So I used Fasttracker at first, but my music wasn't very good. It wasn't until Fruityloops came along, with the support of VST plugins, that things really got interesting. I understood that I didn't actually need to buy any sophisticated hardware to make pleasing sounds, in fact it was all pretty much free of charge.

Around 1999 was when I really caught the producing bug and decided I would make a track every day, with the sole mission of making something that I could be proud of, and perhaps also something that others would enjoy.



Casey: Committing to creating a track every day and doing it for the intrinsic feeling of satisfaction are both great ways to go about any sort of creative endeavour. Have there been periods where you fell out of love with the music or the process, for whatever reason, and are there any other mental approaches or techniques that you use to help to get yourself back on track?

Jan: Especially in the very beginning there were several moments where I simply gave up. It takes a lot of time to grasp all the concepts (synthesis, mixing, compression, fx, ...), but my love for music has always brought me back. By now it's my preferred creative outlet, I almost need it to feel sane, to catch emotional unease by the throat. Or simply for my own enjoyment.

There have been periods where I just lacked the time or inspiration, but I keep in mind that these are only temporary. Life gets in the way since it's never been a sustainable thing for me. Getting stuck in a singular style has also proven to be a problem, but changing up, learning new styles is just endless fun. There's always some artist that will inspire me to make something new.



Casey: Who were some of your biggest influences and inspirations when it came to the music that you wanted to create, and how might this have led to you co-founding the Entity website?

Jan: I remember feeling bothered with commercial electronic music being very repetitive and similar. There was a clear opportunity to just break things, you know, like broken rhythms, breakbeats, but not as a looping structure... I wanted it to just keep on breaking itself with endless variation. Aphex Twin seemed like one of the first to really execute this idea properly, with Squarepusher and Autechre working in parallel and really pushing the boundary of sound. Along came Venetian Snares, which really spoke to me as I always preferred the harder side of music.

But you know, life isn't all metal and violence, so in that regard, say around 2002, I found my counterpart in ambient and more specifically, dark ambient / drone music, just to cover a wider emotional spectrum, using music as therapy.

In 2003, with my friend Nico, we started a website to promote the experimental approach in electronic music. Something that wasn't genre-bound, but simply sounding good to our ears with the artists' authenticity shining through: Entity. This way we got to really know and discover artists, work with them and help them reach some listeners, however small the audience, it didn't matter much as we felt connected in our cause. We all know we are an odd bunch anyway.

Fast forward to today, the list of artists I appreciate just keeps on growing. In my current playlist there's KK Null, SØS Gunver Ryberg, Fernanda Martins, Alphaxone, ProtoU, Marco Monfardini, Oophoi and Ionosphere to name a few.



Casey: As with so much in the music world, the technological world has advanced a great deal in a few short decades. What have been some of the most exciting tools for you to use during that time, and what does your current composing/creation environment include?

Jan: Along came things like Native Instruments Reaktor, Absynth and granular synths (most notably the native Granulizer in FLStudio and Robert Henke's Granulator) which really took sampling to the next level. In later Atomhead works I got a bit obsessed with Rob Papen's Subboombass which served as the basis for a lot of my drums / bass sequences. UHE Bazille became my go-to modular emulator, and eventually got me into the analog modular domain.

For a couple of years now I've collected Eurorack modules and experimented with them, and while there is certainly a uniqueness to this approach, and improvisation is very gratifying, I find myself returning to the digital domain since I see myself more as a composer / programmer / sound designer than a performer.

Jan relaxing while sat at his studio

Casey: For Morphology, you made use of machine learning to create the sounds it contains. What need does machine learning fulfil in your creative process, and how do you train the neural network to give you output that is in the ballpark of what you are looking for... Or do you use it more as an element of chaos and let it throw up things for you to spring off from?

Jan: I've always had an interest in how the brain works, how we perceive music and sound, so when the opportunity arises to experiment I gladly jump on the train. A.I is an important evolution, of which we are only scratching the surface. It is evolving at an enormous pace, it's actually hard to keep up, but using Google Colab's cloud computing service it became more convenient as some of the notebooks are easier to grasp and don't require an advanced degree in programming to use.

Using the Jukebox AI notebooks, there are a couple ways to go about it. One method is to prompt it with a piece of music, and have it "guess" what the continuation might be, based on a large pre-trained database of music or "model". When you are in a creative rut, it's obvious how this output could be used to your advantage since the results are entirely unpredictable.

For Morphology I found it more apt to train my own neural network, based on the material that I had already created, in order for it to produce variations of itself. Most of the time it tends to output a mess of unintelligible garble. But once in a while, something entirely unique comes out of it, something that also displays actual emotive content, that I wouldn't have created myself, though it still contains the gist of the sources so it would "fit" with the rest.


Casey: The other element mentioned in the description of Morphology is chaos, by way of non-linear feedback loops. I’d imagine that your neural network’s output produced plenty of chaos that also made it into the track. How important was it for you to have some chaos in Morphology, why does it appeal to you, and why are non-linear feedback loops a fine place to find it?

Jan: Chaos is not just a kind of randomness, it's best understood in terms of Chaos Theory, a chapter in System Dynamics, which covers emergent complexity.

Using modular synths, chaotic feedback systems can be quite easily achieved. My favourite method is to patch the output of an oscillator into a filter, then feed it back into the oscillator (SYNC or FM inputs). Many strange noises will ensue and it doesn't take a lot for it to go completely haywire, going off on its own tangents (simply automate the filter cutoff or something).

There's more methods, for example there are modules which can create Lorenz Attractors or similar chaotic functions. They can act like an LFO, without exactly repeating themselves. So it's non-repetitive, much like a non-periodic tiling (e.g. Escher or Penrose), it tends to sound more interesting, alive, unpredictable, than something which simply repeats itself.


Casey: Alongside your music creation projects, you’ve long had an interest in generative design, making use of its concepts when it comes to your fractal computer artwork, and in your 2014 game Hyperspace Invaders. At the moment, a key element seems to be the human involvement in training or assessing what the software outputs, making sure that it achieves a certain task or function. What advancements in areas such as machine learning, would you most like to see with regards to things that you might currently find restrictive or a struggle, and do you have any concerns about the paths that A.I might take us down when it comes to the creation of art in whichever form?


Hyperspace Invaders Screenshot
Hyperspace Invaders Screenshot

Jan: I can't wait for these systems to become faster and more convenient. I don't see a problem for creativity, quite the contrary. Humans will adapt to this technology, like a dance. I've heard someone say that "the code is the art", and while I agree, I also still think that selecting and applying the output are creative choices. For example, text to image, where you prompt the neural network with keywords (like "a cat in a bag travelling into another dimension")... it generates a picture based on your description. It could be the final form. Or it could inspire you to make a game or movie concept or anything you can imagine. Imagination is limitless. A.I is simply an extra tool for us to employ. An extremely powerful one at that.


Casey: As someone with a finger in so many creative pies, what does the immediate future hold for your creative endeavours?

Jan: I'm focusing on sound design and composition for video games, at least I will try and see if that's a feasible thing to find a job in. I want to check out more A.I. scripts, both in audio & image/video, it's very exciting.

Perhaps at some point I will have another stab at a mini Hyperspace Invaders iteration (hyper casual), if the situation permits it.

I'm finishing a flashcore EP with my friend Eelke of Anti-Narcose Records which will probably be my next release.

I definitely want to make more ambient-style things too, both in collab and solo. I would love to dedicate more time to Entity. But as you can probably tell, that's a lot for one plate, so, don't wait up, just have a check now & then :)


* * *


Thanks so much to Jan for taking the time to chat with me. If you’d like to read more about Morphology, I’ll be writing and posting my impressions in the coming days. (Casey from the future says looky here).

You can find Jan’s creations in a variety of places, such as Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Facebook. You’ll find his digital art (such as the picture below) at FRAMEofMIND, and the netlabel at Entity. You an also find Hyperspace Invaders on Steam.


Catharsis Artwork by FRAMEofMIND
Catharsis by FRAMEofMIND

Sunday, 1 May 2022

Dark Ambient Track: Turbid Depression

 Dark Ambient Track: Turbid Depression


Turbid Depression

I've made another dark ambient track, this one focussed on the theme of depression. I wanted it to be stifling, oppressive, swampy... I think I achieved what I was going for.

As in my previous tracks, I did all of the editing in Audacity with my own field-recorded samples. I made some use of PaulStretch but most of it was created by playing with speed and pitch.

Thanks if you decide to check it out :).

Saturday, 30 April 2022

Horror Book: ANNUS HORRIBILIS is Out Now

 Horror Book: ANNUS HORRIBILIS is Out Now


ANNUS HORRIBILIS


Bag of Bones Press has just released an anthology of horror stories set in 2022. My own story Pie Holes is included. Click the link for more info: http://mybook.to/AnnusHorribilis

Friday, 29 April 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Dionysius Supernova

Dark Ambient Review: Dionysius Supernova


Review By Casey Douglass



Dionysius Supernova Cover Art


Whether you believe in some all supreme being or not, the universe is already an awe inspiring place, with vast distances to which we can put numbers but can barely visualize, to energy and crushing forces that create and destroy beyond anything that us humans can experience. I’ve always appreciated dark ambient / space ambient that manages to impart some small element of this immensity, and Orphiká’s Dionysius Supernova is the most recent that has crossed my mental space.

The album description describes Dionysius Supernova as conceiving “the cosmic forces of the Universe as a Dionysian blast as well as a context of an inner travel into the Sun,” so you can make of that what you will. As is often the case, my mind took things in its own direction, but the sounds themselves do fit the theme of vast energies being expended or experienced. The sounds are big, and vary in texture, from fizzing, sometimes screechy energy bursts, to deep, smooth down-swells, like a giant finger pushing down on reality. They also felt to me, like a knife-edge type sensation, the balance between creation and destruction being decided by the thinnest of borders.

Opening track Universe Metanoia is a fine introduction to the album, the audio equivalent of a beautiful sunrise, yet one in which you feel like you are merely inches from the star itself. The sustained tones and drone are joined by higher notes that sweep and flow and judder, always reminding you that no matter how much light is before you, there is unending darkness behind. The soundscape feels immense, energetic and worshipful, cresting in shimmery waves. It feels like a variety of forces, both physical and metaphysical, are converging for your own enjoyment.

If the first track felt like “light”, the second track, Dionysius Supernova, felt like a heavy encounter between light and dark. It begins with deep, slow tones and a drone, soon joined by fizzing bursts of buzzing energy. A higher tone crests and climbs, but it seems like it’s struggling to break through, maybe due to distance. The fizzing discharges and pulses, and a higher piping tone joins. Things escalate as the midpoint approaches, and the track edges closer to a noise-based experience. Things distort and crackle at their limits. The high tones almost become uncomfortable and the fizzing discharges continue to boom in the low end. This track felt like one of struggle and strain, but also of majesty, and things being just as they need to be.

Blackened Stars is probably my favourite track though, and I think it is in the way that it presents the cold, deathly aspect of darkness. It opens with flares of static and a low, distant tone that seems to menace as it roams nearer and shrinks further. After listening to the first two tracks and feeling pleasantly drowsy, my mind took the sounds of this track and had me thinking about some kind of gigantic fortress floating in space, a strange purple light occasionally revealing strange markings on its walls. I might possibly have been reading too much Warhammer 40K. This construction sat in black space with no other stars, just the light that it emitted as it throbbed its way across the endless expanse. There are higher sustained tones, almost alarm-like, which further reinforced my sense of foreboding. I really liked this track!

Dionysius Supernova is, for me, an album that stays just the right side of “harsh”. It’s noisy and droning enough to fill my ears and mind with tones that give me a break from the perpetual anxiety and depression cycle that seems to live there. I’ve only described the first three tracks; there are eight in total, and they are all excellent. If you want to float on a comfy bed of droning galactic-noise, to have your mind blasted (in a nice way) by distortions and rumbles and climbing tones, you should check out Dionysius Supernova.

Visit the Dionysius Supernova page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out the track Constant Horizons below:



I was given a review copy of this album.


Album Title: Dionysius Supernova

Album Artist: Orphiká

Label: Noctivagant

Released: 20 March 2022