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

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Dark Ambient Track: Ectoplasmic Communication

 

Ectoplasmic Communication

Each of the dark ambient tracks that I attempt to create gets more and more complicated. This is something I want to keep to a minimum, as with that complexity comes the chance of over-burdening myself with what I hope to do, and then losing the drive to do it at all. That being said, I'm quite pleased with Ectoplasmic Communication, the latest track I've completed. 

I rubbed up against a lot of things that I wanted to do but couldn't. I did reach a place where I was pleased enough with it that I felt done though. As in my previous tracks, I enjoyed using the field-recordings that I'd recorded myself. I also purchased Audiobulb's Ambient as I felt that it would help me when noodling around with filters and whatnot, trying to find interesting sounds. It's a great bit of software and I used it on one element of Ectoplasmic Communication to bring some weirdness to the soundscape. Everything else was done in Audacity, as before.

Thanks if you decide to check out my track :).


Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Return to the Zombie Zone

Dark Ambient Review: Return to the Zombie Zone


Review By Casey Douglass



Return to the Zombie Zone Cover

Mundane anxieties are boring. Fantastical ones are exciting. That seems to be the general rule, speaking for myself at least. The same goes for dreams. Give me a “fleeing the monster” nightmare over a “being continuously late” anxiety dream any day. I mean any night. Trappa Skunk’s Return to the Zombie Zone is a jazzy, dark ambient, dungeon-synth album that’s based on just such a situation, one in which the plot follows someone heading from the countryside, into the city, and eventually, to the underground realm. There are zombies to avoid, wizardry, and chaos, and Trappa Skunk’s music gives us the soundtrack to this horror flick.

For me, Return to the Zombie Zone contained a quirky, upbeat sort of horror. Think The Simpsons’ Tree House of Horror mixed with elements of Big Trouble in Little China and The Walking Dead. There’s warmth here, with plucky whimsical rhythms and vocals, along with jazzy elements that add a kind of melancholy to the 80s horror atmosphere.

Ghost Town Blues is a great track that encapsulates some of these elements. It begins with plucked notes and a swelling drone, before harmonica-like tones set up a jaunty melody. There are some sweeping, ominous notes, but then things turn jaunty again. This alternating between the ominous and the cheerful continues, with added doses of buzzing, fuzzing rhythm, at one point ending with a sound similar to the Metal Gear Solid “brriiiiiing” that the guards emit when they spot you. A fun track that felt like I was on a bus journey, watching the strangeness of the town drifting ever past my window.

Another track that stood out for me was The Sewer. It opens with a kind of “police chase” feeling, the low growly notes meshing with higher blares and a scratchy beat. As the track continues, an organ-like tone makes it feel a little like being at the fun fair, with flurries of piano notes and moments of quiet hanging threat that almost bring things to a total stop. I can imagine the flashing lights of a cop car reflecting back from oozing brickwork as they race through a large sewer, the furtive denizens scurrying away like the rats that they share their home with. Another fun track.

A track that felt a little more sedate was Trailer Park. It begins with slow, warm electronic tones, and then enters a kind of “jazz lounge near closing time” feeling, piano-like notes tinkling alongside the deeper tones. A scuffed beat and some brassy tones join the melody. It feels whimsical too after the midpoint, when faster flurries of notes and chiming tones begin. This is a sad or mellow track, and for me, suggested a trailer park lit by faint moonlight, a park filled with strange creatures conducting their nightly business.

The final track that I wanted to mention is Unholy Temple of The Chaos Monks, because what would an apocalyptic landscape be like without religion showing up and making things far worse. This track opens with plucked notes and chant-like vocals, ones with a warbly quality behind them. There are chimes, gongs and organ-like tones, and both male and female chants, setting up the impression of a candle-lit space of worship, one rife with dark happenings and sinister gods. An ominous, apocalyptic track.

Return to the Zombie Zone is a fun jaunt through a dangerous environment. While I like my music more dark ambient than anything else, I appreciated the dark whimsy and the way that certain of the tracks brought to mind various retro horror movies or atmospheres. I also suspect that the sequence of events hinted at by the track titles would make an excellent framework for a table-top gaming session, if put in the hands of a competent game master.

Visit the Return to the Zombie Zone page on Bandcamp for more information. Trappa Skunk has also posted the whole album on YouTube which you can check out below: 



I was given a review copy of this album.


Album Title: Return to the Zombie Zone

Album Artist: Trappa Skunk

Released: 24 March 2022

Friday, 22 April 2022

Dark Ambient Track: Something in the Woods

 

Something in the Woods

After my initial 60 second stab at some dark ambient a few days ago, I've created another track. Something in the Woods is five times longer, and for me, was two or three times more complex to create. I still had fun though, which is all I'm interested in right now.

I themed the track about the uneasy feeling that woodlands can sometimes create. It's no wonder there is so much folklore linked to them.

This is a slow-boiling track, pun intended, as one of the main samples used (all recorded by me, which is very satisfying too) was a boiling kettle. Other sounds include tramping through leaves and tingsha chimes, but all were caressed with speed adjustments and pitch changes. 

My first track relied heavily on the Paulstretch filter, which is something I don't want to become dependent on, so this track hardly makes use of it. The way the track builds did present me with a few issues around mastering, but I think it sounds good enough. I hope lol.

Thanks if you decide to check it out :)

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Dark Ambient Interview: Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse

Dark Ambient Interview: Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse


Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse

Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse is a dark ambient musician whose music features unnerving atmospheres, spacious claustrophobia, and impressions of murk and horror that provide a soothing escape from the mundane. His YouTube channel has videos with views in the millions, and his music is often used as the backing for creepy story readings and video games.

In the interview below, Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse shares why dark ambient music is an escape for him, and why dark things can exert such a pull. He shares some of the elements of his creative process, such as the tools he uses and the feelings that he is aiming for. He also discusses some of the music that most influenced his own tastes, and how he grew his YouTube channel over the years.

I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed learning about him.


* * *


Casey: In your 2019 interview with Readersvoice.com, you revealed that you started making music when you were 12, and that you made your first ambient tracks around that time. What do you think drew the young ICA into creating music at that time in your life, which other styles/genres did you experiment with, and what do you think eventually brought you into focussing on the dark ambient genre in recent years?

Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse: Music was an escape for me. Creating, also, was an escape. With the exception of movies, I've always created my own forms of every media I've enjoyed. When I was young I was very much into visual arts, first, but that went by the wayside when I lost all the comics I collected. Music felt more like a career possibility, too. Also, music was more of an escape for me. I could lay down and listen to it in the dark for hours and just zone out. A more passive experience, you might say.

I think my best memories of being a kid were when I was entirely alone in an empty house, with no responsibilities, and I was just creating or consuming media. I'd say that there's been aspirational quality in my music, in the sense that it's an audible way to access a better reality. Or unreality, rather. I want to make music that sounds like the world I'd rather live in.

I've done a lot of different styles over the years, but I tend to focus on minimal and hypnotic things. Nothing has really felt true to myself but dark ambient, however. Well, harsh noise is something I also enjoy and feel a kinship with, but I'm not really satisfied with the results when I make it. I think it lacks the textural subtleties I want. And, realistically, it's not healthy for me to make anymore, considering I already have a little tinnitus going on.


Casey: Music certainly seems to have therapeutic power, whether helping someone to escape from mundane reality, or a particular issue that is dragging them down. Was there a particular period in your past where you felt that consuming or creating music, whether dark ambient or not, probably saved your life, and if so, is it something you can speak about a little?

Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse: Music definitely gave me something to do when I really needed distractions. Also, I think having some of kind skill to hone was also useful. There were many times when music provided an oasis of escape. I prefer people hear my music in light of their own interpretation and experiences, so I don't want to get into specifics, but a lot of my sound comes from very dark times. Even better than the distracting aspects, I think making music allowed me to do something with my inner poison rather than just letting it erode my mind. I suspect that's true of a lot of art. It's an escape, a distraction and also a form of sublimation.

Also, a lot of times music has allowed me to deal with negative emotions in a way that gave them a sense of "place" or "context" rather than them being just these jagged, terrible things. A type of self-communication. Many musicians have said things I felt, but more eloquently, and their eloquence gave me more clarity. A good example, to me, is Chris Cornell. I think he has one of the best voices in music and there's so many songs of his that seem to embody my life. It may be overplayed by now, but when I first heard Black Hole Sun around age ten, it was like a religious experience. I think it was the first time I heard a song that made it okay to wish for the destruction of all things, including myself. Socially, it probably had a bad effect on me and increased my desire to be a delinquent, but it felt really good to hear. It was honest. Before I heard stuff like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Tool, etc. I only heard my mom's religious music, Michael Jackson and Billy Ray Cyrus. And both were way too hopeful for my actual temperament. Hearing Grunge for the first time gave me access to a whole new approach to music.

Later I got more into extreme forms of music, dark ambient being one, but I think the same principle applies. Being able to aesthetically reconcile, and embrace, one's own demise, and the demise of everything, is useful, to say the least.


Casey: I feel the same way about dark ambient music, in the way that it feels true to my own self. I think, for me, it stems from being so afraid of the dark, or the things that might lurk in it, when I was younger. Now, when I hear a dark ambient track that inspires awe with rumbling drones and strange scratches, it feels like I’m immersing myself in the beauty of the thing that used to scare me. A letting go maybe. What feelings or impressions do you most enjoy when listening to dark ambient music, and do you have a dark ambient track or album that you’ve listened to more than any others?


Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse: I relate to dark ambient and all "horror"-themed media in the same way. I suspect the concept of a "counterphobic attitude" probably describes some of the appeal of art with dark themes. Not all of it, but there's something psychologically satisfying about getting close to the things that frighten, sadden and agonize oneself, but without them being real. Symbolic or abstract things are a way to do this. I would be constantly interested in dark fictional media even while very young while, at the same time, trying desperately to escape the real darkness and threats that were in my life.

Brian Eno's Neroli is the dark ambient piece I've listened to the most. He called it "thinking music," I believe. It's not the most distinguished piece, but it's wickedly effective.

There's a few songs I'd like to mention, also, which will give an insight into how I formed my sound. They are:

Last Ap Roach by Squarepusher.
Wildlife by Penguin Cafe Orchestra.
Flowered Knife Shadows by Harold Budd.

Of these, Flowered Knife Shadows is almost up there with Eno's Neroli. The music of Sunn O))) and Thomas Koner's works like Daikan, Teimo and Permafrost are hugely influential, too. After hearing these works, you can see how nothing I do is very original. It's a recreation of stuff I've most enjoyed.

I'd say dark ambient takes me to a place I'd much rather be. A world without people or things. Just large, empty buildings, barren mountains, gray skies. When I played Doom a lot as a kid, I wish I lived there. I would see the backgrounds and the sky and it was just so much better than anything else. I'd also see artist's depictions of the early earth, before life evolved, and those always seemed much better.

A weird horror writer I like, Thomas Ligotti, spoke of the aesthetics of decay. That's also something I'm very into. Not the decay of organisms, but old buildings decaying, old objects. Moth and rust, corrupting it all. I've had the pleasure of exploring such buildings before and there's always a peaceful, dark sense to them. Same with natural landscapes where there aren't many people. Old photographs, too, are very interesting to me.

In many of my videos, I try to have images that represent what the music sounds like to me. Not all of them, but a lot of the desolate images are very much a visual parallel to the sounds.

If my nausea could handle VR, I'd try to stay in places that looked like that as much as possible.


Casey: Something else that you said in the Readersvoice.com interview is a remark about how you make your dark ambient music, calling it a “very mechanical and unintuitive process”. I really liked your honesty in describing your process in this way, as in the age of social media, it’s so easy to be tempted into embellishing or overcomplicating things in an effort to gain clout, or mystique, or whatever. When you’re exploring and manipulating sounds, how do you know when you’ve found something that feels right, that seems to be what you are looking for, and how often are you surprised by the things that emerge?

Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse: With my music now, I just polish it until it sounds addictive. When the song sounds like something I could listen to for hours, then I know it's done. It's really as simple as that.

I'm part of the audience when I create, but, for example, when I do visual art, the main goal is to see how distortion changes the feel of an image. In the same way, it's the effects and distortions and blemishes that form the addictive and attractive qualities of the dark ambient. I especially do this with my project, Death on Cassette. With that, I wanted to make something even more personally rewarding. It aligns with my aesthetics even more so than Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse, usually. At least lately. I'm often surprised by what emerges.


Death On Cassette

To clarify about the unintuitiveness of it, though, I would say it's not at all like playing an instrument, which I see as more intuitive and interactive. In the way I create, it's more like working with images. Taking a single image and juxtaposing it with other images, or decaying and distorting and filtering the image until new qualities are seen in it. It's more detached and cerebral than coming from a place of feeling. It's construction rather than expression.


Casey: What equipment or software do you currently use when creating your dark ambient tracks, what does your creative workflow tend to look like, and how do you deal with things such as motivation, energy management etc.?

Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse: I use FL Studio, Ambient Grains, Ambient by Audio Bulb and Audacity, primarily. The workflow is always the same:


1. Start with a simple motif. Could be a drone, or a bit of noise. Something that sounds good.

2. Slowly add in other sounds that complement it, or distort it through effects.

3. Keep doing this until the desired result is achieved.


It really is not complicated. I have done much more complicated music before and this is nowhere near as involved.

Motivation is never a problem. I monitor my mental states, constantly. If I feel like it's time to make music, and I have time, then I make it. It's a compulsion. I have to create things. I'll stop when I'm dead. I may not do music forever, but I'll be doing something. I think if people find trouble being motivated to create art (of any kind), they're probably not cut out for it.

Saying that, a lack of motivation may come from someone not being really clear to themselves about what they want. There's a difference between thinking you want something and really wanting it. If the sounds are compelling, I'll be motivated to make more of them. Even though I can technically do more complex and "normal" stuff, I just don't feel the need or interest.

Energy management is harder to deal with, though. I tend to be lethargic or irritated a lot of the time. I don't have nearly as much energy as I'd like. So, when I feel like I have the energy to do something, I always do it. I don't know when I'll get another chance.


Casey: Your YouTube channel currently gains around 300,000 views and 1,000 subs per month, and certain of your videos sit at over one million total views. Have you made use of any particular strategies for growing your channel, and what do you think about the general appetite for dark ambient out in the big wide world? I ask this second part as someone who finds it incredibly rare to meet someone who has even heard of the genre.

Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse: When it comes to growing a channel, the best strategy I've employed is make a video that a lot of people will click on. It's an algorithm game, really. YouTube controls your reach. That's just a fact. So, you have to play their game. There's no getting around it. Something simple and direct like "Nuclear Winter" did great. Simple and direct usually does, so long as the image is good. I don't do it with every video, but it's helpful.


Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse YouTube Screenshot

That all said, growing a channel is a very slow process. G. M. Danielson made a video about me very early on and I immediately started getting more views. I'm eternally grateful to him for that. Other narrators like Lets Read also used my audio early on. I advertised that narrators could use my sounds in their videos, royalty free, and that definitely helped my work spread. I think a lot of artists start out asking for too much money and being too controlling of their work. I like Creepy Pastas and audio narration things, so it's just cool to me that I can be a part of that. But even beyond that, it's a smart move to get one's name out there.

As far as the general appetite for dark ambient, I don't know what I think, really. It might get more popular. It might get less popular. It's really hard to say. I think, though, that ambient music in general is becoming more popular. Even "lo fi beats for study" is technically used as a form of ambient music, in the sense that Brian Eno defined "ambient". YouTube makes it easier. So, while the interest in "dark" ambient may have an ebb and flow over time, I think ambient music in general is here to stay. Or, rather, people will be using instrumental music in more ambient ways. It will become more common as a way to enhance other activities.


* * *

Thanks very much to Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can find the dark ambient of Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse and his other project Death on Cassette on Bandcamp:

https://ironcthulhuapocalypse.bandcamp.com/

https://deathoncassette.bandcamp.com/

On YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/c/IronCthulhuApocalypse/featured

And also by searching on platforms such as Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.


You can also read my review of one of his Death on Cassette releases: The Dead Dreamer Tapes.

Monday, 18 April 2022

I Created Another Dark Ambient Track

Sonorous Graveyard

6 years ago, I tried my hand at making a dark ambient track. It wasn't very good. Today, I finally had another attempt. It's still not that good, but it's better, in my opinion at least.

The previous attempt happened in the Reaper DAW, software that I've still yet to get to grips with. It might help if I had even the smallest amount of music creation knowledge. I remembered one of Noctilucant's YouTube videos in which he shows that he likes tinkering in Audacity, and this morning, I decided today was the day.

I found this tutorial on making dark ambient tracks in Audacity, and loosely followed the steps laid out, with my own previously recorded sounds and my own hunches about effect settings etc. The end result pleases me more than it likely should, but that's okay. The sounds that I used were recordings I made of my Tibetan Tingsha bells, a rainy downpour, and the sound of my knuckle hitting our metal garage door.

Sunday, 10 April 2022

Book Review: Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life

Book Review: Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life


Review by Casey Douglass




Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life Cover


When I scroll down my word-processing document, the one in which I’m writing this review, the application hangs as I get to the part where I copy-pasted some details about Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life. It most often does this when I’ve accidentally pasted something that is trying to access the internet, usually an embedded picture. In this instance, all that I can see is stuff from the Amazon store page, the ISBN number, prices, and the blurb. No pictures. Is there a hidden element that the removing of all formatting didn’t reveal? Should I close and reopen the document? No, because this is exactly what feeds my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), this need to strive for the certainty that things are “okay”. Instead, it just gave me a pretty great introduction paragraph for my review of a book about someone who knows the struggle of OCD all too well.

Shala Nicely is a counsellor and therapist who specializes in the treatment of OCD. Shala is well acquainted with the twisted ways in which OCD can warp someone’s life, as it has been her companion for nearly all of hers. From a very young age, after a particularly trying and nasty accident, a young Shala started experiencing intrusive thoughts and images that depicted her parents being decapitated by a guillotine. She worried that these thoughts meant something was wrong with her, that she was a bad person for having them, that she needed to “make them right”. Whenever the intrusive thought occurred, young Shala forced herself to replay the mental grisly scene again, but this time, she had to change what happened, saving her parents and protecting them in the arena of her mind. This had to be done every night. Over time, Shala felt that she had to pray to “tame the ever-morphing monster in my head”. This saw her attempts to fend off the upsetting images evolve into praying to God in a very particular way. The words and names had to be said in the correct order, and they had to “feel right”. If things didn’t feel right, she repeated the prayer until it did, which often involved landing in repetitions that ended in multiples of four, sometimes saying them as much as sixteen times before things felt okay.

Everyone has strange, violent, or sickening, scary thoughts. Everyone. Our brains are like pop-corn makers where every now and then, a piece of corn pops so high that it escapes and bounces onto the floor. When it was amongst all the others, it was unremarkable. Now, that piece grabs our attention, and if you have OCD or are just in a stressed, tired and depleted state, you begin to worry about it, which increases the likelihood that you’d react in the same way if it happens again. We become concerned, afraid, obsessed... and whatever uncertainty resides in the situation fuels it and raises the stakes even more. We might find an action to take that reduces the uncertainty, such as checking, reassurance seeking or something else, and when you’ve carried that action out, you may even feel some relief. Sadly, this is the compulsion part of OCD, and just reinforces the whole cycle of struggling. I fell into this cycle when I was ten years old, and had the (dis)pleasure of my OCD changing theme and morphing many times over the years. I know now that the theme isn’t important however, it’s just the gremlin that is OCD, attacking the things that I care about most.

I deliberately called OCD a gremlin, as that is one of the things Shala does so well in the book: she personifies her OCD. Initially, it is a monster whose name she doesn’t know. As she learns more about it, particularly when she starts to receive effective therapy, she gives her OCD form, seeing it as acting like a small child having a tantrum. When her OCD wasn’t worried, she “imagined it to be quietly knitting, miniature needles clicking away.” When it was acting up, she envisioned it as “a pathetic little creature waddling along behind me, whining about all the things that would kill us, dragging the tissue it used to wipe its runny nose.” This also leads to some funny moments, particularly when she is doing Exposure and Response therapy to expose to her anxiety. In one instance, she separated a sandwich into its individual components and laid them on the bathroom floor of her hotel room. She then remade the sandwich and ate it, causing her to be at a solid 10/10 in anxiety, but also so happy that she’d stood her ground: “I also felt joyous, as my OCD stood up and staggered, its eyes rolling into the back of its head, and passed out on the floor.”

Shala writes so very well, using different flashbacks and events to set the scene, describing the environment in a vivid way (OCD sufferers are Olympic level “noticers” after all) and never flinching from revealing things that would be hard for anyone to reveal. The honesty Shala embraced, for a therapist to reveal the new ways that her OCD infiltrated her own life while she was treating others, is amazing. She didn’t bow down to her OCD’s dire warnings of “People won’t want to be treated by you when they find out what you’re really like!” or the discomfort of carrying on anyway. I can’t speak for anyone else but I’d happily have Shala as my therapist! It’s just classic OCD, the way that it focusses on things that are important to you or that you are most afraid of. If you had a pencil that meant the world to you, and you also had OCD, your mind would find a way to worry about that pencil, about what might happen to it, how you’d cope if it was lost, stolen or broken, and what it means about you that you are so concerned. That’s how OCD operates. The ultimate propagandist. On the other hand, I can fully imagine someone with a the fear of winning the lottery. Maybe they heard about it rarely making people happy and decided they were happy enough as it is? Who knows! So they don’t buy a ticket. But then their mind says “What if you bought a ticket and didn’t realise it, and you’ve won, and there's a knock on the door one day by someone bearing an oversized cheque?” Now they feel that they have to start checking their pockets to be certain that they didn’t buy one. Then their mind says “What if someone buys you a ticket as a present? You’d better tell everyone you don’t want that... but don’t be too obvious about it, you don’t want them to think you’re weird!”... and down and down into the OCD spiral they go.

This isn’t a self-help treatment book, although Shala has co-written one of those too called: Everyday Mindfulness for OCD: Tips, Tricks & Skills for Living Joyfully, but a book in which you can see someone’s struggles laid bare. You can read about how Shala journeyed through the fear of wondering what was happening to her, the many failed attempts to deal with things and find the appropriate therapy. You’ll also see the friends and the other people that she talked to, and how she found a way to navigate her life and to bring what she’s learned to people who are also struggling. I read Is Fred in the Refrigerator? while in a severe period during which my own OCD was getting me down and for me, it was the ideal kind of book for that situation. As seems quite typical for a self-pressuring anxious person, I’ve read most of the “go to” books that get mentioned when it comes to OCD: Brain Lock, The Imp of The Mind, books about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, CBT, and Exposure and Response Prevention etc. Sometimes however, you just need to see someone else going through the same stuff and coming out on the other side, even if the other side is still often a struggle.

If you struggle with OCD to any degree, I think you’ll find some welcome comfort and companionship in Shala’s book. If you have never felt the touch of OCD and would like to understand it more, in a quite visceral way, I think that this is also the book for you.


Visit Shala at her website and check out
Is Fred in the Refrigerator? at this link.


Book Title: Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life

Book Author: Shala Nicely

Publisher: Nicely Done, LLC

Released: May 2018

ISBN: 978-1732177000

Current Price: $14.55 / £11.82 (Paperback). $9.40 / £7.17 (Kindle).

Thursday, 7 April 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Memory Alpha

Dark Ambient Review: Memory Alpha


Review By Casey Douglass



Memory Alpha Cover Art


The simulation hypothesis, the notion that we are actually living in a Matrix-style simulation, is one of the most intriguing ideas in philosophy and science fiction. As our own ability to create intricate virtual worlds has increased massively since the days of Pong, who knows what we’ll be able to achieve in another fifty years? If we are indeed living in a simulation, maybe we can even find the CTRL-ALT-DELETE equivalent and somehow gain some admin privileges! ProtoU’s dark ambient album Memory Alpha, seems to be infused with the audio-exploration equivalent of prodding the nature of this reality, and maybe even revealing the world in which the simulation is running!

The album artwork seems to reveal an enigmatic glimpse of what might be happening. Some kind of spherical technological construction squats in a dark industrial room, power or data connections snaking away from its base into the shadows. What little light there is seeps in through a possibly window-shaped aperture, with the top of the sphere illuminated by some kind of spotlight. The sphere itself looks like a computer covered with boxy electronic components, but when you zoom in, it’s hard not to see the lines and patterns between them as pathways or roads. With this in mind, you might wonder if you are actually looking at buildings rather than components. The scene is set.

When it comes to the music (I got to the music eventually!), you’ll find harsher industrial sounds wrapped in a cosy floating warmth that anyone familiar with ProtoU’s music will be pleasingly at home with. Sasha creates some wonderfully balanced soundscapes in which darkness and light seem to be friends rather than adversaries. I might describe it as the audio equivalent of the darkness pushing you over, and the light moving a comfy mattress behind, for you to land on. Memory Alpha’s sounds include metallic clinkings, mechanical whirrings, beeps, and rumbling drones, with muffling warm-water distortions, uplifting harmonies and delicate chimes. I also felt that the more mechanical, darker tracks were set in the harsh world that is running the “simulation” mentioned above, but the lighter, airier ones were depicting the kinder conditions inside the simulation itself.

One of my favourite tracks is Capsule of Decaying Dreams. It begins with a metallic impact and the deep whirring of something spinning up. A high whine sits in the background, wet buzzes, plastic crackles and popping beeps hinting at technological activity. Things shift and throb, with distant echoes and energy pulses creating a gritty soundscape that seems to boil and then fall away into a ghostly whisper-infested space. If this track is set “in the real”, to borrow a Matrix term, the next, Memory Alpha, feels like it might be inside the simulation. It starts with a light swirl flecked with floating high tones. It feels crystalline, with a hint of wind and a feeling of “ahhh”. After the midpoint, the track deepens and string-like tones are joined by faint rustling or dripping sounds. This is a warm track, and seems to suggest how it might feel to rise from a deathly slumber, finding yourself beneath the dappled sunlight of a great tree, the sound of the natural world and the golden light all slowly bringing you up from the depths that you’ve left behind.

The last track that I wanted to talk about is Waves of Coma. This a track that opens with a muffled, watery feeling, in pressure rather than wetness. An unsteady hollow vibration begins, a trickling or rattling sound joining it. Distorted voices bleed through, small beeps and strange echoes making the soundscape feel juddery and tenuous. Around the midpoint, whispers lick your ear, joined by a distortion that makes them seem like they are being washed down the drain. Towards the end of the track, there are some sad buzzing tones, with things becoming fuzzier before they dial down. I particularly liked the buzzing tones as they seemed similar to those in the last track on one of ProtoU’s previous albums Echoes of the Future, the track in question called Vessels of God. Echoes of the Future was about humanity leaving the Earth. Maybe the simulation, if there is one, is actually running on a spaceship sat in the deepest part of space? It’s a fun thought, and a pleasing possible link between two great albums.

Memory Alpha is a dark ambient album that seems to take the listener on a gentle tour of a museum. Instead of stuffed dead creatures and crumbling parchments, this museum is one that is full of life, light and memory. The outside might seem cold, industrial and barren, but when you’re inside, that all falls away into perpetual summer afternoons and sunlight-spackled green spaces, populated by the people who were living much happier lives. You know it’s all fake, merely a simulation, but that doesn’t stop you wanting to escape there.

Visit the Memory Alpha page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also checkout the track Waves of Coma below:



I was given a review copy of this album.


Album Title: Memory Alpha

Album Artist: ProtoU

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 1 March 2022