Transmissions from the heart of darkness…

in the cave of dreams (detail 2)

in the cave of dreams (detail 2)

As I discussed in my last post, I frequently use music to help lift me from those moments that life leaves you in the deep, dark pit of depression. But that doesn’t mean everything I listen to during those times is happy and bright. Sometimes visiting those dark spaces inhabited by others is just the tonic I need to reassure me that darkness can indeed be a shared source of inspiration and creation.

A case in point is Des cendres a la cave, a French music blog “dedicated to deep, dark and disturbing music of all kinds.” Besides offering extensive reviews of alternative dark music, each day they feature free music to download that covers as broad a spectrum of sound as their mission statement implies. These daily offerings can be followed on their Facebook page. I’ve discovered countless artists/bands/projects through them and their site is one I view religiously. But maybe their single most important project of late has been their 5 part series of words/music, Transmissions from the Heart of Darkness.

Although I didn’t stumble across the Transmission series until their third installment, I refrained from listening to part III in February and went back to discover and experience the series from its beginnings. Released in December of 2012, Transmissions from the Heart of Darkness, part I: A noise at the end of the tunnel features 13 tracks of “dark, ambient experimental drone and industrial shoe-gaze doom noise” (to paraphrase a few of the tags they use) by musicians both familiar and completely unknown to me. While there are artists like Cezary Gapik, who has a long history of self released material dating back to the late 1990’s, on this release, it’s the artists I’m unfamiliar with that always draw my attention. Whether it’s discovering the sheer wealth of sonic mayhem from Crowhurst, (L.A. composer Jay Gambit) or the extended improvisational layers of sound which nestle atop transcendent soundscapes and field recordings from the duo Caulbearer, I knew this series of recordings was something I would enjoy for many, many listens.

In January of this year, Transmissions from the Heart of Darkness, part II: A ghost in the belly of the machine, was released. Featuring 15 tracks and having a decidedly longer playing time, part 2 upped the ante for what I would expect from the rest of the series. While including tracks by accomplished musicians like  “sensitive minimalist” Alexandre Navarro, composer and photographer Tanner Volz’s solo project Anklebiter (both of whom have recorded for the wonderful American label Tympanik Audio), IDM, glitch maven Dirk Geiger and French electronic composer and remixer Thomas Pujols’s project Nebulo, without a doubt the highlight of part II was discovering Laurent Girard’s project Melodium. Self described as “music for sadly happy people”, his music is at once simplistically deep, upliftingly dark and blends hints of folk, pop, electronic and classical. Truly, truly stunning compositions. And having been releasing material since 1999/2000, how I’ve gone this long without experiencing his sonic beauty is mystifying to me.

February saw the release of Transmissions from the Heart of Darkness, part III: Escaping, and Transmissions from the Heart of Darkness, part IV: In limbo. This double dose of goodness had me working the internet overtime to try to discover all the new projects that were included in the 26 combined tracks. And while I didn’t listen to part III until I had downloaded and listened to the first two parts, I had seen the tracklist for part III and the inclusion of 15 artists, of which I knew none, guaranteed I would have hours and hours of fruitful search in my future. I was not disappointed. Several artists have since gone on to become personal favorites of mine, including the ethereal shimmers of retina.it, the post-progrock machinations of thot, the relentless post-industrial mayhem of The Peoples Republic of Europe and the incessant, distorted thrum and grind of Imaginary Forces (I especially love this project, as it bears many of the same stylistic nuances of my own compositions.) Part III is much more abrasive and industrial than its predecessors and it was a decidedly good idea on my part not to dive in here as my opinion of this series would have been skewed if I had. Needless to say, though, it is still one of my favorite compilations to have downloaded in quite awhile and I have gained countless hours of listening pleasure from the 15 projects included. Part IV, on the otherhand, features several artists who are well known and respected along with the occasional unknown project. Starting off Part IV is composer, musician, writer Aiden Baker with his droning cycle of tonal frequencies, “Study in Pulsations”. This should give you a pretty good idea of the overall sonic thrust of this release. And it only gets deeper and deeper with tracks from Craig Murphy’s project Solipsism (whose work with Lee Norris’s Norken and Nacht Plank projects is what first drew me to his material), an 11 minute piece from Stomoxine Records‘ Nicolas Godin, Ectoplasm (sorry, my fonts aren’t creative enough to write that moniker correctly) and , as the kicker, a track from Ben Chatwin’s beautiful, beautiful project Talvihorros. I’ve become enamored over the last couple of years with Ben’s work and anytime I find his name on a release, whether a full release or on a compilation, I will crawl broken glass to download it. Of the first four releases in this series, this is the one I find myself returning to again and again for the sheer joy of its cohesive aural quality.

Finally after 2 months of waiting, April saw the release of the final chapter, Transmissions from the Heart of Darkness, part V, Elsewhere. While the track list for this release may seem a bit slight, there are only 8 compositions in total, 6 of the 8 tracks run at least 8 or 9 minutes with the longest running nearly 18 and a half minutes! Because of that, this is the release which has taken me the longest to appreciate. Possibly the most ambient and ambitious of the five, Elsewhere is the calm after the storm. Bringing the cycle to a well deserved and appropriate climax, Elsewhere sounds less a finishing statement than the natural decay in a cycle of echoes that leaves one feeling a slight sense of loss, an underlying sense of completion and the lingering memory of a journey across distant, uncharted lands whose sights and sounds will haunt the traveler for years to come. Truly, these are transmissions from the heart of darkness.

With each of the Transmission releases, a section of a “steampunk” short story by the singularly named Alistar is included. While at the present time only the first installment has been translated into English, each of the 5 releases contains a continuing chapter from the full story. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the story and the liberal use of slang and period vocabulary, any online translating service is only going to give you a rough idea of the continuing action (trust me on that one.)  (Disclaimer alert: while I studied a bit of French many, many years ago in school, by no means is my comprehension intensive or extensive enough to either follow the blog in its entirety or to read the complete serialized short story, but that is beside the point right now.) This blog is meant to focus on music and because these releases are such an amazing treasure trove of music and artists, I’ve been able to overlook that handicap. That said, I do possess enough French to follow along (especially the shorter reviews on their blog) to know just which projects may appeal most to me. But one can listen to the releases as a stand alone project and please don’t let any language barrier deter you from enjoying all of these transmissions. Enjoy!

Link to the accompanying mixcloud mix:

http://www.mixcloud.com/johnny_nowhere/sounds-from-the-outer-edges-transmissions-from-the-heart-of-darkness/

Getting by with a little help…

we will  be with you in approximately 59 minutes...

the signs were conflicting, paralyzed through indecision…

A friend once told me a joke. Q: “What’s the difference between space pirates and depression?” A: “I don’t wake up every morning fighting space pirates.” The joke has become one of my mantras. Since then, whenever a select few friends ask how things are going and I’m under that cloud of depression, the answer is, “It’s a space pirates kinda day.”

While not talked about publicly much, depression is something many of us face daily and can often be very tragic. Long bouts of anxiety and fear, hours/days spent questioning the very motives for living and the inability to see beyond this moment’s pain can be severely debilitating (look how long its been since I’ve posted…), reducing even the strongest to tears. While many who do suffer from depression go on to seek medical help, some, like me, feel that this black space is integral to our creative process. Far too many friends and loved ones have been unable to cope with this decision and have since moved on. I don’t blame them, living with someone who is clinically depressed is an onerous burden and one most people should never have to confront, let alone commit to. I’ve grown to accept that. Unfortunately, seeking a way through alone can be very difficult and few are able to continue the fight throughout one’s life. My family history testifies to that. Each sufferer has to find their own life-preserver to grasp when the ship starts going down and depression begins pulling you into the undertow, and for me, that preserver has always been music.

Whether revisiting old favorites or finding new sounds to pull me through the current bout of darkness, music has been, and always will be, the single most important influence in my life. More often than not, though, it’s a case of finding something new in an old familiar sound. I first came across Entropy Records 3 or 4 years ago, (just after discovering Schall netlabel (a full blog on their influence on my listening habits is in order one day), another standard in my listening palate and a label that has released many of the same artists as Entropy, including, Axs, Djorvin Clain, Gabriel Le Mar, Lo, Orcalab, optic, p.Laoss, Slow Noise, The Marx Trukker and Zzzzra, to name a few.) Their new compilation, Entropy Records Sampler 2013, drew my immediate attention as it includes a track by one of my favorite new (to me, anyway) artists, Brickman. But as is almost always the case when listening to a new compilation from a familiar source, it’s not who you know but who you’ve just discovered. In this case the artist is Fischerle. Hailing from Poland, Mateusz Wysocki is a producer of deep dub techno cuts that are as inspiring as they are emotionally impressive. And of course, once I’ve found a new artist/project, I become obsessive, (it helps to draw my attention away from the depths of depression back into the heights of sonic inspiration.) As usual, as is my want, further delving into Mateusz’ work revealed several netlabels and sources, some familiar and some not. The first release I found was Standards on the wonderful Polish electronic netlabel, Minicromusic. 4 deep, dark stabs of minimalist dub techno that define most of their releases. Definitely a label I’ll be watching for in the future.

Having briefly mentioned Polish netlabel No Echo Records in my last post, I’m only just beginning to embrace the breath and depth of the Polish netlabel scene. Mateusz has had a lot to do with that. His first release (at least as far as his Discogs listing) was, on the Qunabu netlabel. No longer releasing material, they were able to provide me with his first release, wzrost ep, an unknown (to me) Brickman EP,  Consume, and to turn me on to LifePHORM, which led me to Oorlab.  But this digresses from the main thread of this section, Polish netlabels, so I will leave it to you to discover any of the aforementioned, if so inclined.

In addition to releasing on independent Polish netlabels, Mateusz also partners in one himself, Pawlacz Perski. A label so eclectic that it defies categorizing, it was founded on the principle of interaction and dialogue between artists and composers open for collaboration and sharing. I’ve been working my way through their catalogue for a few weeks now and it’s an impressive endeavor. Of particular note, though is the debut release, For Love of Our Kids and Cats, from Thomasz Wegner’s solo project, aimless driving. Combining acoustic guitar, field recordings, electronic music, various percussive noises and trumpet (yeah, really, and it’s awesome!), For Love is stunning. I can only offer these words from the release page itself as a hint of its beauty… “The tones of the volubility played melody are subsiding as the corner of the mouth after a stroke.” Like the music, that phrase leaves me breathless.

Fischerle‘s also has an EP on the Canadian netlabel/blog/multimedia extravaganza, basic_sounds. I’ve been a rabid follower of the netlabel since 2010, they’ve had an amazing run of releases in their short history, including releases from Dntel, offthesky, Textural Being, Pimilk, as well as 3 (!!!!) releases from the magnificent Radere (including their latest release in April, Radere’s A Pouring Out of Sleep.) If you haven’t listened to anything from this label, please, do yourself a favor and download everything now. Here’s a couple tastes:

(A link to the new Radere track is not yet available on Bandcamp, but this will do.)

Another tried and true method to help alleviate the depression is to run through some of my favorite artists/projects Discogs page in the hope that someone has released new material that flew under my radar or, when in a more adventurous mode, to scroll through latest additions to the Free Music Archive looking for inspiration.

Possibly the most effective method for me for calling the black dog of depression to heel, though, are the fortuitous moments when I discover a favorite artist or band I love has begun a new project. This, too, has come into play recently when I discovered Eddie Palmer, of the impressively innovative The Fucked Up Beat (who are releasing a couple new albums this summer themselves and I’m excited and honored to have had Eddie send me tracks for an early listen), had teamed up with vocalist, guitar, banjo and loops player Christine Annarino, in the inspirationally inventive Fields of Ohio. Building on The Fucked Up Beat‘s use of public domain samples and off-kilter, skittering beats and loops to create a futuristic beat poetry of sound and word, Fields of Ohio adds Christine’s intimate acoustic playing and detached, drifting vocals to produce an imaginative amalgam of early 20th century folk and blue grass, free-form jazz and IDM beats and loops that propel the listener through memories that never were and futures that will never be. I love this project! Their first release, (fields of ohio), on possibly my favorite netlabel going right now, HAZE, is not only breathtaking in its scope and beauty, it’s release page features words that sang to my very core, especially in those all too frequent moments of darkness:

“Now in the midst of the broken waters of my civilization rhythm begins. Clear above the flood I raise my ringing voice. In the disorder and darkness of the night, in the wind and the washing waves, I shout to my brothers — lost in the flood.

We have to sing, you see, here in the darkness. All men have to sing —poor broken things. We have to sing here in the darkness in the roaring flood. We have to find each other. Have you courage to-night for a song? Lift your voices. Come.”

The honesty, emotion and truth in those few lines will be carried with me for quite a while. As will this release.

Further cause for rejoicing is the upcoming second release from Fields of Ohio, Woods Without Maps, scheduled for release on June 5th. You can download the track, DragonGourd/November Witch, now.

Finally, if all else fails and new music is not to be found, I resort to the tedious task of trying to present the sounds and darkness in my head in the most succinct and accessible format possible. Whether digital manipulations of photographic inspiration, like the images above which accompany each of these posts and which can be found on my photography/poetry blog, unless you got lost on purpose (you would never get this far), or sonic distortions of the noises that cycle endlessly through my consciousness, this moments of creativity are often one of the few reaffirming instances in an otherwise brooding, claustrophobic day. Usually, these creations are solo endeavors, but recently I’ve begun collaborating with others to create compositions of deeper depth, though no less dark and ominous, in most cases. In fact, I’ve recently finished a collaboration with PhuctUp, the voices from the cave mouth smelt of death, and am working on another piece with him.

More often than not, though, these sonic abominations are created alone and can intimately reflect the mood I’m in.

Because this post has been more personal than most and meant to reflect on how music helps alleviate depression in me, I won’t be posting a Mixcloud mix as not enough divergent music was discussed, focusing instead on a couple specific artists, releases. There will  be a longer mix to accompany the next post, though, I promise.

And that, briefly, is why I love discovering new music. In the end, each bout of depression is different, although all too similar. Each must find his or her way through the night and try to emerge into the new day. It’s a difficult and lonely trek, and if these few words are of comfort or assistance to anyone, then these long weeks penning these words will have been worth it. And if you’d like to comment or talk, please feel free to contact me. Just remember, I may not always respond promptly, as I may be struggling with my own demons, but your words will be read and a response forthcoming.