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: