A Journal Of The Dark Arts
This weekend is the 19th Annual H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon, here in Portland. To mark the occasion, to get in the mood and spread the madness to the corners of the globe not able to be here and share in the awesomeness, i’ve made a ritualistic dark ambient/drone mix of Lovecraftian audio.
I thought i would take the opportunity to give a little peak behind the curtains, as a slight installation of the Invisible College, to give some insight into how i’ve modified and modulated the audio, to share my process and give you some tips and tricks to try out.
A large part of my fervor for audio, both finding and listening, is geared towards DJing/mixing. I adore the art of the mixtape, of carefully selecting tracks, to create a world to get lost in and explore. The art of making art out of other people’s art, which has extended into what i am attempting with album reviews as well. Thus the subtitle, ‘How I Found The Akashic Records, And What I Did Once I Got There.’
My obsession with electronic music and mixing began by going to lots of raves as a teenager. I am, almost above all other things, a dancer, and i love losing myself in the Techno theta trance for hours and days at a time. I would observe the DJs with awe and envy, wondering how in the hell they were doing what they were doing. This was around the same time i began to become obsessed with electronic music and production, hungrily devouring technical manuals and magazines, trying to piece together how my favorite artists were doing what they were doing. Keep in mind, this was before the internet was completely widespread (1997 – 1998), or before i had steady access to it, anyway, so there were a lot of bits and starts and bobs, getting tiny slivers of information and seeking to apply them.
I think what got my wheels spinning, endlessly wiring modules in my head, was DJ Spooky‘s Songs Of A Dead Dreamer. I read somewhere that Spooky blended his beats and samples with field recordings he made around NYC, in some abstract fashion that i have still not entirely pieced together. I started thinking along the lines of 2 turntables, alongside a sampler, drum machine and a synth, for complete sonic control and remix capability. This was at a time when all this gear was heinously expensive and totally unavailable to me, but it got me thinking modularly, got me thinking about routing.
That’s why my head was fully blown when i finally got my own computer and got access to Ableton Live, and a host of other DAWs. THIS was what i had been looking for, what i had been dreaming of.
What i found, however, which a lot of you can probably relate to, is TOO many options. For years, i’d been ghetto rigging routing with cheap radio shack cables and plugs, using cheap guitar pedals, tape recorders, CD Players, whatever i had on hand. At the same time, i was busily reading every interview and watching every documentary i could on musicians i admired, trying to figure out what they were doing. Once i got Ableton, and simultaneously, access to the entire history of recorded music, the walls came down. ALL the walls.
It can be difficult to know where to go, how to use the tools at yr disposal, or what yr even trying to say. It’s been an interesting challenge and a huge growth opportunity as an artist, working with these tools, and a lot of what i hope to accomplish with Forestpunk is sharing some of my findings.
So i thought i would details some of what went into making Into The Audient Void, which is one of the first lines of Lovecraft’s story Nyarlathotep.
I started things off with the sound of waves, taken from the The BBC Original Sound Effects Library, which gives way to some disembodied ’20s jazz, floating above the waves. I started things off with the waves to establish a setting, to evoke the feeling of sunken R’lyeh rising, and the floating jazz was to give a degraded, decayed feeling of the 1920s, when a lot of Lovecraft’s stories were set. The jazz was taken from this epic Lovecraftian mix, Arkham Radio, which i will write about in full at some later date, as it is incredible. I recorded the audio through SoundFlower, which routes audio internally inside yr computer to be multitracked inside Ableton, which i then sent to a simple Filter Delay return channel, which also had a Tape Saturation plug-in, Toneboosters ReelBus, to give a further aged and degraded feeling, with the Filter Delay intended to give a feeling of the sound drifting over the waves.
From there, we go into Joseph Curwen‘s Dancing Lights In The Dark Of The Moon, a perennial favorite at FPHQ, which i mostly played unaffected. It’s a pretty bass heavy drone track, lo-fi, and with some other sounds going, i was afraid it would overdrive and distort, so i put a mild low-pass filter, rolling off the sub-bass at 30 Hz.
Voodoo drums from Haiti, courtesy of soul jazz Voodoo Drums, i brought in to give a ritualistic feel, which were then sent to a crystal cavern reverb, d16’s Toraverb, to give a further stylized sci-fi feel. For a long time, i’ve been going after a feeling of an aboriginal tribe conducting a ritual to some extraterrestrial God, with the heavens opening up to another space-time-dimension. I’ve tried multiple times, and still never entirely happy with the results. One day, i will get it perfect, but this is another attempt.
To further reinforce this juxtaposition, i have the voodoo drums go into some library music from, courtesy of De Wolfe Music Library, the surprisingly awesome Cover Up, by Ian Boddy, on Space, The Unknowns & UFOs, which sounds like some Boards Of Canada out-take. I’m looking forward to listening to the whole thing, in search of breaks.
Then, briefly, some incidental music and sound effects from ‘It Came Beneath The Sea’, to give a pulp sci-fi feel. You can hear some digital noise and glitch at the beginning of the track. It’s because it was playing back at a drastically slower speed than the original (65 bpm), and i had not yet switched to Complex Pro, which smooths out a lot of that digital distortion. Unintentionally noisy, but i kind of like it.
More incidental music, mostly unprocessed, from the 1979 documentary Life On Earth – Music From The 1979 BBC TV Series, called “Giant Clam”, to further give an underwater feeling. I was also trying to illustrate the dichotomy between actual environments and soundtrack music, as Lovecraft’s works can be read as both. Feigning at real life, and also hinting at saturated colors and shoddy special effects, to give the sensation of how Lovecraft’s work has evolved over time, and the many ways he’s influenced culture.
Wrapping up with two titanic tracks, and some incidental music i composed myself – Eric Zann’s The Obsidian Pyramid, from Ouroborindra, on Ghost Box. The Music Of Erich Zann is of course a famous story by Lovecraft, and i like to represent for GB whenever i can, so this one was a no-brainer. The feeling i was hinting at was of coming across some enormous black pyramid beneath the ocean, which probably contains some portal to another dimension. To further emphasize this, i did some live mixing, sending the track to a return channel, using my APC40, to an instance of Ableton’s Frequency Shifter, to give some sci-fi swooping oscillator sounds and deep bass rumbles.
To try and give the feeling of a portal opening, i included a track that i made called Osterscott, which is the sound of 100 conversations meticulously layered for 1 minute. It’s one of my favorites that i’ve made, so far, as i have been seeking to make a kind of seance music. Once the protagonist steps through the portal, and the ritual is complete, i was trying to give the sensation of being able to see and hear ghosts, to peer through time. This continues on until the end, where i end with another epic from a local favorite, People Eater’s me mokutu vakamatea, which was labelled as oneiromancy on soundcloud. I was trying to give the sensation of stepping through into the dreamworld, of having totally sundered reality. This already droney track is layered with whispering vocals, as well as excerpts from Nyarlathotep and The King In Yellow, by Robert W Chambers. A truly magickal confluence. All of these elements were hand-manipulated, sent to filter delays, echoes and reverbs – true sonic psychosphere, an eerie misty afterlife.
So that’s a rather detailed description of some of my thoughts and motivations of this mix. I tried to use the strengths and advantages of drone and dub music, using echoes and delays to maximum efficacy and with subtlety. Messed quite a bit with panning (so try it with headphones sometime), and tried to control the frequencies and levels, to avoid a muddy, blown out mix.
Mixing with ambient music and sounds is tremendous fun, as it’s easy to make smeary, droney sound collages, but i’m going to keep going, as i aspire to make tight, tailored techno sets, along with many other styles of musics. Mash-ups, cut-ups, sound collage, bangers and anthems and middle of the night weirdness, we won’t stop until we get there.
Do you all like this kind of thing? Any kind of tool or production style you’d like more info on, or like to share? Let us know in the comments! I’m hoping for this to be a cool resource for all of us.
A field guide to the akashic records.
Be careful, Lovecraft observed that only insane people dance! Awesome post, forestpunk, and so informative to a music dunce like me.