1. What was your path to dark ambient? Do you remember a particular album or moment that got you hooked?
I am a metalhead very much anchored in the nineties. I always was attracted, somehow strangely, on the dark bits and sound details, aesthetics of a metal album back then. The dark intros and intermezzos were sometimes for me the most delicious part of a release. You know, at the beginning I was intrigued by the ‘usual’ industrial effects of a Napalm Death album, by the horror atmosphere of King Diamond albums and by the rather eclectic Cosmic Sea from Death. Things got more interesting after hearing Anathema’s Dreaming: The Romance (the great minimal dark ambient track written actually by Danny, as he said to me) and Le Cerf Malade by My Dying Bride I still find it one of their darkest track. I remember at that time that Elend first albums were fantastic and Monumentum – In Absentia Christi had a mystic, dark atmosphere that I got addicted to. In addition, not to forget, the sound in Alien movie remained in my mind for years, a great example of a space dark ambient sound. The things became serious after hearing Profanum – Profanum Aeternum release back in 1997 – blown away and wondering how one can create such dark music without even using E-Guitars. I realized that there could be something more behind the metal music, much more interesting for me that can contain an even darker message. This finer extension of extreme metal made me acquainted with a new music genre later known as dark ambient. The first 100% dark ambient album that really got me forever into dark ambient was raison d’être – In Sadness, Silence And Solitude.
2. What draws people to dark ambient? Do you feel that it appeals to a variety of age groups or more predominantely to one particular age group?
When we are thinking in terms of musical continuity, I really think it is a kind of musical taste maturity stage. At the same time the one who is drawn to dark ambient, I think, is a special person: his soul feeds on dark, low frequencies, it is a person that is embracing the new, with an affinity for philosophy, a person that is searching his own path. I would say that ideologically, it is the type of person that is not fighting for ‘earthly truths’ but likes to play with the darkness of the chaos, with abstract uncertainties, with madness – thus it does not stick with ephemeral ideologies if any at all, nor searching for life meanings. His soul seeks a kind of inner peace and isolation. This is dark ambient: that distinct music genre appealing to a certain kind of souls. I would say that dark ambient music is predominantly appealing to an over but very special 30-age group.
3. What do you get personally from the music?
Music is part of the brain – I mean in the psychological sense as Oliver Sacks proved it in his music related writings. I cannot imagine myself not listening to music. Psychologically I am addicted, and this is obvious, for example, when I am away for a few days from my music, my mind begins to dig in and to bring out all kind of music fragments dear to me.
I found myself some years ago concluding that ‘music’ can be produced from everything around us. Thus I am conducting a bit of research work at the border of sound and music, to see what happens there. I think that the brain’s need to create order out of chaos triggers the anticipation, and this is reflected in our way to transform apparently pure sounds into something more meaningful like primary music structures. It happens that something inanimate is projected to a ‘transiental’ state: a sound gets connected with our inner core. I argue that the brain region connected with religion is the same with the one for music. I get from the music what a deep religious person gets from his beliefs.
4. It seems to be a lot more isolated than more conventional music scenes. Beeing as involved in the scene as you are, do you see it differently?
Strictly speaking, dark ambient seems scarcer because it does not appeal to everyone, it does maybe have a smaller fan base than other genres but it is only the beginning. On the other hand, categorization of music genres helps one handle better the concepts but it can hide significant aspects. Although a free from connections music style, could it be that dark ambient is a part of a new whole; and the whole is eventually the liberation of music from constrains more than a genre category per se. We can find at the moment maybe up to twenty genres and subgenres in between the classical ambient to drone ambient, some with occult flavors others just pure sound manipulation. Although they have somehow a distinct timbre, in fact, behind is the same trigger: the sound liberation and the search for self-expression without the need of a musical style constrain. From this point of view, ‘dark ambient’ finds its place as a standalone style but also it is fusing with other music genres. This proliferation and liberation movement as a whole could be the next ‘dark’ music evolution, we find ourselves lucky enough to have the opportunity to witness it and even some of us to have a small contribution to it.
5. How have you noticed the scene changes over the years?
Well beginning with the musical terms, I really cannot recall someone in 1992 saying “hey this is dark ambient”, but rather, “this sounds industrial but still so ambiental, is it a kind of darkwave?” While even the darkwave style is itself a precursor, it emphasizes on gothic rhythms. Therefore, the term dark ambient and subgenres came later on, after more and more artists began to produce that kind of dark, mystic, beyond-metal and post-industrial stuff. Nevertheless, I noticed a gradual slide then to the more moody ambient and experimental side with emphasis on mystic, dark and introspective aspects, until the scene grew enough to build a quasi well established music genre. The next major change I sensed was the fusion of various extreme musical genres with dark ambient, which gave birth to the relatively new drone-doom, post-black, ethereal post-rock. What made me also happy is that over the years I saw many examples of artists that turned into dark ambient variations: for example Burzum, Fenriz (Neptune Towers), Winter (Sear Bliss), Aran (Lunar Aurora), Karl Sanders (Nile), Ulver, Mike Patton, etc. To mention that many dark music artists today cooperate with visual artists to enrich and give a new dimension to their works. Thus, today dark ambient is on an ascending trend in terms of diversity and popularity.
6. With a lot of this music sounding similar, what do you look for in an act to set it apart from everything else?
Novelty is scarce, but if the music has a pleasant dark quality built with some unheard-before sounds and has an interesting artwork then it can have a chance to be apart. I mean, I can sense if the music is made of known synth effects and repeated loops. I am looking more for a sculpture. When I receive a demo I can tell that the quality of the music is pretty much proportional with the amount of work invested in it. To be apart means to be dark, to reflect the creator’s self, and not to be afraid to incorporate field recordings, strange sounds – the dedication to the work alleviates originality. It is important that the artists have their own build and own recorded set of sounds to work with and a good sound theory knowledge. That will not be a guarantee for a good release but it is for me certainly the good way to start with doing dark ambient. In addition, of course, the other side of the story is the conceptual and visual part of the music – they are much linked together. The music has to have these qualities but at the same time, for me, it has to be much like a black box – nothing has to be very direct, half the way has to be carried on by the listener. (eg. I do not need you to tell me so bluntly that ‘God is dead’…)
7. What was your main reason for starting the label in the first place?
I always felt comfortable around cassettes, CDs, vinyls and fascinated by the way a release gets made; I always had a fetish for these mediums and thought that someday I will be able to do something like that myself. It was pure dark music passion. I felt I could do something a bit different, unique, I anticipated that someday this kind of music would be there. On the other hand, I did not found a label to release my music. However, I did not insist searching nor giving up creating. As it was natural for me to take the dark ambient and experimental music path (for me, metal music reached a conceptual saturation) thus Essentia Mundi label was born. I needed it also to be there to give a boost to the scene, to release other artists works, to build a platform for dark ambient, drone and in general for weird, niche music, even sound studies, interdisciplinarity.
8. What inspires you to create the sounds for ABBILDUNG?
The drawing line to all my early metalhead times, the love for dark music and the strong will to create musically something new gave birth to ABBILDUNG project. It was a step of pure will, and somehow a step from the side of the avid listener to the other side, that of the creator. As also the name implies (written in capital letters, to not be confused with the German word ‘Abbildung’) it is derived from the Wittgensteinian early work on philosophy in which what is not utter-able and beyond is also the most important. ABBILDUNG is a two-side structure, from the perspective of what can be said and what cannot. Consequently, natural sciences, psychology and at the same time the ‘mystic’ inspires me. But with the distinction that I do not try to explain the mystic.
9. How much of a presence does dark ambient have in Romania? Where would you say are the best hotspots around the world for dark ambient?
The presence is still thin, but there are some known metal artists that are having a slight shift (with their subprojects) from black metal to more dark ambient and experimental music. There were some projects in the past, but only just one or two are continuing some activity. I can add though, I am very happy that there is at least one festival carrying out more unconventional dark music (DBE, Jazz and More) and in the last years one or two additional labels emerged. Although not dark ambient I think it is worth to mention, there is a sustained ‘academic’ activity from the experimental artists Iancu Dumitrescu & Ana-Maria Avram (they actually played in Bucharest with Stephen O’Malley (of Sunn O)))) just a few weeks ago). It is not that much happening…I suppose because this activity requires a dedication, which is not always that much rewarding. I am lucky I have a full time job, which can sustain the creative activity I care about.
The global scene is geographically expanding. Around the world, I can say that dark ambient has penetrated in the most remote countries (like Iran). The best hotspots in Europe I think are Poland and Germany, northern Europe countries (of course Sweden, for the famous Cold Meat Industry label) and Russia and US. In the last years in Europe, there are a number of dedicated festivals and events in which Lustmord, Bad Sector, raison d’etre, Troum, Inade, Desiderii Marginis, Tho-so-AA, etc. plays constantly.
10. How much contact do you have with your artists on a personal level? Is there a ‘typical’ dark ambient artist?
We do collaborations; for example for the ‘Mechanics Of Silence’ compilation it was enough a simple call for work to be able to gather in just a few days the material for a release meant to spent some money for the Japan Tsunami disaster in 2011. (Thanks again to all the contributing friend artists!). I also try to link events with artists, to help them with artwork and sound mastering for free. I think there would be more things happen if the ‘scene’ would be bigger. Nevertheless, I think the interaction is not something that binds us, rather the passion for dark music itself.
There are no typical ambient artists; dark ambient is a direct reflection of the artists “I”, so I guess is more honesty instead of a fabricated image. You can be surprised how different the artists are, they do not need a uniform.
11. Is there a definitive dark ambient work?
I would say that there is a definitive track for me, namely ‘Black Star’ from Lustmord. In my opinion, the track comprises very much the essence of dark ambient, it has that lengthy structure, it is a sound sculpture, it offers the cosmic dark vastness, and interesting sounds, and it says ‘things’ like a genius can. It is a track that reminds me every time I listen to it about Mihai Eminescu’s poem ‘At Star’ written at 1866, in which the genius is surpassing the knowledge of the time: a star is dying and we are only seeing its light that traveled to us…
C.S. interviewed by J.N. of Z.T. March 2014. All Rights Reserved.