Eastern Unorthodox

A couple of months ago we took a journey to the north. This time we’re going east.

Tracklist:

  • Arvo Pärt – Kondakion
  • Djivan Gasparyan – Your Strong Mind
  • Daemonia Nymphe – Message Horn’s Enchanting Echo
  • Dead Can Dance – Radharc
  • Rukkanor – Damascus
  • Cold Fusion – While Carthago Burns
  • Arcana – The Nemesis
  • Desiderii Marginis – Silent Messenger
  • Hans Zimmer – To Zucchabar
  • Peter Bjärgö – VI
  • Vangelis – Damask Rose
  • Hands of Ruin – Absolutio
  • Russian Patriarchate Choir / Anatoly Grindenko – Troparion (mode 7)

The Hands of Ruin typeface

Hands of Ruin is branching out into a new direction: typography.

Well, not exactly, but I’ve started work on a typeface which will have just ten letters in it: a, d, f, H, i, n, o, R, s and u, which will be just enough to write “Hands of Ruin”.

I’ve always enjoyed the visual side of Hands of Ruin: designing the website, album covers, and so on, and I’m proud in particular of the HR monogram. Even so, designing a typeface (even one that contains only ten letters) is a challenging undertaking, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have something specific to gain from it. In this case, I’m considering it a practice run for designing a full typeface. Entirely unrelated to my music, I’ve been thinking for a while about a typeface that combines the square-ish letterforms of Eurostile with the extreme weight contrasts of the Didones. It seems to me that I should get started with it soon. But I know that it’s going to be a serious and challenging project, and I want to first get some familiarity with font editing software and with the whole design process on a smaller, less intimidating project. In the same way that starting with a 13 minute silent film was my first step into writing soundtracks, a ten-letter typeface is my first step into type design.

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Until now, the Hands of Ruin logotype has been written in Gentium. The monogram is also based on Gentium’s H and R. I like Gentium, but while I was thinking about the bigger typeface project, I had the idea for something heavy with an emphasis on straight diagonal lines, which seemed perfect for Hands of Ruin. In my imagination, it is something that you might see on an early 20th century grave or on a First World War memorial, though I don’t know of anything that actually looks like this. (What I mostly see looking at those memorials is that they tended to use all-caps or small-caps, so it’s hard to find anything with lowercase letters.)

The question of serif or sans serif is a tricky one. On the one hand, I feel like the shape of the letters makes more sense in a sans serif style. On the other, I’d like to use the H and R for a new version of the monogram, and I fear that will be too plain without serifs.

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I’ve been using Glyphs for the actual font editing, which seems like a great bit of software. There’s clearly been a lot of thought put into the interface, and some of the features, such as being able to split outlines at their intersections, are particularly clever and useful.

So far, I have early versions of the letters to write “Hand”. The sequence so far has been H, n, d and a. With each letter I design I’m trying to do something that will tell me more about the design, but also be a small enough chunk to be manageable. I think the next letter will be s, which I know will be tricky, but I’m very curious to see how the diagonal will work in the middle of the letter. Then I’ll move on to R and f. I’m hoping that o, u and i will be relatively straightforward once I’ve got to that point. If I were designing a full typeface then there would be a lot more to consider: kerning, and possibly hinting, for example. But that’s a good reason to start small, like this.

North

A short mix of music of nordic landscapes and forests.

North by C.Z. Robertson on Mixcloud

Tracklist:

  • David Lamb / The Kronos Quartet – Långdans efter Byfåns Mats
  • Burzum – Han Som Reiste
  • Peter Andersson – Natura Fluxus
  • Agnes Buen Garnås & Jan Garbarek – Grisilla
  • Northaunt – De Sorte Traer
  • Hazard – Who Blew Out the Northern Lights?
  • Wardruna – Solringen
  • Hilmar Örn Hilmarson – Journey
  • Satyricon – Mother North

Lot in Sodom: a new soundtrack for an avant-garde silent film

And they called unto Lot: “Where is the man which came in unto thee this night? Bring him out that we may know him.”

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James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber’s avant-garde silent film, Lot in Sodom, tells the biblical story of Lot, who is visited by angels and instructed to leave Sodom before it is destroyed by God for the sins of the Sodomites. Watson and Webber take an experimental approach to telling the story and make use of a variety of visual effects, including many superimposed shots.

One of my projects for 2014 was to write another soundtrack. The soundtrack that I created for Watson and Webber’s first film, The Fall of the House of Usher, has been one of the more successful things that I’ve done, plus it was just a lot of fun to work on, so I very much wanted to do another. So which film to choose? Well, Lot in Sodom was an obvious choice.

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The transition from silent films to talkies happened very rapidly at the end of the twenties, so that by 1933 making a silent film was an anachronism. Watson and Webber didn’t have the budget to make a sound film, but they did commission Louis Siegel to write a score which they recorded. Siegel’s score is as avant-garde as the film is, if not more so. Though I understand that Watson and Webber were happy with it, in my opinion it’s not very effective at supporting the story. My version is somewhat less experimental, but hopefully it creates the right mood and fits the events on screen a little better.

Compared to The Fall of the House of Usher, this film was a little more challenging to write music for. It’s just under half an hour, so there’s twice as much to write. Furthermore, there are a lot of changes in mood and tempo that are difficult to compose around. And some sections call for more energetic music than I’m used to writing. So working on this project has pushed me outside of my usual styles and techniques, with the result that I’m prouder of this music than I am of The Fall of the House of Usher.

The soundtrack itself is now complete, but I’m still thinking about how it will be released. My current plan is to put the video on YouTube but also create a release on Bandcamp of the music only. I’m also planning to put The Fall of the House of Usher on Bandcamp as well. So there are still a few things to do. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from the soundtrack to whet your appetite.

It should all be ready within the next couple of months. If you’d like to be the first to know when you can see it, please subscribe to my newsletter.

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In Slaughter Natives – Cannula Coma Legio

I was fifteen when a friend played to me In Slaughter Natives’ second album, Enter Now The World. It was a revelation. I had never before heard something so powerfully atmospheric, so terrifying, and that spoke to me so much. Without Enter Now the World there would be no Hands of Ruin.

So a new In Slaughter Natives album is a big event here, particularly since they come along so rarely.

Cannula Coma Legio is apparently an appetiser for a forthcoming album, scheduled to appear in late 2014. It contains a mixture of new material and reworkings of older tracks. Several of these tracks were created for Chérie Roi’s fetish performances and there are some rather beautiful bondage photos on the CD sleeve.

in_slaughter_natives-cannula_coma_legioThe first three tracks are new, as far as I know. The album begins with Plague Walk My Earth. Slow martial snares build to heavier pounding percussion, while bells, orchestral sounds and manipulated opera samples create an oppressive atmosphere. Jouni Havukainen’s malevolent whispers are also buried in the mix. Definition of Being Alive contains a more mechanical rhythm, distorted vocals, and layers of noise over a simple two-note bassline, and Silent Cold Body alternates between pounding drums and the sounds of a nightmarish musical box.

The next track, Venereal Comatosem / Closed My Eyes, revisits a couple of tracks from Resurrection. It begins with a reworking of the ambient track Your Breed, and then goes into a new version of the The Vulture. This is a very nice reworking, taking the harpsichord melody from The Vulture and developing it further with additional percussion, vocals and piano. It makes me very happy to hear this sort of reworking which takes an earlier idea and fleshes it out with something new.

The next two tracks are also new. Left Arm Right Arm As My Path is a droning ambient track, with organs, a church choir, and the voice of a preacher all mixed together into a dense soup of sound. Then Gaudium et alia vita mixes dense ambient drones with some thumping drums and some rhythmic bashing on a prepared piano.

Ignis et scalpello / Angel Meat resurrects material from a very long time ago. Angel Meat originally appeared on Enter Now The World back in 1992. Ignis et scalpello provides an ambient introduction, before going into the reworked version of Angel Meat. The reworking is very slight, however. A few sounds have been laid on top of an earlier recording. This is somewhat problematic, since Angel Meat was recorded over 20 years ago, and while the production on Enter Now The World was superb, particularly considering when it was made, the types of sounds that In Slaughter Natives was using back then are very different to the sounds he uses now. This means that the sound just doesn’t fit together very well with the rest of the album. He’s added some extra percussion to the track, which goes some way to smoothing over the differences, but it’s not a complete success. All of which is a great pity, because Angel Meat is a superb track — one of his best — and a full reconstruction with Havukainen’s present, formidable production skills would be a wonderful thing to hear.

The album ends with another ambient track, Three Three Three. This lightens the mood a little with some more angelic choirs, before pounding again with some martial rhythms.

The new tracks on this album stick more to dark ambient territory than most of his previous work. Though there are martial rhythms emerging from the noise, these rarely build to full tunes. The sound design is superb. The ambiences are dense, with many layers of sound from many different sources: metallic screeches, speech, choirs, bells, rumbling drones, et cetera, et cetera, all combining to create a heavy, oppressive atmosphere. Everything sounds crisp and detailed. There are very few musicians who can create ambient soundscapes so convincingly hellish.

The lack of structure and melody, though, is the Achilles’ heel of this album. There’s nothing wrong with ambient atmospheres, and this is very fine dark ambient music, but I find it more powerful and more impressive when music contains some structure. If this were the work of anyone else then I would be satisfied with what it is, but Havukainen has created works of such magnificence that to see him making an album that falls so far short of his potential is very sad. Enter Now the World was filled with exotic grandeur, Purgate My Stain was powerfully malevolent, and this… merely meanders. Apart from the reworkings of old material, the strongest track on here is the first, but even there the melody feels simplistic. And the inclusion of Angel Meat is a reminder of how much is missing from his recent work.

If this were the only album In Slaughter Natives had made then I would love it. But this is not at the level of brilliance of Enter Now the World or even Purgate My Stain, and the curse of making something incredible is that people then expect you to do it again.

Midnight Rituals

Music for midnight rituals.

Midnight Rituals by C.Z. Robertson on Mixcloud

Tracklist:

  • Archon Satani – Mental Shiver Dispersal II
  • Kazeria – 93 Burning Crows (Lo-Fi Ritual)
  • Menace Ruine – This Place of Power
  • Lisa Gerrard – The Rite
  • Schattenspiel – Thirst
  • Aghast – Totentanz
  • L’effet c’est moi – Sol indiges – L’antico sole risplende ancora
  • Swartalf – Invocation
  • Inanna – Zonei
  • Ordo Equilibrio – Walpurgisnacht in the Grotto. Dancing with Lilith.
  • Arcana – Cathar
  • Hands of Ruin – Iudicium
  • Gor – Inno Al Demiurgo
  • Blood Axis – Bearer of 10,000 Eyes
  • Erntegang – Neidstange II
  • Jo Quail – Volcano
  • Dark Awake – Freya’s Aettir
  • Nagual Art – Seance 1931
  • Coil – The Golden Section
  • Regard Extrême – Amour te volerai
  • :zoviet*france: – Swelled Out Downward

The Hour of the King – Stories of the Lost – Mixes

Back in April, artists Malwina Chabocka and William Andris Wood held a joint exhibition at the Gasoline Rooms gallery in East London. In addition to doing a live Hands of Ruin set at the private view, I was asked to provide a mix that would play throughout the event. I wanted to choose music that would complement the paintings and also reflect the tastes of the artists. While it’s perhaps a little dark for an exhibition opening, I was satisfied that it suited both the space and the paintings. It spans a number of genres, with a focus on goth and shoegaze, but also branching out into folk, metal and electronica. There wasn’t much time to put the mix together, and it had to last several hours, so it’s not as polished as some of my other mixes. It’s split into three parts.

Part 1

The Hour of the King – Stories of the Lost – Part 1 by C.Z. Robertson on Mixcloud

  • Caliga Blue – The Azure Deep
  • Legion – Silverwing
  • Vangelis – Rachel’s Song
  • Beaumont Hannant – In Our Lifetime
  • Biosphere – Decryption
  • Angelo Badalamenti – The Bookhouse Boys
  • Japan – Cantonese Boy
  • Arab Strap – Last Orders
  • Depeche Mode – Behind the Wheel
  • Portishead – Machine Gun
  • New Order – Ruined in a Day
  • Kraftwerk – The Model
  • Ladytron – Cracked LCD
  • Scala – Wires
  • Scorn – Exodus
  • Cocteau Twins – Plain Tiger
  • Sam Rosenthal – Kathryn
  • Brian Eno & Harold Budd – Not Yet Remembered
  • Kate Bush – Cloudbusting
  • The McCarricks – Tango Money
  • Orplid – Schlaf im Mohn
  • Rukkanor – Vir Triumphalis
  • Desiderii Marginis – Inter Caro et Cinis
  • Coil – The Hellbound Heart
  • In The Nursery – Crave
  • Shinjuku Thief – Blue Octavo Notebooks
  • Coil – Neither His Nor Yours
  • Dead Can Dance – Xavier
  • Peter Bjärgö – Imprisonment of the Mind
  • Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio – In High Heels Through Nights of Broken Glass

Part 2

The Hour of the King – Stories of the Lost – Part 2 by C.Z. Robertson on Mixcloud

  • Emika – Sleep With My Enemies
  • Kryptic Minds – Stepping Stone
  • Lassigue Bendthaus – Lanternslide
  • Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – Pinned and Mounted
  • Daren Seymour & Mark Van Hoen – Supermind’s Light Becomes Part of the Earth
  • Cocteau Twins – Blind Dumb Deaf
  • How to Destroy Angels – The Space in Between
  • Arcturus – Du Nordavind
  • Swartalf – Walpurgisnacht
  • Elhaz – Glory
  • Lycia – Desert
  • Coil – Titan Arch
  • Black Tape for a Blue Girl – Denouement – Denouncement
  • Lisa Gerrard & Pieter Bourke – The Human Game
  • Miranda Sex Garden – Wheel
  • L’effet c’est moi – Fors Fortuna
  • Cold Fusion – Octagon
  • Coil – Cardinal Points
  • Эдуард Артемьев – They Go Long
  • Venetian Snares – I’m Sorry I Failed You
  • Wardruna – IwaR
  • Arcana – Serpents Dance
  • Lisa Gerrard – Nilleshna

Part 3

The Hour of the King – Stories of the Lost – Part 3 by C.Z. Robertson on Mixcloud

  • Cranes – Clear
  • Curve – Doppelgänger
  • Joy Division – She’s Lost Control
  • Covenant – Greater Than the Sun
  • mind.in.a.box – Transition
  • CH District – Creep
  • Boards of Canada – Sixtyten
  • Bowery Electric – Psalms of Survival
  • Cranes – Wish
  • Spiritual Front – Ragged Bed
  • Leonard Cohen – Who by Fire
  • Heroin and Your Veins – The Trigger
  • Tom Waits – Everything Goes to Hell
  • Swans – The River That Runs With Love Won’t Run Dry
  • Dead Can Dance – Black Sun
  • Rome – The Accidents of Gesture
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Jesus of the Moon
  • Depeche Mode – Black Celebration
  • The Human League – Crow and a Baby
  • Suicide – Girl
  • Einstürzende Neubauten – Die Befindlichkeit des Landes
  • Coil – Meaning What Exactly?
  • The Cure – One Hundred Years

Martial Industrial Mix II

Martial Industrial II by C.Z. Robertson on Mixcloud

A bunch of CD purchases from Cold Spring have paid off, eventually, in the form of a mix focussing on martial industrial music. I actually put this one together back in September 2013 and had intended to upload it sooner, but life kept intervening. I think it’s a really nice collection of tracks, though, so I’m glad finally to share it.

Most of this music is relatively new – at least from 2010 onwards – but there are a couple of old Cold Meat Industry favourites at the end. I’ve previously reviewed Atomtrakt, Stricta Doctrina, Cold Fusion, and Kazeria. The cover artwork is by Malwina Chabocka.

Tracklist:

  • Cold Fusion – Architecture Part I: Firmitas
  • Spreu & Weizen – Marienburg [Imperator version]
  • Hands of Ruin – Empire of Ash
  • Stricta Doctrina – Retour à la tradition
  • Kreuzweg Ost – Geh Mit Gott
  • Rukkanor – Rivers of Light – Sea of Shadows
  • Der Feuerkreiner – Der Morgen
  • Durch Heer und Kraft – Der unbekannte Soldat
  • Kazeria – The Rising of a New Utopia
  • Sect – This Is Not The End
  • Atomtrakt – Festungsschlacht
  • In Slaughter Natives – Blood Testural
  • Sophia – The Seduction of Madness II

Live performance in London: The Hour of the King – Stories of the Lost

Exhibition flyer

The Hour of the King – Stories of the Lost is a joint exhibition by painters Malwina Chabocka and William Andris Wood that tells tales of solitude and emotional disintegration. I’m very glad to have been asked to contribute music for the private view, so I will be playing a live set of music chosen to accompany the images. If you’re in London on April 3rd, I’d love to see you there.

Malwina Chabocka is an illustrator and author who is currently developing her first graphic novel, The Hour of the King. It is a story about a relationship between a little girl and her grandmother who is slowly developing a mental condition and getting lost in the world of her visions and paranoias. Loosely based on Malwina’s childhood memories, it is a dark tale of emotional disintegration, seen through the eyes of a child who reaches out for the fantastical and the symbolic as a way to decipher the incomprehensible reality. The paintings, which are based on a 250+ image storyboard strip, range from semi-realistic, to surreal and near-abstract. Various portraits of the two characters are incorporated into dream-like landscapes and architecture.

William Andris Wood is a devoted figurative painter with the ethos and techniques borrowed from the Old Masters like Rembrandt, Goya, or Delacroix. His newest work, Stories of the Lost, is a series of portraits of people who have accidentally or purposefully gone off the beaten track, towards emotional solitude, denial or death. Drawing from his personal experience of depression, William has created incredibly moving portraits of a group of regulars from a shabby Oxford pub, which enable the viewer to take a closer look at people who day by day escape from their life and hide themselves behind a pint glass and a pool table.

I will be playing a live set of music selected to accompany the paintings, which will draw from Empire & Dust and Iudicium as well as some newer, unreleased material.

I would be very glad if you could join us for the private view:

3rd April 6-11pm
Gasoline Rooms
299-300 Fish Brothers Studios
Clare Street
London E2 9HD

Review: Phelios – Gates of Atlantis

Phelios is the dark ambient project of Martin Stürtzer, and Gates of Atlantis is the most recent album, released last year. The project has been active since 2006, but I first heard Phelios on the Dark Ambient Radio series of compilations. The track, Cloud Sector α, stood out as being a step above the general level of quality on those albums. I didn’t get round to giving the rest of his work any proper attention until I saw that he’d released this album, and I thought it would be worth my time to take a listen.

Gates of Atlantis

Gates of Atlantis sounds like it was recorded in deep space. (I know, I know. Space is a vacuum; there are no sounds. But you know what I mean.) Long reverbs and airy drones give the impression of vast distances and giant nebulae.

Most of the tracks combine this with tribal drumming. In the title track this builds up to fast, intricate rhythms. In other tracks, such as Hibernation, this is slower and more subdued. And there are some subtle melodic elements in all of these tracks too. Spiritual Possession has dark, menacing bassline, with subtle distortion, while in Gates of Atlantis, a gentle harp pattern combines with a slow chord progression.

A few tracks contain no drumming at all, such as Temple of Yith and New Stellar Age. These are my least favourite tracks on the album. The slowly pulsating drones of Temple of Yith sound like the breathing of the universe, but while there are subtle changes in intensity during this track, there isn’t quite enough movement to sustain my interest for the whole seven minutes.

The album ends with Ascension, which, with its major chords, brings in the only notes of optimism here. The celestial feel remains, of course, and there are some subdued bass drums softly beating in the background.

Also included in this release is a bonus alternate version of the opening track, Gates of Atlantis. To my ears though, it sounds so similar to the original that I’m not quite sure why it was included. Martin Stürtzer is clearly a man of subtle distinctions, though, so I guess that it made sense to him.

The production on this album is sparkling. Despite the layers of sound, the mix never becomes muddy. Indeed, it remains crystal clear at all times. There is plenty of space for every element. The quality of sounds is also superb throughout. The drums are mixed between acoustic and electronic, but always sitting together convincingly. And the drum rhythms have a natural, tribal feel, with some exceptional moments, such as the subtle off-beat tapping in The Shadow out of Time.

Gates of Atlantis is not as dark as some of the dark ambient music that I like. I’m a big fan of the Cold Meat Industry bands such as Raison d’être and Desiderii Marginis, and this release doesn’t have that sense of sadness and, as a result, doesn’t touch me quite so deeply as those musicians do. Nonetheless, this album is an effective piece of cold, spacey ambient music, and judged by those standards, it is a very fine piece of work.