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Nosferatu on YouTube

I’m happy to announce that you can now watch Nosferatu with my soundtrack on YouTube.

F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu is a 1922 adaptation of the Dracula story to the screen. It’s a classic of silent cinema, famous for Max Schreck’s iconic and chilling performance as the vampire. Between 2018 and 2021 writing a new soundtrack to this film has been my major musical project.

There are a few different restorations of Nosferatu. While writing the soundtrack I was working to Photoplay’s 1995 restoration, which is available on the BFI Blu-Ray. That restoration is still in copyright, so I can’t make it available with my soundtrack, but there is another version of the film in the public domain. The image quality is sadly poor, and the picture has suffered from aggressive cropping, but I am at least free to put it on YouTube with my own soundtrack.

The timings are somewhat different than I was originally working to, so I’ve had to edit the soundtrack a fair amount to make it fit this version of the film – quite a tricky task at points. It’s not the ideal way to see the film and hear my soundtrack, but it’s better than nothing and I hope you enjoy it.

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

What am I doing when I give a title to a piece of music? Back in 2015 Nicholas Diak1 wrote a review of Waffenruhe’s Stuka on the sadly defunct Heathen Harvest website. There was a paragraph in it that stuck in my head, and I’ve been trying to work out since then what I think about it.

The onus is now on the listener, with only the names of the tracks to assign any given meaning to the songs. Depending on the type of listener, this might make the song more enjoyable, much like listening to an ambient album where the atmosphere is the element that takes hold. For a martial-industrial album like Stuka though, this comes off as shallow. For example, the song “Sturzkampfflieger” is about fighter pilots, not because any lyrics or other particular contents hint at that, but only because the title of the track said so. In theory, the music of this track could have been paired to any title and therefore could have been about any other topic.

As someone who makes instrumental music, this is something that has bothered me for a long time. After all, given that there are no words in it, in what sense is Empire and Dust about empires? In what sense is Schism about schisms?

The truth is that I didn’t sit down to make music while thinking about schisms. The music came first and the titles came later. With my earlier music, much inspired by bands like Autechre, I would just make up words for track titles. And I’ve often considered just numbering them, or not having titles at all. But for Hands of Ruin that’s never seemed appropriate, and I couldn’t say why not.

But recently I think I’ve got closer to an idea of what I’m doing when I give a track a title. In Beyond Order, Jordan Peterson writes:

Art bears the same relationship to society that the dream bears to mental life. […] Like art, the dream mediates between order and chaos. So, it is half chaos. That is why it is not comprehensible. It is a vision, not a fully fledged articulated production. Those who actualize those half-born visions into artistic productions are those who begin to transform what we do not understand into what we can at least start to see.

When you have a dream, a lot of strange images come into your mind. These images are coming from some sort of unconscious process within you, and they have associations and even meanings that are non-verbal, or at least pre-verbal. You can explore this sometimes by thinking of something strange that happened in a dream and simply asking yourself, what was that all about? Sometimes an answer will spring up that surprises you. Somehow you’re just sure that an image in the dream represents something in your life, but you wouldn’t be able to explain why. There are strange and unjustifiable metaphors and equivalences. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can make sense of everything that occurs in a dream in that way, but it’s at least clear that there are some concepts that have no clear relationship in the world and yet are nonetheless joined up in your head.

What you’re doing as an artist is similar, I think, to what you’re doing in a dream. You’re groping around in the dark, in things that you’re not entirely conscious of.2 Sometimes you come across things that make some sort of sense to you. There are an infinite number of possibilities that you could assemble as an artist, but you only keep what resonates with you. And, as with dreams, what resonates with you is not something that you can necessarily explain. The best you can do often is just report the things that seem significant to you.

Philosophers from Plato onwards have wrestled with the problem of meaning, and for the most part they were concerned with the meanings of words and sentences. The question of how a piece of instrumental music can be about anything seems like an extraordinarily difficult problem. But even without solving that problem exactly, it is clear that there are meanings to music. A soundtrack that would work for a slapstick comedy would not be suitable for a horror film. Just as the images presented in a dream have meanings, even if you can’t precisely articulate them, music has meanings too.

And that means that the title to a piece of music can be right or wrong too. Or at least it can fit or not fit. I’ve come to see the title as part of the work. It may come last, but it wouldn’t be fair to say that it’s merely tacked on at the end. For me, the title and work form a whole. It isn’t totally arbitrary and is constrained by how I understand the music. Whether what makes sense to the artist will translate to the listener is a different question, of course.

1. Disagreeing with Nicholas Diak is apparently one of my hobbies.

2. This, incidentally, is part of why I have such frustrations with people who want art to be politically correct and unproblematic. The artist, like your dreams, is telling you something. If you push it away and demand that the artist only tells you the things that you want to hear, you are like a king with no jester, and you will miss out on hearing important but unpalatable things.

Preview from the Nosferatu soundtrack

F.W. Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror is one of the classics of the silent film era. This telling of the Dracula story is notable for Max Schreck’s iconic and eerie performance as the vampire, Count Orlok.

Similar to my soundtracks for The Fall of the House of Usher and Lot in Sodom, I’m now working on a soundtrack to Nosferatu. This will take a long time – probably another year at the very least – but in the meantime I’d like to present a little preview showing the work in progress.

This excerpt is a bit of a tease, since it doesn’t feature either Orlok or the protagonist, Hutter. To set the scene, unknown to the citizens, the vampire has just arrived in the city of Wisborg on board the ship Empusa…

Sounds of Ruin

Nicholas Diak is a scholar whose wide-ranging interests encompass neofolk and post-industrial music, Eurospy and neo-peplum films, and H.P. Lovecraft. I first encountered him while we were both writing for Heathen Harvest. I’m honoured that he has taken the time to write an essay on my soundtrack work, Sounds of Ruin: Sublime Sounds in the Hands of Ruin Soundtrack for Watson’s The Fall of the House of Usher:

Watson and Webber go to great lengths to replicate Poe’s sound in their silent film, especially at the end when, as Madeline leaves her encasement, the screen is filled with texts that read “crack,” “ripped,” and “scream.” The words don’t simply appear on the screen, but they flutter or jolt about, sometimes with letters upside down, sometimes backwards, with a variety of striking typefaces. This sequence perfectly replicates on screen what Poe was trying to accomplish in his text.

Hands of Ruin, on the other hand, needs to juggle both the Poe text and the images from the Watson-Webber film to fully capture Poe’s usage of sound.

Read the whole essay.

Jo Quail – Hands of Ruin Remixes

I’ve been a big fan of Jo Quail’s music since I heard her playing live some years ago. Jo uses an electric cello and live looping to build up intricate, spell-binding music. A little while ago I approached her after one of her shows and asked her if she’d be willing to let me remix one of her tracks. I figured she might be a bit wary of letting some random guy have a go at remixing her beautiful music, so I’d prepared a bit of a spiel about what I’d done previously so that I could reassure her that her music would be in safe hands. But before I’d even got started she said, “yeah, go for it!” So that was that.

I’ve remixed two tracks from Caldera, her second album: Laurus and Jhanoem the Witch. I’m honoured that she has allowed me to remix them, and thrilled to see them released today.

The remixes are available now on Bandcamp.

Schism – the second album

Schism

Schism is available now.

This is my second album. Written over the last five years, it is a more diverse and also a darker album than Empire and Dust. As well as the neo-classical elements that will be familiar from my previous work, there are harsher industrial sounds and dark ambient passages.

This album wasn’t easy to make. The oldest track dates to before the release of Empire and Dust, and the others were created at various points over the last five years. Over that time my techniques have changed a fair amount. And my desire to create something harsher than Empire and Dust led me to experiment with more aggressive electronic sound manipulation. That meant that when it came to putting the tracks together into an album, each track had its own palette of sounds and fitting them together into something cohesive was a challenge.

Difficult as it was, I think the end result is more interesting for being the product of that struggle.

You can get the album on Bandcamp. I’m very grateful for your support.

Schism to be released 31 October

cover My second album, Schism, will be released on 31 October. It has taken over five years and hasn’t been an easy process. Indeed, I had thought that the album was almost finished two years ago… but I was wrong. After Empire and Dust I wanted to create something harsher, and I’ve had to push myself to learn how to do that. While I don’t expect to ever be entirely satisfied, I think that with Schism I’m on the right path.

You can hear a preview from the album on Bandcamp, and you can also pre-order it there. Please know that your support is always very much appreciated.

A year of writing for Heathen Harvest

After my “Is all martial industrial the same?” post a couple of years ago, Sage L. Weatherford, editor of Heathen Harvest, reached out to me and asked if I’d like to do some writing for Heathen Harvest. I had some trepidation about this. Writing is not something that comes easily to me. Indeed, I would even describe it as painful. I’m one of those writers for whom every word goes onto the page accompanied by an inwardly-directed curse at how stupid it sounds.

So I said yes.

Over the course of a year I wrote thirteen articles with a schedule of one per month (enforced by Beeminder):

Happily, I got better at getting words out onto the page as a result of all that.

Heathen Harvest is one of the finest publications in its field. I’m honoured to have had the opportunity to contribute to it.

The Fall of the House of Usher available now

The Hands of Ruin soundtrack to The Fall of the House of Usher is available today. I’ve been very happy with how this first attempt at writing a soundtrack went, and I think it stands up as a piece of music even apart from the film, so it’s a pleasure to now give it a release of its own.

You can get The Fall of the House of Usher on Bandcamp.

Thank you so much for all your support.

The Fall of the House of Usher to be released on Bandcamp

The Fall of the House of UsherEven though it was made some years ago, I’m still rather proud of the soundtrack to The Fall of the House of Usher that I made in 2012, and I’ve wanted for a while to give it its own release. This is a modern soundtrack to the 1928 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s story by American avant-garde cinema pioneers James Sibley Watson Jr. and Melville Webber. While there are a few things that I might change if I were to re-write it today, I think it does a good job of capturing the atmosphere of melancholy and dread in the film, and I think it also stands as a good piece of music apart from the film.

Many thanks to Malwina Chabocka for creating the wonderful cover art for this release.

The release date is 15 March, but you can pre-order The Fall of the House of Usher on Bandcamp now. Thank you for your support.