In every possible way, Koko mesmerizes all five senses. If Erick Mertz Author had an unofficial soundtrack for this dreary final winter chapter it may be this album.
What I like about Koko is how many distinct places the sixteen tracks (which are relatively short for ambient) travel in a short amount of time. Some evoke images of nature. Others feel cold and technological. The sound travels from space station to rain forest in the flutter of a heartbeat.
I can get lost in this album. The tracks bleed in and out like rain streaking down a water color painting. Over the year that I’ve had Jobanshi as regular background music for writing, I’ve never had the same experience twice. Jobanshi has crafted something like a recurring dream. Each listen may be relatively similar to the last, but it reveals something different at the same time.
Bedlam Tapes is among the best sources of music for writing on the internet. No surprise this album is featured on Bandcamp in their massive trove of music. The album is labeled electronic and experimental, which makes sense, but there are also some nonsense terms like “ghost tech” and “field recordings”.
Whatever the genre, Koko builds into a trance like state, the perfect waking dream for your writing time. You can download the albumby Jobanshi here on Bandcamp.
Want to know maybe the best part? It’s free.
Are you a supernatural fiction author with a favorite album to listen to while writing? Have you had an opportunity to listen to Koko by Jobanshi?
Leave a comment below or suggest a writing album & I’ll cover it in my next “Music For Writers” column.
Meanwhile, check out my book page for the latest Oregon supernatural mystery Erick Mertz Author is working on.
Usually by mid-December my email and social media feeds are filled up with a lot of “Best of 2018” lists. Not wanting to leave my readers out, I thought I would offer another one.
If you are a writer like me though this list may actually be of some use to you. I have taken a moment to compile a list of my favorite albums to write by of 2018. Anyone who has read my blog before knows I write supernatural mystery, so naturally, I like my musical accompaniment dark and minimal.
Just as a caveat… these are not necessarily the best new albums of 2018. Only a few were released this year (one comes out January 2019). These are my favorite personal discoveries in minimal ambient, dark ambient and classical of 2018.
Enough with the handwringing… here it the list.
A-Sun Amissa, Ceremony In The Stillness
Far and away, I listened to this album more than any other in 2018. I still use Apple iTunes for music on my laptop, so I come away with a pretty accurate read on how influential an album was on my creative process. I’m a bit embarrassed to say I’ve listened to it over a hundred times, which probably represents like half of my writing days.
One reason this four track album has been so deeply influential on me is that A-Sun Amissa achieves a gloomy mood through an effortlessly minimal blend of key boards and guitars. There are a few stirring peaks on the track list and there are also a few moments where the sound simply leaves you alone. On Ceremony In The Stillness there is depth and woe and a few times glimmers of the surface. Best writing album of the year.
Even now, I can feel the swirling, seasick atmospheres on this record. They’ve settled down in the very depths of my coffee filled belly.
I’ve struggled to capture the feeling here, but I’ll do my best. This recording feels as though it was culled from a box of warped records discovered at the bottom of a lilac colored cosmic ocean.
Yeah, Digital Paradise comes together in bizarre ways. It is definitely an album for crafting other worlds. This is the kind of suggestive album that a writer can put on as a vehicle to get lost in their creative process.
Post-metal may seem like an odd fit as an accompaniment for writing, but hear me out. There were precious few heavy music releases of 2018 that were this murky and triumphantly emotional while grinding as hard as it did. Leave it to the Norwegians, am I right? The guys from Spurv crafted a record in Myra that is satisfying on one hand as a heavy metal release and on the other as a work of damp atmosphere.
Usually, I break up my writing music into two camps. There is music I use for writing and there is music I use for thinking about writing (which in my process is two separate times). This album falls comfortably into the latter. I wouldn’t drill down into the line with this on, but the doom laden atmosphere on this is a wonderful porthole for exploring the hell you want to put your characters through.
For my next favorite record we head to Deutschland for the dark mastery of Black To Comm. Anyone familiar with the music site Bandcamp will attest to the fathomless depth of content contained on the site. It’s also worth noting how many artists with massive backlists are out there churning out outstanding albums.
Black To Comm is one of the many projects of audio artist Marc Richter. This album is an experimental blend of horror inspired electroaccoustic and psychedelic tinged electronics in a funhouse atmosphere. The tracks on this album really get under your skin and push the creative needle. There is also a subtle element of magic on Seven Horses that I’m at loss to put a finger on, even more than thirty listens in.
As noted above, Bandcamp houses an endless supply of fantastic music. Monplaisir’s album Loops was an exciting early year discovery that managed to hold up through the last turn of the calendar to 2019.
Call it “vaporwave” or call it “ambient” either way the results from repeated listens of this album are out and out dreamy. As a writing companion album, Loops gives you freedom to tune everything else in your surroundings out. Got a kid? Not anymore.
Often when I put music on while writing it’s to block out noise… other times it’s to isolate one noise in particular. We lose sight that the proper auditory conditions are often subjective. This record offers an almost perfect balance. I can put it on and tune out everything but this and my story. The songs here are really a tightrope I traverse between ideas and content.
The last record on my list comes from the under-appreciated world of contemporary classical music. There are few records I have listened to in the last year that can match the beauty on Notes From Another Sea… make that the last decade. What Oly Rafle does while seated at the piano is quite simply a sublime divination of tranquility.
Often it feels like you’re in a room by the sea with him as he plays.
In college I had a roommate who felt that the aesthetic quality of the music he listened to while studying had a direct influence on his retention of information. I don’t believe that. I think great ideas can come from anywhere (as this list reflects, I am fond of introducing a lot of darkness to my process). If my roommate was right though, and he had this album, he would have ended up a Rhodes Scholar.
The BBC recently dropped a new adaptation of The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward based on the horror novel by HP Lovecraft. First written in 1927, this story was never published in Lovecraft’s lifetime but in the 90 years since it has become one of his canonical weird tales.
For those unfamiliar with the source material, Charles Dexter Ward is a young man in his mid-twenties. The story drops us in at a point where he is locked up in a “mental asylum”. Ward’s psychological infirmity stems from a burning obsession with Joseph Curwen, a distant relative. Charles physically resembles his relative (an accused wizard) and he works to resurrect his relative’s occult spells.
The BBC has chosen to reinvent the story using a true crime/investigative style. Doctor Willitts (who is also the investigating character in the original) works to understand his disturbed patient. In the podcast interviews begin back in recorded conversations with the boy. Willits contacts his teachers as well as a cast who knew the young antiquarian when he was into hanging out and playing video games.
The BBC was clearly disinterested with preserving HP Lovecraft’s original tone.
Here it is critical to note the difference between podcast and audiobook. The latter is defined as a simple dramatic reading of the text. The former however implies episodic, and it lends itself to a broader and more adventurous story interpretation. The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward has been adapted into an audiobook numerous times. It is available on Audible and here. It was also broken down admirably with performances on an early episode of the HP Podcraft Literary Podcast.
The BBC ventures far from the source. Their adaptation feels more like the wildly popular Serial that took the podcast world by storm than an audiobook. For one thing, the story is updated to the modern day. The story is also told using a female point of view. It views the titular character as a disturbed boy. Episode One even alludes to a most modern plague: school shootings.
It is critical to note the inclusion of a female character because Lovecraft almost never wrote female characters. Certainly none of those token mentions was given a point of view.
Another distinction is the inclusion of examination of an in depth child character. Once again the BBC is going somewhere the source author rarely did. Aside from the fantastical creation of Wilbur Whateley in The Dunwich Horrorchildren are largely left out of Lovecraft’s fiction.
For Lovecraft purists, the BBC’s adaptation may sting a bit. Some might view it as unnecessary. My bristle is a bit more with how this adaptation uses too many horror motifs. We get a lot of female protagonists. Disturbed children are the genre’s stock and trade.
Scholars postulate that Charles Dexter Ward is HP Lovecraft’s most obviously biographical character. I think of this this story as Lovecraft’s most purely psychological. While many of his tales involve insanity, what afflicts Charles is more relatable. This is less about monster myths and more about an inborn psychological frailty therefore this story stands as pretty modern and stands up to adaptation.
The BBC’s adaptation of The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward works in part because reminds us of a key aspect in understanding HP Lovecraft: the open source nature of his work. The author wanted new generations of writers to tinker with his worlds therefore this should be viewed as a reflection of that desire.
If Lovecraft were alive today (a phrase that launches countless debates) I’m sure he would listen to podcasts. He might even produce one. I would hazard a guess then that had The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward been written in 2018, it might sound a little more like this.
This album is dark ambient. It’s as dark as night.
But if you allow the collection of sour electroacoustic sounds on Black To Comm’s newest record, Seven Horses For Seven Kings to have their way with your imagination, they spin a beautiful tapestry as well.
Black to Comm is a mysterious electronic outfit that comes out of Hamburg, Germany. Over the last decade or so the group has produced a long string of dark ambient recordings, making bleak atmospheres and cinematic sonic experimentation their signature.
Seven Horses For Seven Kings is layered with distorted and harrowing electroacoustic sounds. The experimental aspects come across as rich and complex. They stand out front and are deeply satisfying. The thirteen tracks wash together into a glowering labyrinthine mix. There are a few sonic swells on the record that may prove distracting to the creative process. It may be an album best listened to at lower volumes, but the resulting backdrop fills up a writing session with bits of cosmic ponder as well as terror. A lot of dark ambient postures around a high concept and Black To Comm delivers that. This recording is sticky and has a cinematic scope.
I would recommend this album to anyone who writes fiction. I think this would be especially appealing for those working in the horror or supernatural thriller genres. There are a host of scary emotions throughout and the visuals are difficult to set aside. The run time clocks in at just over an hour, making Seven Horses For Seven Kings ideal for exploring a haunting sequence or breaking out a kill scene.
I don’t know whether it was a mistake to announce at a recent board game night that I was in the market for a new supernatural podcast. When the entire room shouted “Welcome To Night Vale” in unison I felt like a fool.
Only momentarily a fool though. Then I felt grateful.
To say that “Welcome To Night Vale” has everything would be an understatement. The podcast takes the form of a free form community calendar with each episode featuring town news and updates on the locals. An idyllic, small town feeling exists throughout, and there is usually a piece music to boot referred to as “the weather”.
The fictional Night Vale is not a normal town though and your host isn’t an everyday local radio DJ rube. Strange things happen in Night Vale. Bizarre turns of events are part of the community character. A recent High School Football preview show dissected the local team’s chances on the gridiron… only with bizarre touch like dismembered limbs and undead coaches. You get the picture.
Did I mention your bi-weekly host? Cecil Baldwin is the show’s host and narrator and one of the first things listeners notice is the resonant magnetism of his voice. His baritone read on news is a draw. He’s funny. He’s mysterious. When I listen to Night Vale it’s easy to just slide in and forget I’ve ever lived elsewhere.
The world of Night Vale is more surreal that it is terrifying. It’s bizarre. In one episode a boy turns into a tree which is a strange fate but his transformation is for poetic reasons and his fate is cruel, yet touching.
The writing is top notch. The characters are memorable. On the binge worthy scale, “Welcome To Night Vale” is up there and well-worth your headphone time.
Have you checked out “Welcome To Night Vale” yet?
Leave a comment about this podcast, this review, or suggest a supernatural podcast for me to check out. While you’re at it check out my book page to see the latest Oregon supernatural mystery I’m working on.
If you’re anything like me, your stack of unread books is three feet high and rising. Your Netflix queue begs for a flu. And now you’ve got podcasts. To help sort out the latter at least, I’ve decided to run a few podcast review blogs.
First off, The White Vault by Fool & Scholar Productions.
The White Vault follows a multi-national repair team’s mission to a remote Arctic outpost. The story which spans two seasons is told using a found footage style made of cobbled together recordings from their journeys into the ice as well as the messages they sent home.
The basic story is as follows. The team gathers at the outpost and begins their repair mission. All of their unique personalities come out. Strange discoveries are made in the ice. Then a massive storm hits.
The White Vault really hits my sweet spot when it comes to supernatural fiction. For one, I love the Arctic. Also, I love confinement. Throw in some long buried ancient civilizations and I’m ready to go.
One of the reasons I enjoyed The White Vault is that it’s writers don’t try to deviate from what makes Arctic based horror scary. Characters are confined in a hostile environment. That storm hits at just the right time to make the already dangerous surface deadly. Portland based writer K.A. Statz hits the mark right on.
What works in movies like the original version of “The Thing” or in books like HP Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madnesswork very well here. There has been something of a fan backlash against found footage of late, which is understandable. The style was played to exhaustion about ten years ago.
My issues with The White Vault are quite small. Some of the actor’s performances feel stiff at times. My issues with found footage are that the story really becomes the domain of the assembler of that footage. While The White Vault does nothing to get me over that hump, it’s not a distraction.
The White Vault really is worth the listen though which is why I chose it for my first podcast review. I binged most of the first season in a couple of days, only to find out that I had to wait for Season #2.
Have you checked out The White Vault yet?
Leave a comment below about this podcast, this podcast review, or suggest a supernatural fiction podcast. Meanwhile, check out my book page to see the latest Oregon supernatural mystery I’m working on.
When I rank David Lynch’s albums, The Air Is On Fire comes in at the very top of my list. The soundtrack accompaniment to an exhibition of Lynch’s paintings and photographs, this is an eerily slow building sparse ambient record. There are swells. A few industrial accents rise out of the dark clouds.
Otherwise it’s a haunting.
The album as offered by Sacred Bones Records is split into two songs, “Side A” (21:48) and “Side B” (19:58). There are a couple of short snippets at the very end that don’t really add much to the overall listening experience. The dark tones churn beautifully with very few jumps or punches to take you even momentarily out of a good creative head space. During the 40-minutes duration, Lynch explores a labyrinth of American darkness that has served as his perpetual muse: subterranean ambience, a distant lumbering menace, alive with a quasi-nostalgic mysticism that rises out of a rust belt nightmare. It’s all train yards, factories and construction zones on The Air Is On Fire.
Writing an urban fantasy or horror story? The Air Is On Fire sets a perfect mood. It’s ideal for an hour long, Absinthe fueled writing sprint, or late night note scribbling session. When I’m trying to get into a dark place, this album serves as fuel in how it spins a pitch black shadow even during mid-day.
This record is very highly recommended on many fronts, most of which I would say stem from the thread of vulnerability that laces the whole creepy work together.
Are you a supernatural fiction author with a favorite album to listen to while writing? Have you given any of these David Lynch albumsa listen?
What do you think?
Leave a comment below or suggest a writing album & I’ll cover it in my next “Music For Writers” column. Meanwhile, check out my book page to see the latest Oregon supernatural mystery I’m working on.
emertzErick Mertz Author – David Lynch “The Air Is On Fire”
Weird fiction seems all the rage. But as a soundtrack? That may be a more difficult order.
An album from 2013 The Big Dream is a twelve song collection of David Lynch songs that conform to something like normal structures. Lynch provides vocals on many of the tracks and his delivery feels like it comes from another world (imagine his role as the deaf FBI agent, Gordon Cole on Twin Peaks) a quality that he shows off right away on the opening track. His warbling falsetto and queer pronunciation offer the album a sense of interstellar narration.
Lynch isn’t just pushing strange fiction on his listeners. Actually he writes memorable songs as well. He pulls on the old heartstrings on the ballad “Cold Wind Blowin'” which feels as though it could have been written during the Twin Peaks sessions. Its melancholic hold and descending chords blow winter across the writing desk. One can close their eyes and picture the slow dance after the carnival tent goes down. An air of menace should be expected on any David Lynch album. On The Big Dream that quality comes forth in his cover of the Bob Dylan classic, “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” a story about a broke, backwards character whose choices are limited to bad, worse and much worse.
Lynch refers to this as his “modern blues” album. While The Big Dream isn’t something I can listen to while hard at work, I’ve enjoyed it during weird fiction brainstorm sessions. In those moments, a spin through “Star Dream Girl” are enough to fuel my imagination on the scene.
Are you a supernatural fiction author with a favorite album to listen to while writing? Have you given either of these David Lynch albumsa listen?
What do you think?
Leave a comment below or suggest a writing album & I’ll cover it in my next “Music For Writers” column. Meanwhile, check out my book page to see the latest Oregon supernatural mystery I’m working on.
emertzErick Mertz Author – David Lynch “The Big Dream”
You want weird? All ones need to do is search for David Lynch and you’ll find a whole lot of weird.
The 2006 film “Inland Empire” is a serendipitous three-hour trek through a strange and glittering American wasteland. The movie loosely tracks the life of actress Nikki Grace/Susan Blue (as portrayed by one of Lynch’s chief muses, Laura Dern). In a more grand sense though, the story serves more as a vehicle for the filmmaker to talk about someone like Grace/Blue and how they fit into reality.The recognizable cast is huge. The scope of the storytelling is choppy. Most importantly for this column, many parts of the film’s soundtrack end up useful as a writing tool.
Unlike on previous Lynch provided movie scores much of this soundtrack comes from outside. Polish composer Marek Zebrowski contributed much of the score here. His pieces are dense and effervesce a cool nocturnal air that is suggestive of the hunt. Like Lynch’s story esthetic, Zebrowski’s contributions are redolent of soft antagonism.
Up early with a crying kid and can’t go back to sleep? Tracks like the haunting “Polish Night Music No.1” and “Woods Variation” could serve as the perfect catalyst to push the wearied imagination through a curtain of exhaustion. While Zebrowski is not quite as grand as Angelo Badliametti and he’s certainly more anchored than Lynch, he’s a perfect confluence of what works in both.
While the Inland Empire Soundtrack is tonally in line with the creative process, there are abrupt tempo shifts. Lynch brings David Brubeck, Beck, Little Eva and Nina Simone into the mix, and while the inclusions are of great songs, they are to varying degrees, distractions from the core inspiration.
The antidote? Put the playlist on iTunes and sort it by artist and only listen to the Lynch and Zebrowski tracks. It shortens the album to around 20-minutes, but that may be all you need.
Although I would not necessarily classify A-Sun Amissa as “doom” their sound makes for a pretty bleak listen. This is the season autumn, right? When September and October roll around, it’s the perfect time to indulge in some cool supernatural fiction.
These two albums may be just right for you.
A couple of weeks back, I reviewed the latest A-Sun Amissa record Ceremony In The Stillness for New Noise Magazine. Spinning off of that, I was inspired to check out The Gatherer an earlier album release by the project. A mercurial bunch, A-Sun Amissa is a London based musical collective, fronted by Richard Knox and already their short career has been one marked by eclectic and emotionally stirring ambience.
What I’ve enjoyed about writing with A-Sun Amissa on in the background is the textured woe that permeates both records. Bleak distorted guitars. Supernatural synthesizer tones. Ominous percussion. Voices dropped in more for mood. Everything rises and falls in a gradual progression.
Each album runs for about 45-minutes, which really gives a writer an opportunity to write through a scene. Although they’re distinct, you really could line both records up and go for a 90-minute sprint. However you choose to listen, there is no shortage of evocative and autumnal moments on these records.