1. Can you give us an update on what has been going on with the band since the recording and release of the new album?
Hello Dark Underground! Well we have been playing live in Bristol including at our favourite metal pub / venue The Gryphon, and supporting The Danse Society at the legendary independent venue the Louisiana. We also played an exciting ‘secret’ invite only after-hours gig at Black City Records with our friend Maud The Moth, who was kicking off her tour. For that one we tried out doing a short acoustic set for the first time, which went down well and were encouraged to keep developing it. We are now planning another secret gig this summer, playing a full acoustic set, in an intimate historic space this time. There will be a very limited number of places available to attend, we will be posting details on our socials soon.
The vinyl of our current album The Black Hours came out in the spring - there has been a long delay in pressing vinyl so we, like many other artists, have had to wait patiently for it. Its our first release on vinyl so that was very special to finally be able to hold! And very soon we will release a video for one of the album tracks, Ion. It was filmed in a medieval crypt and is a deeper delve into the album art, exploring more of the visual world around the themes of the release.
2. The Black Hours, your second studio album, was released in December digitally, on cassette and CD. Musically how does it differ from the stuff you have released in the past?
The two core musical approaches that we work with have remained the same since we started in around 2014 or so. So, firstly taking inspiration from early music -Medieval, Renaissance and traditional sources which include both sacred and secular - and reworking the material in an alternative / dark neo-classical way.
And secondly developing semi-improvised works of various lengths, bringing in sounds and textures including field recordings and found-sound (‘musique concrète’), to create a an atmospheric cinematic feel, ranging from ethereal and unsettling to very heavy, driving and doom-y. Over time, these two elements have come closer together - a piece on the album that demonstrates this is The Pit / Dissolved in Ashes - it starts abstract then becomes increasingly rhythmic and melodic, integrating a clear riff and a variation on a sacred chant, with one thing transforming into the next.
But a key difference between our material on The Black Hours and our first (self titled) studio album is that we now have a drummer, Katie Murt, who joined just before lockdown, and we only managed to play one single gig as a four-piece before restrictions came in. Having a drummer brings new possibilities, especially as many of our works are based on historic dance rhythms. She already features on a couple of our EPs made during the pandemic: our livestream release Hagioscope Obscura and The Black City Sessions (recorded in the shop live-session style) as well as single tracks we have produced for some themed releases on Eighth Tower records (Italy), which are put together by Raffaele Pezzella (Sonologyst / Unexplained Sounds). But The Black Hours really showcases the range of what the combined forces of all four of us can do together, and we now finally have the chance to perform live as a quartet too.
We all like to find many different sounds and extended techniques in what each of us do, and so when all these things come together, sometimes it's difficult to even know which of us is making a particular strange sound! Together we have developed confident arrangements and a sense of artistic direction over the various elements, so for example we can change gears together and the dynamics can vary hugely, or we can go from free time, into time, and out again, all within a single piece. So the same as when cellist Liz Muir joined what was initially a duo of voice (Ellen Southern) and guitar (Tom Bush), with a new band member the formula develops further and we figure out what things we can do and what works to make it ever richer. Now, with all four of us, it feels we have great instinct and balance in what we are doing, and that has exciting potential.
3. The lyrics on the new album cover a medieval illuminated manuscript called 'The Black Hours', can you tell us a little bit more about this 15th century text?
We love the idea of layers, clues, symbolism, hidden meanings and combining or re-presenting different elements, and we visually referenced the mysterious aesthetics of the original book The Black Hours to bring the lyrics and album information into the artwork in a way that is not just straightforward ‘information’ but more like art in itself.
The 'original' Black Hours is a devotional book, which marks out prayers at certain times that take you through the day and night. Created in Belgium between 1460 and 1475, The Black Hours is hand-scribed on black vellum with real gold, silver, and at the time more valuable than either of these — turquoise pigment. There are several of these 'books of hours', unique hand made items, which survive and are held in various museum collections or archives, but this one with its turquoise gold and black visually struck us the most and has directly inspired the album art, including collage and hand drawn elements.
The idea of marking time - especially dark and disorienting times - in this way appealed to us already before the pandemic hit - the first song on the album was created in the autumn of 2019. But it was uncanny that when the lockdowns kicked in, the theme became even more potent, in that the focused contemplation of prayer felt akin to the focus of creating and crafting music. We leaned in to our practice and remained musically active through filming and streaming live performances, making videos, and releasing new music. We moved the Dark Alchemy live event series, which we co-curate with our friend and dark ambient modular synth artist Tommy Creep, online through podcasts (Dark Alchemy Inner Circle mixed and produced by Marcus Dyer, link below) and live streams. This way we got to collaborate with Jo Quail, Theskyisthinaspaperhere, Trianglecuts, Tribes of Medusa, A Sun Amissa, Il Santo Bevitore, Peter Verwimp (Ashtoreth), Maud the Moth, Kate Arnold, Abattoir & Satori, and more. All the while we kept diligently crafting the album, both the music and the artwork, which gave us resilience and structure - it kept us all going.
4. What are some of the other lyrical topics and subjects the band has explored over the years with their music?
Since we generally use lyrics which already exist, and are hundreds of years old, having passed through many mouths into many ears, so to speak, the question is really why do we choose certain works to reinterpret over others. Its pretty instinctive, we know the bones of a new song when we hear it, but there does seem to be quite a melancholic theme which runs through our musical choices in general.
And just as much of the historic material is based on older modes or can shift between major and minor several times throughout the form - we can walk the line of emotional expression where it can feel forlorn or bitter in one moment, and then hopeful and comforting the next. Words that stirred emotions hundreds of years ago, are still powerful today, and we love the idea of channeling that sense of timelessness.
5. I have read that the new album almost took 2 years to finish, can you tell us a little bit more about this process and what impact it had on the recording?
Yes we took our time, partly because of the pandemic and the upheaval and impact that had for everyone. But it also just took as long as it took, and that was our journey through the arc of the pandemic. The tracks can be fairly complex and layered, and that needs careful crafting - it's almost like summoning and shaping a living force which contains a polyphony of many voices what needs careful balancing.
It has to have the space to manifest and grow and become what it needs to be at that time. And like a living thing it can evolve - we are already exploring different arrangements of the album tracks to perform live, so it won't always sound exactly the same. At the end of the day, it would have felt strange to 'finish' the album before the whole lockdown situation started easing off - since working on it became a way of charting the experience, it felt natural to allow the process to carry us right through and explore all the emotions along the way.
In fact we had planned to end the album with The Pit / Dissolved in Ashes, a bit of a ‘cliff-hanger’ emotionally, but we added the last song Douce Colombe Jolie the summer of 2021 to close the album for the reason that, after the turmoil and upheaval we had been through, we needed to immerse ourselves in something tender, bittersweet and reflective at that time, as a way to begin to process it all. So yes, the album is a direct response to, or expression of, that whole period.
6. What is the meaning and inspiration behind the name 'Dead Space Chamber Music'?
A dead space chamber or anechoic chamber is an environment, usually in a sound research setting, which is acoustically dead and has no reflection. It is used in places like research facilities and they are literally that, dead spaces, so no echoes. It is said that when you stand in one, you can hear the internal workings of the body like the pulse, the heart beat, and that can apparently feel quite unnerving and disturbing! So, we are not trying to say something specific in referencing it, but it's that unsettling experience of being made very aware of your existence, or mortality maybe. And then chamber music is an intimate form of music that developed in peoples homes to be shared with friends and musical peers, and has a focused intensity about it, an attention to detail, and a spirit of musical dialogue or exchange between equals.
There was something about that which appealed - even when making a large sound we always listen to each other, interact, and try to draw the audience or listener right in to that potent and active space where the sound is being created before them, and sometimes around them. We try and make it feel like as much of a shared experience as possible, all focusing on the same suspended moment, whether through the way the music transforms from one things to another, or the performative elements of found-sounds. These found-sounds can be very visual to create live, and we tend to make choices in terms of being symbolic of whatever is being expressed musically. Doing things this immersive way can bring a sense of the ceremonial or ritual to the proceedings. So, our name combines these two things.
7. Can you tell us a little bit more about the artwork that is presented on the new album cover?
Taking the aesthetics of The Black Hours as a starting point, there were plenty of beautiful elements to inspire the artwork - the hand drawn lines for the texts, the blocks of gothic writing, the hand drawn letters and decorations and the mysterious and quite abstract layout of some of the texts, the wear on the pages, the colour combination of black, silver, gold and turquoise, and of course the 'miniatures' - hand painted images on the pages that portray a sequence of religious devotional scenes. The original physical book itself is small, an intimate unique thing that would sit in the palm of the hand, hence the paintings inside are ‘miniatures’.
We reinterpreted all of these things to create a visual world or internal mythology for the album, and ourselves, to inhabit. So, things like the strange layout of the track titles, which intentionally takes some deciphering - as we mentioned, we didn't want the information to jump out but rather take some time and attention to work out. And we created our own 'miniatures' - diorama-style - which we set up and photographed in the churches and crypt where we have performed in Bristol, each one telling a different phase of the story of the albums creation with plenty of symbolic elements: the first showing us playing a gig in the pre-pandemic time, the second portraying lockdown and referencing our livestreams, and the third portraying the strange and disorienting world we now emerge into. These miniatures featured in the booklet accompanying the release (you can see images of it on our Bandcamp page, link below).
Another example is the collage on the album cover - it again references the aesthetics of the original book and the decorative plants and flowers painted in gold and black on turquoise. From that we created a 3D semi woven collage that at the same time can be seen in two ways: a wreath, to signify what we all lost during the last two years, and a crown, to signify the achievement of coming through it. We felt that we wanted to offer everyone the acknowledgement of these two things. The paper collage itself, and the image of it on the vinyl cover, is physically ‘head-size’, so that if you were able to pick it up you could hang it up or wear it on your head as one piece.
We had a very clear idea of the artwork and everything was done 'in house' - Ellen did the drawings and collage, and Katie did photography and layout / design. We worked on it in minute detail, down to the individual pixels, and as we created it. And we often had very uncanny experiences and feelings, like we were just manifesting it or bringing it into being somehow. The whole creative process mirrors our musical creative process in that way, taking something from hundreds of years ago and reworking it into something for now, and it's all very integrated, so that's how we know we are doing it right.
8. What are some of the best shows that the band has played over the years and also how would you describe your stage performance?
In recent times, the ones that springs to mind are the first ones we did after lockdown, at The Cube Microplex - an independent arts venue in Bristol. Having been invited to perform there by 20th Century Flicks, a legendary video shop in Bristol, we created a whole 'suite' called Dark Within which was a homage to the film and TV series Twin Peaks. Even though The Cube is a venue we have performed in many times before, we were all so nervous standing in the wings, we were shaking with adrenaline!
The event was seated and socially distanced, which felt odd but at least it was a real, rather than a virtual, audience! It was exciting but also anxiety-making as we knew it was several peoples' very first gig in all that time and we wanted it to be special for them so we worked hard on getting the material the best we could in the short time we had to put it together. We couldn't interact with the audience before or after which was really jarring, there was no bar, and after we finished and left the stage the audience were quickly escorted, blinking and disorientated, out to the street and broad daylight, so we walked back out to a totally empty room! It was so surreal!
Other standouts were the two times we did live streams from St Thomas the Martyr church in Bristol, with no audience, just that huge stunning and resonant space to fill our sound with. That was a very tender experience, being able to play our music in that special place again was so bittersweet, and deeply heartfelt, so we drunk it in. We placed the camera the opposite way round to usual, with all the empty pews visible, a very poignant thing. You can watch the 2nd of these streams in full on our YouTube channel (link below). We love this video as you can really hear sense the atmosphere in it, especially in the silences.
9. Do you have any touring or show plans for the new album?
After our upcoming ‘secret’ gig, we will likely have a bit of a break from playing live until the autumn, when we are hoping to play some dates in and outside of Bristol with some new friends of ours - again there will be details on our socials over the summer.
10. The physical version of the new album is co-released through 'Avon Terror Corps, can you tell us a little bit more about this label?
Avon Terror Corps (ATC) is a collective of underground artists based in or around
Bristol, and it is more of a support network than a label, people like EP/64, Organchrist, Bad Tracking, Giant Swan, and RWD/FWD (cassette distro, link below). They invited us to contribute tracks to some compilations, and started coming to see us live, and it grew from there. The support of Miles Opland (ATC / Bokeh Versions) in particular has been amazing and we couldn't have managed a vinyl release without him!
11. On a worldwide level how has the reaction been to your newer music by fans of ritual, medieval, neo-folk and neo-classical?
It has been really surprising and great, considering what we do is somewhat unusual and so we wouldn't expect it to appeal to everyone. We do what we do and we are always thrilled if people give it a chance and have a listen, there are so many people who have shown us that it resonates for them, and that they are excited by the discovery and appreciate something a bit different. We love that our audience is mixed - we don't have a specific 'type' of listener in mind, we just hope to have the opportunity for our music to speak to whoever it needs
to speak to. We are obviously not expecting a 'mainstream' audience but rather it's there for curious people of all kinds to discover. You could call us a 'strong flavour' in that way! People who like it tend to really like it, which we love!
12. Where do you see the band heading into musically during the future?
We really want to make a 3rd studio album, and we have enough material and ideas already for it to be a double! There are some tracks already in progress which we have played in livestreams as they develop, and there are also the raw ingredients for others that have yet to be put together.
Ideally we would record in phases, in residential settings at least in part, and integrate the natural spaces or some interesting places in the surroundings somehow. We are planning to keep expanding our found sounds and use of field recordings, and in addition to start making our own instruments, so we can keep creating our own unique sounds. We also aim to make more videos of our tracks, and explore the visual side of our music even more.
13. What are some of the bands or musical styles these days that some of the band members are currently listening to?
We listen to a wide range of music, but one current album is The Silver Threshold by Hackedepicciotto, which we highly recommend! And having recently caught Einstürzende Neubauten live in London we have been re-visiting a lot of their material. Plus Alexander Hacke just released The Complete Recordings Of Alexander Von Borsig, which we got on vinyl and have lined up to listen to.
Our friend Jo Quail just released The Cartographer, an epic combination of metal and adventurous classical composition, and we were lucky enough to get it on beautiful orange vinyl too, so that’s getting repeat listens at the moment too.
And one particular 'evergreen' album that we keep returning to is Rimur by Arve Henriksen and Trio Mediæval, which we saw performed live in Bristol in 2017 when they toured it. It is contemporary arrangements, including improvisation, of chants, hymns and folk songs based on ancient Icelandic, Swedish and Norwegian music. Very inspiring!
14. Does Occultism play any role in your music?
Well it depends what is meant by occult. If you mean do we sit around reading Aleister Crowley, then no. In the wider sense, Occult just means what is hidden - symbolic knowledge in ritual form that has been revised over the centuries, so in that sense yes. Different aspects of spiritual beliefs inform some of our artistic choices but it is only a part of what we do. A specific example involved researching different interpretations of the figure of Satan in Christian mythology - this was for Demonology In Dante's Inferno, one of the compilation albums for Eighth Tower records that we were invited to make a track for in 2020 - as we mentioned we have featured on several such releases now with a different theme each time. For that particular track we explored Dante's portrayal of the ninth circle of hell as being a frozen place where Satan is wordless and half trapped in ice, forever separated from life and warmth. We made an icy, cold-sounding track, with the Dies irae sung backwards, and we recorded tacks and nails on a piece of cold metal to create a ‘cracking ice’ sound.
Working on themed tracks like this, or our suite Dark Within (our homage to Twin Peaks), we get to try out new ideas and approaches in relation to something culturally pre-existing, a bit like making a live score to a film, which we have also done a couple of times and would like to do more of.
15. Before we wrap up this interview, do you have any final words or
Thank you for reading, and keep supporting artists by seeing them live and supporting their releases! You can follow us on social media and if you come and see us live, come say hello!
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