Darkness attracts. It’s a strange fact, but a fact. It does not attract everyone but it does draw in a great many, some with record collections from which all traces of light have been excised, others who simply find it an antidote to a variety of daily monstrosities, or a stimulant of deep attention, out-of-body experiences, or dormant strands of self. Darkness attracts; it attracts me. But I am a mere dabbler in dark arts, my almost exclusive access to which comes through music. The type of music that attracts me in this vein is that which seems to present some aspects of the world and human life that the powers that be have tried to veil, shove in every cupboard and closet, obscure and deny. It is also cut with a dose of something else, ambiguous concentrations of emotional intensity that lack names and thus are not yet easily commodified. These are not always so dark.
Demdike Stare is named after an English witch, one of those known as the Pendle Witches who were brought to trial in 1612. It is the project of Sean Canty, an employee of Finders Keepers Records, a label known for repackaging and re-releasing all but forgotten esoterica, and Miles Whittaker, who has produced dark, dubby techno music as MLZ and one half of Pendle Coven. These productions, like those of Demdike Stare, are exercises in sonic witchcraft.
Though the methods through which they do so remain shrouded, as they should be, in mystery, Demdike Stare material is created with sounds found on recordings from Pakistan, Turkey, and Eastern European countries, on early electronic and industrial recordings, all of it severed and re-spliced together with a variety of analog machinery. Tryptych comprises three separate releases from 2010: Forest of Evil, Liberation Through Hearing and Voices of Dust. Also included here are more than 40 minutes of outtakes, the quality of which is on par with the material that ended up on the records. Listening to all three in a row -— over two and a half hours -— is pretty fucking disorienting.
Honestly, for me the two albums included, Liberation and Voices of Dust, do not work all that well as records. While any of the tracks could be fascinating on their own, heard separately, as long-player listening experiences there is simply more droning and clanging of gritty shadows than I am drawn to listening to on a regular basis. This is not a criticism of the quality of these productions, but merely an admission that sometimes they are just too much, dragging me down lightless, repetitive subterranean corridors that I don’t particularly want to be dragged down. Two of the best pieces come toward the beginning of Voices in Dust. “Hashshashin Chant” is fantastically brutal, fusing together wild, chanting pop from the Middle East with grimy, industrial transmissions. “Repository of Light” is even better, over eleven minutes of slowly developing, Basic Channel inflected drone, mystically fluxing into an acute, otherworldly stasis. It is one of the most original and absorbing pieces of music that got released in 2010.
There are a lot of other highlights here, a lot to dive into, a lot to get lost in, a lot to let run through your body. Briefly then: the two tracks that close out Liberation for Hearing, “Bardo Thodol” and “Matilda’s Dream,” are worlds to be absorbed in. The title of the album is actually a translation of Bardo Thodol, what Tibetans call The Tibetan Book of the Dead. And sure enough running through its core are waves of mesmeric chanting that have been bathed in a sea of drones and edgy percussion. “Matilda’s Dream” is sparser, managing to enthrall with just a few deftly arranged elements, clouds of fog and fascinating textures. “Forest of Evil (Dusk),” the track that begins this collection, is to my ears not so evil, a web spun of dubby chords that doubles the transfixion once a 4/4 beat and slowly shifting fields of ambient sound kick in. Among the new material, “Nothing But the Night 2” and “Past is Past” are especially good.
What Demdike Stare is up to right now is not quite like what anyway else is up to. They manage to dig into the past, into unfamiliar music from around the world, and into the incantatory power of sound combinations in a way that seems tangential to a number of scenes—drone, hauntology, and hypnogogia among them—but remains reticent of something that comes at you from the outside, from the unknown, from the power of witchcraft that is located not in physical things but in the strange, undiscoverable spaces between them, a world of occurrences and existences from which our perception is always almost completely occluded.
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