Saturday, April 21, 2012

Interview with Abandoned Places

Andrew: You have just released a new album, so could you tell the readers of this blog a bit about it, and perhaps a bit about Abandoned Places as well?
Abandoned Places: I have just released my second album, titled With the Dead, in the Language of the Dead. Like my first album it is a collection of dark fantasy synth pieces, often dissonant, played with various rich and nostalgic FM-synthesis timbres.
Andrew: What country are you based in? Is the question of locality even meaningful for a genre like this?
Abandoned Places: I live in the United States. The question of locality in music only has relevance if the genre is pervasive enough to spawn regional varieties (i.e. Colombian brutal death metal, southern hip-hop). Given the scarcity of dungeon synth artists I doubt the question is relevant, but perhaps someday it will be.
Andrew: Are there any artists you can point to as being primary influences for your music?
Abandoned Places: My primary influences are Burzum's two synth albums as well as a lot of music from old DOS RPG and adventure games, specifically Eric Heberling's music for Daggerfall and Aubrey Hodges' music from Quest for Glory 4, but also including a lot of old dungeon crawlers. The foreboding and solemn atmosphere of traveling through dungeons and tombs is very powerful in these games and I have tried to recreate that atmosphere in my work. I attempt this in part by using FM-synthesis timbres similar to those used by such games - FM-synthesis creates very deep, complex tones that I prefer to sampled instrument sounds. Although Mortiis is the progenitor of dungeon music outside of games, I had not heard his work until after releasing my first album, and it took me by surprise. Compared to the grim severity of Burzum's ambient albums Mortiis' work is lush and expansive, conjuring images of fantasy landscapes more than decrepit underground spaces. I hope to incorporate elements of Mortiis' style into my future work.
Andrew: You bring up a point I have often wondered about, what is the relationship between old rpg/adventure game music and dungeon synth? A lot of it is downright indistinguishable, so at what point should the line be drawn between the two genres? Or should they even be considered separate at all?
Abandoned Places: I'm not interested in making sweeping categorical statements, but I do think that some dungeon synth is more closely related to game music than others. The long tracks of early Mortiis have no parallel in old game music, as far as I know (I would love to hear counterexamples). those pieces exploit long track lengths to project and develop ideas over large spans of time. That kind of long-term structural planning is not relevant within the 2-5 minutes accorded to most game tracks, especially since those tracks are designed to loop. Burzum's two synth albums, on the other hand, tend towards cyclical structures even in the longest tracks, and it's easy to imagine them looping in a VGA dungeon. I do not believe that one method is superior to the other, and I believe they represent two extremes of a continuum rather than a binary choice. I'm sure there are dungeon synth artists and video game soundtracks that lie on all possible points within this continuum, and I suspect I'm oversimplifying the issue anyway. The two Abandoned Places albums currently available lie closer to the "Burzum" end of the continuum (shorter pieces, cyclical forms) but I plan to explore longer forms in the future.
Andrew: Even though the sounds of your synths have the nostalgic quality of those old games, your music is certainly more dissonant. In fact I'd even say it's more dissonant than Burzum's first ambient album. Why did you choose to make your music so dark and distressing?
Abandoned Places: The harmonic palette I'm most interested in working with for Abandoned Places is highly chromatic but still tonal. I often (not always) find purely diatonic or modal music cloying to listen to and unfulfilling to write. I chose to make the music dark, inspired by the music I mentioned earlier, and befitting my conception of "dungeon music" or music for a harsh fantasy realm. While I accept your interpretation, I intend the music to be not "distressing" but austere.
Andrew: How important is complexity and musical theory to your work? And also what do you think about the simplicity seen in most dungeon synth albums, considering that some of it is intentional minimalism, but most just derives from lack of musical knowledge and experience? Do you think anything of unique value can be found in the work of raw instinct and naivete?
Abandoned Places: My work is pretty simple, as is the dungeon synth that inspires me (and maybe all dungeon synth). In dungeon synth it can be difficult to determine if simplicity is due to intent, or ineptitude, or knowing imitation of ineptitude. All these approaches are valid - the result is what matters. Ineptitude can result in unusual musical choices, some of which are very good, because "failures" can become new creative avenues to explore and the inept are likely to "fail" often.
Andrew: A lot of your song titles appear to be fantasy names made up by yourself (unless I'm not recognizing the references). What can you tell us about those? Is that just for the concept of the music, or do they have some deeper meaning or use for you?
Abandoned Places: Some of the titles are invented or drawn from literature, but most are locations from old DOS RPGs. In some cases I have not actually played the games, only consulted their maps to find inspiring or fitting titles. I use the titles to evoke an atmosphere of fantasy, not for any specific connotations they might have.
Andrew: What are your thoughts on physical music vs. downloadable music? And what about piracy?
Abandoned Places: As an artist, downloadable music is much easier to deal with than physical music, though I can't deny a certain pleasure in holding a physical copy of one's work. As a consumer, I have purchased music in both formats. I suspect that as time goes on the relevance of physical releases will continue to wane and I have no problem with that. While I offer all my music for free at my site, I have nonetheless seen it pirated occasionally. These pirates do me a service by helping my music reach more dungeon synth listeners and I am grateful for their efforts on my behalf. I know that if it were not for piracy I would not have heard several of the albums on your list. I think that if dungeon synth is to survive (and I believe it will flourish) it will be in no small part due to the pirates who help preserve these obscure gems for future artists and listeners.
Andrew: Do you have any future plans for Abandoned Places?
Abandoned Places: I will continue exploring the possibilities of the genre and releasing more albums. At some point I may consider releasing physical versions of my work, but digital versions will always be available pay-what-you-will at my site.
Andrew: Any final words?
Abandoned Places: Thank you for the interview and for your invaluable contributions to this music.
Andrew: The pleasure was all mine.

The albums of Abandoned Places can be downloaded at any price and quality here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

On the Topic of Lifestyle

If this genre is to grow and define itself, and not live in the shadow of black metal and ambient music, how much emphasis needs to be put on being "true" to the genre? That emphasis on exclusivity seems to be what made black metal such a phenomenon, but on the flip side seems to be what made it such a trend of mimicry. Many of the black metal pioneers bemoaned what black metal evolved into, and I'm sure many of you reading this blog are disillusioned with that genre today, cherishing primarily the albums of the early 90's. What separated those artists from the thousands making black metal today is that they were extremely individualistic, carrying on the torch of genuine obscurity and originality. Today it's just a bunch of kids plugging the notes into a prescribed formula, staying true. So then is a trend what occurs when one emphasizes the orthodox aspects of a genre, or are those things separate, meaning that black metal died in trendiness and stagnation for another reason?

To rigidly proclaim what dungeon synth is and who plays it, as seems to be my primary goal in this blog, is very important to get recognition of this genre. However, I often wonder if that might be sowing the seeds for stagnation, assuming dungeon synth continues into the future. So what I wonder is whether dungeon synth might be inherently individualistic enough and unappealing to the mainstream enough that it might be able to avoid the pitfalls black metal fell into and still emphasize the "trueness" and exclusivity of its nature, thereby standing out and not getting re-engulphed into these larger genres from which it has possibly now emerged.

Perhaps dungeon synth is above all this jogging suit vs. corpse paint nonsense, in which case I'm probably at fault for bringing it up. But still, there's another interesting point, should there be concern for the imagery of the artists themselves? Mortiis obviously went above and beyond in this regard, and I expect his troll get-up set the tone for more listeners than just myself. Should dungeon synth artists unite in this regard, dressing up as fantasy characters perhaps? I can only imagine that would cause the genre to be the butt of many jokes for those who don't particularly have a taste for it. Perhaps the "look" of dungeon synth could be not showing one's face at all, like a god who is fully present in the world's creation and circumstances but never visible. Or perhaps it should be a "come as you are" sort of thing, treating the genre as a more respectable and detached art, like literature.

And that brings me to my next point. Should dungeon synth continue in the metal tradition of using fantastical, pagan, or blasphemous pseudonyms for the artists? It would seem a good way to show its metal roots and allegiances, however black metal is one of the primary genres that it should be looking to detach from. Should dungeon synth attempt to seem more mature and adult, avoiding the showiness that is so akin to modern entertainment? Could we even say that dungeon synth is more adult, considering that it has far less aggression but far more escapist tendencies. And then what of band t-shirts and merchandise and that sort of thing? Should dungeon synth be something one wears, openly and with pride, or is that "walking-billboard" mentality something that should be looked down upon as childish and too akin to the "hamburger culture" that many of these sorts of genres reject?

I've been asking a lot of questions here, and while I do have personal opinions, I don't think it's my role to dictate what direction I think this genre should go, however I also wish that it would be open to exploration, or else stagnation would seem inevitable. I think it all comes down to whether we would like this genre to become a lifestyle of some kind, and if so what that may be, or should it rather be a fantasy completely detached from day-to-day experience, only residing in the lone wanderings of our imagination? Or perhaps dungeon synth will remain obscure to the point that this question will never be relevant to the current time, which might not be such a bad thing either, as long as there are still a few isolated black wizards to carry and pass down the torch.

I would very much like to hear the thoughts that you various dungeon synth listeners might have on this topic.