Dungeon noise – the controversial sub-genre of dungeon synth – is a genre subdivision so small you have to bring out your very undergroundest binoculars to see it. It is, however, also so great that you have to listen to it, as it combines the minimalist wonder of dungeon synth with the endless possibilities of noise. Alder Deep (Bandcamp, Soundcloud) is one of the most recent projects in this strange world, and one that deserves all attention it can get. These five questions clarifies what’s going on.
So, you came out of nowhere (from the Alder Deep, perhaps). Or did you? Tell us of your musical background, and your journey into the lost horizons of dungeon noise.
Recording original music has been a sort of diary/sketchbook thing for me since late high school. I record foremost for my own listening, including Alder Deep, and that other people are interested in this innermost music is an honor. My bit of formal musical training is in woodwinds and the bizarre sounds of overtones and half-fingerings (especially with the bass clarinet and tenor sax) laid the groundwork for my love of noise and texture in music. In the late 2000s I played some living room noise shows as Catsweat, which is the non-dungeon ancestor project to Alder Deep. I was only vaguely in touch with Dungeon synth as a genre (via the Classics) up until a steady stream of great releases over the last couple of years really stoked the fire in me. I started playing dungeon synth-y tunes at home as a way to motivate learning to play keyboards with both hands (still working on it) and eventually started experimenting with ways to integrate noise and improvisation. The open and supportive online dungeon synth community encouraged me to develop my music even further and participate openly, so I’ve got to thank everyone there. Also, I’d like to specifically name Mausolei as the music that flipped some switch in my brain and turned me into a full-on dungeon dweller.
Along with Einhorn, yours is probably the most impressive effort so far when it comes to combining noise elements with dungeon synth atmosphere and instrumentation. What are you trying to convey with your music, and how do you go about it?
Both the setting and themes of Alder Deep were inspired by real-life experiences cave-delving. I recorded all of Chapter 1 in one sitting a day after a few strange experiences in some particularly murky depths jump-started my imagination. The mind warps a bit in such pervasive darkness. In the complete silence you can hear blood roaring in your ears, the smallest drop of water, the shifting of sand. Noise is the sound of nature, and a cave is a natural landscape, no matter what eldritch horror dwells in its depths.
Dungeon music in general is an excellent story-telling tool. Noise is great for constructing environments and more traditional dungeoneous melodies can place characters, actions, etc. into this landscape. It seemed only natural to combine the two. With this project I’ve set out to tell the story of Alder Deep, a vast network of caves rumored to host both magnificent treasure and unspeakable evil (The Alderen) in its deepest reaches. In this fantastic setting we can find intensely personal themes, such as isolation, despair, oppressive environments, mounting anxiety, and intangible fear, but also more positive facets such as exploration, hope, awe, and determination. I completely buy into the cliche philosophy that we need to appreciate darkness to appreciate light and Alder Deep is one of the bleakest, darkest places I’ve been.
On the technical side, generating noise is an exceptionally personal experience that requires an intimate relationship with the path of sound travels through your set-up. Working with noise often feels like dealing with an organic creature of some sort and this mysterious entity lends a significant generative aspect to my music. I try to keep my set-up relatively simple with only two or three instruments, with heavy reliance on my mid-90s Casio keyboard. For some reason I’ve never owned any pedals, so I’ve developed my own ways to force sounds to interact and interfere with each other (or themselves) to create new textures, often within the cables and connectors. The more traditional dungeon synth components are almost entirely improvised and I make an effort to shape musical phrases to fit the pulse and flow that arises from the noise. Most of the time I’m performing this music I enter a bit of a trance and it feels like most of the ideas are flowing into the back of my brain from some unknown source. Perhaps this is the call of the Alderen?
What influences you? Other music, books, movies, obscure religious ideas, etc. – bring it on!
Some of the (non-dungeon) music directly influencing the sound of Alder Deep include Kraftwerk’s beastly Live on Radio Bremen, the acoustic noise mastery of Tatsuya Nakatani, experimental death metal group Whourkr, the mind-melting Wolf Eyes + Anthony Braxton collaboration, and Tangerine Dream’s “Sorcerer” OST. Within the dungeon realms I’ve tried to avoid emulating anyone directly, but certain contemporary artists have been particularly influential in showing the potential for pushing the boundaries of the (sub)genre, including Einhorn, Ranseur, Nazcul Dracul, Chaucerian Myth, and Mausolei.
Video games have contributed a lot, particularly the MIDI-rich music and lo-fi visuals of “dark and scary” levels in mid-90s games. The first to come to mind are Super Metroid, various Legend of Zeldas, Earthbound, and Dark Forces. A bit older, but the pseudo-medieval music of Dragon Warrior I & II has stuck with me over the years, as well. Way back when I would use headphones in my gameboy to listen to music before I ever owned a walkman or anything. Dungeon-area songs were always my favorite, especially on long car rides in the dark.
Real-world landscapes are my greatest non-musical influence. I spend a lot of my time exploring natural places, being especially fond of lonely mountains, desolate deserts, and dark caves. Every landscape puts an emotional impression on the mind, from the disgust generated by strip malls to the solemn awe inspired by craggy peaks. I grew up in the mist-veiled and mountainous Pacific northwest of the US, but I’ve been away for nearly twelve years. I think my deep-rooted nostalgia for such a dark and melodramatic environment has certainly shaped the mood of my music and the overlying theme of exploring dark places. Alder Deep is motivated by a desire to create new landscape inspired by what I’ve seen, with the addition of a few more evil shadows, flickering torches, and lurking creatures. It is a place for me to “burn off” excess negative emotions, especially the despair, depression, and anxiety I’ve struggled with since my teen years.
You’ve released two tapes with concurrent digital publication of the material. Any record deals on the horizon yet? What would be the ultimate physical release to do Alder Deep justice?
All the initial releases are going to be handmade tapes of my own doing. Ultimately there’s going to be 4 – 6 chapters under the name Alder Deep and I would love to see a clamshell release of all the tapes together with a booklet of accompanying art and stories. That’s a bit of a distant vision at this point, however, and I’ll almost certainly need to team up with a label to get it done. We’ll crawl that dungeon when we get to it.
Where do you go from here? After two releases made in quite short order, will you stay ultra-prolific? Any final words for the Archaic Triad readership?
My vision is of five or six chapters to tell the whole story. It’s hard to predict how long recording will take since there’s such a significant improvisation component that requires going into a trance while playing, which I can’t really do on command. Chapter 3 is already in the works, but I need to get a smidge better at keyboards to pull off some of the ideas, so right now it’s time for practice!
I’d like to thank everyone for the support and interest in Alder Deep. It’s both surprising and encouraging that this music resonates so well with some people and I appreciate all the feedback. Also, many thanks to those who walked the dungeon noise path before me and took all the silly “noise doesn’t belong in the dungeon” flak so I haven’t had to. One last message I’d like to put out there, especially for people aspiring to start their own dungeon synth/noise project, is don’t be afraid to experiment with real instruments. Grab yourself an old keyboard and sketch on it, even if you eventually plan on using all VST/MIDI for the final project. All the best dungeon music has some sort of personal touch, and physical playing will help avoid that stiff/programmed feel. Unless, of course, that’s what you’re going for. And don’t forget to spend some time listening to the sounds of the natural realm. Noise is the music of the world around you.