Epilogue

A year has passed since the Chaffinch flew into this text. Although the Chaffinch and the summerhouse now seem distant – the entire thesis and many life changes lie between then and now – those months were a medicine, a salve which I have kept with me as I travelled on. I am on a train again, travelling from my recent home in Berlin back to my childhood home in Holstebro. We zoom through bright yellow rape fields, pine tree plantations, desolate industrial landscapes and small German towns with their unruly allotments, red brick houses and parking lots. I like trains. They offer a time in between, journeying hours that are not structured by the normal rhythms and schemes of the everyday and which allow the mind to wander in backside views of the places we pass through.

Crossing the river Eider on the Rensburger Hochbrücke, I get a magnificent view of the surrounding suburban landscape. Windy streets and open green spaces are dotted with trees and people which seem almost motionless from my window. Sitting here, squinting my eyes against the afternoon sunlight, I think of the journey with Dark Mountain. Or is it to Dark Mountain? Or across? It appears to me that the first metaphors I associated with my inquiry into what Dark Mountain is and means – finding home, settling and becoming rooted – all took as their premise that I was already away or uprooted. But in the last months the possibility of becoming rooted in the journey has revealed itself. And Dark Mountain is, after all, not a place to live one’s entire life but a viewpoint or a place of transformation where the boundaries that define the rest of life can be challenged and expanded. Rather than a home, I found a community of fellow journeyers, people who are experimenting with ways of living which can cope with the disappearance of the certainties and expectations of progress.

My journey began with a search for ways of coming to terms with the great sadness of seeing the social and ecological structures that support life as I know it disintegrate and perhaps fail altogether. This prospect undermined everything I had come to take for granted as a child growing up in the ’80s and ’90s. It is – with a term that my friend Tony Dias uses – an enormity: a circumstance which appears so horrific as to incapacitate or paralyse basic aspects of everyday life. As I began to speak with other mountaineers about this, I found not only support in dealing with this rupture of the future but also guidance in building my own practices to help me thrive. ‘We don’t want just to survive, we want also to flourish’, as Andrew Taggart put it in one of our conversations. And the many conversations, inquiries and collaborations I involved myself in became part of my personal practice. My position as a researcher allowed me to cultivate a practice, develop my perceptual skills and work with the ideas presented in this thesis in a fairly consistent and continual manner. While my engagement with Dark Mountain has in this way been unique, there are many parallels between my experience doing this research and those of other mountaineers. At its very broadest this can be described as a process of breaking out of a feeling of isolation and finding community or a place to retrieve a sense of unity within the lifeworld. This is a shift which locates community in the ongoing stream of life itself and which is expressed as a radical shift in the kind of relations one has with the natural world. A re-integration.

hochbrucke

Journeying with Dark Mountain has shown me that the shift towards re-imagining and embodying a different relationship with the world requires that many of the rationales which structure modern life are left behind. That changing worldview involves a deeper engagement with the beliefs, habits and assumptions that organise how one experiences the world. And that there are no blueprints or big solutions. This condition has been part of my own struggle in doing this research both because I have been encouraged to look for solutions as an academic and because it has been difficult to overcome my deep-rooted urge put right to wrong and try to fix my great sadness. But grief cannot be fixed like pollution cannot be washed away with dispersants. Accepting what feels like inadequacy and letting go of the hope that the enormity can be reversed has by far been the hardest part of my journey. Surrendering some of my deeply held convictions has been disagreeable and challenged my identity. Nonetheless, the great discovery for me has been the understanding that the feeling of isolation and fragmentation that follows in the slipstream of the enormity is the result of a worldview which denies the inherent ‘relationality’ of the world. Although I first sensed this years ago, I believe this is a truth which will keep deepening long into the future as it is a remedy for a lot of the unintended consequences we tend to think of as ‘externalities’ – whether they are social, psychological or ecological.

When our relations with each other, the places we live and the wider natural world are obscured, frayed or ripped we lose not just a connection to the world but a small part of ourselves. Indigenous research paradigms hold that a researcher is answerable to all her relations and one could restate this to say that a person is all her relations. When relationality is broken we become less than what we were before. This has become clear to me especially through my sister Naja’s research and our conversations about our identity as mixed-race Greenlandic-Danes. I was joined by her from time to time last year in the summerhouse when she was writing her Masters thesis on decolonising Inuit politics and identity in Greenland. She writes about the internal dissension that arises when a part of one’s identity becomes isolated and framed as conflicting with the rest of one’s person: “[t]he experiences within mixed-race lives articulate the destruction when our inherent “relationality” as living beings is suppressed”. It is interesting that she has found many parallels to what I have described as threshold or liminal states in her process of resolving this fragmentation. Letting go of certain ideas about oneself can seem like ‘dissolving into nothingness’ but, she finds, “we become more of who we are when we, upon dissolving, embrace our relations as a part of the becoming our expansive selves, our lineage […] and our embodied memory”.

This possibility of becoming more of who we are seems to me to be a key to many of the problematics related to the sustainability challenge. For me, it has resolved a personal question which I set out with at the beginning of this research: how can I discontinue the relationships that have produced the enormity and where can I help build new kinds of relations? Many of the conflicts I have experienced surrounding this question faded away once I accepted that they were based on a false division between myself and the world: I do not need to act on behalf of “nature” or to “save the world” when I am answerable to all my relations. We constitute each other and in this way they are part of me as I am of them. While this may seem to make sustainability science and research less ambitious or heroic, it also makes sustainability less abstract and immediately relevant to local contexts because it implies something different depending on the personal and collective circumstances in which one inquires about what it means. As a question of meaning, it will be necessary to inquire about what a true or right relationship means and Dark Mountain has a lot to offer for this kind of inquiry because many participants are actively searching for and creating a new vocabulary which can hold the personal and collective quandaries that arise from living in an age characterised by overconsumption, climate change and species extinction.

The inquiries I have become involved with in my conversations with mountaineers have generated a compass of evolving perceptual and conceptual tools with which to navigate my own lifeworld. Some have proved invaluable while others in hindsight were less relevant. I think such creative mapping or indexing is invaluable for making sustain- ability an expression of right relationship – it is necessary for grounding the processes of re-imagining and embodying in the personal lifeworld. It is also required for ‘doing the hard work’ and avoiding simply generating abstract recipes which can be evangelised to other seekers. These vocabularies “must be the kind sketched in the dust with a stick, washed away by the next rain” as the Dark Mountain manifesto puts it. Held lightly and not pressed for answers, the poetics of inhumanism presents a space for the imagination where the otherness of all our relations can emerge and re-orient the settings, plots and vocabularies that guide the course of life.

jutland

The familiar open, flat landscape of Jutland is now rushing past outside my train window. Spring has come later here and the green colours are lighter, almost translucent. I left this country when I was seventeen. Back then I dismissed this domesticated landscape as uninteresting and empty. It took me many years of coming back here to appreciate the finer shades it contains and I am still learning. Much of it is an agricultural wasteland, the ancient forest that once covered this peninsula all but gone. It was cleared for husbandry and used to build the fleet that made Denmark a major seafaring power until it was sacked and stolen by the English in 1807 during the Napoleonic wars. Generations of peasants worked to make the poor soils of Jutland yield, an effort which eventually paid off with the introduction of petrochemicals that made it profitable to grow the wheat, barley, rape and maize that now dominate the landscape. With each generation a small part of the past was forgotten as the changes they lived through became the new normal. It is easy to ignore that the landscape I grew up with is – ecologically speaking – an impoverished version of the past. I sometimes wonder what this country will look like in a hundred years. What will someone like me then see journeying across this land? Will there be trains to journey on? It is a thought which takes me on a tour of some of the things that trains imply: the industrial society that produces them, the places and people they connect, the ways of life they express and the modes of time they embody. Trains are one of the hallmark symbols of modernity. They represent the domestication and harnessing of the wild landscape, the co-ordination and subjugation of local time differences and the drive towards speed and efficiency which characterise industrialised societies. And still I would prefer not to be without them now that they are here.

Over the centuries-long formation of the meta-narrative of time and history as progress, linear storylines have become embedded in our institutions, our technologies and our ways of thinking. In the same way the invention of the steam engine, clockworks and linear schemata ushered in a revolution in means of production and the material world, it altered profoundly the way we think about and see the world. And it gradually led to an extreme de-valuing of the past in favour of the future and the forgetting of our connection with all our relations. It is a mistake to treat ‘environmental problems’ as primarily a material reality: they have deeper roots inside a worldview that leads us to reproduce the social patterns and material circumstances that created pollution, waste and other externalities in the first place. While shifting worldview requires patience and practice to overcome the acculturated blindness to the otherness of the world, my feeling is that in the long run this will be more effective than technical solutions in creating a desirable future. But changing worldview cannot happen in a flash, it is the slow process of working from the margins towards the centre. It is our longest journey and it begins by creating our own maps and tools with whatever we have at hand. I recall Dougie’s tongue-in-cheek question from last year when I was living in the summerhouse: what was it you did there? What will people say of this time and of Dark Mountain fifty years from now?

Here, approaching my destination, I remember hearing a choir of owls, foxes, whales, howler monkeys and (stinking) kippers in the forest and it appears to me that we have broken open our stories, our ways of telling and inter- preting. As a movement in the social imaginary – rather than of people trying to ‘change the world’ – Dark Mountain has opened a door for wildness and untamed otherness to slip back into the lifeworld, offered a way of being which makes it possible to flourish even in the shadow of the enormity. It allows us to embrace and align with our wider relations without requiring us to blow up civilisation in a battle that can never be won. By retreating to the mountains and reorienting our compass it has become possible to dispel the pull on attention which the enormity exercises on us, to decide to focus our awareness on the dark spots on our maps, on the absences wherefrom new things can grow. Journeying in this range shows that ‘civilisation’ is only one name among many for a pervasive logic which divides the world without anchoring complexity in the greater movement of which we all are part. At the edge, hearing the faint voices beneath the clamour of engines, it is possible to perceive the soundscape of a world which does not need us to do anything but to listen and to live our questions now.

Big Agnes Ascent

In the film studio the apparatus has penetrated so deeply into reality that a pure view of that reality, free of the foreign body of the apparatus, is the result of a technological procedure peculiar to it — namely, the shooting by the specially adjusted camera and the assembly of that shot with others of the same kind. The apparatus-free aspect of reality has become artifice, and the vision of unmediated reality the Blue Flower in the land of technology.

— Walter Benjamin, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936

It is not news that we spend more and more time with our devices, which are more and more capable of delivering high-resolution, hyperreal moving images to our eyes in a continuous, unending stream.

Most of these moving images show us an intensely artificial, constructed, manipulated reality, and though we pride ourselves on our sophistication in knowing what goes on ‘behind the scenes’, much of that very knowledge is provided in the same, controlled manner.

I am one of a number of experimental filmmakers around the world working with old photographic processes and primitive tools. This particular film, ‘Big Agnes Ascent‘, was made with a hand-made, hand-cranking 16mm pinhole camera in the mountains of Colorado, developed in photo chemistry warmed by a fire, high on the mountain on a moonless night. Electricity didn’t come into the process until I had a digital scan of the footage made, so I could share it more broadly — it’s not that I’m anti-internet or anti-technology by any means.

My interest in these primitive techniques is not about kitsch or nostalgia — it’s a way to explore the nature of the moving image itself, how the eye constructs movement from distinct frames. How our brains fill in the gaps, smudges and scratches to make meaning out of indistinct, faint, flickering shapes and textures. This film is part of an ongoing effort to rediscover the fundamental illusion of motion and the basic alchemy of the captured image, as a way to reflect upon the very seamlessness of the media product we consume as part of our daily interaction with the modern world.

To see more of my work, visit www.videohaiku.com. If you’re interested in developing film on a mountainside by starlight, check out www.handmadefilm.org.

Reading the Ashes

This is the fourth and final installment in a series of four blogs about Dark Mountain’s newly released compilation album, ‘Reading the Ashes‘.

Last week we released the album as a digital download only on bandcamp. In the first blog I described the reasons for another musical angle of the Dark Mountain Project. In this final installment, we celebrate the following three artists that feature on the compilation, Evi Vine, Joe Wilkes, and brazenly, myself, Marmaduke Dando. To download and listen to the full compilation album, please go here: Reading the Ashes

Marmaduke


Evi Vine

Evi Vine is a singer and songwriter from London inspired by a deep connection and love of the natural world. Together with Steven Hill her musical partner, they create a unique and uncompromising reverential atmosphere.

Their second album ‘GIVE YOUR HEART TO THE HAWKS’ has recently been released, which was co-produced with Richard Formby & mixed by Phill Brown. Hiding out in the woodlands of greater Berlin, reading Robinson Jeffers, Henry David Thoreau & The Dark Mountain Manifesto, they found the soul food for this album. Their track ‘My Hands Are Tied’ comes from this album.

When asked how Dark Mountain relates to their music, Evi said:

“It can be overwhelming to see such terrible things happening in the world, with the knowledge comes a burden in the way a journalist will need to document accounts for us to read in the daily news, sometimes its beyond words so artists, musicians, writers come together and build a relationship with their audience, without alienating, but to pass on something vital thought provoking. The protest song has a history in these dark days and has been so necessary it has long inspired change and kept hope alive for those without a voice. Victor Jara for example, has always been a huge inspiration to me, the voice of one who spoke out, for so many. A message that has the power to travel in the form of song is forever.”

When asked about their song ‘My Hands Are Tied’ on the compilation, Evi said:

“[It] starts with the line ‘We all start with a pure heart’. The idea that we are all connected runs though much of my writing, but who would we be if our histories could be altered, changed in any way, who we become at the end and the struggles in between. The pursuit to find the light and the goodness in ourselves and in a day even when we feel we are failing.”

To find out more about Evi Vine visit her website here:

http://www.evivine.com

Joe Wilkes

Joe Wilkes has finger picked his way across much of Europe with his storytelling anarchist croon. Sweetly reminiscent of early Tom Waits, but with a more familiar tone, Joe is originally from Coventry but now resides in Deptford, London. Along the way Joe’s played with Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, Dick Gaughan, Leon Rosselson as well as the poet / playwright Harold Pinter.

When asked how Dark Mountain relates to his music, Joe said:

“It is natural for civilisations to come and go and we are perilously dishonest about this fact. Although I’m deeply sympathetic with that dishonesty, it seems a very good thing that an artistic project shine a light on this, much like it’s a good thing when a friend tells you, you are drinking too much especially in the morning. Reclaiming storytelling as something deeper than entertainment (or simply redefining entertainment) is also a relevant idea that I fully support in our late capitalist epoch.

“Today in our society collectively, culturally we have ceased to believe in the validity of the message in art or politics or indeed anything. It’s not that we have considered all Ideologies and dispensed with them wisely. We simply don’t believe in anything and we don’t believe in anything because of our ignorance not our experience. We don’t even really believe in corporate capitalism or only a tiny minority of us do. Any message in art that doesn’t address this is naive and naive messages particularly in pop music are part of what has encouraged disillusionment and apathy about meaning and rendered political pop songs or meaningful popular folk songs obsolete.

“In terms of having a meaning our society is a joke and often a sick one. It better serves the public for a songwriter to write good musical hedonistic songs devoid of meaning than to work on something which is ostensibly pro feminist, class conscious, anti war, awareness raising, whatever.
Failure to address the fact that we live in a society where a song, poem or film with an intended meaning will be co-opted and emasculated by current cultural and political values fails to look in the mirror, fails to live in the here and now as opposed to the 1930’s or the sixties. In other words the value of a message has little to do with the actual art and everything to do with the organisation of ordinary people, political praxis, direct action etc. The message and meaning are secondary, the context and time are primary.”

When asked about his song ‘Here on this Frontline’ on the compilation, Joe said:

“Here On This Frontline is a sort of collage of snippets as opposed to a story. Sometimes I remember the verses in the wrong order on stage and it still seems to work. The first verse is about the Spanish Revolution ‘In 1936 …etc’ The following verses name check subsequent revolutions such a Vietnam and preceding ones such as the French revolution as well as name checking French resistance leader Jean Moulin. There is no message per se or judgement about Ho Chi Minh or anything like that. It sounded cool for me to write about my interests in history. One reviewer wrote: ‘The great beauty of Here On This Frontline is encapsulated perfectly by the title track, which paints an exotic musical backdrop in front of which is played a poignant love song, born out of tragedy’ that sounds good, so I’ll go along with that. At the end of the song there is a reference to 9/11, which states that ‘the dust from your fall will rise higher than you ever did’, I guess this an end of empire sort of message. If there is one hidden in there. That might be my Dark Mountain moment.”

To find out more about Joe, please visit his website here:

http://www.joewilkes.co.uk

Marmaduke Dando

Brazen that I chose one of my own songs to feature on this compilation? Perhaps, but then again why not. After all, the Dark Mountain Project has been significant in my life for nurturing the quest for more truth. This is starkly reflected in the third album I’m currently working on, tipped to be titled, ‘Where the Wasteland Ends’, after the Theodore Roszak book of the same name.

Here’s a little description I use to introduce my music which may help if you’re not yet acquainted.

“Marmaduke Dando is the bard of disempire, a crooner of morose ballads and fiery diatribes, often eliciting references to The Bad Seeds, Roxy Music, and Scott Walker. He writes about the horrors of the modern world, and barks back at it in iniquitous dives with his 5 piece organ-fuelled band. Originally from Portsmouth and of genuine pirate ancestry, he is now based in London and living amongst the bargee community. Of his music, Steve Lamacq, BBC6 Music, has said it’s ‘…distinctively haunting…’, and Charlie Ashcroft, Artrocker, like ‘…poetry in motion…’. His songs have been set to films, woven into a seminal Secret Cinema event, and played in the Houses of Parliament.”

I’ve probably answered most of the questions I’ve posed the other artists, so let me just tell you about the song of mine I’ve included on the compilation.

Angles started off as a jam in the practice room with my band. I asked my drummer to start something off, anything that came into his head. He remembered a rhythm he heard a school boy on the bus tapping out a few days before that seemed to him as particularly uncommon. What you hear on the track is what he tried to recreate from memory. The rest of the band naturally fell on to E major…probably years of me conditioning them with songs in the key of E major! For a few years, we had no words to this piece of music. It was a hell of an exhilarating ride to play as it was, but we all thought it needed a voice for it to really make a mark. After dodging the bullet of actually having to write words to a piece of music I hadn’t strained out in my bedroom alone (the usual way), eventually I remembered a poem by Paul Kingsnorth out of his Kidland anthology. It had struck me when I’d first read it as a fiery sermon, a history lesson, the sort of thing that would scare the shit out of you had you had this bellowed at you in the run up to your GCSEs. And so, after a few tweaks, I bellowed it out over the jam and everything fell into place.

The original author may have a different take on the meaning of the words of course, but for me they seemed to chart so precisely the moves of enclosure over the last two millennia, in England as the example, but over the world in general. The half a century bit towards the end of the song hit the nail on the head. My interpretation of this is that despite the illusion of taming the forces of enclosure/civilisation/colonialism through education and democracy in recent history, all that has happened is that those forces have simply out maneuvered us by morphing into the institutions that deliver those hard fought wins. Leaving us essentially, in as much bondage as when the first king became king, despite a notion of progress. And so the song ends with the ring of incredulity, “You have bought the universities?!”.

If you’d like to find out more about my music, please visit my website here:
www.marmadukedando.com

My last album, ‘Sweet Dregs’, is available at the Dark Mountain shop.


As this blog brings us to the end of the series about the Reading the Ashes album, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in bringing it to fruition. Particularly to the musicians for donating their uncivilised music to this beautiful collection. I’d also like to thank Dougie Strang for lending his photograph of his tein eigin ritual to use for the artwork. And also to Andy Garside who added his sprinkling of magic to the artwork with his graphic design skills. Check Andy out here if you have the time, http://www.andygarside.com/

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy Reading the Ashes.

Marmaduke Dando

Reading the Ashes

Young Hunter

Young Hunter is the doom metal stoner rock brain child of Benjamin Blake. Originally from Tucson, Arizona, Benjamin started the band there in the desert. He has since moved to Portland, Oregon and started the band from scratch. The band’s e.p. ‘Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain’  is available on cassette in the Dark Mountain shop.

When asked how Dark Mountain relates to their music,  Ben said:

“We try to channel primal energies through our music, both harsh intensity and alluring beauty. Our songs are about the land we live on – first when the band was based in Tucson, then now in the Pacific Northwest – and the relationship between humans and the earth, both our modern civilization and those who were here before. The myths of our culture put us at odds with the wild, with nature, and ultimately ourselves, and this self-imposed exile seems to be leading to a major collapse. We explore those underlying myths and potential futures, as well as the way that the earth is ever calling us back to itself, waiting for us to wake up, individually and collectively.”

When asked about their song ‘Dreamer’ on the compilation, Ben said:

“This song is on one hand about the inherent violence of existing in the physical world – in the sense that we are unable to escape the fact that by being alive, we necessarily will destroy other beings and forms, as part of the cycle of destruction and creation. On the other hand, this song is about how the current situation on planet Earth is taking that to an extreme – we are at the risk of wiping out ourselves and doing great damage to the web of life which has gifted us our lives. And it is also about the cognitive dissonance between humans and our larger actions, and the importance that we all wake up to the present moment. Like, right now.”

To find out more about Young Hunter visit their website here:

https://younghunter.bandcamp.com/

Angela Faye Martin

From deep in the mountains of North Carolina, Angela-Faye Martin has been recording her rare breed of alternative folk music. In 2012 she released the album Anniversary from where this track comes from. This follows her acclaimed 2009 album Pictures from Home, produced by the late Mark Linkous aka Sparklehorse. Both of these albums are available in the Dark Mountain shop.

When asked how Dark Mountain relates to their music,  Angela said:

“Years ago, I read an essay by Wendell Berry, in Harpers Magazine, that convinced me that art had much to contribute to the greatest problems of our species. The gist being that artists understand limits. The problem is that most of the decisions that affect the planet take place in boardrooms, one of the least likely places you’ll find a sculptor, poet, songwriter and so forth. But to me, Dark Mountain is a refugium where life and art intersect in ways that are relevant to those who grieve, grapple and perhaps reject mainstream paradigms and the way art is consumed. When I make a song, it becomes a cave painting of what I see in my rural landscape and at once puts me in touch with my most primitive self because I don’t approach it systematically. It’s similar to looking next to a star, so that you can see the star. Peripheral vision and peripheral geography are my modes, I’m finding. Dark Mountain allows me to feel at home without making the scene, where you typically encounter music. My scene is the periphery.”

When asked about her song ‘Ravens at Night’ on the compilation, Angela said:

“Ravens at Night scolds. It refers to a few simultaneous but congruous notions and events. A raven sighting is rare at my home but ravens at night are extremely rare and only in the event of extreme hunger, from what I understand. But I liked to think that this raven visitation was my late friend, Mark Linkous. Also, I’d just climbed the big mountain behind where he lived and had just watched the documentary film, Ghost Bird, which filled my heart with outrage for the destruction of Ivory Billed woodpecker habitat in my southern US, for the construction of sewing machine cabinets. Sewing machines are one of those loaded subconscious images that come up often for me. ”

To find out more about Angela, please visit her website here:

http://angelafaye.com/

Billy Bottle and the Multiple

Burrowing in the depths of Devon, England,  Billy Bottle ran away from the circus to work with Canterbury organ figurehead, Caravan’s Dave Sinclair. Pianist for Mike Westbrook’s Big Band, Billy blends a hint of Canterbury-scene with jazz and folk. His recent album with The Multiple is a Thoreau inspired epic that connotes nostalgia and whimsy, whilst pushing the experimental/free improvisational boundaries. In a strange twist of fate, Billy and Martine from the band have recently appeared on the reality television show, The Voice. Their Waldenesque album, ‘Unrecorded Beam’, is available at the Dark Mountain shop.

When asked how Dark Mountain relates to their music,  Billy from the band said:

“Believing that people are live metaphor, music is a means to explore the natural narratives of the earth. Ancient and futuristic, the nature of alchemy is such that we can only dance this story together.”

When asked about their song ‘O Nature’ on the compilation, Billy said:

“O Nature was our collaboration with the dead poet, Thoreau. His ideas are still very much alive in the ecology movement but the intention of our chorus was to describe a yearning for the earth and a less andro-centric experience of reality. In a sense this is a call for humility but also grieves what was lost.”

Billy Bottle and The Multiple release their new single La Belle Époque today. To find out more about the band, please visit their website here:

http://www.billybottle.co.uk/

Reading the Ashes

This is the second installment in a series of four blogs about Dark Mountain’s newly released compilation album, ‘Reading the Ashes‘. Out fresh just this Monday past, I described the reasons for another musical angle of the project on the first blog. In short, as a musician myself, it has seemed to me that music and song are often some of the most prominent forms of storytelling. And so it felt pressing to bring together a collection of musical artists and their songs, inspired in some way by Dark Mountain themes.

In this second installment, I bring to you the following three artists that feature on the compilation, Telling the Bees, Tom Maringer, and Dougie Strang.

To download and listen to the full compilation album, please go here: Reading the Ashes

Marmaduke


Telling the Bees

Taking their inspiration from folklore, landscape, psychedelia, paganism, and the politics of protest, Telling the Bees mix driving songs and tune-sets with haunting ballads. Intelligent lyrics, exotic rhythms and modes, and instruments as varied as fiddle, mandolin, cello, double bass, concertina, stomp box and English bagpipes are brought together in skilful arrangements, wild at times, gentle at others. They met in 2007 at Oxford’s legendary Catweazle Club, and have released two acclaimed albums, Untie the Wind and An English Arcanum. Their new album, Steer by the Stars, is due for release on may day 2015.

When asked how Dark Mountain relates to their music,  Andy Letcher from the band said:

“I’ve been involved in green, alternative, festival, eco-protest movements all my adult life so it’s inevitable that that comes through in my music. And I’m instinctively drawn to the older, folk, drone-based musics of the world. Perhaps that reflects a yearning for something ancient, something that’s been lost.”

When asked about their song ‘Lyra’ on the compilation, Andy said:

“The Lyra of the title has nothing to do with Philip Pullman! I was noodling on a recorder, sat in the stairwell of the house where I was living in Frome, and I started thinking about the constellation Lyra and the ring nebula. The tune just popped out in that rather mysterious way that they do. The epic string arrangement belies its rather mundane origins!”

Find out more about Telling the Bees at their website here: http://tellingthebees.co.uk/

Tom Maringer

Tom Maringer likes to call himself a comprehensivist in the style of Buckminster Fuller and after the writings of Robert Heinlein. He has degrees in geology and geography, has worked in mineral exploration, cartography, writing, teaching, music, media services, and currently owns a business dedicated to the production of fantasy coinage from fictional or mythical worlds. His novel, ‘A Superior State of Affairs’, deals with the social repercussions of an academic discovery of time-travel, with the fundamental problem of time lying at the root of most of his efforts. Tom was an avid climber and caver back in the day, though in his 60s now has a higher aversion to risk. He still likes to get out in the wilderness whenever possible.

When asked how Dark Mountain relates to his music,  Tom said:

Art and fiction can bend the fabric and time and space to engage with might-have-beens and future possibilities such that we can immerse in those ideas and experience the emotional impact of them. It’s one thing to imagine the world descending into an environmental catastrophe and calculating numbers of dead… it is quite another to immerse in a story of an individual living through that catastrophe. Thje intellectual grasp of FACTS alone will not get people to change the business-as-usual manner of doing things. It will require the absorption of TRUTHS about the nature of time and space and perceivable reality. Only then can ideas be translated into actions.”

When asked about his song ‘Otterhead’ on the compilation, Tom said:

“It is not a song that I intended to write, and indeed I found myself fighting against it at first. I was like: No No! I can’t write that! I want to write a happy song! But the song wrote itself as it were. I woke up from a deep sleep on the eve of Dec 22, 2012… from a dream in which someone is singing this song in my face and demanding that I write it down and remember it. There is a subtext to the song… scenery and images that flicker behind it. I have come to interpret it as a message from the far future… a warning to us in this time… not to let things get too far out of balance. The melody is very simple… like a nursery rhyme, easy to remember and easy for children to sing. And the message is also very simple, if profound. It tells us that if the sea-otters are lost, then the catastrophe is irredeemable. The corrolary is that if we can keep the sea-otters, then whatever else is wrong can be fixed with time. I should tell you that, when I wrote this song I knew nothing about sea-otters… other than a few cutesy photos. I live a thousand miles from the nearest ocean. I’ve never even seen an otter! So this bizarre song erupting into my life caused me to start researching… and to find that the sea-otters are considered a keystone species of coastal ecosystems. That tended to encourage me that perhaps there was something to this thing… this message that I have been asked to pass along. To all who enjoy this, pass it on: “Aint no good if they all gone away, there’s gotta be otters bobbin’ in the bay”.

To find out more about Tom visit his website here: http://www.shirepost.com/wp/mint-master-tom/

Dougie Strang

Dougie Strang

Dougie Strang is a Scottish artist and performer drawn to making things that are mostly out of doors, collaborative and participative. Particularly interested in exploring the subtle and not so subtle gaps between human and animal, Dougie makes art that tries to bridge those gaps. Dougie has an MA in Scottish Ethnology from Edinburgh University, where he studied folklore, folk art, and traditional cosmology, all of which continues to inform his work.

The artwork for this album came from one of Dougie’s photographs, called tein eigin/need fire. Here he is explaining his work:

“The tein eigin or need fire was lit as part of a protective and restorative ritual, enacted during times of calamity or illness amongst people and/or livestock. It’s recorded as having still been in use in remote communities in the Scottish Highlands up until the end of the 19th century – almost within living memory – though evidence suggests its use was once widespread throughout Great Britain. It represents a continuity of ritual practice stretching back to the Mesolithic and to the peoples who first inhabited these isles. My instillation/performance is a gesture towards that continuity, though it also takes its own form: the tein eigin was specifically a fire ritual, whereas my piece, by including a burial, highlights its relationship to wider themes of death and regeneration. I’m learning, slowly, to simply make the thing that wants to be made.

“For the piece to have integrity, I knew I’d have to bury myself rather than use a sculpted figure or photo-shop the images. Any sense of artifice was quickly erased by the earth being shovelled on top of me. I struggled with claustrophobia and a growing panic – the need to push my way out – despite being covered by only a couple of inches of soil. Earlier, whilst excavating the burial hole in a randomly chosen clearing in a wood in Galloway, I found bones, old bones, laid deep – the skeletal remains of more than one animal – along with fragments of charcoal. My world-view, the one that comes as standard issue when born into a culture that insists on rationality and empiricism, is increasingly challenged by such ‘coincidences’.”

To find out more about Dougie visit his website here: https://dougiestrang.wordpress.com/

Reading the Ashes

“I WILL read ashes for you, if you ask me.
I will look in the fire and tell you from the gray lashes
And out of the red and black tongues and stripes,
I will tell how fire comes
And how fire runs far as the sea.”

Carl Sandburg, 1922

And so it comes again, the time for Dark Mountain to break out of the literary mould and give a platform to a different form of creative expression. For as long as I’ve been aware and involved with the Dark Mountain Project, with its aims to give little heard counter narratives a platform (an exquisite one at that), I’ve thought, “why should it stop at the printed page?”. And indeed, much of my involvement with the project over the years has been in bringing out the musical side of things, what with arranging the powered down music programme at the late Uncivilisation festivals and most recently producing the first Dark Mountain compilation record, From the Mourning of the World. That was released with much fanfare in 2013 and is still available on vinyl and to download.

With the Uncivilisation festival having been retired back in 2013, and given some time to reflect, it has seemed to me to be a shame that music hasn’t had much focus in the interim. However, with Dark Mountain’s growing following, more and more musicians are becoming aware of the project and finding resonance. Many have made contact to express their intrigue, gratitude, and or relief in finding such a refuge. Consequently, it seemed only right that Dark Mountain listen to these artist’s works and try to bring them to its audience and beyond if possible.

So I’ve put together a second Dark Mountain compilation record for your listening pleasure. This time however it will be a download only. Perhaps a little ironic that it gets released using digital means, something which is often the subject of ridicule and repulsion in those counter narratives. But there are many contradictions we are forced to accept if we are ever to do anything worthwhile, especially if it involves the general public. Though the last record we made is out on vinyl, the production costs of such a format are prohibitively huge. A fairly successful crowdfunding campaign helped bring the project to fruition, but that’s not something we feel we can repeat this time round. And so download only it is, and maybe that’s appropriate after all, depending on how you look at these things. Ethereal, virtual, intangible.

This record is called ‘Reading the Ashes’, inspired by the 1922 Carl Sandburg poem printed above. It features 10 songs from a rag tag of artists in different far flung corners of the globe. The artwork is by the artist Dougie Strang who buried himself in the forest for the tein eigin that was photographed. Over the next few blogs I will be introducing you to the artists that contributed to this new record, including more on the artwork. For now, I will leave you with this collection of songs to download and listen to, along with the first set of introductions.

To download and listen to the full compilation album, please go here: Reading the Ashes

I hope you enjoy these beauties.

Marmaduke

 

Mae Karthauser

Mae Karthauser from The Midnight Fairground writes sombre circus-esque songs that tell vivid stories of wayward characters both human and animal. Her eccentric humour and acrobatic voice combine to produce the sublime ‘Georgia and the Tiger’ that feature’s below. Mae currently resides near Totnes, in a caravan with her cats and friesian cattle on a hill-top farm.

When asked how Dark Mountain relates to her music, Mae has said:

“Ive always identified with oddballs. With those characters on the periphery who so many are afraid of because their behaviour is challenging, their ideas are complex and their eccentricities clatter loudly behind them like tin cans on a line of string. I came from a family of these people and had the sense my whole childhood that other people wanted to tidy us up, make us more easily understandable or move us out of their way. In fact, that’s what I wanted most of all and it was no secret. Everyone wants to fit in when they are young. Everyone wants to go undetected.

“My songs often draw on these “inconvenient” and complex characters or groups which I observe everywhere, the secret alcoholic, that “Dr Jekyll, Dr Hyde”, the homeless, the gypsy. I want to know about the human and the story. To discover a perspective that may reveal the human behind the behaviour, and take some of the power away from the label which is so often where the enquiry stops. Through my music I seek to reveal the stories of those that we are afraid to ask questions about.”

When asked about her song ‘Georgia and the Tiger’ on the compilation:

“This song is based on an experience I had whilst working in a Special Educational Needs (SEN) School where I encountered a sweet eight year old girl who won my heart with her gentle grinning and giggling and chirpy chitter chatter, until the moment that something flipped; she lost all control, upturning a table whilst roaring with anger, throwing a box of colouring pens flying across the room like five hundred arrows into the faces of a dozen bewildered primary children. The alarm was raised. We all evacuated. She was restrained. I never knew what had happened.”

Find out more about Mae at her website here: http://www.themidnightfairground.co.uk

Slight Birching

Slight Birching, also known as Sean Travis Ramsay, is a synth tinged lo-fi folk artist based in Vancouver Island, Canada. His last album, ‘Cultural Envelope’, addresses humanity’s obsession with complex systems and beliefs and how they tragically disconnect us from nature.

When asked how Dark Mountain relates to his music, Sean has said:

“My most recent projects have focused on the un-naturing of nature via human augmentation and interference and, more specifically, our innate desire to shield ourselves from nature’s effects through what Northrop Frye calls ‘cultural envelopes.’ But these types of acts are nothing new. Humans have been changing the earth to suit their needs since, well, for as long as there have been human beings, modern or otherwise. The Dark Mountain project relates to what I am doing with my music because my work strives to point out the intricate — and almost absurd — tightrope that we humans balance ourselves on as part of the biosphere in our quest for meaningful existences.”

When asked about his song ‘Knowledge Drifts’ on the compilation:

“Knowledge Drifts is about the ephemeral, seemingly pointless, endeavours we undertake to establish some sort of permanence on a planet that operates in cycles that give and take just as easily and coolly as you or I takes a breath. More specifically, it’s about an art deco staircase that leads into the ocean on Dallas Road in Victoria, BC, Canada.”

Find out more about Slight Birching at his website here:  http://strchives.bandcamp.com