Opening the 13 Gates of the Necronomicon: Math Punk meets Lovecraftian Dark Ambient Futurist Soundscapes

In February, 2017, I responded to a call for tracks from the illustrious Sombre Soniks to submit music for their thirteenth dark ambient compilation. It was an interesting call; the constraints for the submission included that the track had to be thirteen minutes long, deal with the number thirteen on some level, and include thirteen in the title of the track. No mention of Lovecraft, but as all the true cultist fans of Seesar know, that I’ll always work in Lovecraftian references, so that’s exactly what I did. I’ve had a few people who enjoyed the track I created ask me about the compositional process I used to come up with the piece, so I thought I’d geek-out in public and talk a little about how I mapped out the sounds in the track, what I used to make the sounds, and how it all related to the call, Lovecraft, Futurism, and my general compositional approach.

When creating Opening the 13 Gates, I did take the, perhaps, obvious approach and embraced the idea (put forth in many Lovecraft stories, for those of you who are unfamiliar) that the Necronomicon provides a means to open “doorways” to engage with other dimensions and flows of power. Supposedly there are thirteen gates that can be opened, and through opening all of them, access to these magical realms would be granted. I took this idea and used it to map out my composition for the track. Luckily for me, years of playing in math punk bands, like one3four, Baamphf!!!, and 17956, and even PerKelt, and Second Head, I’ve had a lot of practice merging numerical constraints in with compositions. I’ve also had some great conversations with Z’EV who has given me tips and discussed his methods of utilizing numerology to create magically-charged performances and pieces. I didn’t use this so much with this composition, but looking back on the final piece, it has a similar frame work that could have worked the same way, had I so desired.

I wanted to be able to represent the thirteen gates (and them being opened) musically, so I took the thirteen minute outline of the piece, and parsed it into thirteen segments. I didn’t use exactly one minute for each segment, though, because I wanted to save thirteen seconds at the end for extra sounds, so I used just under 59 secs per segment; each segment representing one of the gates. Then I wrote a (very slow) 13/12 drum pattern that could be performed within the length of each segment. This rhythmic pattern is intended to be part of the ritual aspect of the ceremony to open each gate.

When I was living in the Czech Republic in 2014-15, courtesy of the Honc family, researching the Czech vozembouch, I built a special drum. The drum is a frame drum, made using straight sections of wood cut with a mitre saw at matching angles to create the frame. In this case, I made the frame with thirteen sections. Sometimes this type of frame is called a Thirteen Moon drum and is used in various pagan rituals, often representing the thirteen full moons that appear throughout the year. It has a goat skin, and some fun Lovecraft-inspired artwork on it, and sounds great! (If I do say so myself) This was the most amazing opportunity to introduce the sound of this drum into one of my pieces and definitely gave the track a more direct infusion of a magical/ritualistic feel.This drum is the low-pitched drum sound on the track, with the higher-pitched drum sound being made with a Tlingit Ixt (shaman) drum, which I also built when I lived in Alaska, with the help of a Tlingit Elder Raven from Sitka Uncle Jimmy.

Here’s the 13 Moon drum I built as part of a vozembouch I also made, complete with Lovecraftian artwork.

Obviously, though that wasn’t the only element I wanted to use to represent a ceremony. I felt that each gate would have it’s own sound, and that once “a gate was opened”, that sound would remain through out the rest of the composition. Furthermore, I wanted to maintain a level of interest and activity with the introduction of the sounds, so I chose to separate sounds into types of sound, using (surprise surprise) Italian Futurism to inform my grouping taxonomy, and then I alternated through the types of sounds to select instruments to introduce at the beginning of each segment. I grouped rattles, clanks, and shorter decaying sounds into one group; sustained scratching sounds into another group; non-metallic shorter sustained sounds into another (wooden sounds, et cetera); and the sustained, but more whining, smoother sounds into the last group. Rotating through these groups, I selected sounds to introduce to represent each gate, three from each of the groups for a total of twelve sounds, leaving me with one each sound to choose for closure (meaning the opening of the final gate).

Having a rotation of sound types being introduced is a nice touch, but it wasn’t quite representative enough, either. I opted to use panning and volume changes for each sound to create a sort of swirling feel that would evoke the feeling of someone conducting a ritual, turning counterclockwise as they worked, but also with the listener moving as well, so the psychoacoustics I wanted to create would give a feeling of disorientation that grows more and more intense as the piece advances.

Some of the instrumentation I used to create the sounds included a vacuum cleaner, a bowed piece of scrap metal, a large rubber band stretched across long stick, blowing through an eight-foot long PVC pipe, a plastic Easter egg rolling around in a huge mixing bowl, dropping metal planter brackets on cement, scraping bamboo across a metal heater grating, spinning a corrugated tube, slowly lowering a long chain into a large thin cardboard box, scraping a bicycle tyre, rustling bubble wrap, rubbing half-inflated balloons, and hitting a metal candelabra with a mallet.

The candelabra that makes such great sounds, here seen with its antlers that were carefully removed before recording.

Of course, I tired to shape the dynamics of the piece to host a creepy introduction, undulate throughout the track to highlight various sounds and the ways in which they interaction and combine to change feelings and timbres, then escalate in the final segment to symbolize the final “gate opening” and imply the rush of power associated with completing the ritual for a climaxing cadence.

Here’s the track for you to check out. I would also suggest listening to the entire release, as the other submissions were all fantastic! There were many other New Leaders of the Eldritch Cult on the release, as well, including Rappuwar, Hell is Carbon, Babalith, Bleach for the Stars, Grist, raxil4, Akoustik Timbre Frekuency, Druha Smrt, and µ. I am super honored and pleased to be part of this project, and a big thanks to Priapus 23 and Sombre Soniks for piecing these amazing collections together! I hope I haven’t bored anyone with my ranting and if you have any other questions, please do feel free to ask! Enjoy Opening the 13 Gates of the Necronomicon!

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