New Album: Seven Geases

Available to stream and buy now on Bandcamp, should be on all other streaming services in a few days. Listen to the whole thing using this player and check out some sleeve notes below.

The album is inspired by Clark Ashton Smith's short story "The Seven Geases". The story is set in the world of Lovecraft's dream cycle but lacks the old racist's humourless tone; it's a silly story that pokes fun at its pompous hero, the aristocratic big-game hunter Ralibar Vooz. Despite being the protagonist he has no agency whatsoever as the cosmic shaggy-dog story unfolds with him at its ridiculous heart. I hope I got some of that impishness into the music even though it's rather abrasive on the surface.

I aimed to create tracks that sounded like field recordings taken in the settings of the story. I imagined each having its own distinct atmosphere, always rather chaotic and unformed, like Milton's chaos:

     Before their eyes in sudden view appear
     The secrets of the hoary Deep—a dark
     Illimitable ocean, without bound,
     Without dimension; where length, breadth, and height,
     And time, and place, are lost; where eldest Night
     And Chaos, ancestors of Nature, hold
     Eternal anarchy

I liked the idea that the music would have this mercurial quality where you're not sure what anything is, but emerging from it would be the voices of the inhabitants of each place gibbering, grumbling and speechifying in their incomprehensible ways, along with fragmentary music that struggles to find a melodic logic, being continually dragged back down into the muck to be overwhelmed. The musical instruments sound like primordial consciousnesses trying to wake up but largely failing.

One of the reference-points is Trevor Wishart's Vox Cycle, which is also about things emerging from chaos. Hearing this on Radio 3 in my late teens is one of my strongest musical memories -- it just sounded like nothing I'd heard before and struck me forcibly with the idea that music can be noises arranged in a way that tells a story, a kind of sound-theatre that needs very different resources from the usual ones. Here's the first movement (the rest are on YouTube too):

For each track, I include below a quotation from the story that captures the thing I was trying to get at -- I do recommend reading the whole thing, though, or listening to HorrorBabble's excellent reading of it:

1 Geas of Ezdagor

An old man, withered and disreputable-looking, in a robe that appeared no less antique and unsavory than himself, was standing near to the fire. He was not engaged in any visible culinary operations; and, in view of the torrid sun, it hardly seemed that he required the warmth given by the queer-colored blaze. [...] The old man eyed the hunter with a fiery gaze and began to curse him in fluent but somewhat archaic diction as he descended into the hollow. [...]

"May the ordure of demons bemire you from heel to crown!" cried the venomous ancient. "O lumbering, bawling idiot! you have ruined a most promising and important evocation. How you came here I cannot imagine. [...] Ill was that chance which brought you here: for They that you have frightened away will not return until the high stars repeat a certain rare and quickly passing conjunction; and much wisdom is lost to me in the interim."

2 Geas of Tsathaggua

The cave sloped downward; and he breathed an air that was edged with sharp, acrid mineral odors. Groping for a while through sightless night, and descending a steep incline, he came to a sort of underground hall in which neither day or darkness prevailed. Here the archings of rock were visible by an obscure glow such as hidden moons might yield. [...]

[...] he discerned in a dark recess the formless bulking of a couchant mass. And the mass stirred a little at his approach, and put forth with infinite slothfulness a huge and toad-shaped head. And the head opened its eyes very slightly, as if half awakened from slumber, so that they were visible as two slits of oozing phosphor in the black, browless face [...]

There was a sluggish inclination of the toad-like head; and the eyes opened a little wider, and light flowed from them in viscous tricklings on the creased underlids. Then Ralibar Vooz seemed to hear a deep, rumbling sound; but he knew not whether it reverberated in the dusky air or in his own mind. And the sound shaped itself, albeit uncouthly, into syllables and words [...]

3 Geas of Atlach-Nacha

Ralibar Vooz went close to the verge and saw that great webs were attached to it at intervals, seeming to span the gulf with their multiple crossing and reticulations of gray, rope thick strands. Apart from these, the chasm was bridgeless. Far out on one of the webs he discerned a darksome form, big as a crouching man but with long spider-like members. Then, like a dreamer who hears some nightmare sound, he heard his own voice crying loudly: "O Atlach-Nacha, I am the gift sent by Tsathoggua."

The dark form ran toward him with incredible swiftness. When it came near he saw that there was a kind of face on the squat ebon body, low down amid the several-jointed legs.

4 Geas of Haon-Dor

Thus, in fulfilment of the third geas, the hunter entered the thousand-columned palace of Haon-Dor. Strange and silent were those halls hewn from the gray, fundamental rock of Earth. In them were faceless forms of smoke and mist that went uneasily to and fro, and statues representing monsters with myriad heads. In the vaults above, as if hung aloof in night, lamps burned with inverse flames that were like the combustion of ice and stone. A chill spirit of evil, ancient beyond all conception of man, was abroad in those halls; and horror and fear crept throughout them like invisible serpents, unknotted from sleep.

5 Geas of the Serpent People

[...]and he came anon to the spacious caverns in which the serpent-men were busying themselves with a multitude of tasks. They walked lithely and sinuously erect on pre-mammalian members, their pied and hairless bodies bending with great suppleness. There was a loud and constant hissing of formulae as they went to and fro. Some were smelting the black nether ores; some were blowing molten obsidian into forms of flask and urn; some were measuring chemicals; others were decanting strange liquids and curious colloids.

6 Geas of the Archetypes

The air of the gulfs and grottoes along his way began to increase markedly in warmth, and was moist and steamy as that of some equatorial fen. A primordial luminosity, such as might have dawned befare the creation of any sun, seemed to surround and pervade everything.

All about him, in this thick and semi-aqueous light, the hunter discerned the rocks and fauna and vegetable forms of a crassly primitive world. These shapes were dim, uncertain, wavering, and were all composed of loosely organized elements.

7 Geas of Abhoth and the Outer World

Here, it seemed, was the ultimate source of all miscreation and abomination. For the gray mass quobbed and quivered, and swelled perpetually; and from it, in manifold fission, were spawned the anatomies that crept away on every side through the grotto. There were things like bodiless legs or arms that flailed in the slime, or heads that rolled, or floundering bellies with fishes' fins; and all manner of things malformed and monstrous, that grew in size as they departed from the neigbborhood of Abhoth. And those that swam not swiftly ashore when they fell into the pool from Abhoth, were devoured by mouths that gaped in the parent bulk.