At the Hermitage, I use dark ambient music to facilitate a contemplative practice that I refer to as deep listening. The term was brought to my attention by the late composer Pauline Oliveros, who defines it as:
“…going below the surface of what is heard and also expanding to the whole field of sound whatever one’s usual focus might be.”
Her work in the Dan Harpole cistern (a.k.a. the “Cistern Chapel”) utilized the 45-second reverb time and reflections of sound off the pillars, and brought greater attention to the importance of the performance space in music appreciation. In her TED talk about the difference between hearing and listening, she says:
“In order to play in a cistern environment, we had to learn to listen in a new way. We had no plan, no written score, and had no discussion beforehand. We simply improvised, played, and learned that the cistern was playing with us.”
“To hear is the physical means that enables perception. To listen is to give attention to what is perceived, both acoustically and psychologically.”
“Performance space is as important as voices and instruments.”
My specialty is designing spaces of endarkenment to call forth experiences of the sacred in the context of the everyday. One day, when I’ve found an appropriate space for it, I hope to design and set up an acoustically resonant subterranean deep listening space for the Hermitage.
In the meantime, my deep listening practice consists in listening to dark ambient music in a space that is as acoustically immersive as I can make it (a good subwoofer helps!), and giving it my full attention.
After years of this deep listening practice, and appreciative feedback about it from friends, I started a music advisory service through which I put together custom themed playlists of dark ambient music for rituals, events, meditation groups, and yoga classes. This service project is designed to help foster music-based contemplative practices and dark ambient music appreciation in the communities I work with.
Among those who have enlisted this service:
Ingrid Kincaid, aka The Rune Woman, who has organized rituals in Portland, OR for Skadi and Mordgud using my music recommendations.
Bridie Przibram, founder of UK-based Yoga In Black -who says she became “a total convert” to dark ambient via the first playlist I made for her yoga workshop.
If you’d like me to put together a playlist for you, please see my services page for more information about how to proceed.
If you like what you hear in these playlists, for each of the Bandcamp tracks on these playlists you can click on the Bandcamp | Buy Now button underneath each track name, and you’ll be taken directly to the Bandcamp page where you can buy the track and download it immediately. You can also buy the full album if you so desire. Your money will go directly to the musicians.
Examples of playlist themes and descriptions:
Chanting, chimes, choral voices, church bells, orchestral elements…a sublime and sacral musical journey into the inner sanctum of a dark Pagan monastery. Tracks selected to inspire visions of candle-lit shrines, incense, prayer, devotion, temple dance, and processionals of reverent worshipers clad in black hooded robes.
A tribute to Skaði (aka Skadi or Skadhi) – the Jötunn and Norse deity of winter, mountains, and the primal bow-hunt. She is a friend of wolves, and is also known as Öndurdis (ski goddess). As a devotee, I have served as a shrine keeper for Her since 2004; She is the inspiration behind my dark fusion dance project, Shrine of Skaði. (The last track by Hagalaz’ Runedance isn’t exactly dark ambient, but I wanted to include it anyway since it’s been part of my devotional playlist since day one.)
In the mood for the darkest-of-the-dark? If you appreciate intense, ominous music to accompany underworld rituals that conjure scenes of impending destruction, cataclysm, and disaster, this one’s just for you. Delve into this two-hour journey through the abyssal depths of blackness.
Mystical and introspective, with a greater focus on percussion than is typical in dark ambient music – and one track, “Nordljuset”, even features a saidi rhythm. So much for those who say dark ambient is “music you can’t dance to!”
Deep drones and thick frosty soundscapes to evoke scenes of polar glaciers, snowdrifts, hoarfrost, ice-encrusted Northern forests and lakes, and spaces of deep arctic cold and dark. Enjoy this dark ambient hymn to winter beauty that is stark, icy, deadly, and completely immersive. (Special thanks to Jan Roger Pettersen of Svartsinn for selecting the title of this playlist.)
Spooky graveyards, a ghostly presence…is there something hiding down there in the cellar? If you’re in search of a dark ambient playlist for a frightful Halloween haunted house or a creepy underworld ritual, look no further. (Image background art by William Leighton Fisher, used by permission.)
If you love long-form meditative tracks that induce rapture and facilitate dreamlike liminal states, here’s a playlist of deep dark ambient to help open the right paths to reverie and gnosis for you. Who needs mind-altering chemical agents when you’ve got this kind of music? Dig in, and trance out!
Appreciative words from listener D. Edward Koch:
“Thank you for posting this. It’s one of the best things about the Black Stone Hermitage. I find it very easy to trance journey into the other world. However these songs are helping that.”
“…one of Portland’s best kept secrets…I was so VERY taken aback and mesmerized by her ensemble of dark ambient music she put together for a recent ceremony I attended.”
~ Kristie Williams
“If it has Danica Swanson’s approval, that means I need to check it out.”
~ Jeffrey I. Michaels, music fan