Ritually Charged [2012-12-04]Finland based Arktau Eos create some of the most authentic & chilling ritual/ dark ambient music you’ll have come across. The project has been in operation since 2005, and to date they have released five albums: Mirrorion(2006), Scorpion Milk(2006), Ai Ma Ra (2009), and Unworeldes & Ioh-Maera which have both recently released on Finland's Svart Records. I tracked down this most mysterious & elusive project for an email interview.
(All the answers were made as a collective with all three members contributing, hence I’m using the projects name for the answers instead on individual members names)
m[m]:Can you tell us about the origins of Arktau Eos project, why you picked the name & what's its meaning?
AE We met in 2003 and began work on what was to be called Arktau Eos in 2005. We have never referred to it as a project though. The name came to us on the day we finished mixing the first album. We have never wanted to fix a definitive meaning to the name, but it has a cluster of perceptible associations to it, which are all fitting. 'Arctic', 'dawn', 'Tau' (a three-way intersection) are but some of them.
m[m]:Your biography claims that music is almost a result of what you aiming for ritual - so is all your work written purely from a ritual context?
AE It certainly began that way, but as we have evolved as a group, so has our definition of 'ritual'. And the music, the spiritual underpinnings and their concrete manifestations in ritual and gesture, artwork, and performance all feed each other. Unless you are within, discerning those streams of influence might be difficult. But an outsider has also the advantage of a fresh perspective, and may still perceive and apprehend the power arising from their coalescence.
m[m]:The projects first sonic statement was 2006's Mirrorion- which utilized purely non electronic elements, and just ritual acoustic elements & voices/chants. What made you decide to focus just on these elements? How difficult was it to capture these elements & how much editing/processing was done back in the studio?
AE Mirrorion is rich in field recordings, and acoustic elements, and we did not pay much attention to the fact before finishing the album – it was a natural turnout of the way we worked back then. Even parts of the initial ritual sessions are hidden in the mix. Suffice to say, it is a heavily edited and FX-laden album, much more so than the later work which largely abandons such excesses.
m[m]:At the same time you put out Mirrorion, you also released the ltd Scorpions Milk album which saw you create one slow building ritual ambient work. Do you see this work connected to Mirrorion? And how different did you go about creating it, compared with Mirrorion?
AE Very differently. After finishing Mirrorion, which is an intensely active record, seething with energies it can barely contain, it was necessary to create something representing them in a calm, static and meditative manner, as means of grounding them. The albums are opposites in many ways, or maybe more properly counterparts. Whereas Mirrorion was constructed meticulously over a half a year period with abundant digital editing, Scorpion Milk was recorded directly to analog tape in a single session, and so forth. In one Greek myth Orion is even killed by a scorpion: the analogy is plain.
m[m]:Your next release was the double cd release Ai Ma Ra- this saw you move away from the more percussive ritual sound of Mirrorion, towards a more drone/ eerier dirge type sound which utilized more conventional instruments such as guitar, organ & harmonium. What made you go down the route of using these more 'normal' instruments, and did you find them easier or more difficult tools to get across what you were trying to do ritually/sonically?
AE There was a guitar on Mirrorion, but none on Ai Ma Ra. Besides organ & harmonium, there are several ethnic string instruments, flutes etc. on Ai Ma Ra, none of which we master in any traditional way, but for our purposes their usage posed no greater difficulty than the tools used for crafting Mirrorion.
m[m]:Ai Ma Ra also saw your sound taking on a more Middle Eastern feel (mainly on the albums second disc)- what attached you to this more world music learning & do you have an active interest in world music in general?
AE We have an active interest in ancient music and some folk/ethnic music, but not so much in modern fusion styles of world music. The unadorned beauty, often simplicity, and lack of needless, soul-slaying polish are the obvious attractions, as are the weight and sense of genuine ancient heritage in some styles, such as Byzantine music – they hail from a world where music was spiritual and serious, not mere entertainment or a vehicle for the inflation of ego.
m[m]:In 2009 you started making live performances- what trigged this & what problems did you face recreating your sound in a live environment?
AE We started making live performances in 2007 already, mostly because we found it interesting to explore another kind of dynamic. The problems are usually of technical kind, insufficient PA, absent or clueless FOH soundmen, ie. the usual boring stuff: nothing that could not be overcome. We are not recreating the sound exactly, but to a great degree create it anew on stage every time, since we dropped using backing tapes early on. The real problems would begin if we for some reason lost focus ourselves, which has not happened so far, thankfully. Music will always follow, when will and focus are present and undistracted.
m[m]:You've recently decided to add your live percussionist as a third full time member of Arktau Eos - how did this come about? And do each of you have a set sonic job with-in Arktau Eos?
AE He is a talented percussionist and completely dedicated to music. It is a great asset to have someone who truly knows and understands the individual tonal qualities and sweet spots of the gongs and drums, suitable tempos and intensity of strikes, but equally appreciates the required minimalism and often subdued manner of playing in Arktau Eos. So it was never a question of skill: after all, he has been playing with AIH for fifteen years. But we wanted him to have an experience akin to that we had starting the group, slowly getting into the feel and ideas unique to Arktau Eos. With Ioh-Maera, we thought time was ripe to make his position official. Arktau Eos is a very tightly knit unit, and it is almost impossible to think of recruiting another person. Although there is the strange matter of a fourth person sometimes having been witnessed onstage by the people in the audience, and at least once even showing in a picture. Clearly there is someone or something not asking for our consent!
AE As for set sonic jobs – Iwowi takes care of the percussive elements, and AIL and AIH do everything else. We may not necessarily even remember who played what by the time the album is finished, it is not a big deal: the overall atmosphere is all that matters. AIH is the mastermind behind recording and mixing – he built the studio and knows it best.
m[m]:You talk about a 4th unknown entity appearing at some of your live performances.is this something that your worried about & what do you think it is?
AE No. We should begin worrying if all such phenomena surronding Arktau Eos ceased suddenly. Arktau Eos is a haunted group, as anyone close to us will testify, a nexus of remarkably weird coincidences. When we began work on Mirrorion, we decided to concentrate on what we could call ur-images and symbols only, for the initial period casting aside our knowledge on their modern elaborations and systems of classification, including those of any religion or magical group. Imagine then our surprise, when certain Frater S, an expert on gematria, told us that the two possible Greek gematric values of the word 'Mirrorion' add up to that of 'Arktau Eos'... Now, whether or not one believes the numeric values of words indicate a connection between them, the probability for such a coincidence is very small indeed. To us, they confirm by their dramatic frequency that we are tapping into something rich and vital: when we were working on a song for the musical supplement of Abraxas Journal from Fulgur Publishing, a tremendous thunderstorm suddenly came over, complete with the most spectacular lightning strikes – as happened when the personnel at Fulgur Publishing chose that name, we've been told... Just recently, when we thought we would need to have some rum and something to draw on ground for our opening ritual at Stella Natura festival, we bumped into a voodoo practitioner, who offered to procure us a packet of maize and a bottle of rum used at the Haitian hounfors. Then we needed a particular kind of knife - and it was waiting for us at a pawn shop of a small town, where would not have stopped, had our car not broken down.
AE As to what the 'unknown entity' is? - maybe it is a manifestation of our egregore or group-mind, or perhaps Ai Ma Ra or some forgotten ancestor not wanting to miss out on a good party? Hard to say, perhaps it will tell us eventually.
m[m]:You’ve just release two new albums: Ioh-Maera(cd only) & Unworeldes( vinyl only) on Finland's Svart record's. Can you tell us a little bit about the themes & sonic concept behind each release?
AE Ioh-Maera is thematically more condensed than Unworeldes. It began with certain divinations conducted on old star-maps, and evolved quickly to encompass also some alchemical imagery; it concerns dream seeding, generation and the breaking down of the barrier between waking and dreaming from the other side. This process, or alternatively its 'ambassador' we named I-oh, after a word itself originating in dreaming. Unworeldes does not so much describe such an process or method but in an abstract and universal sense those worlds beyond the veil themselves.
m[m]:Soundwise Ioh-Maera seems to be mixing together all your past sound element- acoustic ritual elements, more conventional musical instrumental textures, and field recordings- was this your sonic concept from the start or did this develop as you wrote the material?
AE Not a conscious concept at first. Ioh-Maera was worked in an unusually limited time period, as the greater whole (involving an art exhibition and a special Eastern European release performance, working on the artwork with Costin Chioreanu etc.) dictated us strict deadlines. Each of the phases (songs) of the Ioh-cycle also needed a distinct identity. All of this had a compressing effect, which is not bad in itself – it is a very compact disc indeed! Ambience, by definition, needs room – but confusing that need with overly long, meandering expression is undesirable.
m[m]:One of my favourite moments of your two new releases is "Otherstone Refraction" from Ioh-Maera's, with its eerier nocturnal mixture of weird tumbling earth field recordings, creepy electro ambience; drone brood. How do you go about field recording sourcing?, and will you go out & record a certainly sound when you need it or do you have a library of field recordings?
AE It is a favourite of some of us too. We have never collected what could be said to be a huge library of field recordings, and usually go for a sound when we need it. In rare cases, such as the song you mentioned (and several on Mirrorion), the field recordings have actually been the primogenitors for the entirety. It was the sound we were looking for "Otherstone Refraction" all along, only we did not know it before hearing it out there in the night...
m[m]:Both of the your two new albums have less text based elements & booklets with them- is this due to constraints from your new label or do you feel these new releases need less explanation?
AE We would point blank refuse to work with a label dictating any such constraints. Svart Records have shown great trust in us and have never interfered with the artistic process. Music should not crave for explanation in the first place; the notes on the previous album are there to provide context for those whose interests coincide with ours. The albums can be enjoyed without that context, but for us, they find completion only when all elements including artwork and text are present. The quota of each constituent varies - another matter of intuitive choice, whatever seems right at the time.
AE Actually, internally, Ioh-Maera is probably the most well-documented album we ever did - a rather bulky dossier with information was collated together, because we needed to communicate our ideas in understandable form to cover artist Costin Chioreanu in Romania, with whom we were working closely not only on the album, but the accompanying art exhibition and performance in Romania. They included text, charts, diagrams, quotes, correspondence, artwork and letterform drafts with explanations. But in the end, we conjectured that all the intellectual involvement has been actually been transmuted into the artwork over the months we worked on it and discussed it back and forth. Like alchemical and hermetic emblems, the simple form of the final cd case actually carries a multitude of meanings in condensed form, opening through contemplation – if we were successful, that is.
AE Maybe the same could be said for Unworeldes as well, adding that in its case even the somewhat more abstruse concept of the album supports its wordless depiction. There is a 16-page booklet with carefully chosen photos, which carry over the mood of the sessions, if not quite explain them outright.
m[m]:Both of your two new albums feature two quite different types of cover artwork. Ioh-Maera with it's colourful almost comic book type portrayal of a hand throwing a chalice up to the sun. And Unworeldes with it's more creepy black white drawing based picture of a bonsai tree with weird bats in it. How did select the artists you use, and what does each cover say to you about each release?
AE In case of Ioh-Maera, it was Costin Chioreanu's enthusiasm which won us over, and we agreed on a special release for a Bucharest event we planned with him. Little did we know that there was a full album starting to take shape in the shadows, and Ioh-Maera came together surprisingly quickly. Due to this connection, it was only natural that we employed Costin for the artwork, as we wanted to give him his due as one of the instigators of the entire Ioh-Maera cycle. The result is a mix of both our and his style, and it was a learning process for both parties.
AE Unworeldes is another story. We had a sketch for the cover, but lacked the ability to make it alive. Ktl, a long-time friend of AIL and a masterly underground artist, was staying in our hometown Oulu and had a look at the sketch, saying that he finds idea great and could work on it. In fact, he began drawing that night. The finished drawing is almost exactly what we envisioned.
AE In both cases, the apparent simplicity hides several meanings which will become clear given time and thought, as already mentioned above. In broad terms, the Ioh-Maera covers depicts a phase in a process; Unworeldes' cover is a cosmogram of sorts. What they say to us is not as interesting as what they say to you.
m[m]:Ioh-Maera's first track Unbinding Kaamos features Enochian language vocals from Australian occult artist Barry William Hale. How did this come about? Was the track a straight collaboration or did you Mr hale just add his vocals to the finished track?
AE Arktau Eos crossed paths with Mr Hale's art/magical project NOKO in London some years ago. They are also a trio, from the opposite part of the globe, working in similar ways, and we share a mutual respect for each other's work. As there was talk of him publishing a new book at the EBC where we had a performance coming up, we invited him as a surprise guest to ceremonially open it. The plan fell through as the book release was pushed to the future, making him unable to attend, but we asked Barry if he would like to do an opening for the forthcoming CD instead. We shared our ideas and gave him some guidelines, and he duly delivered the haunting chant on "Unbinding Kaamos". He did it without hearing the song itself, but when we dropped the file among the tracks, it fit perfectly, almost as if he had been listening to the sounds of the night in the background, holding a dialogue with them nevertheless! No repositioning, adjusting the tuning, nothing – what you hear one the CD is the placement and sound we tried for the first and the last time. A magick moment. Needless to say we are honoured by his contribution.
m[m]:Can you tell us anything about the book project you were working on with Mr Hale.
We are not/were not working on a book with Mr Hale, the book in question is of his own researches and artwork. Nevertheless, an Arktau Eos book release might happen, given time. Like in the case of the DVD, some things need to cohere first. We tend to think of everything we put out, like the recent t-shirt, as a 'proper' release, and that might in future include items like a book or art prints.
m[m]:Is there anyone else you'd like to collaborate with in the future?
AE There is no-one we have in mind right at the moment. We are pretty self-sufficient, and collaborations have to happen naturally. Who knows...
m[m]:The two new releases are your first releases not to be released on Aural Hypnox label- is this label still active & will still release things on this in the future?
AE Aural Hypnox is on hiatus due to a need to refocus the activities of the label, but will become active again in some form. Wait and see. Arktau Eos will continue to work with Svart Records, but obviously our connection to Aural Hypnox is strong – it is more than a label. Like the Helixes collective, it is also an idealistic philosophy.
m[m]:Clearly Arktau Eos is quite a visual project with your gowns, sack masks & rituals- have you ever considered releasing a full lengthy ritual video work?
AE We have several ideas cooking on this front, and probably will do a DVD eventually, preferably with an old-school aesthetic, 8 mm cameras and so forth. But this is one for the future and not imminent by any means.
m[m]:You have a few worldwide live events coming up can you tell us a little about each & what people can expect from each event?
AE We are doing variations of the Ioh-Maera themes for now, which evolve slowly event by event. If people come with an open mind, there is a good chance some new-found gate will open within for them – this is what we are often told. We are not escapist, but attempt to create a timeless environment, a sacred space apart, where you no longer think of music and genres, and can let your mind wander free of the constraints and curses of the modern world.
Thank you for the interview.
-ARKTAV EOS 4 XII 12
Thank you to Arktau Eos for their time & effort with the interview. The pictures used through-out the interview are used with kind permission of the project, and were taken in Wallachian woods by (c) Costin Chioreanu. Both Unworeldes & Ioh-Maera are available direct from Svart Records here, and the projects facebook page can be found here - where you find the most up to date information on the projectRoger Batty