Inspiration Through Music: Dark Ambient

Dark Ambient: the ultimate soundtrack while working on a horror novel. Everything about these foreboding and twisted songs makes the goosebumps rise on your skin. You can imagine the creatures slinking through the darkness as they hunt their prey. You can see the empty old houses, the sun barely penetrating their grimy windows. There’s mist-cloaked roads, darkened doorways leading to unknown dens of terror, and open fields of tall grass where you hear nothing but know you’re not alone.

This type of music has inspired me in my writing for a very long time. In fact, it’s probably my most listened-to genre next to film scores and alternative rock. There were so many different artists and songs that I wanted to list but just couldn’t fit them all. I’ve picked a few of my favorites but just know I had hundreds more that could have been included here. I may even make lists at a later time and categorize them for my own personal use… but let’s get back on track here. Below, I’ve listed 10 songs that will chill you no matter what time of the year it is.

Am I So Deceived: Black Tape For A Blue Girl: Is it possible that I didn’t know about this band until only recently? They’ve been around since the 1980’s! This particular track is from 1989. The title speaks volumes about this piece. Someone feels betrayed, like the world is closing in on them. Everyone they once trusted now hides a secret. Is there any place that’s safe anymore? There’s a very paranoid feeling that comes with this song as well as the loss of innocence. Places and people the character used to trust have changed dramatically in the blink of an eye. There is no going back to that happier time.

Room of Angel: Akira Yamaoka feat. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn: Dark, dark, dark, dark! This song is found on the soundtrack to Silent Hill 4: The Room. I was actually given this soundtrack by a friend in high school along with the soundtrack for Silent Hill 3. It was very difficult to narrow down which song to use by Akira Yamaoka. The man is a freaking genius when it comes to dark ambient! There are several other songs on these soundtracks without lyrics that are equally as astounding. But Mary Elizabeth McGlynn has a perfectly haunting voice and lyrics are pitch black. This is a gorgeous piece that deserves much more attention than it gets. As of yet, I haven’t written the right story to go along with this piece because I haven’t found a worthy one to tell yet. This song is special and deserves the right kind of atmosphere. Here’s hoping I come up with one soon!

Miel: Imogen Heap: This is technically just an instrumental by Imogen Heap. It’s not classified as ‘dark ambient’ or at least, I haven’t seen it classified as such anywhere. But when I listen to it, it sounds discordant, dismal, and ominous… which are the requirements, I believe… I see this being background music for a strange new world. In fact, I’d chosen it as the “unofficial theme” for the Monstrum Chronicles series when I first heard it because I thought it was so brilliant. There are many different parts of this song. The piano definitely has some jazzy moments but also starts out with the low chords. Later into the song, we get some strange sound effects that Heap has added. It definitely sounds weird, almost alien with them. If you’re writing a scene that defies imagination and, for lack of a better word, is kind of “trippy”, check this song out.

Taking Tea in Dreamland: Chris Vrenna: Chris Vrenna used to be in Nine Inch Nails which is one of my favorite bands. He composed this quirky dark soundtrack for American McGee’s Alice in 2000. The game is a macabre look at Alice’s return to Wonderland after several years spent in an asylum. Naturally, when I was writing Vox, I was inspired by this piece while writing chapter 2 where we’re introduced to Eileen in the Kauffman Psychiatric Institute. The combination of the rattling china and the harp are especially creepy. When you add that kind of washing machine cycle noise and the violins, it enters a whole new level of unsettling. I also listened to “Late to the Jabberwocky” for another chapter later in the novel, skipping through the dialogue at the beginning (which is really disturbing!) And while we’re on the subject of Nine Inch Nails…

Ghosts II 13: Nine Inch Nails: It was tough for me to choose which song to do for this band because, well, they’re so damn brilliant, too, when comes to this genre. There are 36 tracks on the Ghost album and a ton of other instrumental ones they’ve done. Ghosts 13, however, is one that I found myself thinking of the other day at work. I hadn’t listened to this song recently either. I got in my head the image of a sprinkler, a development home with a front lawn and a swing set. Everything is kind of bleached out by the sun. It’s as if its a memory without people, a memory of a more innocent time during childhood. There’s a bittersweet component to this in knowing that those times are gone. This heavily inspired a scene from Memento Mori otherwise known as Book 3 of the Monstrum Chronicles, which I’m currently writing. If you listen to this song, do yourself a favor and listen to these tracks as well by NIN: Leaving Hope, A Warm Place, La Mer, and Ghosts 36.

Keep The Streets Empty For Me: Fever Ray: This is a relatively new band for me. I learned that this song and a couple others were used in the film “Red Riding Hood.” I’d heard this song elsewhere first and it worked SO much better with the first program rather than the second. I think it’s a lot deeper of a song than the movie gave it credit (they used it as make-out music…? WHY???) I heard this in Bones for a rather tragic scene in season 6 that I won’t spoil for those whom haven’t seen it. Ever since, all I’ve heard in this song is the emptiness in it. There’s a whistle in the flute every once in a while like wind and the echoing beat just seems to add to that emptiness. This band has some very unorthodox music. Some of it, I like. Others, not so much. Not all of it can be considered dark ambient either… pick and choose with these guys.

Feelings For Something Lost In Two Parts: Library Tapes: There’s static in the background, giving you an impression that this is a lost story, a story that happened years ago that hasn’t been told until now. The solo piano is melancholy and beautiful in its isolation. The static is necessary to remind you that these events happened long, long ago and they can’t be changed. Library Tapes is gifted when it comes to making melodic piano pieces that evoke feeling. Another one to listen to is Distans, which plays a solemn piano piece over the sounds of trains. That song was an inspiration for a scene in Book 4.

Grass: Aphex Twins: Want to talk about a spine-tingling song? This is definitely one to keep at the top of the list. There’s just an eerie melody that never really rises or falls. It stays pretty neutral the entire song but that doesn’t mean it isn’t eerie. Imagine this being the soundtrack as you’re negotiating a road in the middle of the night. Snow is falling so hard that it blanks out the world ahead of you. There are no other cars on the road. You’re driving in a place you’ve never been before, out in a heavily wooded area with no one around for miles. You squint your eyes to try and see past the snow. Something’s in the road. You slam on your brakes and swerve, trying to miss it. You’re wheels lock and you spin. You watch the road twirl away and the darkness of the forest rises up to meet you. [Spooky eh?]

Nightfall: Midnight Syndicate: Someone gave me a Midnight Syndicate album a few years ago. There are several gothic tracks to choose from but there are actually quite a few that really stand out, too. ‘Nightfall’ is one of these. It’s a weaving piano tune that oozes mystery and inherent danger. You get the feeling that you are about to find out something that could potentially injure you. But your curiosity gets the better of you. You have to know. There might be consequences if you don’t go looking for the truth. You weigh the risks and go ahead. The musty old book opens with a thud, the thin pages crackle as you flip through them. You come upon the page. You’re jaw drops. It’s not at all what you thought it might be; it’s much worse…

Downtown Theme: Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines: Probably one of the most fantastic games, it’s also chock full of atmospheric music. These tracks are uncredited, so I can’t attribute them to someone and say, “You are amazing!” Whoever you are out there that created these tracks, your name should be known. I could have picked several songs for this game but the Downtown theme is one of the most prominent songs and definitely deserves some attention. Everything about it screams a dark and malicious city with backstreets that hold gruesome ends and people who are most definitely not who they seem. If you enjoy this, also look at the following tracks from the game: Hollywood, Dark Asia, Mission Impossible, and Luckee Star Motel.

Next week on Inspiration Through Music, I’ll be doing something kind of special. I’ve recently been watching a lot of movies from the 90’s and marveling at some of the score music from them. These are movies that I’ve seen millions of times over. I’m realizing that certain scenes that touched me are because of the music that is being played in them. So, I’ll be doing a 90’s movie score montage of sorts… one track for each movie I choose. And some are movies that one wouldn’t necessarily expect either. Jumanji, Groundhog Day, and Man In the Iron Mask are only a few of the scores I’ll be discussing!

Remember, this week’s Cooking Adventure’s blog will be posted on Jen Blood’s site, not mine. I’ll have the link posted on Thursday for you all.

~KSilva

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