Aug 2015 28

As the world awaits the conclusion of his long gestating Lovecraftian trilogy, The Unquiet Void’s Jason Wallach returns from beyond infinite, sightless, soundless space to reveal The Secrets of Vanished Aeons.
 
The Unquiet Void

 

An InterView with Jason Wallach of The Unquiet Void

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Since first appearing in 1998 with the rhythmic darkwave of Scorpio, Jason Wallach has taken The Unquiet Void down darker and more experimental paths that transcend the accepted perceptions of dark ambient music. In 2004, he revealed Poisoned Dreams, the first of a planned trilogy of albums inspired by the literary works of weird fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft – channeling the author’s chaotic visions of eldritch terrors full of unknowable creatures that extend from the submarine depths of the Earth into the black expanse of limitless space into a cacophony of dark sound wherein our understanding of music in any conventional sense breaks down. Continuing the trilogy was 2006’s The Shadow-Haunted Outside, in which Wallach did away with any notions of human familiarity and plunged deep into the chaos void, staring straight into the amorphous blight of nethermost confusion. Needless to say, such explorations left an indelible mark on Wallach, leading to a substantial silence over the next several years, broken only by his score for independent horror movie Closet Space. In 2012, So Comes the Yawning Darkness found The Unquiet Void returning to Lovecraft, collaborating with artist/sculptor Jason McKittrick for a special presentation for the 2013 H.P. Lovecraft convention NecronomiCon. Now poised to conclude the trilogy proper, Jason Wallach speaks with ReGen Magazine on the development of his craft, touching on the toll his musical experiences have had on him to culminate in the trilogy’s impending final chapter, The Secrets of Vanished Aeons.

 

It has been some time since we’ve heard from The Unquiet Void, the last release being a collaborative effort with sculptor Jason McKittrick, called So Comes the Yawning Darkness.
What can you tell us about the status of The Unquiet Void now? What has changed that has affected the way you have approached making music?

Wallach: So Comes the Yawning Darkness was created for Necronomicon 2013. As I recall, I remember talking to my mother and telling her I had this feeling that my life was going to change from that experience. I couldn’t have been more on point, although I could not have predicted the depth and scope of that transformation. Everything changed in my life and thus my approach to recording changed in methodology and tonally.
At present, The Unquiet Void is on slow thaw. There are two irons in the fire at present – one being a Lovecraft piece and the other being inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow. The latter being a very different exploration than the Lovecraft works, it’s very ambient and a tad on the experimental side being mostly melodic. Some of the material I’m working from was created by Craig Pillard (Methadrone) and I from an old project we were kicking around back in the MySpace days called Vizionz. I’m reworking a good deal of it and adding to it, etc. I love the possibilities of that material and it was just sitting around, so I started listening to it and molding it differently. It’s an exploration of madness… and masks; do they hide you or do they liberate you, or both? It’s very much tied to the Chambers book.

So Comes the Yawning Darkness is still very much devoted to H.P. Lovecraft, although it is not part of the trilogy that began with Poisoned Dreams and The Shadow-Haunted Outside. In what ways would you say that the album distinguishes itself from the trilogy?

Wallach: The album occurs at some point during the timeline of the trilogy. It actually begins manifestation in The Shadow-Haunted Outside and stretches alongside in parallel fashion. I was really inspired by the relationship concept between Nyarlathotep and Azathoth, the messenger of the outer gods representing the ego and its expanding self-unaware counterpart. So I began ruminating on that concept.
Now, Jason McKittrick and I became friends very quickly! I love his sculptures and idols – very influential on the release. I called up Jason one day and I said, ‘Jason, Nyarlathotep has 999 avatars and how many do we know of? 20 or so? Let’s create a new avatar for this thing.’ Jason was completely down with the idea, but what would this form be? Why would it be? What purpose would it serve? Jason told me of an experience he had visiting a closed state hospital. The description of the layout of the place alone seriously gave me the creeps. Now, I see the relationship between the Outer Gods as being hierarchal and see Nyarlathotep as personifying a web with its strands reaching outward into our world granting him limited access to assert his influence in whatever form it chooses to take. Whereas I see Nyarlathotep being that which ensnares, I see Azathoth as the spider in the center; Azathoth is a rather one-note being that it has no concept of itself, whereas Nyarlathotep is extremely aware; it’s a symbiotic relationship.

All that being said, I had a severe ‘oh shit’ moment at work one day and I called Jason again and I told him all that and went on to describe and name this avatar. I named it Siphon, whereas it appears in the form of a child and leads other children into hidden dark places in our world where they ‘become’ flautists for Azathoth and thus containing its infinite expansion. I was inspired by The Pied Piper of Hamlin. Jason then added that the child would appear to be onyx in color, emitting purple light from its eyes, and appear in the garb of children in the 1800s. It was around this time I was sought out by artist extraordinaire Shane Gallagher who beautifully brought the avatar to life. If you listen to the track ‘Siphon’ on the album, you can hear, if you really listen, babies crying and screaming, although it sounds like something much worse.
The album was also very much inspired by Lovecraft’s own story The Haunter of the Dark, and a hell of a lot of fun to create. In the story, it is mentioned that ancient relics were discovered in the Church of Starry Wisdom. I went a step further and created a tome that would be discovered with an ancient relic pertaining directly to this release. The tome is referred to as Cor Tenebris (Latin for ‘Heart of Darkness’) and contains the only documentation of sightings of the messenger of the Outer Gods throughout history in various forms. Crude and ambiguous as it would be, I decided to make the CD insert a 12 page book showcasing Shane’s artwork of various forms of Nyarlathotep. So the insert itself is the tome and the artifact, known as the Void artifact, was beautifully designed and sculpted by McKittrick. Basically if you own the limited set we created, you’re done! I wanted the set to be a comprehensive and heightened psychological and emotional experience. So, it differs from The Shadow-Haunted Outside in that one is simply an exploration of our end days through the reawakening of the Outer Gods and the other is a closer look at a segment of that process. As far as hierarchy goes, it really continues from the tracks ‘Messenger, Deceiver’ and ‘Idiot God’ from The Shadow-Haunted Outside, which are back to back. So Comes the Yawning Darkness is really the closer look you don’t want to take of an already awful trajectory where human beings are concerned.

It’s been over 11 years since The Shadow-Haunted Outside; are there still plans to conclude the trilogy?

Wallach: It has been a while hasn’t it? Yes, there are plans to conclude the trilogy and the album is under construction as we speak. In fact, if you look up on SoundCloud under The Unquiet Void, there is a track from this work already posted. The album is called The Secrets of Vanished Aeons and is hopelessly inspired by Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. I call it my crock-pot method of creating – I throw a bunch of ingredients together and let them sit for a while and become something else. This is a big project for me and I want to do it right and make it worth the wait – there are those waiting anxiously for it. I’m taking a more cosmic horror approach to the sound and construction of this thing. It predates humanity so I have to remove that element from it. Poisoned Dreams is the ending of humanity; The Shadow-Haunted Outside… well, there’s nothing human about it. It’s just a visceral nightmare. So the human response and emotion doesn’t exist in the finale because it predates our existence. Instead of fear and horror, it really has to give off more of a sense of foreboding and awe. Don’t worry. It will be dark; just in different ways.

While not specifically devoted to Lovecraft, you composed a score for the indie horror movie Closet Space, which did possess some peripheral Lovecraftian influences. What did you find to be the major challenges in composing music to complement the movie’s visual scheme?

Wallach: Actually, I find scoring films easier than articulating, say, Lovecraft. Lovecraft is highly ambiguous and in the process I have to, as Ken Foree says in the film From Beyond (and I’m paraphrasing), ‘Get down there with the amoebas.’ I have to imagine it, feel it, and submerge myself in it for a time. It’s not easy and probably not very healthy either, but it’s been a passion project even though it’s taken a toll on me. With a film, the images are there, the story is there, and the feelings are there, and what I have to do is step in and amplify all that and I get to keep my distance, which is a lot of fun. When it’s all laid out for you to put your stamp on, it’s just a matter of creativity. When it’s something that requires me to go inward and sometimes downward, there are many more variables to contend with and sort out. It’s a lot more work and in the case of The Shadow-Haunted Outside, it was a lot less fun.

In what ways did you find that working on this score differed from how you would approach music on your own?

Wallach: Well, again, I was working bouncing off of someone else’s ideas and visuals and emotions. It gives me room to explore concepts and themes without going into a depression or becoming unstable in any way which has happened in the past. It’s like coloring someone else’s drawing. Normally creating music on my own is an introspective and beautiful experience. Even though the Lovecraft work has been far less pleasant in that capacity, it has truly taught me a lot about myself as a being and as an artist as well. So the approach is quite different and a lot safer.

What are the chances that we’ll hear you performing more soundtrack/scores for other movies?

Wallach: I would love to do it more often!! It’s great fun!! I have to have offers though… any takers?

We’ve discussed Lovecraft’s influence in modern cinema and music before, and it does seem that while many may not be read up completely on his actual writing, there seems to be a greater familiarity with the likes of Cthulhu. To what would you personally attribute this, and what is your reaction to it?

Wallach: I happen to think this is a great question and very easily answerable. There’s a great familiarity with Cthulhu because it’s the only creature Lovecraft describes with any sort of definite form. That’s actually why I’ve stayed away from it in my work. Cthulhu is a thing that people already have an acquaintance with so I don’t ever have to paint it, describe it… I’ve pointed to it in Poisoned Dreams (look at the cover) and I’ll point at it again in the finale, but I don’t ever have to go there. It’s a humanoid body, an alien cephalopod hybrid head with vestigial wings and scaly skin. Great! Humans are highly dependent upon familiarity and comfortability and that’s what they have with Cthulhu… and that’s why I shy from it. It’s almost socially acceptable at this point. I personally don’t mind it, though familiarity is the opposite of Lovecraft. Fear of the unknown is a central theme to his work.

If you were to approach the works of another author or literary work to draw inspiration from, either in The Unquiet Void or in another project, who would you be drawn to and why?

Wallach: Well, there’s the Robert Chambers release I’m working on called Where the Black Stars Rise, and you can hear two tracks from that on SoundCloud too! I’m exploring that because of the madness of it. I get a sense of broken dreams and dilapidated fairy tale from it. I get to approach it from a much different angle than the August Derleth association of The King in Yellow to Lovecraft’s work. I’m just not going that route with it. Other than that, I’d have to say John Shirley. His novel Wetbones is my favorite modern novel bar none! It’s conceptually rich and inspiring, albeit smashing hard into some very deep dark waters. I’ve been a fan of his a long time now and I think he’s brilliant!
My research of and work within Lovecraft’s life and universe comes to its reasonable conclusion with the trilogy finale. I very much enjoy his work and I’ll always be a fan, but Lovecraft isn’t something you just shake off. Once it gets under your skin… that’s it! The work I have done I chose to do out of love and respect as well as for means of catharsis in a world I’ll never fully understand and also to challenge myself and grow as an artist. I’ve spent 16 years of my life dedicated to this trilogy and it’s just time to move on to other things I want to do. I don’t want to be known as that guy who makes albums based on books.

Will you ever return to Lovecraft territory?

Wallach: I honestly cannot answer that question definitively. I have nothing planned and I am moving back into the realm of making actual music again taking with me the experience I have gained. If the inspiration comes then it comes and it will take me where it takes me. If not, then I can honestly say that I’m not going to look for a reason to go back. Creating art is like farting; if you force, it then it is shit!

In the past, it was not uncommon for musicians to draw from literature and arts of all kinds for inspiration – i.e. Blue Öyster Cult, Rush, etc. What are your thoughts on the way modern musicians have approached such influences, or if they are even present?

Wallach: Well, I mean you have ‘Dominion/Mother Russia’ by The Sisters of Mercy (a huge favorite of mine), which most definitely draws from Percy Shelly’s ‘Ozymandias’ (an instrumental B-side to that single)… You can hear now and again, I get it more from older music than newer. I mean Led Zeppelin… very strong Tolkein influence there. Blue Öyster Cult’s album Heaven Forbid features lyrics by John Shirley! So I don’t hear it so much with newer bands or maybe I’m just not familiar with the works they are drawing from. I’m kind of in the dark on this one.

The Unquiet Void has touched on different yet equally dark aspects of music, with past albums having a more rhythmic darkwave approach, while your later work has more of the dark ambient and experimental style. As a musician, how do you reconcile these styles within the context of The Unquiet Void?

Wallach: When I hear the word reconcile, the thought of defending, categorizing, or explaining the differences in earlier and later material comes to mind. I do not dissect what I do. It all comes from me at various times in this lifetime I have and from various sources of inspiration for various reasons. So there, that’s how I reconcile it.

What would you say is the next step in the development of the project?

Wallach: Well, what really got me composing, recording, and experimenting with music in the first place were labels such as 4AD, Beggars Banquet, Mute, Nettwerk, WaxTrax!, Play It Again Sam, World Serpent… but there were bands such as Shriekback, DEVO, a-Ha, The Church, Psychedelic Furs, Flock of Seagulls, David Bowie, Gary Numan, Bay of Pigs, Grinning Plowman, Flowerpot Men, And Also the Trees, The Chameleons (UK), The Sisters of Mercy… too many to name them all, but they indelibly left their mark on my soul. Great songwriters and musicians taking chances and simply doing what they wanted to do rather than trying to sound like any or everyone else. I want to make music and celebrate life again. Since my work in Arkham, I have a lot to say about life and my experiences therein and it needs to be actuated. I’ve been listening lately a lot to Ladytron, The Knife, Ladyhawk, Depeche Mode, ’80s era Cure, Fad Gadget, The Legendary Pink Dots up until they peaked at Crushed Velvet Apocalypse – my God, do I love that album… even The Maria Dimension. In the immortal words of Heath Ledger from his performance in The Dark Knight, ‘I just… do!’ That’s how I want to roll!
So I’m moving into a more widely acceptable space with it. Sometimes danceable, sometimes orchestral… I want to mesh and mingle different things and experiment with different toys and instruments. By toys, I mean like Fisher Price toys, pitch or circuit bent items. I just want to create and break and create; like Tinker Toys man! I want to feel like the sky is the limit again and create more material that I could actually play live.

 

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