Xeno Volcano is a one-man act headed by San Francisco native David Thayer. Thayer now operates out of Switzerland where he operates his own recording label Harde Press. David is also experience with collaborative efforts having worked musically and conceptually in dance, theatre and musicals. David has also collaborated with artist such as Pierce and Massimo on “Plastic Spider Thing” performances. Elektra Sturmschnell is another contributor and collaborator of note having provided vocals on previous releases.
Xeno Volcano’s newest album is Black Book. Black Book is Harde Press 004 in the Harde Press catalog. David Thayer is responsible for all sounds, art and photography except for violin on “Tendence” which is performed by Mark Mathes. The album was created between 2002 and 2003. The title “Black Book” references a book Thayer used to records dreams. The album’s song titles are excerpts taken from the “Black Book” dream log. Each song on the album is constructed around references taken the dream log and accompanying drawings. Sound sources include field recordings and unconventional music concrete elements. The bulk of the music is electronic and acoustic generated sounds.
The first song on the album is titled “Tendency.” “Tendency” is an epic ambient journey that lasts over thirty minutes. Xeno Volcano transports the listener to an icy landscape of luminescence and barren, flat terrain. "Tendency" unveils a land where the sun never rises and the moon remains forever full. The landscape is cold darkness illuminated by the moon’s silver light. Snow and ice reflect the soft light of the shadowy landscape beneath you. As if carried away on wings, the listener is gently floated on a variety of expanding synthesizer sounds and acoustic string arrangements. Soft sounds wash in and out of the music with little interruption.
The listener is led forward by different guides within the song “Tendency.” In the beginning, a gentle percussive loop punctuates the music and leads the listener through this artic ambient world. In later chapters of the song the way is led by strings, synth sounds, drones and even piano. Industrial elements are emphasized in numerous segments adding variety, movement and a sense of industrialized civilization to this otherwise barren soundscape. The industrial musings are intelligently mixed with the artic atmospheric ambient. The impression is one of flying over artic tundra populated below by belching smoke stacks and the hissing steam of machines. Sounds of industry and machinery penetrate through this dream of distant cold lands.
Xeno Volcano’s music on this release is very inspired by dreams and the subconscious. Shifting from moment to moment into new and varying forms the music achieves a compositional liquidity equivalent to a lucid dream or dream memory. In dreams so often the plot, characters and even environment shift subtly into completely transformed realities. During the extended voyage of “Tendency”, individual musical scenarios commence and terminate at unpredictable intervals. The sense of liquid consciousness that flows as opposed to our waking static consciousness underlies the listening experience. With eyes closed and deep relaxation undertaken “Tendency” is an engaging and provocative journey into ones own mind and subconscious.
“Lowering Dunes” is the third track on Black Book. “Lowering Dunes” sets a new mood in the album. Sobering impressions of suspense, peril, and sadness dominate this composition. The track begins with an uneasy and disjointed rhythmic loop. The rhythm is steady and sustained as it comes in from a number of directions. The rhythmic structures reminded me of the pace of a crippled person. The gimp rhythm is backed by suspenseful sweeps synthesized sounds and electronic noise. “Lowering Dunes,” communicates a sense of neglect and a struggle for survival. The harshness of the icy tundra is still present but here the luminescence has faded and the moon has been eclipsed. Creatures within the night that cannot tolerate the moons light awaken hungry and aggressive. The track remains grounded in the conceptual and compositional inspiration of dreams.
After the song has established its mood and lulled the listener down into its recesses a male voice begins to recite words. The words come one by one with prominent pauses between them. The music continues oblivious to its new visitor. The voice sounds disembodied and removed from this world. The impression of a lost loved one trying to convey a message through a dream was inspired in me. Desperate to hear every word you listen intently as the sentence is slowly spoken. You hang on every word waiting for all the words to connect and complete the puzzle. The speaker fades from the song like a ghost who has lost its will and form. After the apparition has faded, you find yourself abandoned to a desolate dream landscape of shifting sounds and somber atonements. Loneliness and emptiness are emphasized until the track ends.
The last track on the album is tilted “Moonlight Doctor.” “Moonlight Doctor” is by far the most passive track on the album. Being the final track, it leaves the listener with a soft send off. The song begins with a rather sad and remorseful tone. Electronics and strings mix in an atmosphere devoid of rhythmic structures or percussion. There is no rhythmic structure to lead the listener through this passage. Instead, the form is free and without focus or destination. As the track slowly evolves and gently broadens, the graveness begins peel away to reveal a more optimistic closure. The impression is one of that blissful sleep that is devoid of any dreaming. That sweet release when we are fortunate enough not to be cast for a role in a dream. The dreams retreat and what remains is a welcomed luminescent emptiness. The song invoked in me the unique experience of watching sunlight dance across slow moving water in a river. Fracturing and blending in a sparkling dance of light and motion.
Black Book is highly recommended for fans of ambient and “head music.” Black Book explores some truly unique sonic landscapes with meticulous attention paid to the movement of the music. A truly admirable focus on the listeners experience is present throughout the music. Never is the listener left hanging in an ambient limbo. Every passage is inspiring and inspires the imagination with rich imagery. Even the introductory song that exceeds thirty minutes keeps the listeners attention. If you are looking to take a trip to unknown, music lands hop aboard!
I would recommend Xeno Volcano’s Black Book to any number of Radical Faeries. The obvious fans of ambient and experimental electronic compositions will be left in the dark without this release. Faeries with an established interest in electronic music outside ambient will find this release engaging and it may open up some new listening avenues. Radical Faeries outside the electronics and ambient music scene will find a great introduction with in Black Book. It is a great starting point for further explorations into this genre. Worthy of repeated listening you will find yourself exploring new worlds upon each listening.
Faeries with an interest in dreams, lucid dreaming, dream interpretation etc. will find the conceptual aspects of this album fascinating. For spiritual and ritual practices, the album could best be utilized for extended journeys within the mind or out of the body. Uses during ritual atmospheres that require relaxation and calmness while retaining inner focus would highly benefit from this albums use as well.