n.b. This section is a bit rife with wonky characters after a big database meltdown a while ago. Apologies, you get the gist though.

The Last Few Seconds Before Sleep (2011)

Drowned in Sound Rory Gibb

“Sound sculptor Erstlaub’s new release reprises a similar theme to that of his last Highpoint Lowlife release, Sleepwalking Into The Underworld, and a similar sonic palette. His music is characterised by beautiful long periods of droning ambience punctuated by tiny flickers in the backdrop and drawn out climaxes, like the final second before a massive dancefloor track drops stretched out to a 45-minute eternity. The title fits the soundworld perfectly; during the final few seconds before dropping off the mind heads off into free-associative freefall in which consciousness remains for the briefest of moments, a sensation the album accurately recreates in wind-tunnel greyscale. Erstlaub has just recorded an excellent new mix for Broken20’s podcast series, BrokenCinema, which brings together film soundtrack music that’s inspired the label and works as a nice counterpart to the album. Download it here.”

Resident Advisor 3.5/5.

“By means of modular synthesis”—that’s how Scottish drone artist Erstlaub describes the providence of his work, and it’s hard to think of a string of words that signifies more in this context. They speak to literal process, of course, but maybe even more so to the kind of granular attention—to texture, timbre, tone, etc.—that gets paid by those who get really, really, really into sound. For just a little less than 30 minutes, “The Last Few Seconds Before Sleep” stays static and evolves, planting a pole in ambient stillness but following a through-line that moves in minute ways. It sounds a bit like Gas with rusty water towers in place of trees, or even more so like the product of a lot of listening to Eliane Radigue. The title doesn’t fit especially well: there’s too much tension suggested here, or at least implied, to fall into slumber.”


“The latest transmission from Ruaridh TVO’s Broken20 imprint is an extended workout from drone specialist Dave Fyans AKA Erstlaub. The album is apparently is inspired by the sound that enters Fyans’ mind in the brief moment between wakefulness and sleep. “Aware of this clarion call but powerless to act”, he says. “I know this sound inside out, a minute piece of sonic cartography that contains all the information in the universe, like the whirring of a vast organic hard-drive as the processor performs a memory dump between logic and something much bigger…much weirder. Delay lines feed back to Omega Point; choirs of particles stream towards event horizons. Perceived time holds no sway here; this vast but tiny sound contains all of time and space and possibility.” Though in truth we have no freaking idea what this sound he’s banging on about is, the music that it seems to have inspired is wonderful, and yes, it vividly evokes the liminal space opened up as unconsciousness beckons. There’s real grace and poise to this half-hour piece, dubbed-out percussion rubbing against drones of near-liturgical heaviness, its richly detailed but somehow very pure atmospherics carrying the listener from dank underground interrogation chambers to celestial heights and back. Inner space investigations rarely come as deep or as absorbing as this, and Erstlaub’s real talent is in coaxing big emotion out of subtle, miasmic drift. A hearty recommendation for fans of Leyland Kirby, Thomas Koner and Philip Jeck.”

Sleepwalking Into The Underworld (2010)

The Liminal Matt Poacher

“Traditionally, a sigil was a unique symbol created for a specific magical purpose. It tended to be made up of several discrete elements, each charged with meaning and intent, each working toward the larger effect of the whole. It might be used as a hexing medium, or a way of summoning or conjuring a spirit or demon. I wasn‚Äôt aware of the notion of a hypersigil before listening to Erstlaub‚Äôs latest record, Sleepwalking Into The Underworld but it was an idea popularised by Grant Morrison with his epic comic series, The Invisibles, the idea being that the work was an ongoing rite of sigilization, formed with the express intent of actually augmenting or even altering reality.

Hokum aside, this idea of a sustained meditative process, built or performed with the express purpose of causing a shift in behaviour or consciousness, is peculiarly suited to music, and is to some extent already implicit in the creative process ‚Äì and even more so with something created from disparate systems and ‚”let go” such as the method Erstlaub has used over various releases. As the artist has put it himself, this method involves ‚Äú taking an idea, feeling or element of will or intent and translating into sound by means of taking individual modular elements and focusing, refining and condensing them into self contained, autonomous systems, usually with an inbuilt ‚Äúfail‚Äù system removing the technical purity and adding a more organic edge.‚Äù These autonomous systems are gradually worked into a whole ‚Äì the sigil or hypersigil ‚Äì with the entropic ‚Äòfail‚Äô device ensuring an element of uncertainty. In the case of Sleepwalking into the Underworld the result is a 45-minute single take experiment (alongside a feature length video accompaniment ‚Äì see below) that results in a glorious unspooling and interlocking series of humming drones, the disparate elements working with and against one another to form a single shimmering thread.

Sonically, a comparison I keep returning to is Keith Fullerton Whitman, especially the Whitman of Lisbon and Playthroughs. There is both a similar technical aesthetic at work here, and a similar sense of elemental warmth about the extended drones – the sense of a magmatic liquid hum beneath the surface of things. Yet Erstlaub’s method has a stronger environmental feel to it, as befits the subject matter, with each ‘section’ of the hypersigil based around the ancient idea that bodies of water are portals to the underworld. The accompanying video piece makes this link explicit, with sections of the whole playing out across black and white images of different, distant watery landscapes. At times it’s easy to forget that these are all synthetic sounds, as often the inner ear scans the dense clamour and picks out what could be field recordings – rainfall, storm surges, solar wind. There are periods where the effect is so total, so immersive it’s as if you’re inside the fabric of the recording.

You could argue that the added theoretical bulk Erstlaub has brought to Sleepwalking into the Underworld gives it something of a literary weight, something that both adds and detracts from the experience of actually absorbing it as a whole; it also puts the whole piece under fairly intense pressure in terms of scrutiny, and widens the field of scope to include mystics such as Austin Osman Spare and David Tibet, and the darker magick of bands such as Coil. All of which asks the question of whether or not Sleepwalking into the Underworld can cope with this weight of expectation. And the truth is, it can. As a stand-alone piece of music it’s huge, dense and affecting; and as an installation, complete with the film and the wider occult speculations, it has real resonance and enough ambition that it should hopefully reach a wide audience.

As an aside, Sleepwalking into the Underworld is also something of a requiem for the Highpoint Lowlife label, which after 10 years of trading is to ease into retirement. You can still purchase the SITU DVD at the label‚Äôs website.”

The Milk Factory: 4.8/5

Scottish musician and sound artist Dave Fyans, who has been officiating as Erstlaub for over five years, returns to Highpoint Lowlife, this time with a full audio-visual project which combines a forty minute film and its accompanying soundtrack, available as a very limited DVD release. Built as one long evolutive piece, where various segments seamlessly slip into one another, their boundaries blurred beyond recognition, and ultimately resulting in one fluid narrative. Similarly, the video takes various black and white footage of bodies of water (rivers, ponds, puddles) and wooded areas, each one roughly corresponding to a defined sound set.

Fyans has worked with similarly monolithic forms in the past, carving deep introspective soundscapes from stark and arid sources, shaping them into beautiful textural pieces. Very much like was the case on¬†Broadcasting On Ghost Frequencies (Moving Furniture, 2009) or On Becoming An Island (Highpoint Lowlife, 2007), space is intrinsically part of the overall sound contingency of the piece, but there is here an impressive density which, while already present on¬†Broadcasting, reaches here an entirely different level. The piece opens with a simple and smooth drone, lightly polished, with a hint of white noise at the back, but this is rapidly disturbed by a bubbling form which appears to relate to running water in the video, but which could as well be the crackle of an empty radio signal or a swathe of grinding noises smoothened by layers of fog. In the next few minutes, this is submitted to an intense process of leveling and pressurization, bringing the overall piece back toward more hospitable grounds.

Whilst applied with various strength, this process very much continues throughout, at times revealing moments of deep emotional intensity as elements of almost orchestral grandeur are layered in the foreground, at others diving into rather dark and threatening territories, where corroded sounds slowly decay and contaminate healthier structures, or centred around deeply fragmented components. Although created as a unit, the music can work independently from the video, its extreme variations and continuous flow contributing to its strong evocative character. Indeed, there is enough triggers throughout to generate self-induced dream sequences, yet the added imagery is as hypnotic and enigmatic as the music itself, bringing another layer of introspection to the work.

One of the last scheduled outputs to come out of the excellent Highpoint Lowlife, which is due to shut down later on in the year,¬†Sleepwalking Into The Underworld is yet another might fine demonstration of strong sonic processing from Erstlaub. The impressive cinematic form which has become Dave Fyans’s mode of expression, shaped into one long evolutive piece, reaches its most intense stage yet. Highly recommended.

Always Everything

Another new release from Highpoint Lowlife that locks directly into the Always Everything axis, this time from Broken20 co-conspirator Dave Fyans, who records ambient drone asErstlaub:

Sleepwalking Into The Underworld was sent to me billed as a full audio/visual piece, exploring the malleability of time and chaos theory. If that all sounds a little arch and conceptual, the piece itself ‚Äì and the film that accompanies it ‚Äì can just as easily be taken apart from the thoughts that drove its creation. Appropriately, given its watery theme, it‚Äôs a surprisingly immersive forty minutes, passing through curtains of static and strange ripples generated when different elements play off against one another. Shot in monochrome, the film itself leaves its imprint on the music ‚Äì when absorbed by itself afterwards, it‚Äôs hard not to visualize unmoving columns of evergreens stretching into the distance.

You can watch the whole film here.

In Fyans’ own words:

“The piece is based around the concept of being drawn to places of resonance where the separation between different time periods are thin, specifically areas of historic spiritual importance, the title refers to the theme of ancestor worship and the idea of bodies of water being portals to the underworld. Visually the piece calls back the recurring themes of isolation within the vastness of the universe and stillness as a measure of time.

The piece is an expanded hypersigil created as a response to real world ideas and emotions but the space that exists between this inspiration and the final output is more than just a straight “musical” process. Elements of music theory, physics, maths play a part, as do the deeper concepts of chaos/pop magic, dimensionality within the universe and non-linear time.”

I watched for the first time it at about three in the morning, on the cusp of sleep, and it seems charged, primed with that hour of darkness: those moments immediately before the brain slips into unconsciousness, where time begins to flow freely and the mind begins to free associate. There’s obviously a level at which music like this – especially when based around this sort of concept – is psychedelic, as it plays havoc with perceptions of space and time in much the same way as a hallucinogen. Still, in this case, Fyans avoids typical contrived trappings of psychedelia in favour of something entirely subtler, and in doing so ends up being far more effective in conveying mood and idea. By the time I actually fell asleep I’d struggle to tell you whether I’d watched it for four or forty minutes.

Further transmissions from one of our favourite labels, one that’s sadly soon to be no more. For more Highpoint Lowlife info (and a link to buy the piece as standalone or on DVD), it’s well worth checking out their website, or the AE-pennedpair of features(including an excellent mix from label boss Thorsten) on DiS.


Following a split with TVO earlier this year, Scotland’s Erstlaub delivers a 40 minute blanket of occluded drones for Highpoint Lowlife. ‘Sleeping In The Underworld’ masterfully drifts through darkened zones of bleak, rustic ambience to wide-open symphonic flushes nodding to Gas through blustery, tempered passages of noise and placid but unnerving atmospheres, with changing pressure systems of subbass drone and uniquely textured electronics covering his trail. Apparently there are some pretty heady concepts behind the music itself, something to do with chaos, dimensionality and time, but that almost all grinds to a halt as you get lost in the calming drones and nautical white noise. Wind and rain wash against the harmonic tones as occasional beats and digital malfunctions knock up into the soundscape like pebbles washed up on the shore. ‚ÄòSleepwalking into the Underworld‚Äô is a beautiful, measured and subtle piece of music that should lull you into stasis with the greatest of ease. Recommended.

Norman Records

Reviewing press releases? I love this shit! Since we’ve got no means of watching this forty-minute DVD job that’s all I’ve got to go on here but luckily it’s a beauty! It ranges from the conceptual (’self contained, autonomous systems, usually with an inbuilt ‚Äúfail‚Äù system removing the technical purity and adding a more organic edge’) to the sorta scientific (‘music theory, physics, maths play a part, as do the deeper concepts of chaos/pop magic, dimensionality within the universe and non-linear time’.. Actually that’s still conceptual really, isn’t it?) to the purely practical (‘the sound is pure synthesis with no samples or field recordings used and was recorded in one take with no post editing or overdubs using a Nord Modular G2, Behringer BCR2000 Controller along with boss re201 and dd20 delay units. The video was shot on a Nikon D90 and edited in Final Cut’). So that’s all bases covered. Does anyone know what ‘hypersigil’ means?

Que Belle Epoque (live review)

“This was intended to be a review of the entire extensive programme at the Hidden Door Art Festival this weekend in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, due to a comical projectile vomiting bug (it wasn‚Äôt comical at the time, but it was of the variety that is generally used to comical effect) I only made it down for a few hours on Sunday afternoon. However, I did still manage to catch one of the main reasons for my interest in the event, an Edinburgh debut from Erstlaub, who was showing a new live set.

Prior to Erstlaub it also worth mentioning Alastair Cook’s new Malin project; although I only caught the second half due to some last-minute programme changes. In that short space of time he managed to summon sufficient bass-y growl to send my girlfriend (who had endured the same vomiting affliction) into the bowel-comforting shelter of the poetry room. Malin matched his music to a variety of collected visual recordings, including the familiar view along the East Coast Mainline, focus shifting between the dirty GNER windows and the passing landscape, with the occasional fleeting glimpses of the sea. This worked well with the music, a gentle static patchwork interwoven with passing interludes of children speaking, guitar melodies, hushed vocals and heartier (gut-wrenching?) bass drones. The result was a beautiful scrapbook of field recordings and electronic manipulation. A man of numerous talent, as well as commissioning and curating a number of artists for the event (including Erstlaub), Al has an exhibition of his photography of Sutherland and Caithness opening next week in Helmsdale.

After a wander around the rest of the artwork I returned to the basement for Erstlaub’s set. Dave Fyans, the artist/creator of Erstlaub, describes his music as ‘Scottish drone-based miserablism’ which is enough to pique my interest, a bit of dour ambiance is always lovely on a Sunday afternoon. However this description probably does something of a disservice to his music, which is much more emotionally complex.

He performed a new piece called ‘Sleepwalking Into The Underworld‘, accompanied by a series of wintry images of forests and streams. The volume and depth of the noise he managed to create were difficult to associate with the laptop and array of electronic devices set out on the table before him. These were noises you would associate with much larger entities; the creaking of a forest at the beginning of a storm, wind ripping across a body of water, the hum of distant factories. It is all the more impressive that the sounds were entirely built from modular synthesis, without the help of samples or field recordings.

The set started with a low hum and a re-occurring whipping squall, soon followed by distant tribal drums emanating from deep within the monochrome forest. The drums reappeared later seemingly to mark shifts in the movement of noise as Fyans shepherded his sounds around the projected landscape. Frequencies continued to build and collide into great masses of physical noise; only towards the end of the set a confused and disoriented electronic gurgle appeared to remind you of the real source of the sound. His 40-minute set seemed to drift past very quickly indeed, leaving me to consider what actually constituted ‘natural’ sound.

Get more Erstlaub here, lots of treats to download including the excellent ‚ÄòIn Darkened Corners‚Äò EP. If you enjoy that look out for his releases on the Highpoint Lowlife label, amongst others.”

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