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Celebrating Cyclic Law Part II: The Interview – A Decade of Dark Ambient

Frederic Arbour

The last time we interviewed Cyclic Law was back in the Summer of 2006, and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Heathen Harvest closed, reopened and we’ve come across hundreds of ambient albums from all over the world since. Meanwhile Frederic Arbour’s label has gone from strength to strength. In the second part of our diptych celebrating the label for its tenth anniversary, we caught up with its founder seven years after our last discussion to see how things have developed inside Cyclic Law, and to discover Frederic’s views on the contemporary dark ambient movement and its inspirations.

HH: Frederic, it’s been several years since the last interview with Heathen Harvest, so welcome back, and special congratulations are in order for the tenth year of your label. When you started out Cyclic Law all those years ago, did you expect it to get this far?

Frederic Arbour: Thank you. Now, looking back on things, I’m still amazed by this journey I’ve been on and very grateful to be surrounded by such a large amount of talented and like-minded people I can call friends. I could have never guessed things would progress in such a way and I’m glad to see that hard work and dedication does have its rewards.

HH: When the label first started gaining momentum many years ago, your mindset was to build on the dark ambient genre and to release high quality records that stuck to a traditional ethos. Has the thinking behind the label developed or changed over time or alternatively do you feel that you have refined and improved on your original ideals?

FA: Yes, my focus for Cyclic Law was and remains dedicated to the more obscure side of Ambient music with some exceptions when it comes to Arcana, Sophia, Karjalan Sissit and now Lamia Vox, who although quite related to the Dark Ambient scene has a more structured and rhythmic side to her sound. I always had a strict vision for the label, ideas that were laid out at the beginning still remain. I also strived to create a sound for the label and to have an underlying link between all artists and releases. So you now have fans of individual artists but also supporters of the label as a whole who have come to expect and appreciate the direction and output of quality releases and packaging.

HH: Over the last ten years how have you seen dark ambient change as a genre both inside and outside the label?

FA: It has evolved for sure and interest in the genre has definitely grown, with more indie stores and mail orders now having Dark Ambient sections as well as bigger distribution networks carrying such titles, something you didn’t seem some years ago. I feel the templates and concepts for the genre have been laid out years ago, like any other style, but sound design remains at the heart of what we do and sound creation has no boundaries and I am often surprised at the direction some artists take with their creations. There’s always room for new ideas and recording techniques have evolved as well as the ability to produce very high quality content. It remains a very open art form, so there’s still a lot of space for experimentation and this will only push the genre forward.

HH: The meaning of Cyclic Law refers to the ever-turning cycle of creation. The Hindus term this as the Maha Yuga, or the Great Cycle through which all creatures in the universe rotate their existences and are subject to. Is this a mode of thinking that you are familiar with, and would you describe yourself as a spiritual person?

FA: Yes it definitely is a mode of thinking I am familiar with, this is why Hinduism refers to our age as the Kali Yuga, the age of suffering. We’re still a long way from the Satya Yuga, the so-called golden age, but albeit all the distress in the world and the major turning point we are facing I feel we are, very slowly, pushing towards a new dawn of consciousness. The main reason I chose this name was first from personal observations and insights as to the cyclical forces that govern our world and everyday lives. That all life evolves in cycles, from the macro to the micro, it is the cyclic law of eternal return.

HH: When signing new artists these days, do you go by the sound of an album or the intrinsic feel it gives you? If it’s the latter, can you describe what feelings a dark ambient album has to instil in you in order for you to be interested in signing an artist?

FA: I guess it’s a balance of both sound and felling as well as the intent of the whole, what the artist wants to convey and how well it is achieved, there needs to be a clear vision and intent and the whole needs to feel coherent also. All of these aspects have to feel right to me and it’s then that I can consider backing it up and releasing it. Feelings, especially the intricate ones generated by such music are hard to describe but I’ve learned to trust my instincts and taste and know very quickly if this is for Cyclic Law or not.


HH. Is there a deeper meaning behind each CL release being described as a “Cycle”? And can you explain the thinking and employment behind the term “Eclipse” for Sub Luna?

FA: I do consider each output as cyclical, there’s a recurring process in the creation of albums, from the first ideas and sounds conceived by the artist all the way to the creation of the layouts, the production of the physical CD, the promotion and the distribution etc… all of these steps are constantly being repeated with the same intent yet with constantly unique results so it’s felt natural to have catalogue tiles be referred to as cycles.

The Eclipse Series was created as a sub label, to be able to release slightly different types of music still related to the Cyclic Law sound. So far only one release was done, Sub Luna’s “Awake!” CD. Mikael Lindblom, the man behind Sub Luna had been a live member of Karjalan Sissit for some years and also is a close friend so it just felt right to have him join our roster event thought he creates a more Folk Noir style of music, I could even go as far as saying that this side label was created especially for this release, not sure where it will go from here.

HH: As I’m sure you’re aware, it becomes harder and harder for smaller labels to stay afloat in the current climate. What has kept CL going and avoiding the same fates as other smaller labels?

FA: I would assume that the fact that we were able to secure a specific place in a niche genre has helped. We also have a very dedicated following and as mentioned before the label has gained it’s own sound signature and so fans of the genre know they can find what they are looking for from us and in turn those looking for this type of music will I think eventually stumble upon Cyclic Law, this could help explain in part why we are still here.

HH. Some labels have always refused to give out immediate downloads on purchase of a physical copy. Do you think this is a bad idea for the consumer or do you think this is a fair move? Would you say that the record industry is now a buyer’s market?

FA: I do appreciate this feature myself, as often you want to hear the music right away, but I have yet to find a way to properly implement this feature on our website. Yes I think part the industry has become a buyer’s market, models have changed a lot in the past years and are bound to keep evolving and labels, artists and consumers will just have to adjust. The interesting thing as that there’s now more formats and access to music than ever so everyone can find the medium that’s he/she find more suitable.

HH: Are there any artists which you would have liked to sign to the label but which for one reason or another you never got the chance to?

FA: Yes of course, there are some that already have a proper home for their releases or others that the timing was just not right etc… to name a few; Bad Sector, Raison D’être, Rod Modell (there’s still a chance Rod will release material on Cyclic Law), Lustmord, Yen Pox, Inade for obvious reasons, and I could go on…

HH. Of course it has been said before that dark ambient is quite a cinematic genre. If we reverse this mode of thinking, can you describe any films, or even any video games, which you think contain or express the dark ambient feel?

FA: Well I do not play video games but as far as film goes, Alien, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris immediately came to mind for me, being more of a Sci-Fi aficionado. And of course Stalker, Begotten, Holy Mountain, Beyond The Black Rainbow, The Cremaster Cycle… to name a few. These not only have or could have very deep ambient soundtracks but taken as a whole, they definitely convey those feelings related to an aural dark ambient journey.


HH. As far as I understand, you’re quite a fan of doom metal. Is this the case and what artists do you like within this metal subgenre and what is it about doom which appeals to you?

FA: My musical tastes are quite eclectic but yes, my interest in Doom Metal dates back from the very early days of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Anathema, Celestial Season and of course with time came Monumentum, Skepticism, Evoken and Mournful Congregation and others. But then in 1994 I discovered THE band that would eventually make me want to play this style of music, which I did for 7 years with my now defunct band Longing For Dawn, and that band was Finland’s Thergothon. The way the dual guitars and at times keyboard melodies responded to each, the clean and growled vocals, the pace, the over all atmosphere, everything on that “Stream From The Heavens” album spoke to me at a very deep level and still does to this day, and sums up really well what I enjoy about this genre, an absolutely monumental release and one of my all-time classics. I guess I need and enjoy a good dose of melancholy in my music, deeper feelings and emotions must be expressed and thoroughly felt and Doom, when well done, surely provides these emotions.

HH: What forms of visual art or photography do you favour, and which albums on Cyclic Law contain artwork which you feel are particularly appropriate not only to their associated album but to transmitting the correct feel and vibe for the genre?

FA: My interest in visual art tends to lean towards more abstract forms, but I’m quite open and curious so it’s hard to narrow my interest to a specific genre, same for photography. Lately I came across the works of Austria’s Krist Mort, her photography did strike a chord in me, very surreal and esoteric images she’s able to create, quite unique. And the more recent paintings of Maya Kulenovic have been my latest obsession also. As for artwork on Cyclic Law’s releases, I feel the imagery used by Pär Bostrom on Kammarheit’s “The Starwheel” and on his Cities Last Broadcast “The Cancelled Earth” albums as well as the art of Dehn Sora of Treha Sektori do channel a very accurate visual representation of what Dark Ambient could look like.

HH: Are you aware of the works of any of the following visual artists and would you say you enjoy their work or that they translate or transmit a dark ambient vibe from their visual representations: Zdzislaw Beksinski, John Martin, Salvator Rosa, Daniele Bianchi, Igor Burlakov, Maya Kulenovic, Karol Bak, Stéphane Fromm?

FA: I’m a big fan of Zdzislaw Beksinski, John Martin and Maya Kulenovic and yes, these artists output could very well be the visual equivalent to a deep ambient soundtrack.

PARIS VANISHING, 2010, oil on canvas, 33" x 57" ©Maya Kulenovic

PARIS VANISHING, 2010, oil on canvas, 33″ x 57″
©Maya Kulenovic

HH. Do you enjoy classical music at all and if so, which artists?

FA: I’m not really into classical music for some reason, never was really exposed to it but do enjoy Bartok, Wagner and the likes at times.

HH. Female vocals or voice samples are very sparse in dark ambient and always have been. Can you think of a reason for this? Is there ever a place in dark ambient for sensuality?

FA: I can’t think of a specific reason but, female artists have been around for some time, Aghast is the perfect example and still unrivalled in the shear power and depth attained on their Hexerei im Zwielicht der Finsternis album from ’95, a very haunting opus and one of my all-time favourites. The Floating World, Lacus Somniorum, and also Artefactum come to mind as female vocal infused Dark Ambient and the latest release by Lamia Vox “Sigillum Diaboli”, female artist form Russia should prove this trend wrong, I feel there is quite a lot of sensuality in her work and the above mentioned.

Lamia Vox in Moscow

HH: You also run Cyclic Law Audio Mastering. How is this going and can you describe some recent projects you have worked with which are not related to CL?

FA: It’s going pretty well, I just finished the master of AUN’s latest album for Denovali and recently worked on masters for Semanteme, Pantaloon Descendo, and of course Cyclic law’s title do keep me quite busy on that front.

HH: What time of year do you think specifically relates to or carries off best the essence of dark ambient? Which seasons do you find yourself in preference of?

FA: Definitely autumn and winter. We have the chance in Canada to experience the four seasons to their fullest and their effects on our mood and outlook on life is undeniable. As much as I enjoy and welcome all seasonal changes, autumn and winter remain the most inspirational and productive seasons to me artistically and even label-wise.

HH: As far as I understand there is to be a 10 year anniversary event for the label, which I am planning to attend, on the 11th May 2013 in Paris. Can you tell us a little about this event and who or what to expect?

FA: Yes I wanted to mark the last 10 years with a special event and Paris and the organizer there, Au delà du silence, have always been great to us in the past and it felt like the perfect setting for such an event. It has also been 10 years since Arcana last performed there, so gathered for this event will be Arcana, Sophia, Desiderii Marginis, Vestigial, Treha Sektori and Havan. It should prove to be a very unique event and serves also as a sign of things to come for the future of the label and its growing roster.

HH: Where would you like to take CL from this point and what are your future goals for the label?

FA: All I truly wish is to be able to keep doing things the way I have and push the genre forward. Interest in this specific type of music is always growing and I’d like to be there to promote it as long as possible. Lots of great releases and surprises are planned for the rest of the year. I’m also in the process of opening a printed media branch, Cyclic Press. I will focus on art books and esoteric/spiritual writings, more details will be announced in time.

HH: Are there any final words you would like to share with Heathen Harvest and the readership?

FA: I wish long life to Heathen Harvest, it was a hard blow when you had seemed to stop your activities but I’m glad to see the platform is now stronger than ever. And I of course want to thank you for all your support and continued interest in Cyclic Law.

Frederic Arbour

Interview by Lysander