Ink & Paper & the Dark Ambience of Demdike Stare
Because one thing leads to another until we’re all, you know, dead
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
10:00AM, Mon. Sep. 18, 2017
A man named James Renovitch is ultimately to blame.
I’ve been listening to the intense, tenebral noisefests of Demdike Stare for about a year now, having been introduced to their work only because of the brand of notebook I tend to write in and which I tend to write in mostly because that brand of notebook works really well with this fountain pen I’ve got.
An explanation of those statements, if you give enough of a damn to want to know, will run like a brief graduate course in product placement – justified only because it’s not bought and paid for by any of the companies involved, but is, I’ll swear to you on my mother’s granite-markered grave, the result of nothing but a bit of chance, a smidgeon of research, and not a little passion on the part of your reporter here.
[My name is Brenner, and I’m a stationery addict. *pauses, takes a sip of coffee, looks around the fellowship hall* Also, dark ambient music: I love that shit.]
So what this is, pretty much, is a merchandise review.
Almost a Shoppers’ Guide sort of thing – with a little music appreciation thrown in.
And so, back in 2015, after having used some discretionary income to determine that, of the fountain pen options available to the modern consumer, a medium-point nib is what best suits my style (which is: not a calligrapher, not patient enough to deal with the maintenance required of a fine-point nib); and that, of the medium-nib pens I’ve tried, the one produced by New York’s excellent A.G. Spalding & Bros, the one with the natural maplewood barrel, is the best for me – due to its 1) consistently smooth ink delivery, 2) strong structural integrity, 3) simple and elegant looks, and 4) relatively low price.
So, the pen: Done & done.
And that’s all I’d need, right? For writing?
I mean, aside from ink refills.
But then, come to find out that a person can write on just regular ol’ paper with a fountain pen, of course – because that’s what pens of any kind are for – but that there are also certain types of paper manufactured to better interact with the sort of inks that flow through fountain-pen nibs.
TIL, as they say.
And I figured, okay, if I’m in, I’m damn sure all in – so let’s see about some of this fancy paper.
Turns out that a fountain-pen-specific paper is what fills a series of notebooks that are so exquisitely designed and practical that I’d want to own & use them anyway – regardless of whether I was making notes with the Spalding or with that thick red Crayola my kiddo brought home from a day-care center more than 20 years ago.
[My name is Brenner, and I’m also just-short-of-a-hoarder.]
The name Mnemosyne is, I mean, printed in gold foil right on the cover of the thing.
And let's not even consider the resonance with certain years-past escapades in Linden Lab's Second Life.
[Note: You can also get these notebooks through Jet Pens.]
And about a year ago, my Chronicle co-worker James Renovitch needed a sheet of paper. He needed it right then, before heading into a meeting. So I handed him the Mnemosyne notebook I was using at the time. And James returned it after the meeting, and then also sent me a link to an ambient electronic music track. Because he knows that I like such sonic exploration, and because the track, by a duo called Demdike Stare, was titled … Mnemosyne.
”Very clever, Mr. Renovitch,” I said. “And, dude, it’s weird, because up until last week I wouldn’t have known the name Demdike at all. But I’ve been reading Cassell’s Dictionary of Witchcraft by David Pickering lately, and part of it goes into the history of the Pendle Hill witches of Lancashire, England, in the early 1600s, and a woman named Demdike – aka Elizabeth Southerns – was one of them. A lot of the witches were found guilty in court and hanged, but Demdike died awaiting trial, and so, uh … wow, y’know?”
James either nodded kindly or rolled his eyes, I’m not letting myself remember which one.
And then I listened to the music.
Cue: The montage of me bingeing on whatever other parts of the Demdike Stare catalog were available online. And loving so much of the deep-sampled, beat-stuttered mesmerisms that Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker have perpetrated under that witchy name.
And, well, that’s the story of how a fountain pen led me to a notebook that led me to the music of those darkling Lancastrians. Kind of like a low-rent version of an episode of James Burke’s Connections, right? But, wait: There’s more … and maybe it’s more that’s also of interest to you?
Especially with the gift-giving part of the year approaching more quickly, it seems, than it used to when we were younger.
Because, in listening to Demdike Stare and marveling at some of the jarring – and delightful-because-jarring – juxtapositions of sounds in their oeuvre, it occurred to me: Maybe I’d prefer a bit of that same disruption in the notebooks I use, too? Maybe I don’t want to just plow through the entire six-pack of dark & monochrome Mnemosynes I bought, to engage with the delicious but fucking relentless minimalism while filling up one collection of paper after another?
And maybe, because that Spalding pen was so inexpensive, maybe my stationery budget could afford at least one more of a different sort of notebook?
Which is how a bit of web research eventually led me, while listening to Demdike Stare’s eerie and satisfying Voices of Dust, to a cork-covered and thickly papered instance of artisanal bindery from Lemome.
And when that gorgeous notebook arrived at my house – when my wife, who always checks the mailbox, brought it upstairs to the arachnid-enhanced office I work in – I was listening to a different ambient thing. A decidedly droney ambient thing. A droney ambient thing that convinced my ears they’d entered some part of Heaven where the more cerebral and gothy angels play distorted guitars instead of harps.
Petkus knows how to play him some guitar, tell you what, and he also knows how to electronically warp that playing toward the sonically sublime, and he’s recorded this successfully quite a few times. But Sgt. Mirror, my friend – ah, that Sgt. Mirror album has the perfect array of benthic drones to deeply ease your troubled bones.
And, regardless of what writing instruments we use or what sort of paper we write on with them … couldn’t we all use a little beauty-driven bone-easing in these much-too-interesting times?