Witch House & Darkfolk: Why the Digital Society needs this ‘Rauschen’

Rauschen is the German word for contact noise, hissing, noise, random noise and even swoosh. I choose a non-English word as it expresses onomatopoetically what we have found out while observing contemporary online cultures in the last twelve months. In this theoretical blog entry you will have to read, watch music videos and think a little bit. On the other hand, you will get an insight into an emerging cultural movement which probably doesn’t even see what we discuss here itself. Let’s move forward and listen to the sound of das Rauschen.

Throbbing Gristle

(Live)

In the beginning there is Throbbing Gristle. As Patrick Kilian writes, Throbbing Gristle is the birth of Industrial music. What he doesn’t mention is that it is also the slang term for a male sexual organ in rhythmic movement. The music of Throbbing Gristle penetrates your brain. Samples of heavy machines creating chaotic sounds is a metaphor applying well to music pieces (combining performative elements) such as Discipline. Repetition and loud, aggressive, acoustic shards of sound which are bedded on a carpet of Rauschen. Throbbing Gristle are Noise music par excellence. The lyrics are used in the same way as the samples: staccato phrases or parts of sentences, if not only single words, such as ‘discipline’. You shouldn’t go after sense in the texts only (e.g. Hot on the wheels of love). To understand the ephemeral message you need to understand that language and human voice is used as just another sample in the composition. ‘I want discipline’ is hammered into your brain repetitiously like rituals and mantras of an evil monk from a bad movie such as The Killermeteors. The song ‘Hamburger Lady’ reminds of Dada poetry. But not every connotation is lost in TB’s lyrics. Discipline as such is part of the militaristic aesthetics Throbbing Gristle use. Although we should not simply reduce the band’s oeuvre to one field, other topics such as titles about real murderer would distract us. Military chique is more than worship of war. This is similar to the writing of German philosopher Carl Schmitt, who for good reasons is controversially discussed – what is among the greatest honours for a philosopher. The author of In Stahlgewittern. Aus dem Tagebuch eines Stoßtruppführers first version 1920), Ernst Jünger is close to Schmitt and different to Throbbing Gristle under one aspect: Rauschen. Jünger shows the dirtiness of soldier’s life, but there is glorification for the trouble. Listening to Discipline you are punched into the dirt. There is no telos. The Punk movement based their first generation on ‘No Future’. The only thing what we have to encounter is the dirt of the floor when our corpses collapse and we die. This is a much deeper self disintegrating experience than fascism can offer. Rauschen is therefore in the context of Industrial music the Kassandra prophecy of your own mortality, after the Hippie generation over saturated us with their illusory mantras of love and peace.

Originally, I wanted to write something about Psychic TV and Current 93. As this is just a blog entry and not a full-fledged academic article, for which I don’t have the time at the moment, we jump to the next figure in our tale: shock folker Douglas Pearce.

Death in June

(Fan made video clip)

“All pigs must die”. The song starts with a simplistic arrangement of acoustic guitar, trumpet and voice – but the music is well remastered, we do not have a Rauschen here. The striking point, comparable to Rauschen in Throbbing Gristle, is the deathlike melancholy, which is without comparative example. Maybe Sopor Aeternus‘ performance and photo art comes close to Death in June’s deathliness.

It is valid to connect the Industrial Throbbing Gristle and the Neofolk genre of Death in June, when we see videos from earlier years. As with Death in June, the apocalyptic folk band Current 93 also used to create ‘songs’ in the noisy Industrial genre.

Although there is a controversy on Death in June’s unclear standpoint in regard to fascism, we postpone that discussion for a later blog entry about ‘rose clouds of holocaust’ and the open homosexuality of Douglas Pearce. An article in defense of DiJ summarizes Pearce’ reaction against the ban of this song is found here.

In this darkness evoked by apocalyptic lyrics and cacophonic music, these artists discover a new form of spirituality. Many borrowings from esoteric traditions are found among these bands. Douglas Pearce wore a shamanic like ritual costume during his concerts (including the special headdress). Another major figure in the neo folk movement is Ian Read who openly belongs to the occult group Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT). The IOT can be described as a post modern magic school (Harviainen, 2011) and follows the credo nothing is true, everything is permitted.

Neofolk’s postmodern spirituality combined with the desire to connect to the physical world through Rauschen and the imagery of death leads us to today’s genres of Witch House and Darkfolk.

After the pigs died, they are remixed in the digital era.

Witch House

Witch House is a genre which has been invented 2009 by Travis Egedy, who told in an interview that the name was meant as a joke as he spontanously used it to describe his music. If you want to laugh more with him – he wrote an instruction how to make Witch House. In his words, it is not necessary to know about Witch House to create this kind of music: “1. dont listen to any “witch house”. create from your inner witch”. We will see that the whole idea is rooted in a broader subcultral movement. If you need more information, here are two valuable sources: beside the wikipedia entry, there is a kind of documenation Witchin’ w/Mario

Before reading further, please watch this disturbing video by one of the Witch House called artists, Mater Suspiria on Vimeo. Think about the concept of Rauschen and spirituality which seem to merge into a new kind of music. Then return to this blog and read further: http://vimeo.com/12453362

In order to understand this video from any point possible, we have to remember the movie The Ring. Although a mere westernized version of the more disturbing Asian version, 2002 was a year when todays young generation has been influenced in their beginning puberty. As it is cool to watch Horror movies among many children between 12 and 18,  transgression is the pleasure gained from watching disturbing scenes like these:

(Original footage)

The video tape is a reminiscence of the lost analogue world. We will never be able again to enter an only analogue world as many everyday products are digitalized today. The option of a pure analogue world is gone. The idea which is expressed with Rauschen in Witch House music and The Ring, is the wish to connect again to the physically anchored world of meaning. Let us elaborate on this a litte bit more. The world of meaning is a layer, such as culture or law or synthetic worlds (compare Castronova). The difference between the pre-digital era and ours is that we are not dependent on physical instruments. We will talk about this in the section on King Dude below. Under ‘physically anchored’ we want to point on the fact that the connection is made by real world materials which are under the law of time and therefore decay and death. To get closer to this experience of physical connectivity, Rauschen is used in different ways.

Mater Suspiria’s music for example is full of Rauschen. The sound is frizzing and the visual material is overlayed with vintage or grunge effects. In this aspect Mater Suspiria’s video reminds us of Throbbing Gristle performances and The Ring. Today, the generation of young children trespassing parental rules about not watching horror movies, has grown up. They form the young generation of 22+ which rule the digital worlds expressed in online communities. The Ring is what Poltergeist has been for me (30+).

If you stumble upon tumblr blogs and user generated videos, you realize patterns when people from different directions are driven by a similar principle. We want to claim that this is Rauschen. Thanks to the flexibility and possibility to create content digitally, you can also watch new subcultures arise, if you find no proof in this abbreviated blog post.

Another major Witch House artist, Salem, on the other side is about slower beats. The tradition of house techno is stronger than in genres from the Gothic movement, such as EBM or Industrial.

(Official video clip)

Rauschen is achieved here with an overmodulation of the bass line.

The gallery beneath shows some examples from tumblr blogs on a morbid lifestyle and occultism. You see sevearl performance photographs, and the collection of vintage pictures with explicitely occult themes from the 1890. The connection to Steampunk and other genres will be discussed in a later blog entry.

The red line between those pictures and the Rauschen of Industrial and spiritualism of Neofolk is the retro character, ranging from the beginning of photography till the nineteen seventies. Neither the Industrial nor the Witch House genre pay attention to the future. We do not find prophecies or idealisations of a possible future like in Science Fiction. What we see here is a certain nostalgia. Steampunk as a literary genre about alternative history or retro futurism, evolved into a vibrant subculture and genre for role-playing games (Arcaneum for PC, for example). For more examples, please check the how to study role-playing games page here. The question is whether the nostalgia is triggered by Rauschen or vice versa.

Das Rauschen

What are videotapes capable to do? Above many things, there is the urban legend that video tapes capture ghosts and other ectoplasm activities. Some believe that a 35 mm film can capture ghosts. I don’t remember any of the B-movies of the last decades which based on a cursed video tape, but The Ring is definitely the most prominent.

Another prominent film, which is also important in regard of melody, is Twin Peaks. There is one scene, when David Bowie disappears with a Rauschen on the screen. We will talk about Twin Peaks later and make a logical twist to return to Witch House art.

Again on tumblr, I found today the following picture, which speak for itself. We see a segmentation and parallelly a repetitive reproduction (Benjamin) of the same motive (reminding of the background in Cocorosie’s Noah’s Ark video). Different to the post modernism, the segmentation was not meant in regard of repetition of meaning but of sheer rhythm of words, as we have read above about the video Discipline. It has a more Cubist nature.

The colorization, motives and style reminds heavily of Mater Suspiria. The depiction of death as central element of this photo montage is melancholic and not frenzied as in Mater Suspiria and other Witch House music. To explore the spiritual side of this movement, let us draw the new neofolk music. The novelty grounds in the concentration on drum less music and a new spiritualism which draws from different romanticized religions.

King Dude

(Video clip in progress)

I was astonished by my friend Nicolas that he noticed the Rauschen after hearing this song for the first time. He is the mastermind behind Asmorod, one of the greatest dark ambient artist of our time. Yes, I’m an acafan, too.

The Rauschen on ‘Lucifer’ is the so-called lo-fi style. The band Ice Age is completely about lo-fi and shows a different level of Rauschen. They use only synthesizer and sequencer to make carpets of Rauschen.

Hearing ‘Lucifer’s the sun’, I not only mishear the lyrics (Lucifer’s the son), but also think how cheerful this genre is in contrary to the deathliness of Death in June. King Dude is about darkfolk without relying necessarily on death or the occult or weird ideologies. Here he is closer to Country music than anyone else. Industrial and neofolk lead to witch house and darkfolk, all combined by the idea of Rauschen.

Let us elaborate more on this concept, as it is so vital. How can we connect Rauschen with ghosts and new wave spirtualism after the Hippie era? Another idea, we believe convincing, is magnetism.

Magnetism is not digital, it is a physically based hard disk. In the cloud all your data is accessible from many devices (PC, tablet, mobile (smart phone), Internet (dropbox)). That means, that we have lost a world which can never be true again. A decaying world of rust, knotted meters of tape, scratched CDs, and many dead hard disks. This world is no more necessary. Although we still have CDs and physical devices, we do not rely on them. The data has migrated to the cloud where everything is stored and never lost. The quality of electricity which it borrows to the digital era is its freedom of space and time. Online data is transported in no time around the globe and making a copy doesn’t affect the original in respect to its physicality.

The Rauschen is based on a physical object, based in the natural world. The Rauschen reminds us of something beyond the synthetic worlds and digital galaxies. The Ring is about a videotape and tape is working with magnetism and not digitally. But Rauschen is more than a memory. The nostalgia is changing our cultural products in respect of design and genre. The new emerging subgenre of the Fantastic and Science Fiction is a retro genre called Steampunk (for later periods Dieselpunk). The term was coined by the inventor of cyberpunk William Gibson. One can only admire the foresight (and the shaping power) of his novels Neuromancer and The Difference Engine (with Sterling). Iron Sky, which premiered yesternight in Tampere, pushes the historical look back to WWII, with much irony and playfulness. What we see from these examples is that the nostalgia is expressed via tape. It’s admirable ability is that it is a physical like any living thing. It can die. Video tapes can die. The digital cloud cannot die.

It can morph and transform as the typewriter in Naked Lunch.

Twin Peaks

Let us return to the Witch House and see what the inhabitants have nailed on their walls. Triangle symbols, crooked crosses and other openly esoteric symbols. But they are not the Hippies or a New Age movement, as they are based not on the promises of paradise but on the nightmares of Twin Peaks.

Welcome to hell, welcome to the red room. This is an unpleasing hue of red. We are back in the womb of our mothers. But we perceive everything in vintage colours, retro style. A digitized red room will never work like that. You need Rauschen to allow you to feel when you watch Twin Peaks. In the digital, we miss the imperfect synthetic worlds of TV. The imperfections in their special effects show us that they are physical. Digital Age does not contain the Rauschen of reality.

Watch the intro to Twin Peaks which shows a TV screen with ‘blue’ noise.

Today, the generation mentioned above remembers the Rauschen of analog TV screens. Today we have annoying pixels, with different aesthetic qualities. Rauschen is also annoying, but hypnotizing. Poltergeist has a scene of the little girl watching a white noised screen when the dead spirits reach out of the screen. At this point, Rauschen and spirituality meet again. Maybe, Rauschen of your childhood creates a nostalgic memory of a different world which has been accessible as a child, but which you lost. So people start to create in a certain style, which I show is Rauschen. Some try to access it via postmodern spiritualism others make hypnotic sounds.

What has been important for you as a child is today’s content of imagination. All the genres of the Fantastic can be traced to certain worlds its author had as children. The great narratives of childhood can be named: Adventure, Hedonism, Pride, Sorrow, Fear, Trauma. Maybe I’m too simplistic here, but let us accept the idea that the nostalgia, Rauschen, spiritualism in todays subculture of Witch House and Darkfolk combines two different musical genre on a meta level. From that we want to say that a new interesting subculture is nourished. If it can be connected to Witch House or any other music genre in twenty years, is not more important for 21st generation subcultures. When 20th subcultures has been gathering in the urban landscape, in bars (CBGB) and discotheques (Studio 51) and clubs (Batcave), todays subcultures gather around a life style philosophy. We haven’t decided upon a name yet (Rauschen sounds awkward and can not compete with the labels Geeks, Hipsters or digital natives).

Cocorosie

Cocorosie is an art group of two sisters. Before teaming up, both spent several years separately. At the age of 18 Rosie went to New York and Coco to Paris. The band is not only an artistic project but tells the story of their life as sisters. The way to combine both sisters is understood on an aesthetic level as the meeting of Europe and US.

(Official video clip)

Some elements which are typical for the Witch House movement are visible here, although not present in the foreground all the time. If you listen closely, you recognize Current 93’s song ‘A Song for Douglas [Pearce] after he’s dead‘ as underlying tune. The song itself was meant as a joke and certainly as a demonstration of affection towards the then band member Douglas Pearce. We see a net of meaning becoming tighter as we venture forward.

In Metallic Falcons Cocorosie plays with native American spiritualism. Here their music which was categorized as ‘freak folk’, might be one impulse to the awakening spiritual movement. (Sidenote: In  Metalic Falcons we see one of the sisters with a friend).

Sierra and Bianca’s father has been interested in native american spiritualism. The sisters reflect their childhood in the reservations and the spiritual american environment their father was obsessed with. Watch their video:

(Official video clip)

In the following video you see that childhood expressed through the image of two girls listening to the tales of a native american:

(Official video clip)

The text of this song is about their common childhood. Cocorosie’s reflection on their fathers spiritualism is based on their disdain. But in the videos, you follow their journey from sadness to melancholia to nostalgia. Comparing Björk as the mother of art music will lead to further observations and connections.

The new spiritual orientation of the Rauschen movement originates from the wish to recover a lost spirituality, a spirituality rooted in the time before the shift. The time before the digital era.

Final remarks

There is a further connection between the techno based Witch House and Darkfolk as a folk music genre. They have different melodies, rhythm and instruments (the first have electric instruments, the other one the opposite). If you follow the lead singer of Throbbing Gristle through his life, you will stumble upon the club Hacienda. Here acid house and rave were born and here we can connect Industrial Rauschen with Witch House, house music with Rauschen, chronologically via one person: Genesis P-Orridge. “P-Orridge became interested in acid house and techno“, thus you see her way from Throbbing Gristle to Psychic TV to Hacienda and the creatio of the house movement at which end we hear Witch House.

A digital society’s need of Witch House roots in several reasons we have shown you mostly with implicit examples. Let us stress some of the finding more explicitly:

  • Connection to the analogue which serves as a memento mori and other ideas, art and expressions of death
  • Non political style to transform nostalgia similar to what has been seen in the Gothic movement 
  • Neo Spiritualism. Borrowing of imagery and practices from occult groups.
  • Playfulness. Expressed through the joke of Witch House which leads to the “nothing is true everything is permitted mentality” of digital society (at least when represented in synthetic worlds) of postmodernity

People do not choose to be Punk because of the same reasons the British youth had in the 70s, when people were attracted to the CBGB. People do not gather in clubs but in online communities. Clubs and events are following those cultural manifestations, as we will see in Frankfurt am Main this Spring, when a group of young DJs will start a Witch House Night in the Nachtleben. If they succeed to attract enough people remains as a test.

People choose Folk or Paganism for the same spiritual reasons, Chuck Palahniuk complained in Fight Club: “We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off”. Some people express anger, some people turn inwards to explore their personality.

(c) Bienia Brothers

Contact us, before you use this entry for your work.

How to refer to this article:

Bienia, R., Bienia, A. (2012). Witch House & Darkfolk: Why the Digital Society needs this ‘Rauschen’. Online: http://www.rafael-bienia.de

Do you have comments, ideas or further links to the phenomena described above? Please leave a note in the comment section.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Witch House & Darkfolk: Why the Digital Society needs this ‘Rauschen’

  1. Excellent article! Very articulate and really got me thinking about modern youth and the void in their souls where Spirituality should be. They may even cause a ressurgence of spirituality though new movements like Witch House!

  2. I think there is a connection between the music and imagery of witchhouse and the writings of Jean Baudrillard where he discusses that reality is only that which can be copied or simulated. Our post-modern trajectory of faceless interactions has created a vanishing of the self and what we have known as our identity. Personality and identity are increasingly fulfilled in a virtual/simulated world or through material fashionable consumption. Reaching back to our base spirituality through music and imagery can bring us back in touch with our humanity by reminding of where we came from and what has permanently happened to who we are – for better or worse. Witchhouse seems unique as its aesthetic seems to embrace the digital age while simultaneously harking back to our spiritual roots in a honest manner.

    1. Dear Jim,
      thank you for your inspiring comment on the ‘Rauschen’ post. I doubt the idea of an original ‘humanity’ or ‘self’, even that there is an ‘increasing’ process or a ‘vanishing of the self’. What self? Witchhouse has started as a joke, if we believe in the interview I have referred to, and that is above anything the best way to start any kind of art. I remain sceptical though, as this narrative of ‘art made of a joke’ sounds very familiar, one remembers DaDa poets sitting in a café in Switzerland and listening to children. Nonetheless, I agree with you, that Witchhouse tries to create an alternative aesthetics, creating roots in the non-digital by several means. Whether it is ‘honest’ or not, I personally do not care, but I do not say that some people might not find this in it. Best regards, Rafael

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s