Pilgrimage Burnt with Passion
Pilgrimage Burnt with Passion (English)
רְשִׁימ֥וֹת־תֹּ֖הוּ | An Interview with Andrew Oliver (Chaucerian Myth)
By: Yuval Levi
Anyone who is familiar with Dungeon Synth has probably listened to Chaucerian Myth, a talented musician from North Carolina named Andrew Oliver, an avid enthusiast of medieval culture, and especially to the works of writer and poet Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the forefathers of the English literature (& the origin of the name Chaucerian Myth).
One of my most difficult dilemmas regarding Chaucerian Myth was deciding my favorite album out of his works. All three are evident in their unique musical concepts, combining delightful technical sophistication with exciting passion and an amazing atmosphere. Beyond that, the diversity between the albums is very prominent, although they all share a similar modus operandi: musically, they are all built upon stories written in the late Middle Ages (14th-15th century).
One of the genres' best-known albums in CM's first album, “The Canterbury Tales”, released in 2016, almost immediately recognized as a classic. One inspiring winter day, while I was still ill, I came across this album and decided to listen to it: all three and a half hours of it. It was right there that I think I finally fell in love with Dungeon Synth. The album, a neo-classical orchestral work that combines medieval folk and strongly influenced by 70s progressive rock, is based on “The Canterbury Tales”, a Geoffrey Chaucer's tales collection telling the stories of pilgrims in the middle ages.
His other two albums are also great: Troilus and Criseyde, a sharp fusion of medieval music with jazz, describes a bizarre love story as well as an epic and dramatic Trojan War tale (yet again – by G.C ) And the album The Book of Margery Kempe, his latest and most experimental album influenced by Noise and the darker areas of the Dungeon Synth genre. The album is based on an autobiography of a saintly pilgrim suffering a mental and physical situation while demonic visions torment her as she spreads her kindness in a foreign country.
Chaucerian Myth is my favorite Dungeon Synth project, and Andrew himself is a source of motivation. An artist faithful to his desires, one we will probably hear from him in the future.
In mid-November of 2017, Andrew and I talked about almost everything: his works, literature, and of course the Dungeon Synth scene. Here's the entire interview before you.
I. First of all I thank you for your time. How would you describe Dungeon Synth from your point of view to someone who has never heard of such a thing before? According to that, how would you describe your work?
No problem. I always appreciate the opportunity to be interviewed, and that people are still interested in my music. In describing Dungeon Synth to people who are unfamiliar, I always find it a little difficult because the genre is so musically diverse now. There are so many different kinds of Dungeon Synth, so I never really can pin it down as one thing. I usually say that it's a combination of things: ambient, neo-classical, drone, and general "Fantasy Synth." As far as my own music, I think it represents the diversity of the genre pretty well. I like my music to be expressed with sounds all across the genre, and even to transcend the genre itself if I can.
II. Let's talk about your best known album: Can you tell us about the literary work "The Canterbury Tales"? What did you like about the work that made you dedicate yourself into creating your familiar, complex and long album inspired from the work by Geoffery Chaucer?
The Canterbury Tales was the first music that I had ever recorded and released publicly. I had been writing and composing music for a few years prior to that, mostly Metal and Jazz music, but I was always discouraged by the difficulties of finding musicians and recording these kinds of music. Then, I was reintroduced to Dungeon Synth, and it made me realize that this was a perfect medium to actually release some music of my own. Around this time, I had also just re-read The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, who is my favorite author. It was so inspiring that I decided to turn it into a grand concept album, and have my whole Dungeon Synth project rooted in his work, and the works of others like him. It's a very special album for me because it was my first, and because I poured so much of myself into it. It was a frantic and feverish labor of love which I worked on for about 6 or 7 weeks, working every single day, sometimes for 8 or 10 hours straight. I'm very happy that people still enjoy the album, and while I don't think it's my best or most complex album, I am not bothered at all by the fact that it's my most popular. I love it, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.
Everything about Chaucer's work is inspiring to me. Being able to read The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English language is like nothing else in the world: the beauty of the language he uses is transcendent for me, and I find the poetry to be gorgeous to read, invoking creativity and passion whenever I read it. And that's just the language he uses; the actual content of The Tales is also amazing. He paints an amazing portrait of many different characters and their tales which represent so many different factions of English society at the time. He speaks on matters of [referred today as] organized religion, government, comedy, feminism, and the working class, all in ways that retain the high poetic nature of his work. I always get excited just thinking about it. There really is so much to be inspired by.
[Yuval] Sounds like something people should read! I believe that a book needs be read in its original language, and reading something in such an old (perhaps even ancient?) language sounds like an amazing experience.
[Andrew] It really is. There are a few very good modern English translations, to the credit of some really amazing translators (helped, of course by the fact that Middle and Modern English do share plenty of similarities), but reading it in the original language, as you said, really is the best way.
III. For many people, Dungeon Synth is mostly about taking a break from matters of “ordinary reality” and going out on a safe, inner journey - escapism. Your album, “The Canterbury Tales” does that in a truly amazing way. Were you aware of that while working on the album?
That's a really tough one for me, since I'm actually not really a big fan of "escapism" in the way it's usually used and talked about in the genre. I don't have a problem with other people doing so, of course, but I can't say that was on my mind while creating my music at all. I don't see music of any kind as a way to escape our experiences, but rather to amplify and modify them, since it really is impossible to escape life and reality, anyway. A safe inner journey, as you described it, is not really an escape from reality at all, in my opinion, but a philosophical and introspective opportunity in which one can examine reality differently.
My music isn't an escape for me as much as it's just another aspect of reality, grounded in reality, and therefore affected by the reality around me. I'm still just as much a subject to the powers of various 'muses' or inspirations without having to feel like I need to escape from reality. If others feel that urge, I don't think there's anything wrong with that, and surely it can make for very memorable experiences and great creativity on their part, but it's just not something I do.
IV. Let's talk about "The Book of Margery Kempe". Beside its originality, one of my favorite things about this album is its power to tell a story through music. It has many changing moods and features a creative usage of Noise, which makes it sound like a true spiritual pilgrimage, full of morbid experiences: Salvation, Adventures and many other elements that surround the concept. Can you share the musical ideas that led you to create this special album? Can you perhaps tell us a little bit more about your personal perspective on the story?
As of now, The Book of Margery Kempe is my favorite album that I've released for a few different reasons. Musically, I was really inspired by Dungeon Noise music by artists like Einhorn, Tyrannus and Ranseur, among others. For a while I had been looking for a way to integrate Noise into my music but I didn't want to force it. I wanted it to make sense and be natural. When I composed "Deep Sickness," the first track on the album, it really felt right as it details Margery's falling into illness and insanity after the births of her 14 children (enough to make anyone insane, I'm sure). I was also more inspired by more gritty sounds in general, hence why I used soundfonts rather than some more clean VST sounds to create the album. I wanted it to be a raw experience. I also made it less complex than Troilus and Criseyde, focusing, instead, on hooks and melodies without abandoning some of the complexity in orchestration. Emotionally, I'm very invested in the story of Margery Kempe. Her book is the first autobiography written in the English language, and the first book written by a woman so it gives us some very interesting insights into Middle English life, especially since she wasn't wealthy by any means. From an emotional standpoint, the story is incredible to me and I found myself becoming more emotionally immersed as I continued to read and re-read the book for the creation of this album. Margery was a holy woman who gave up everything she had to help the poor in foreign lands, leaving herself stranded in a country that didn't speak her language. She struggled through horrible visions and hallucinations which caused her physical and mental anguish. She was shunned by all but the poor wherever she went and she was a true spiritual figure in every sense of the word. All I can say is that I felt very connected to Margery during the making of this album and she informed every note that you hear when listening to it.
[Yuval] Your description makes me understand why you chose these musical ideas. Upon hearing the album again, everything connects very well.
[Andrew] Thank you. I'm glad you think so. It was definitely my most personal work to date. I really felt like I needed to do justice to Margery's life story and wanted to do so thoroughly through music.
[Yuval] Have you ever experimented with Noise before composing The Book of Margery Kempe?
[Andrew] A little bit, enough to be comfortable with it, but nothing too significant. I've always enjoyed it and have enjoyed working with it so I'm glad I finally got to use it in my work with Chaucerian Myth.
V. You have two albums conceptualized around pilgrimage. Are you a spiritual person? Have you ever thought of visiting Jerusalem or holy sites in Europe?
I am not a spiritual person in any usual sense of the word. I don't ascribe to any religion or spiritual beliefs, but I find that music and other such experiences fulfill what spirituality does for others. I would love to visit holy places all over the world, from Mecca to Jerusalem to the Canterbury Cathedral, not because I subscribe to any of the spiritual beliefs associated with those places but because being able to share in those spiritual experiences, even as an outsider, would be a very beautiful thing. I like the idea of pilgrimage, and I think it's important, whether one is traditionally spiritual or not.
VI. In your album “Troilus and Criseyde” you present an interesting concept: a combination of Jazz music with medieval music, all incorporated into a piece of pure Dungeon Synth. Can you tell us how this idea came to mind? Why did you choose to combine this artistic idea with this tale by Geoffrey Chaucer?
Jazz is my favorite genre of music, if I have to choose just one, and I had been listening to a lot of it as I was composing Troilus and Criseyde. I also wanted to make it different than The Canterbury Tales in a significant way. Thematically speaking, I also think that jazz music, in its syncopated rhythms, dizzying harmonies and occasionally chaotic nature, lent itself to the unstable nature of the story itself.
[Yuval] Perhaps you can tell us a little bit about your personal perspective of the story?
[Andrew] It's very interesting. At first, neither Troilus nor Criseyde are interested in one another. Then, Troilus gets shot by Cupid's arrow and is ridiculously and obsessively in love with Criseyde, who still has no interest in him. Naturally he tries to win her over through some truly ridiculous means and she eventually entertains the idea of having sex with him while his cousin watches in the same room. It's a really bizarre story in which Chaucer makes fun of the Courtly Love and Chivalry which were so prevalent in the Middle Ages, and often very silly. At the same time it is set to the back drop of the Trojan War. People die, including some main characters. There are gods and spirits invoked and Chaucer himself is a character in the story. It balances a weird juxtaposition of comedic silliness and serious, epic poetry the likes of the Greek and Roman classics. For this reason it's a very interesting read and was very inspiring to me as a narrative.
VII. Your music is pretty much exclusively focused around medieval culture and literature, mostly around the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Have you ever thought about incorporating other cultural and literary influences in your work? Perhaps under a different project?
Well, I have an album in the works based on Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. This is a work from after the Medieval era, but it's still pre-modern and fits the aesthetic very well, so I see no need to make it another project. There aren't any concrete plans to branch off into side projects yet but I have given it some thought and it might happen at some point in the future when the time is right. That being said, there are some very big projects coming up that will expand the Chaucerian Myth mythos greatly. I can't say much right now, but there is a bigger story here than one might think.
[Yuval] This is good to hear, your albums are very diverse and are always surprising with their interesting musical concepts. It is nice that you give us a teaser to the next surprise you're planning for us!
[Andrew] Definitely! I always strive to make my albums different, to challenge myself by doing new things. So far, I haven't run out of ways to do that, so you can expect plenty more music in the future!
VIII. I know that many Dungeon Synth projects are accompanied by poems and stories based on the lore of the artist's own imaginary world. Erang for example is the famous one among them. Have you ever considered doing something similar?
Like I said, I can't say much right now but part of the future of this project will have to do with world building in way that the previous Chaucerian Myth releases, and the authors from whom they were inspired, will all fit and make sense.
So, I guess I can answer 'yes' to your question (smiles).
IX. Can you tell us about your musical past and the artistic influences that you've drawn from Black Metal, Dungeon Synth and other styles of music?
Black Metal was very important to my musical past but by the time I started making Dungeon Synth I had mostly outgrown it. I still like a lot of music from the genre but I don't really listen to it that much anymore, and it doesn't influence me very much, with the exception of a few artists. My first exposure to Dungeon Synth was (Burzums') Dauði Baldrs, which I heard a long, long time ago. I enjoyed it a lot but I can't say I really internalized it nor did it inspire my music very much. In terms of other earlier Dungeon Synth inspirations I remember listening to Lord Wolf, Lugburz, Jim Kirkwood, Lord Lovidicus and Taur Nu Fuin from what I can remember off the top of my head. I was greatly inspired by these artists, and upon revisiting them a few years later, I knew I had to make this music myself. As for my adolescence and childhood, I mostly listened to Metal bands like Celtic Frost, Electric Wizard, Anvil, Death and others before falling in love with Rush, still my favorite band, and progressive rock in general – all of which have influenced my music today.
[Yuval] What Instruments do you play? Have you ever considered learning to play on traditional instruments such as the Renaissance Lute?
[Andrew] I play guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, though the bass guitar is the instrument I'm best at right now since it's the one I'm practicing the most. I would absolutely love to play traditional folk instruments and I'll probably end up doing so eventually if I ever have the money to spare.
X. One of the things that I really appreciate about Dungeon Synth is that it never seems to lose its faith and honesty toward its own identity. As we grow up I believe it is difficult to maintain this authenticity and fight to stay true to your passions in spite of inhibitions imposed by society, but there are people who managed to stay in the Dungeon Synth scene even after they became parents. I'm curious to hear your opinion on the matter.
I absolutely love it. I don't really have any plans on having kids myself (knock on wood), but I love to see parents in the scene because I imagine that the experience of being a parent affects the musical experience nicely. Life experience is important in making music, after all. I'm constantly inspired by the sense of genuine passion and interest in the scene. Like you said, it can be difficult to devote time to music when society has other plans but it's important to devote one's time to artistic pursuits and to see it done in a niche.
XI. Where do you envision the Dungeon Synth scene for the upcoming decade? What kinds of changes are you expecting to see and how do you think you will be affected by them?
That's a tough one. I'm honestly not sure. The genre has changed a lot during its existence, and I'm not really certain about where it'll go next. However, I can say one thing with near certainty: whatever changes may happen they will be expressed genuinely and not superficially and as such, they will not force myself, nor anyone else, to change or conform to them unless they desire it. I feel comfortable saying that I will be able to continue to progress musically in the scene in my own way without interference and that any significant changes in the scene will most likely be a result of other artists doing the same.
[Yuval] I have the impression that scene is open minded and tend to welcome new ideas and experimenting. In this case I don't see any changes; the only big change I see is its intensive growth. I tend to change opinions on this matter quite a lot.
[Andrew] Yeah, I think you might be right. I certainly think the scene is only going to keep growing. Personally, I don't think it's a bad thing - it's the only way I'll ever be able to get Erang cereal - and I'm pretty excited to see where it's going to lead the genre to. I don't think it's ever going to get big to the point in which it's a household name but I do think it will become a larger cult phenomenon, for sure.
XII. Any tips for aspiring Dungeon Synth artists?
My biggest tips would be: to be musically honest and to never stop learning. Do what makes you happy. Sure, Lord of the Rings is outdated at this point but if that's the only thing you can really pour your heart and soul into at this moment, go for it. Other ideas will come later. That being said, I think it's also important to keep educating ourselves musically, both in a theoretical sense and in terms of seeking out new experiences which enhance our music. Always keep growing!
XIII. A lot of Dungeon Synth artists prefer to maintain a certain level of anonymity. You however, don’t mind shooting videos of yourself talking or putting up links to your personal Facebook profile. Is there any reason for that? What do you think of other artists' decision to maintain their anonymity?
If other artists choose to be anonymous, that's fine, and I see plenty of cool reasons to do so - it does add a certain mystique that can be alluring. As for me I see no reason to be anonymous. Before I started making my own Dungeon Synth music Dungeon Synth wasn't all that big (we're talking around 2010 and a little earlier) and I always thought it would be cool to interact with more of the musicians. Now, the scene has grown, and we all have that opportunity now so I just like to be myself, I suppose.
XIV. Thank you very much for interviewing Andrew! Closing words to our readers?
I would just like to thank you for the interview! It was a wonderful opportunity. I would also like to thank those who read this, and those who still listen to my music today. It humbles me greatly to see that people still get enjoyment from what I make. I never expected this to happen when I released my first album. Thank you all and there will be much more to come from Chaucerian Myth!
The Canterbury Tales
To dramatize Geoffrey Chaucer through sounds
Troilus and Criseyde
Middle Ages' Amnon and Tamar?
The Book of Margery Kempe
Margery Kempes travels greatly influenced Andrew's work