Praised by Jimmy Page as “riveting,” Janaka Stucky’s book length poem, Ascend Ascend, published by Jack White’s Third Man Books in 2019, gets a mesmerizing treatment on this album by the same name, accompanied by experimental cellist Lori Goldston. Goldston, known for her work with a number of acts—including Nirvana, Cat Power, and Earth—provides otherworldly layers of distortion and natural reverb over Stucky’s dirge-like vocal performance.
Recorded at the All Pilgrims Church in Seattle while Stucky was on a 7-city tour produced by Atlas Obscura in 2019, the performance is served well by the room’s ambiance and was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Mell Dettmer—who has engineered albums for acts such as Earth, Sunn O))), Master Musicians of Bukkake, and Wolves in the Throne Room.
“I wrote Ascend Ascend over the course of 20 days—coming in and out of trance states while secluded in the tower of a 100-year-old church,” Stucky says. In the live performances, Stucky recited the book in its entirety from the confines of a magic circle—drawn with sigils and arcane seals on the floor—ringed with beeswax candles, incense, and live marigolds planted in an outer rim of soil.
“It was important that the performance of the work reflected the space from which it was produced—not just the physical space, but also the interior space,” Stucky says. “I wanted the shows to be initiatory—inviting the audience into my own altered state of consciousness, so the performance could become an invocation, a collective trance, flowering into this fourth dimension.”
Each performance was uniquely tailored to the unusual venues which are the hallmark of Atlas Obscura productions, and Stucky’s musical collaborators changed with each show as well.
“Lori and I had never met before the show, but exchanged several emails in the months leading up to the event,” says Stucky. “We didn’t even do much of a sound check, but Lori was cool and confident—and the performance was magical. With little to no prep, Lori and I tuned into each other and filled the resonant hall of All Pilgrims with the incantation you hear on this record.”
“The recording is very warm and processed in a way that really brings out the best of the room,” says Steve von Till of Neurot Recordings, who is releasing the album. “I have seen a million sound waves, and upon first looking at the waves of Janaka’s voice and Lori's cello I had to do a double take to make sure they weren't the same wave—or that there wasn't tons of bleed between the two—because they look eerily similar. They were so tuned in to each other!”
While on this tour, VICE magazine wrote that, “Janaka Stucky performs poetry readings like he's part fire-and-brimstone preacher, part doom-metal frontman.” Given the record’s aesthetic heritage and execution, which falls somewhere between ambient doom and psychedelic punk mysticism, the synergy with its release on Neurot Recordings feels like a perfect match.
01. Assiah, the Material World
02. Yetzirah, the World of Formation
03. Beri'ah, the World of Creation
04. Atziluth, the Archetypal World