A Witch Hunt Dossier - Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement Files - XIII
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A Witch Hunt Dossier – Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement Files

*The Cheat-Sheet is a series of posts which complement the researches presented in the ‘Analysis’ articles. They mostly build off insights found there and serve as a little (more informal) notebook (*cheat sheet*) which helps in contextualizing the artist’s (or label’s) opus with the thoughts presented there. The ideas written here are by no means final and they are meant to encourage your own research. 

 

A WITCH-HUNT DOSSIER

 

Dominick Fernow is a productive man, we all know that, but even to us – who dug deeply into his opus – it’s still hard to process the unhuman amount of excellent work that he managed to create in the first half of the twenty-tens, and most notably between 2011 and 2013. Not only did the Vatican Shadow laid his foundational work then, but the rebirth (or recontextualization) of Prurient also took place, as well as the start of Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement – one of his more ‘known’ (whatever that means) projects – central to this article.

Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement started, or at least got its debut work released, in 2011, under the veil of anonymity but nonetheless striking – not only because of the long (and pretentious?) project name, but also due to track titles whose vividness, form and ‘ambition’ surpassed even the Vatican Shadow ones. The green colour scheme was predominant and subject matter was based around the Papua New Guinea witch-hunts; murder, torture and sorcery accusations which are still happening today despite sounding unbelievable to the average western ears. Finally, the sound was initially based around Ambient Dub and Dark Ambient electronics interconnected with some atmospheric field recordings – or sounds of the rainforest if you like

The idea of anonymity probably started with the initial press-coverage, most notably from Boomkat, whose propaganda for projects like this one is usually impeccable, no matter if it’s about creating the intrigue or just overblowing the genre tags:

“Very bloody good ambient/black Techno from some character working as Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement for Prurient’s Hospital Productions. We wouldn’t like to hazard a guess at who this is, but it sounds somewhere between Prurient’s more bleached out ambient bits and a less noisy Alberich, full of groaning metallic timbres and strangely artificial nature sounds, anchored to deep, distant bass pulses…”

Also…

“2011, the project was shrouded in a veil of mystery which left many fiends guessing to its provenance — it seemed too far reduced to be identified as Fernow’s work, but also didn’t easily resonate with anyone of Hospital Productions’ usual suspects, instead holding a unique line of stygian slow techno that sounded like some our bleakest, febrile fantasies come to life.”

Even TinyMixtapes, in their review of Prurient’s masterpiece ‘Frozen Niagara Falls’, mentioned Fernow’s ‘implied involvement in Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement‘ –  take note that this is as late as 2015, when project had already released a significant body of work. In one of the rare instances where he commented on the project, Fernow denied the concept of anonymity but also gave some more insight into the the reasoning behind his main side-projects at that time:

“Something that’s ridiculous is this idea of anonymity. It was created entirely by other people who weren’t reading the description of the Christian Cosmos album that came out, which said Christian Cosmos, Rainforest and Vatican are all my projects. And they’re all dealing with fear and anxiety in different environments. They’re intentionally connected through the use of electronics, rhythm and subject matter. Rainforest is natural and superstition based, Vatican is technology and earthly issues, and Christian Cosmos is religious and esoteric. So, yes, they do sound similar, but that’s the point. It’s a way of exploring one topic through different voices. Another way of putting it is man, nature and god, or father, son, holy ghost.” (Self-Titled, 2013)

Finally, he got into the background of Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement project itself:

“It’s primarily about Papa New Guinea and witchcraft, which also has this strange relationship with true crime. There’s an enormous amount of murders happening, involving people who are suspected to be witches. There’s this insane crisis happening where police literally don’t have the resources to investigate the murders. And by that, I mean, they don’t even have gas money to go into the jungle. So, yes, I am a person who’s suffered form anxiety disorders my entire life, but it’s more an exploration of fear in general. These beliefs, or these lack of beliefs, is what generates this fear and anxiety. All fear comes from control, or the perception of a lack of control. It’s personal in the sense that it’s an attempt to explore and understand these disorders but it’s using all of these other stories. I think it’s important to draw the distinction between the intent and the outcome. To an extent, everything I do is personal but using these other stories is a way to let other people in more. That’s what I’ve learned with Prurient—that there’s a limit in terms of how far people will go into your story.” (Self-Titled, 2013)

Most of the key takeaways from the Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement project would be pretty much equal to those of Vatican Shadow, they are made by the same person after all – the methods or imagery may differ, but tactics are generally similar. This *Cheat Sheet* will go through each of the RSE releases and give you a quick insight what to expect from each one, encouraging your own deep dive into the rainforest…

 

PHASE ONE:

BLACK MAGIC ORIGINATED IN NATURE

 

What I perceive as a first phase of the Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement’s opus are its early, tone-setting tapes, mostly pressed in very limited quantities and released between 2011 and 2013. All of these records were later remastered and compiled as a ‘Water Witches’ boxset, showcasing the darker side of Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement’s suffocating drone mysticism and occult electronics. So let’s start chronologically…

 

Fallen Leaves Camouflaged Behind Tropical Flowers (2011) [EP]

The project’s first release is the predator’s ritual dance of death; a drugged-out rainforest symphony covered in the shades of rainy drone and noise-mudded fang-sharp industrial ambiance. It is one of the rare RSE records which grabs you by the throat (most notable in ‘Skull Covered in Moss’ which borders with Death Industrial) instead of stalking you and preying on you from the safe physical distance; the trick is that the distance is never kept on the mental part, once you’re in the mind game you cannot escape anymore. In a way, the tape exists in a place of a perfect irony of finding beauty in the exact moment of abandoning all the sanity and reason. A listener is a victim…

Physical format:
– Cassette (59 copies – 2011, Hospital Productions)
– Vinyl (500 copies – Transparent Green – 2017, Hospital Productions)
Can be found in Water Witches Cassette Box set (200 copies – 2017, Hospital Productions / 50 copies – 2018, Hospital Productions)

 

Green Amulet Crafts Supernatural Qualities (2011) [EP]

The Rainforest’s second tape is made of hypnotic, unbearably-repetitive and screwed dub passages whose minimalism and simplicity summon the atmosphere which literally alters the sense of time. It’s hard to tell whether it works better as a stand-alone mind-melter or as a ritualistic ‘break’ in the context of Water Witches compilation…

Physical format:
– Cassette (63 copies – 2011, Hospital Productions)
– Vinyl (500 copies – Transparent Green – 2017, Hospital Productions)
Can be found in Water Witches Cassette Box set (200 copies – 2017, Hospital Productions / 50 copies – 2018, Hospital Productions)

 

Jungle Black Magic and Highlands Green Sorcery (2012) [EP]


‘Jungle Black Magic and Highlands Green Sorcery’ was the tape which taught me that Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement music simply has to be played earth-shatteringly loud to properly realize how unsettling (but also bass-dominant) it truly is. It was easy to dismiss it as ‘generic’ (even disappointing) ‘field recordings’ at first – one of the traps you fall into when you get too analytical with music instead of letting it take you over. Once you steer away from the regular ‘there are four songs here’ mindset and perceive it as a dread-building whole of nervous bass and disorienting bass-heavy voodoo electronics, you can immediately feel the water witches’ hands over you, trying to pull you below the water surface… Birds continue with their singing though…

Physical format:
– Cassette (49 copies – 2012, Hospital Productions)
– Vinyl (500 copies (Transparent Green) – 2017, Hospital Productions)
Can be found in Water Witches Cassette Box set (200 copies – 2017, Hospital Productions / 50 copies – 2018, Hospital Productions)

 

Papua Land Where Spirits Still Rule (2012)

‘Papua Land’ was the first Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement project which, at least to me, felt like a ‘studio work’. Not that I don’t think that the others were done in the studio but they felt organic and weirdly supernatural. This record often feels like a live experiment – a synth-led jam session over the pre-existing RSE tracks – sometimes coming off as rewarding (as with ghostly vocals on ‘When They Cut the Road Through Here’) and more often not. The proper magic of ‘Papua…’ exists in the track listing; the track titles tell a story and each track runs for 4:48 – I always thought that they should be played simultaneously – I mean it’s Fernow after all…

Physical format:
– Cassette (16 copies – 2012, Hospital Productions)
– Vinyl (500 copies – 2017, Hospital Productions)
Can be found in Water Witches Cassette Box set (200 copies – 2017, Hospital / 50 copies – 2018, Hospital Productions)

 

Black Magic Cannot Cross Water (2012)

“Sourced from a box of cassettes found at a market in Port Moresby, it was thought to be recorded by a group of Christian missionaries prior to their unexplained disappearance during the 1980s.”

‘Black Magic Cannot Cross Water’ is possibly the bleakest Rainforest tape in existence – a cursed Bizarro version of meditation apps – no wonder that Blackest Ever Black decided to instantly ‘repress it’ on vinyl. This record is sinister in its indifference and sometimes that passivity towards the inevitable (absolute) change is more frightening than the proactive approach could ever be. The tape sublimes the project’s signature field recordings with pitch-black Burzum synths, sculpting a psychological wall of dread, making it sound like you’re in a little boat – blindfolded – slowly sailing towards the pre-agreed place of your own execution.

Physical format:
– Cassette (79 copies – 2012, Hospital Productions)
– Vinyl (2014, Blackest Ever Black)
Can be found in Water Witches Cassette Box set (200 copies – 2017, Hospital Productions / 50 copies – 2018, Hospital Productions)

 

Taking Place in the Foyer (2012) [EP]

This may possibly be the project’s most tense record which, in the context of such a distressing discography, surely speaks a lot. As I already mentioned, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement’s music rarely gets in your face and mostly prefers to remain fierce by its passive-aggressive tactics. Such methods are perfected here by the implementation of harsh noise and tortured shrieks; what distinguishes them from Prurient works though is that they sound like Prurient was performing his music while buried under the ground and somebody recorded it with a dictaphone during the thunderstorm. A true downer electronics. Sorcery killings indeed…

Physical format:
– Cassette (14 copies – 2012, Hospital Productions)
– Vinyl (500 copies – Transparent Green – 2017, Hospital Productions)
Can be found in Water Witches Cassette Box set (200 copies – 2017, Hospital Productions / 50 copies – 2018, Hospital Productions)

 

 

[PHASE ONE: B]

[Even though I’d like to keep all of the ‘early’ records under one flag, there’s some logic in observing the following three (especially the last two) as a sub-phase, since they offered some of the first flirtations with Techno (and even some dance-floor) sounds.]

 

 

The Plant With Many Faces (2013)

Even though the tape starts with a no-remorse- synth-driven synchronized attack of killer bees, channeling the rare similar moment on the debut tape, the next three tracks slowly fade into a venomous death drone, building the ominous atmospheric wall already signature to the Rainforest project at this point. What makes it slightly different from other instances is how detached the drone is – serving more as a complement to the background rather than being psychoactive as usual…

Physical format:
– Vinyl (500 copies – Black, 500 copies – Clear – 2013, Hospital Productions)
Can be found in Water Witches Cassette Box set (200 copies – 2017, Hospital Productions / 50 copies – 2018, Hospital Productions)
Can be found in The Plant With Many Faces / Folklore Venom Cassette Box set (99 copies – 2013, Hospital Productions)

 

Folklore Venom (2013)

Folklore Venom is the tape where Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement project gets its first Techno treatment, not yet in the dancefloor-ready context (which will come out soon on Bed of Nails imprint), but in its own hallucinogenic, mud splattered way, finding a way between the rituals of venom-inflicted death drone transmissions. Once again, the record succeeds in taking your whole body and mind over without ever being ‘proactive’ in it – often sounding as being heard from underwater or under the spell; a spell which slowly makes you recollect the raves which now have a completely different context… Often, I have an impression that Folklore Venom may be the most approachable RSE project, at least from the early phase; don’t take that as a negative thing though, quite the contrary – it speaks more about its eclecticism and how well rounded it actually is as an album.

Physical format:
– Vinyl (500 copies – Black, 500 copies – Red Translucent – 2013, Hospital Productions)
Can be found in Water Witches Cassette Box set (200 copies – 2017, Hospital Productions / 50 copies – 2018, Hospital Productions)
Can be found in The Plant With Many Faces / Folklore Venom Cassette Box set (99 copies – 2013, Hospital Productions)

 

Water Rose Above the Head (2013) [EP]

As I had already noted, with time I learned that the club-weaponry released on Bed Of Nails always had some additional polished-factor in comparison to regular Hospital Productions releases, and that was more than evident when Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement got its turn. ‘Water Rose Above the Head’ contains one of the RSE’s rare dives into a ‘proper’ Techno during the project’s early phase, basically marking its only dance-floor track during that era, bringing us something that may actually be dubbed as a Vatican Shadow graveyard-shift remix of a RSE track. With transition to Side B, the dance slowly fades and morphs into the Rainforest’s signature prey-stalking mind games… There had to be a catch though, the record plays at 33RPM despite the centre-labels indicating otherwise. The excellence of execution….

Physical format:
– Vinyl (Black, 500 copies (Transparent Green) – 2013, Bed of Nails)
Can be found in Water Witches Cassette Box set (200 copies – 2017, Hospital Productions / 50 copies – 2018, Hospital Productions)

 

 

PHASE TWO:

RETURN OF THE YELLOW HERB AMBIENT

 

It seems weird now, but there was a three years of pause between ‘Water Rose Above The Head’ and the following Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement release. There are no specific reasons (mentioned) for that but maybe it could be linked to Vatican Shadow becoming a strong touring outfit and Fernow’s ‘main’ project in Europe. Phase two is marked by the two mammoth releases, clocking around three hours, with more polished sound, professional attitude and obvious influence of Berlin’s (where Fernow relocated at that time) way of handling record releases, most evident in detailed press releases about the nature of sound – sound was often secondary to atmosphere, mystery and themes until that point.

For example:

“Rainforest spiritual enslavement is the ambient techno project of Dominick Fernow. focusing on slow paced bass studies and and synthetic dub textures, surrounded by collaged and looped field recording environments, RSE shrouds sound over image to target the sector of brain where fear supersedes rationality – the imagination. As RSE appears live for the first time it has transformed into an entity with rotating contributors on stage and on recording…The debut live performance of Fernow’s most restrained project will feature studies in bass and field recording environments.

There is also plenty of accent on the personnel involved in the album’s engineering:

“The new album Ambient Black Magic features sound-on-sound processing by Silent Servant, a massive dub remix from Substance, and mastering by Paul Corley. Having released a series of early cassettes on Fernow’s own Hospital Productions imprint, the project remained in obscurity for fanatics of the label’s direct cassette culture until London’s Blackest Ever Black reissued Black Magic Cannot Cross Water on vinyl. The EP brought the rhythmic field recordings to the attention of Neel of Voices From The Lake.”

All in all, just like the Phase One was tone-setting in the context of project’s sound and mythology, Phase Two had been tone-setting in presenting it maturity as a ‘serious’ project ready for some professional work, presentation and touring. The era also marked the vinyl reissues of the early work. Contrary to Vatican Shadow’s high reliance on visuals and imagery, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement reissues came in green vinyl housed in generic sleeves, serving as a minimalistic counterpart to Vatican’s graphic heavy opus.

 

Green Graves (2016)

Green Graves is a killer slow melter, it seems like you’re peeling it off – a layer by layer, – a layer by layer of suffocating jungle meditations, trance-inducing ritual drums and night-vision Techno paranoia, whose immersive atmosphere equals the discomfort of ants and spiders crawling over your face while your hands are tied. Almost three years passed between the previous RSE tape and this one and the wait had definitely been worth it – the hypnotic ninety minutes of occult electronics pass on quickly, giving the music enough time to cloak you with its mysticism, dancing on a thin rope between fear and delirium. Even though its title remembers ‘green’, the record changes its colors but keeps the shape – don’t forget that the jungle is a shape shifter after all…

Listen here.

Physical format:
– Cassette (50 copies – available only with pre-order of Case Studies in Early Taxidermy Techniques by Skin Crime – 2016, Hospital Productions)
– Vinyl (480 copies (150 – Moss Green, 330 – Black) – 2016, Hospital Productions ; 500 copies (Cyan) – 2018, Hospital Productions)

 

Ambient Black Magic (2017)

Even though it’s not near among my favorites, I can easily see why this could be someone’s definite record choice by the Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement. It is a ‘proper album’, the cover is memorable, the title is seductive and, most importantly, the sound is there to suit all – even the press release noted how “‘Ambient Black Magic’ moves away from the extreme saturation of the early cassettes and the industrial environmentalism of ‘Green Graves’, and defines itself simply as contemporary ‘fear/chill-out’ dub.” No wonder the album quickly became a part of the YouTubecore, YouTube canon or whatever that is. Good for what it is (or became), but ultimately disappointing in comparison to the project’s earlier opus; not because of the change itself but more because it seemed like a step back instead of forward. It’s still a rainforest, but it doesn’t seem dangerous anymore – and that feeling is clear-headed, not disillusioned by hypnosis and hallucinations…

Listen here.

Physical format:
– Vinyl (12″+10″ – Transparent Yellow – 2017, Hospital / 12″+10″ – 2018, Hospital Productions)
– CD (2017, Hospital Productions)

 

 

PHASE THREE:

JUNGLE IS A SHAPESHIFTER

 

Phase Three builds off the focus on *sound explorations* started in the previous phase, where a lot of accent had been put on the overall methods of work and collaborators involved in the process. In 2017, Phillipe Hallais, also knows as Low Jack, became an official member of Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, first getting the keys to experiment with sounds that ended up as ‘Red Ants Genesis’ and thus marking the clear new direction of the project; relocating from Papua New Guinea to Panama Canal as its new primary field of interest.

In late 2019, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement made their European club debuts (following the USA live debut in 2018), first in Paris but also in Berghain, officially leaving the stigma of a ‘bedroom act’. The pandemic stopped them in the subsequent touring, but we will see what the future brings. Whatever it does, this article will surely cover it.

 

Red Ants Genesis (2018)

A live recording with no audience (because, of course… take note that this had been released two years before lockdowns)  where On the tape’s original four tracks, Low Jack transmogrifies Fernow’s high volume microphone recordings of synthetic field ecologies with masterful sleight of hand in-the-edits, resulting in a hyperreal detachment and realignment of spatial proprioceptions executed with exquisite textural tactility”. Very enjoyable effort due to succees in making the sounds feel more ‘real’ or should I say ‘closer’ – maybe I’m suggesting it to myself because I know it’s a live thing, but I guess it’s mixed a bit differently than most of his saturated, disoriented studio releases; putting an actual sound in the spotlight, rather than the atmosphere… Pretty much a great replacement for all of your ‘study’ mixes on YouTube… OK, maybe aside of a ‘Papua Land’ elephant-ghosts death stomper, I think you won’t be having a good time reading to that. Another great and kinda overseen release…

Listen here.

Physical format:
– Cassette (2018, Hospital Productions)
– Vinyl (Regular Black, 300 Copies (Red) – 2018, Hospital Productions)

 

Venus Flytrap Exotica (2019) [EP]

Listen here.

Physical format:
– 7″ Vinyl (300 copies – Clear, 400 copies – Bottle Green, 2019, Gravats)

 

Panama Canal Left​-​Hand Path (2019) [EP]

‘Panama Canal Left-Hand Path’ builds off ‘Ambient Black Magic’ “contemporary ‘fear/chill-out’ dub” foundation but steers those mosquito-bite meditations into unmistakable bass-heavy techno direction (“Basic Channel style sequences emphasizing bass rhythms over kicks” situated in a “rotted electro-acoustic concrete dub environment.”). The label describes it as “the most caustic and disturbing sessions since the cryptic early analog recordings of Folklore Venom and The Plant With Many Faces mixed with the sustained tension of Green Graves”. At this stage, most of the initial mystery had been unmasked and everything was getting ready for a nightclub presentation; a presentation paused by the lockdown that started just months after its Berghain debut.

Listen here.

Physical format:
– Cassette (500 copies (Regular), 80 Copies (or 100, Special Edition packaging, Mixed – 2019, Hospital Productions)
(The release also includes Simulated Thunderstorm)

 

Simulated Thunderstorm (2019)

Despite some people complaining about Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement tracks being too long, often they are so good exactly because of their length – it lets the track build properly and create tension and mood to feel it in a right way… That is more than evident here where we get two identical 40+ minute tracks which aren’t even a new songs but Philippe Hallais’s (a.k.a. Low Jack) mix of Fernow’s earlier material (“a 90-minute continuous mixtape collecting material that was originally released in digital formats for the Hospital Productions Mexico City earthquake benefit), imagined as a tribute to Environments, 2: Ultimate Thunderstorm, one of Dominick Fernow’s favorite albums

Listen here.

Physical format:
N/A
Can be found in Panama Canal Left​-​Hand Path Cassette set (500 copies (Regular), 80 Copies (or 100, Special Edition packaging, Mixed – 2019, Hospital Productions)

 

 

OTHER WORK:

 

COMPILATIONS:

 

The Plant With Many Faces / Folklore Venom (2013) [Compilation]

A double cassette release of two stand-alone LPs released earlier in the year: The Plant With Many Faces & Folklore Venom.

Physical format:
– Cassette (99 copies – 2013, Hospital Productions)

 

Water Witches (2017) [Compilation]

A box set of eight cassettes which contains all the records from the project’s first phase (2011-2013) in their entirety. 

Listen here.

Physical format:
– Cassette (200 copies – 2017, Hospital Productions/ 50 Copies (Green Cover) – 2018, Hospital Productions)

 

 

Remixed by Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement:

Dissociation (Dissociation (Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement Extended Remix) – JK Flesh
Act (Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement Remix) – My Disco

 

Live Sets:

SAVE 2019 * ARMA, Mutabor, Moscow (2019)

 

Non-Album Tracks:
/

 

*Originally published in March 2021. Written in August, 2020.

THE END

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* The aforementioned ideas are not meant to be portrayed as the Dominick Fernow’s (or anyone’s involved) agenda, attitude or stance. They are just my observations of a project, correlated with some pre-existing knowledge.

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** Media theorist Geert Lovink asserts that blogging is “essentially a nihilist exercise, a digital self-fashioning that actually negates critical engagement, privileging self-promotion over analytical interventions.” Nicolas Carr considers it “a flat noise of opinion – a Socrates’ nightmare.” (Falconer, R., 2015.). While this quote, thanks to social media, can easily be translated to a whole internet, there is a honest intent in this article – it’s conceived in order to champion an inspiring artist and possibly encourage others to do their own (rewarding) research.

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*** The images are sourced from the Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement album artworks, cropped when needed (outside the record ‘review’ context) in order to match the site’s visual direction. The RSE portrait is sourced from Fact Mag, labeled as a press photo. In case you’re the author and would like to get some images removed, please let me know here.


**** Support the artist’s music by buying it while they are still alive.