Under Milwaukee’s temperamental sky resides Joseph Mlodik. A photographer, painter, nature wanderer, and musician, Joseph has been producing dark ambient compositions under Noctilucant for about two years now. With a fascination for the apocalyptic, he illustrates bleak soundscapes that resound with undiluted terror. The longer you soak in his glacial shrouds, you begin to trace faint outlines of an abstract story. Two of his releases, ‘Back to the Mud’ and its sequel ‘Oblivion to You All’, pen a harrowing journey in an unnamed world of Joseph’s creation. Around these monolithic albums, Joseph has delivered a series of other compositions – a trilogy of lengthy singles as well as some compilations of unreleased tracks. But now with the latter half of 2017 on top of us, Joseph is ready to unfurl his highly anticipated follow-up to ‘Oblivion to You All’.
In this interview we get a deeper look into the mind composing Noctilucant. We learn about some of Joseph’s influences and what’s to come from this project in the remaining months of 2017.
You’ve noted your love for video game scores growing up. Your most recent release ‘Crumbling Cities Echoing Their Terror’ opens with a cover of the Final Fantasy VII OST song titled “You Can Hear the Cry of the Planet”. What compelled you to cover this particular song and also expand upon it?
Honestly it was the name of the song – I thought it fit really well into the post-apocalyptic concept I was trying to portray with Noctilucant. That aside, I didn’t have any special connection to the original track other than that the Final Fantasy games were a staple of my childhood and teen years. When I first started the cover I felt quite challenged and at one point I even considered a different song, but I stuck with it and I feel it’s a rather solid cover version of this now 20 year old tune.
What other video game scores spoke to you? How have they influenced your own compositions?
Quite a few really, but the main one is the Silent Hill 2 soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka. With that one Mr. Yamaoka crafted a really diverse soundtrack that was all over the place both musically and emotionally, and that’s been one of my goals with Noctilucant since the beginning. A few people have pointed out that influence when listening to Noctilucant, which is a huge honor for me of course.
Take me back to some moment(s) where music made a strong impression on you.
There’s been so many moments, but I always find myself going back to those late 90’s/early 00’s years when I first discovered underground music. Back then music seemed really special and it felt great to be a part of something that was (at the time) still pretty obscure and unknown. I was listening to so much different stuff at the time that it seemed like every new album I bought was a new adventure. It’s hard for me to even articulate my feelings at the time, but I knew I had come across something unique and something I’d surely take along on the road of life for a long time to come. I knew even back then that I’d one day do a dark ambient project.
Unfortunately nowadays the internet has exposed and overly saturated pretty much all forms of music to the point where it’s nearly impossible to get excited about new tunes anymore. Of course, this could be a byproduct of getting old and having experienced way too much music throughout the years, but it’s just rare these days when I’m finding myself floored by music like I once was. It’s actually kind of depressing. Still, I come across cool bands on Bandcamp and what not that hit the spot for me, but I’m still waiting for the next huge, huge band to come along in my life and really move me.
You gather your field recordings using your cellphone. What’s your process for acquiring sounds? Are there particular places you visit frequently to locate sounds?
First of all I’d like to say that gathering field recordings via a cellphone app isn’t the best way to gather field recordings, haha. However, if you’re either too lazy or simply don’t have the monies to afford proper recording equipment (that’d be me) then it might just work out for you. That being said there really isn’t any special process other than just keeping my ears open for unique sounds. I suppose I think about sounds a bit different from most people since once I hear something I’m already pondering what it might sound like when dramatically slowed down/stretched out or just completely remade into something else. Honestly there isn’t any special place I frequent, but foresty areas can certainly provide plenty of interesting sounds. Then again I’ve recorded sounds at noisy social gatherings and even at my day job.
Tell me about some of the most cherished or valued sounds you’ve collected.
My girlfriend and I recently completed a long road trip with stops in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi and Arkansas. In all of these places I gathered a lot of sounds of the natural world (i.e., rain, waterfalls, rivers, wind, animals, echoes, etc.). All of these sounds were captured while basking in nature and being far, far away from the noisy city. I can tell you with little regret that standing on the cliffs of the smoky mountains and viewing the endless landscapes was one of the most breathtaking moments I’ve ever experienced. Never in all my life did I ever realize how small and insignificant I was until that moment. It was literally like staring at a painting, but it was real, and all happening right in front of me…
With that being said I plan on using these field recordings and creating an album that’s entirely made up of them and absolutely nothing else. Everything will be highly transformed from its original form into some sort of dark droning experimental sound. Whether or not I’ll release this under the Noctilucant name is not yet decided.
Does collecting field recordings change your perspective on the place where you recorded them? (e.g., does recording in a particular place make you appreciate that area more or does it build a deeper connection to that place?)
I never considered that, but at least when I go back to these recordings it will at least flood my mind with memories of that place and time.
How does Wisconsin’s landscape influence your music?
I live and work in Milwaukee, and thankfully Lake Michigan is no more than a mile from my house, as well as, a slew of awesome parks. Wisconsin has a great deal of activities for outdoorsman and I try to take advantage of it, especially since we’ve got really questionable and unpredictable weather here. I can also drive a short distance to find more impressive lakes, forests, bluffs, etc., but I don’t know that any of this necessarily influences my music. Honestly I think it’s more the negative in life that really inspires my particular sound. I am thinking about doing a side project that’s going to be a lot more strictly nature themed and if that ever happens I’m quite sure I’ll be able to answer this question a lot better at that point.
You founded Oaken Sage Photography in early 2015. How has your work and passion for photography influenced your music?
Oaken Sage Photography was a brief attempt at making a living doing more commercial photography. However, I realized very quickly into it that I didn’t enjoy it. You’ll have to understand that my passion with photography stretches as far back as about 2007-08, and in those days I was only taking photos of nature, animals and creative self-portraits. It was sometime in 2012 when I got this crazy idea in my head that I could make extra income taking photos of local bands, which lead to a slew of gigs with various black, doom and power metal bands in the area – oddly enough how I ended up meeting my girlfriend.
This eventually led to the more commercial direction of Oaken Sage where suddenly I was taking photos of families, children, couples… and you know, I just didn’t enjoy it. Partially because it was hard finding gigs, secondly due to a few customer issues, and lastly because it just wasn’t the job for me. By nature I’m a rather quiet individual and honestly I have quite the social anxiety issue, which has plagued me my entire existence. Thus, you can probably imagine the stress I went through meeting new people and trying to communicate with them during shoots.
Anyway, that’s all behind me now and I’m back to where I started with photography and infinitely happier.
You’ve noted that nature is a source of inspiration for you. What about the natural world gives rise to your dark tales on humanity’s impending demise?
It’s hard to explain, but it’s almost a spiritual thing to me – being in and around nature. I draw a lot of personal strength from the natural world and I know in my heart it’s where I want to be. The sad thing is I know that one day, maybe even one day soon, we’re going to blow it. This country, this planet, it’s going to end and we will all be extinct (or very close at least). Species of life allegedly go extinct every single day. Who says humanity isn’t next? If the apocalypse ever happens I hardly doubt it will be like some Hollywood movie or comic turned into a hit TV show, no, I think it will be much, much worse.
You’ve noted literature as another source of inspiration. What books and authors have left an impression on you? How have they impacted your compositions?
I don’t know if any author necessarily shaped the actual sound of Noctilucant, but at least the title of my first album, ‘Back to the Mud’, originates from a Joseph Abercrombie book titled, ‘The Blade Itself’. In the story, “Back to the Mud” is a common phrase for a group of uncivilized/nomadic/Viking-ish warrior people for when someone who has died and been buried… I guess just the equivalent of rest in peace. Unfortunately I don’t read nearly as much as I used to, but it’s really something I’d like to get back into doing since it definitely has served me with some ideas. Anything you can recommend?
FCU: I’ve been reading a bunch of Vonnegut lately, Slaughterhouse Five is a classic. The Soul of the White Ant by
You write original dialogue for some of your Noctilucant compositions (‘Back to the Mud’, ‘Oblivion to You All’). Is there desire to make some of these existing compositions flesh in the medium of a short film or video?
Wouldn’t that be awesome. If it happens it won’t be done by me, but if someone contacted me and wanted to create a short film I’d certainly grant them permission. I’ll probably have to become a big rich rock n’ roll, err… I mean, big rich dark ambient star first.
You mentioned back in late 2016 that some filmmakers reached out to you regarding use of your music for their films or potential creation of some new music on your part for their films. How has that been progressing?
It’s a pretty regular thing to have “filmmakers” contact me for permission to use my music in their film. A few have paid me a small amount for permission, but I still haven’t seen any evidence of any finished film(s), which is a bit weird. The most common thing I get is everyone expecting me to hand out my music for free so their creative project will be more appealing, but soon as I mention the idea of buying my digital discography (I charge a whole $15) as a means of compensation the conversation is instantly terminated and I never hear from them again. This generally happens at least 1-3 times a month. I’m not kidding… and it’s just as annoying as you’d expect it to be.
Your January 2017 release ‘There’s Blood on Our Hands’ is inspired by a painting you did back in January 2015. The painting is based around a nightmare you had. Was the process of composing this lengthy piece cathartic for you?
It wasn’t any sort of traumatic dream that was haunting me or anything. It was just the same as Wes Craven creating Freddy Kreuger after having a nightmare (that’s what I always heard anyway) except I didn’t make a movie. I made a nightmarish painting and then an equally nightmarish soundtrack (hopefully).
You’ve mentioned that you listen to dark ambient music while reading, writing, sleeping, etc. Does listening to dark ambient while sleeping stir your dreams? Has it given you ideas for compositions beyond ‘There’s Blood on Our Hands’?
The really sad thing is that I almost never, ever dream, and if I do it’s something really stupid; like the one from a few years ago where I was under the covers of my bed cuddling with a velociraptor and whispering sweet nothings in the old girl’s ear. I’d actually be really excited if I had freakish scary dreams, because I’d probably then have infinite fuel for more songs like, “There’s Blood on Our Hands”. From the looks of things though I’m probably not going to dream or just continue with my apparent deep seeded deviant desire to engage in dino intercourse…
Your compositions are bleak. From time to time, though, little glimmers of warmth shine through. Do you find solace in the world and atmosphere you create?
It’s a pretty common thing in cinema, literature and TV for hope to always shine through and I suppose the story I’m telling is no different. That’s the way life is in general though. Even when things are at their bleakest there’s always a small amount of light shining on you from somewhere. I think even if this world did go to ruin we would eventually, at least, semi rebuild and find solace in our day to day affairs, whatever that would entail. I had originally thought about making the music as bleak as possible, but I felt like other artists had already treaded that path. So, with that in mind songs like, “Are We Safe Now” and “Those Peaceful Days of Our Past” were born, which both show hope during and before the apocalypse.
What lies at the heart of Noctilucant? What do you want listeners to take away from your music?
To be entertained and to create their own story while they listen. I’m not by any means trying to tell a complete or very strict story. I’m leaving it up to the listeners to try and figure out what exactly happened, what is happening and what the final outcome will be. Fortunately writers like yourself have gifted me with some really amazing and thoughtful reviews where you tap into this very idea. I can only hope non-writers are doing the same thing. I know personally this is something I’ve always done with dark ambient albums and really music in general that’s brief in the vocal department.
We’re already over halfway through 2017. What does the rest of the year hold for you and Noctilucant?
On August 4th my split release with HollowHecatomb will be available through Grey Matter Productions. It’s being released in cassette format. This one will be about 55 minutes of music and will feature two new tracks from both of us and two collaborative tracks. HollowHecatomb is a diverse project offering everything from black metal to industrial, noise, experimental, crust, doom and sounds I still haven’t even identified yet. Jeremiah is also a great dude and a good friend.
I recently became involved in a project named Descension. Descension is a comic book, which is wrote by John Sims and illustrated by Lee Milewski. Basically the idea is to pair the comic book with a full soundtrack, which will be wrote by me. The comic itself is a sci-fi/horror adventure similar to Aliens and other space tragedy styled stories. For more details you can check it out at the Kickstarter page.
Finally in October the third proper Noctilucant full-length album will be released. It’s called, ‘Bleak and Drained of Colour’. ‘Bleak’ continues exploring the post-apocalyptic world that originally started on ‘Back to the Mud’ and ‘Oblivion to You All’, but this time around centers its attention to a single protagonist.
On ‘Bleak’ I’m joined by Scottish voice actor Matthew Donnachie (The Jacobite Officer), and together we tell a tale of a man residing in his fallout shelter, while he recalls events that led to his current predicament and his lost love, Emily…
‘Bleak and Drained of Colour’ is a single forty minute song broke into six different scenes.
That about does it for now. Be sure to visit and follow Noctilucant’s Facebook page for updates on his upcoming releases. You can stream each of Noctilucant’s records on his Bandcamp page as well as on Spotify. Though the Kickstarter page for Descension is linked above, here it is one more time for good measure. Thank you so much for reading.