Burial Grounds (2023)

The pieces on Burial Grounds emerged as part of the same process that produced Making Peace I & II and Looking For Light, and conceptually they carry elements of the same themes. This album explores how a place (land / house) can accumulate layers of historical trauma, and how the energies of that trauma can remain active in the present, anchored to or trapped in the location. Of course, in order to explore this notion, one has to enter a different reality tunnel, beyond the concrete, the rational and the physical. One has to consider time as multidirectional, or even that what we call historical events (in a linear model of time) may even be occurring simultaneously, in tandem, and may cross over or seep into each other. One has to think of energy as transcending linear time, and entertain possibilities of energies that exist all around us in a living, conscious sense, although invisible – the realm of spirits and ghosts.

As I’ve described in writing about the other albums from this period, our recent experience living briefly in an old house at Petcheys Bay was fraught with weird and distressing energies, to the extent that I felt unsafe there. I’ve covered (here and here) some of the present-time and historical elements that contributed to this experience, but Burial Grounds is a response to some additional elements of disturbance.

I’m no stranger to unusual phenomena, interdimensional insights, intuitive signals and the realm of the Inexplicable – I have a nervous system that is sensitive to subtle energies, and a natural curiosity about non-ordinary states of perception. However, while I’ve known many people who can distinctly see and communicate explicitly with ghosts and similar entities, for me these apparitions have remained invisible, and instead felt as sensations in my body or intuitive ‘knowings’. When we first moved into the house at Petcheys Bay, I immediately felt it as a ‘bad place’ for me, that I was unwelcome there and that it wasn’t healthy for me to stay there.

In 3D or ‘horizontal’ reality, I was most definitely unwelcome there because the woman living upstairs hated men, a result of her own unhealed trauma. This attitude was reinforced by the women carers she surrounded herself with, and I have trauma associated with female abuse, so this became a permanent layer of discomfort in my time living there. But there were many other layers that were harder to pinpoint, though extremely palpable.

Most indigenous cultures have systems of reading the energy of an environment, and intuiting ‘good’ and ‘bad’ places. Often a ‘bad place’ is somewhere to avoid altogether, unless you want to invite trouble from resident spirits, demons, or other entities. Sometimes a place is only ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for certain members of the tribe. I had a few experiences walking around the Petcheys property, and along the river’s shoreline, where I received very strong messages not to go into certain areas because they had been used for ‘women’s business’ by the Aboriginal locals before Europeans arrived. Of course, I have no way of validating whether that was historically correct, but the intuitive message was immediate, and the sensation in my body was definitely of warning & danger. Curiously, a nearby favourite coastal walk had featured in a dream H experienced years before, in which she was walking the path with a group of Aboriginal women. H had no knowledge of that particular walk at the time of dreaming, but recognised it from her dream when we walked it for the first time.

H and I also had some interesting moments with the two resident clans of mudhens that were constantly prowling and grunting around the house. We had an impression of them being a present-day incarnation, or a kind of overlay-in-time, of an Aboriginal tribe. One night we listened at first in amusement, then horror, to what sounded like a mudhen initiation corroboree in the dark – their collective rhythmic screeching was more manic than usual, escalating to a feverish pitch, and it was clear the group were attacking one of their kind because one call was shrieking in obvious distress and pain.

Another night, H & I were sitting outside at the back of the house, admiring the big old hawthorn tree looming over the beautiful garden H had created. We were wondering about the Celtic symbolism of the hawthorn, when I had a strange shift of perception – in the dim moonlight, the tree’s foliage became a seething mass of dismembered human bodies, blood and mangled flesh, and I had the impression that the tree was somehow holding all the human violence of the place. This of course tied in with all the other themes of ‘buried trauma’ that kept surfacing at that house.

During the day the house let in plenty of light, but was dimly lit at night, and the lino floor meant that we couldn’t hear each other’s footsteps around the house, creating the effect of people suddenly appearing before you without warning. It was a time of literally living in shadows, of not seeing things clearly, of edges dissolved in darkness and uncertainty. The cataract in my left eye had worsened, to the point that I was technically blind in that eye, adding to the general mood of obfuscation. At night, the darkness in the house had a restless quality, and I felt perpetually restless in myself. There was always a sense of unseen energies in motion. As mentioned in previous writings, I often found reasons to be away from the house, it was just too uncomfortable.

Then, I had an experience that was genuinely terrifying. I had been away interstate visiting my blood family, and had returned feeling alight with a renewed positivity that I haven’t felt in many years. On my first night back, as I reached for the lightswitch to go to sleep, I experienced a sudden surge of extreme electrical sensation throughout my body – amplified fear and danger – and a booming voice in my head telling me angrily to “FUCK OFF!!!”. I’ve had experiences in the past of what some would call ‘psychic attack’, not uncommon in the realms of shamanism and magick; I immediately drew on some protective strategies I’d learnt back then to counteract the terror I was feeling. I had no idea what I was dealing with, and it all happened very quickly, but I managed to quell the sensation enough to get back into bed. Once I turned out the light though, I felt an intense presence in the blackness of the room and I knew sleeping there was out of the question. I moved into H’s room for the remainder of our time at the house. H said she had also previously experienced an unpleasant presence in my room, and had encountered some other ‘psychic attack’ weirdnesses of her own, so over the next few days we did some cleansing rituals around the house.

These kinds of encounters are often hard to interpret, and ultimately it’s your own consciousness you are navigating. One the one hand, I could view it as an encounter with pure archetypal fear in my own psyche, regardless of external causes. I also considered that it could have been either a deliberate ‘psychic attack’ from the woman upstairs, or an unconscious attack due to the psychic force of her own suppressed trauma. There were other times at that house when I felt unsafe, and wondered if what I was feeling was in fact her own fear state. This happened on nights when H was away for work, and ‘upstairs’ knew it was only me downstairs, so I could imagine that might trigger her trauma responses. When you’re sensitive to energies around you, it can be hard to discern what’s your own and what’s coming from someone else.

I also considered that my extreme encounter could have been an entity from ‘past’, somehow bound to the house or the land, whether through a violent death (see Looking For Light), or as a keeper or guardian of something more ancient, in an Aboriginal context (such as the place being a traditional site for ‘women’s business’). Given the general theme of ‘things buried’ – emotionally, psychologically, and literally (we were regularly unearthing buried rubbish in our efforts to clean up the property) – it also seemed plausible we might be living on the site of a traditional Aboriginal burial, or even some kind of Aboriginal massacre…not at all unlikely considering Tasmania’s horrific colonial track record.

All of which informed my thinking and intent as I recorded these pieces, and is reflected in the track titles. All layers of living in that house seemed to point to things deliberately obscured, sensed but unspoken, things kept in the dark, and this dynamic pervaded H & my relationship – conversely, it seemed as if a light were magnifying the darknesses themselves, rather than revealing what was hidden.

Creatively, I was also returning to my exploration of controlled electric guitar sonics. After my genuinely terrifying experience with the presence in my bedroom, I resolved to use this music as another kind of cleansing ritual, working in the room during the daytime, evacuating at night. The electric textures became a creative force with which to fight back, to hold ground and build a safe forcefield with my intent, akin to the etheric circles of psychic protection that magick practitioners construct before entering a ritual. After eight months of enduring so much psychic tension in the house, and knowing that we had a new house to move to, the guitar became my sword of cleansing fire.

My intent wasn’t to create angry or violent music, but to find sonic textures that expressed the wraithlike and otherworldly, the restless spirits and heavy atmospheres referenced in the track titles. Personally I find these pieces to be quite sensuous and beautiful, sinuous and darkly textured.

The second half of the album is the 30-min Release The Ghosts Of Trauma Past II, a second part to the piece that opens the Making Peace II album. Here the improvised guitar textures are layered over a field recording I made on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve 2022, as I sat on the front porch of the house in a listening trance, surrounded by a proliferation of birdsounds. The guitar begins gently with an almost cathedral-like atmosphere; gradually it builds in dissonance then ascends into a shimmering, glistening drone, like a swirling column of spirits released from the place, a mass exodus spiraling into the heavens, then swallowed abruptly as the etheric portal snaps shut. A lingering trail of dissonance slowly dissolves, and we are left with the living, vibrant, enduring fact of nature in the now – the birdscape resplendent in its constant sparkle and swirl.

The rusted iron on the cover of Burial Grounds is from a series of photos I took one afternoon, of a small cluster of dilapidated farmsheds huddled together in a paddock up the hill from the house. Textures of decay, in wood and iron, were in abundance, plants growing through walls, rusty bones of farm machinery scattered about. I settled on this image for its suggestion of layers in time, and for the earthy tones that felt in keeping with the themes of Aboriginal connection in my process.