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Atrium Carceri - Interview

Interview with: Simon Heath
Conducted by: T.V.

Atrium Carceri, a true cult inside the dark ambient genre who started the artistical path in 2003 and was signed to the legendary, now defunct label, Cold Meat Industry. The Swedish act Atrium Carceri is praised by fans of the genre and as well by many others who like their music dark and atmospheric, yet is a synonym for incredible depth and eerie atmospheres that rare other artists can produce. With use of synthesizers, sound effects, samples from films and anime, piano and other instrumentation slow rhythms, complex structures and bitter melodies are created just to make a feeling of pure desolation, environmental decay and loneliness. Until now Atrium Carceri released nine albums, the last one, The Old City - OST saw the light of the world in March this year and is actually a music score for the narrative philosophical video game The Old City: Leviathan, it's full of soothing string like atmospheres, distorted drones and brooding atmospheres that carry the listener throughout the album. The man behind Atrium Carceri is a musical adventurist and sound visionary of post apocalypse, Simon Heath. Not only that beside his main act he's involved in various other projects, from where I must expose the as well magnificient Sabled Sun, but Simon also runs one of the most important dark ambient labels Cryo Chamber, home of acts such as Halgrath, Council Of Nine, Alphaxone, Northumbria, Wordclock and some other very visible and most important names inside the genre. Now Atrium Carceri is working on another milestone in its discography, a new album entitled Metropolis which should be out later this year. Simon was very kind and answered to a lot of questions about his recent release, about the label, upcoming album, personal preferences and much more, so in the end we came up with a very in-depth interview which in my opinion is a must read for every lover of dark-ambient music.

T.V.: Hi Simon! Your last release, The Old City-OST, is a release made for a video game. I'm now wondering if the music featured on it was meant since the beginning just as a game music score or it was meant to be a proper album?
: The music was always intended as a game music score, my approach to composing for videogame or movies are a bit different than for an album. One of the biggest differences is that when composing for something with visual feedback you don't have to pull the listener into the music by audio-que anchoring like I often like to do on my albums, for example field recordings often take a back seat since you don't need listeners to visualize what they are seeing on-screen. So the entire approach is more complementary to the visual art in that sense. It took me a couple of months to convert/edit the game score to a proper album which unfortunately led to the album being released not at game launch but a couple of months after.
T.V.: How did you came in contact with the game publishers? Is this your first time that you were doing something similar?
Simon: They contacted me as they were big fans of my music. I believe I worked with the devs doing RUST before I got contacted for The Old City and before that I have helped out devs on mobile platforms and smaller titles. Since I focus almost all my efforts on my label and in the studio I am so swamped for work that I don't actively go looking for soundtrack work, sometimes things just lands in my lap, like with the hollywood movie 'Deliver us from Evil' who also just contacted me to license my tracks. Luckily these opportunities have landed in my lap just close to finishing up an album or in between albums.
T.V.: Where's the main difference in doing an usual album or the thing like is this release? Can you give me an insight into how the compositional process went?
Simon: I think it's important to discuss with the devs what the visual represenation will be since you are often working on audio before the scenes are finalized. Working with Postmod Softworks for The Old City, they would write down pretty detailed emotional progressions often with a philosophical angle and I would then work of that. Something simple would be, "Our protagonists discovers he is not who he thinks he is but comes to term with his reawakening" which I would interpret as a piece of music going from brooding to tension to calm and then into the climax of enlightenment. Almost all of the tracks on The Old City go through these emotional rises and falls over the span of a track which was very important for the scenes in the game.
T.V.: Do you play video games? If yes, then what kind of them and into which game are you involved right now?
Simon: Absolutely! Video games are in my opinion as much art as any other medium combining music, visuals and narrative with interactivity. Right now I'm playing Invisible Inc, CS:GO and Pillars of Eternity.
T.V.: And which is your favorite all-time video game?
Simon: It's hard to argue with the impact of the first Silent Hill games, but it's an impossible question to answer with so many great games, at the end of the day the most timeless(!) out of them all is probably Chrono Trigger.
T.V.: Until now you've released 9 albums and I wonder how can you describe the musical evolution of Atrium Carceri?
Simon: First I would like to say that The Old City is not tied to my other Atrium Carceri albums, who all are very tightly tied together in their grand story arcs. From a musical standpoint I would say that I work with more subtle sound design these days which is a lot more complex and take a much longer time to produce than my earliest albums who were more on-the-nose both in terms of sound design and theme.
T.V.: Can you reveal me some more things about this grand story behind your albums?
Simon: I've never revealed anything about the grand story about the albums as that's up to the listener and his/her intepretation of what is presented. I think the flow chart of albums can be a good guide to understanding the timelines and also figure out the protagonists shattered egos coming together in the journey into the Metropolis on The Untold (and the upcoming album Metropolis).
T.V.: And what kind of instruments, programs,... do you use to create the music?
Simon: Cubase is my DAW of choice and my most important instruments are my microphones and field-recording equipment.
T.V.: As your music is a compound of artificial synthesized sounds and field-recordings, I wonder what percentage of each you use?
Simon: It's very seldom that I only use one of them, but it varies a lot from album to album. My soundtrack work has less field-recordings so that the ambiance of the game itself can fill in those gaps.
T.V.: I believe that most of us don't really know how this field-recording works. Can you explain us how this looks like, do you just go out and record things and then use what's most appropriate or is this much more complex work?
Simon: Basically it's just recording outside of the studio. I use portable recorders and 3 different microphones depending on if I want to capture close-up sounds (foot steps or rusty metal doors), spread sounds (like rustling tress/wind), bass heavy sounds (thumping on a wooden bridge, drum sounds sampled from wooden trunks). In the studio I do write ups of what I need for various tracks I am working on and then I plan trips where I field record all those sources. Usually when out in the wild I stumble upon dilapidated buildings or rusty objects I did not plan for and those sample goes into my audio library when I get to the studio and inspires for future tracks.
T.V.: As you mentioned that you are planing trips, I wonder where did those trips took you to record stuff? Where have you captured the best sounds in your opinion?
Simon: The best place to record in my opinion is in Scandinavia, for two reasons. First there is a lot less people and air traffic, if there is air traffic you can't capture any wide audio fields since the overhead sounds will leak into the microphone and this was a big problem with recording in California. Second you are not worried that you will get shot when trespassing in Scandinavia since we have "allemansrätten"/freedom to roam, which essentially means that you can go anywhere you want in the Country without anyone telling you otherwise, in fact as long as you are a minimum number of feet from the nearest house you have the right to even set up camp at someones property. This makes things a lot easier, not least for sneaking into industrial areas.

T.V.: Now, if we go back in time, which acts inspired you the most when you started to create your own stuff?
Simon: "Dark ambient" is something I started producing as a teenager in my basement long before I knew the genre existed. It wasn't until I reached adulthood that I realized that this genre of music existed and with my first releases I think I stirred the scene quite a bit, since sound effect/field recording heavy albums were very rare back then.
T.V.: And have you ever tried yourself in any other musical genre?
Simon: Yes, I have been involved in a multitude of music genres but I draw a strong distinction between those projects and my dark ambient work. You can find more here: (classical), (discogs)
T.V.: I see that you worked on so many releases, too many to count them all. Now I'm interested what kind of music are you listening in your free time? Was in the last time released something that enthused you much more than anything else?
Simon: I keep coming back to two albums time and time again. Tipper - Surrounded for it's frequency separation and reverb work (it was also mixed in 5.1 surround sound which is interesting), and Machinarium OST for it's clever acoustic layering with audio disintegration.
T.V.: Interesting choice, can't argue with that! After being for some years signed to the legendary Cold Meat Industry you formed your very own label, Cryo Chamber, and now some of the most intriguing dark-ambient albums were released there. Why did you took this decision back then?
Simon: A lot of fans started getting in touch with me saying they paid Cold Meat Industry money for albums they never received, which got me pretty angry. Cold Meat Industry didn't pay me for years either and I started talking to other artists who started saying the same thing, the truth was being revealed about the mismanagement of one of the key players in the scene. The slow crawling death of Cold Meat Industry was inevitable and I decided I had to do something for the scene. I decided to start a label that would function more as a collective, where I could be honest and empower the artists on the label and pay them fairly for their work and also a place where I could lend my hand and technical/audioengineering skills to help out the less experienced artists that showed promise.
T.V.: I see, interesting story, didn't knew that about Cold Meat Industry. Now I wonder how much interest is nowadays in dark-ambient music? What kind of people usually listen to this specific genre which needs a completely different and much more devoted approach from the listener?
Simon: Dark ambient has been a genre in stagnation for awhile, but I feel like it is slowly coming back around. If I would try to stereotype the listener of dark ambient it would be a person with an outlet for creativity who complements that creativity while listening to dark ambient, a lot of writers and art workers get in touch with us and explain that their creative workflow involves listening to our music while creating their own works. Of course we in turn read books and look at art and get inspired to create music. Dark ambient is about immersing yourself beyond reality, not everyone is comfortable with that in their lives, but creatives thrive and need it and as a music producer that is the only mindset I can fully understand.
T.V.: Have you ever tried to write something, a book, novel, short story, anything,... as I imagine that you must have quite a sense for fantasy word?
Simon: I constantly write, I have several journals of short stories and texts I write for all my albums before I actually start working on them, for the Sabled Sun albums I spent a lot of time sketching architectural and robot designs to figure out how to build reverbs and figure out robot sounds and environmental sounds. All my dark ambient projects spend a lot of time in pre-production with all the planning, writing, sketching and some of it is very revealing to each projects grander arc so I go back and essentially use a black marker to cross out sections as to not reveal too much in the final phases before album release. Mystery is a huge part of my project, but it's about keeping that balance of not revealing too much and still peaking the interest of the listener with a bread crumb trail to something profound at the end.
T.V.: Do you plan to release something from those writings, maybe a book in the future?
Simon: He who waits will find out
T.V.: As you are also a producer I wonder if you have also your own studio? And when producing albums of other artists how much of your own ideas do you insert into the record or do you just follow what the artist wants?
Simon: I have my own studio where I produce almost all of my own music. I generally try to stay away from other artists creative flow and step in as a guide to direct the release to the place the artist wants it to go, I am in constant communication with all label artists and we exchange creative and technical ideas at a daily basis. Sometimes I will step in and actually do the production work for them in places where I know I can make a solid adjustment quickly that would take them longer to do themselves. Like minor mixing issues.
T.V.: Soon it will be almost two years since Atrium Carceri's last proper album, The Untold, was released. When can we expect a new one that you mentioned before? Is it already completed?
Simon: The new album has just been completed and is entitled Metropolis, if you listen to my frequent dark ambient mixes on YouTube you will find excerpts from the album. Stay tuned for more info.
T.V.: Can't wait for this one! Can you reveal some more things about the upcoming album? Will it be the logical continuation from where The Untold left off? The title Metropolis suggests to something more urban...
Simon: It is a continuation of The Untold from another perspective, taking place in the same ancient city of our past where we once ruled as gods. It goes into some more detail with mapping out the city and it's factions. The album starts off with two tracks that travels into the city in a completely different way than on the other albums, where trauma is the trigger, while this one is across the sea of the dead where featureless faceless glitter under the blackened surface water.
T.V.: Atrium Carceri became a true cult act in the field of dark ambient, but I don't know if you ever explained what's the real meaning of the name and how did you came up with it?
Simon: It's been one of the things brewing for quite some time before I nailed it down for my debut album. My interpretation of it is, it's the final stop before the prison grounds of our illusion. Where you stand on the inside of the prison looking out into the real and broken world, or if you are on the outside looking into the colorful blissfully ignorant prison is up to each one of us. Atrium Carceri is about exploring that rift between realities and mentalities.

T.V.: So the feelings of isolation, desolation and intrapement are all quite a significant things in your music...
Simon: Definitely and more importantly their polar opposites. How do you feel free without having been isolated or entrapped. All my albums are about a progression of mental states until hitting a point of self reflection where the ego is shattered and new life takes form.
T.V.: The soundscapes you create often evoke images of some kind of post-apocalyptic word. Is this also your intention? How much do you think about the world after the collapse of civilization?
Simon: I am very fascinated with the future and science fiction. The post apocalypse is the perfect backdrop for examining humanity under stress and uncertainty. What happens when our propaganda fueled minds stand without authoritarian moralism. How long does it take until our current culture and it's invisible rules crumble and without it do we slowly crawl back into power structures like feudalism or tribalism.
T.V.: Have you ever written any movie sound scores?
Simon: No. Movies usually signs contracts to use my tracks in movies, such as 'Deliver us from Evil', various short films (and an upcoming hollywood movie I can't speak about at this time). Working as a composer for a movie is a full time job and that would affect my label work.
T.V.: I believe that you are as well a movie-lover? What kind of movies or perhaps series do you prefer? How much of an inspiration that could be for you?
Simon: Yes, I am a huge movie and series buff. I prefer slow movies that examines themes that make you think, I have a hard time watching movies with too much exposition or twitchy camera shots and I just love movies that take place in a single location. If 'Man from Earth' had a higher budget with better actors and soundtrack that would be my go-to movie.
T.V.: Beside Atrium Carceri you are involved in many other projects, but the one that got me quite hard is Sabled Sun. Tell me, what are those major differencies if compared to Atrium Carceri that you had to release this music under a different name?
Simon: The approach to Sabled Sun is a lot different than Atrium Carceri. Atrium Carceri deals with personal reflections, experiences and philosophical topics. While Sabled Sun is more of a soundtrack to an unwritten book and as such more straight forward conceptually.
T.V.: If I go back to your label Cryo Chamber... some pretty decent releases came out lately like Northumbria, Council Of Nine, Aegri Somnia,... I wonder how do you choose with which act will you work and release it and with which you don't want to deal with?
Simon: Quality of production, a mature approach to being an artist, an interest in becoming a part of our collective and helping each other out, talent for creating conceptual albums, strong editing and self criticism skills.
T.V.: And if it's not a secret... Which albums released on Cryo Chamber are top-sellers? And if you can tell which one beside of course Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun releases is your favorite?
Simon: Ctulhu (a collaboration between 12 artists who all worked together to pay tribute not only to Lovecraft, but to what lurks beyond our colorful illusion) and the Sabled Sun series are top sellers. My favorite album varies, but I keep coming back to Wordclock - Endless. I'm very excited to see what Wordclock comes up with next.
T.V.: And if this is not enough you even do quite a lot of artworks for albums. Can you share some words also about this? What inspires you when doing this kind of art?
Simon: I produce the cover artwork while listening to the album in question. The artwork is completely inspired by the music and matches it, or that is the idea.
T.V.: Who is Simon Heath in a private life? How would you describe yourself, what kind of things fascinate you outside the music business?
Simon: I am fascinated by learning new things, to create, explore/destroy the ego. I am addicted to awkwardness which leads to self reflection through empathy and reality shows and documentaries in their most naked form is strangely appealing. The way people get nervous in front of other people or a camera is fascinating to me, not least because I recognize myself in their behavior and how humanity is about self reflection.
T.V.: Thank you very much Simon for taking your time to answer all those questions, but still, is there anything that you would like to add at the end of this interview?
Simon: Stay tuned for Azathoth later this year and thank you, to whomever made it all the way to the end, for listening to me ramble.

Atrium Carceri links: Official website, Facebook
Sabled Sun links: Facebook
Cryo Chamber links: Official website, Facebook, Bandcamp


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