Simon Heath, the mastermind of legendary dark ambient project Atrium Carceri, and owner of the recently founded label Cryo Chamber, kindly agreed to interview with us. The result is an extensive chat about the hidden clues in his works, the future of humanity, videogames, space and everything in between. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
[Interview by stark & Vitriol]
First of all, many thanks for accepting to do this interview with us.
Thank you for having me.
Atrium Carceri belongs to the original group of pioneering Cold Meat Industry acts, that pretty much defined the direction of dark ambient for many years to come by the influence they exercised on newer artists, as well as by setting a standard of comparison. As an insider in that scene, how were the legendary “Cold Meat 90s” from your point of view? Was there a ‘recipe’ that caused such a success, or was it all a happy coincidence?
I think that having so many Swedish acts was a recipe for success, Sweden in the 90s was way ahead of its time when it came to experimental music. I also think that the huge influx of death and black metal from Northern Europe being sold in the same shops as CMI releases recruited a lot of listeners from those genres that realized they were not looking for rock n roll at all, but stories and immersion.
Are there any of the former Cold Meat artists that you’ve become friends with, and still maintain contact after leaving the label?
I still keep in contact with Desiderii Marginis and In Slaughter Natives from time to time.
What do you think happened that caused Cold Meat to become less popular, was it the natural course of things or the result of specific choices and events?
Management issues, artists were not paid, customers were not dealt with professionally. When you don’t treat your label seriously, you run the risk of losing all credibility.
In 2012 you founded your own label, Cryo Chamber. What led you to take that risk instead of signing your project with an already established label? Given Atrium Carceri’s popularity you could have easily made that choice.
I have seen the scene from the inside and I thought I could run a label which respects its artists and its customers better. I have yet to receive a single complaint on Cryo Chamber and I get back to most customers the same day they contact us. Also many labels seem to just push out releases, even though they are severely flawed when it comes to quality of both sound and composition, which makes me think some label owners just don’t have a good ear for understanding quality music production. Also, I finally had a chance to release music in 24 bit, which after having been forced to dither every previous release down from 24 bit to 16 bit (for CD) was quite liberating.
How do you discover the projects you want to release in Cryo Chamber? Do they send you demos, or do you look for them on various platforms in the web?
We receive a lot of demos, and we do listen to everything. Some artists we seek out, if their quality of production and vision is strong.
Cryo Chamber releases are generally presented in digital form only. What are the advantages of digital over physical that made you choose this format?
24 bit and being able to release albums when they are ready for release. Physical releases often make the pipeline clog up with releases that are months away in the pressing plants delaying everything for long stretches of time.
“Void” has been recently picked up for a physical release, does that mean we can expect more Cryo Chamber physical releases in the future?
Yes. “Halgrath – Out Of Time”, “Sabled Sun – 2146” and “Atrium Carceri – The Untold” is in the pipeline for being pressed through Tesco Germany (our physical distributor, check them out for all your CD needs).
You manage two musical projects and one label, as well as design most of the artwork for your label’s artists – in fact a colleague wondered in one of his recent reviews, whether you are actually a robot! Do your obligations as musician/label owner affect your personal life, and does it sometimes get difficult to handle?
My obligations severely affect my personal life, I live and breathe my world and creation. It never gets difficult to handle as I love what I do and my listeners. A lot of my time is spent in darkness analyzing frequencies.
Do you also have a day job apart from these activities?
No, I do this full time. I spend every day in the studio trying to perfect the craft of production and I spend the rest of the time working with the label and my fellow artists to exchange ideas and jointly evolve. In many ways Cryo Chamber is kind of like a workshop in the sense that our artists feedback and help each other out a lot.
“Atrium Carceri” means “prison hall” – why did you choose this name for your project? Is it in any way related to your two first albums describing the imprisonment, torture and escape of some unnamed creature?
Atrium Carceri is very much related to all albums, but the starting point is “Cellblock”. It is all connected.
You have created a whole world behind Atrium Carceri, taking the listeners through a journey of transformation and awakening. How did this whole thing start, when did the first vision of the two Citadels come to you?
It is rooted in many philosophical discussions and is tied to both occult mysticism and hallucinogen induced experiences that started long before “Cellblock”. When I think back on it, I think this world has been a part of me for the last 20 years.
Was this vision already complete during the time of “Cellblock” and “Seishinbyouin”, or did it begin to form at some later point in your discography?
A vision is never complete, but the foundations were in place. If someone were to ask me to describe anything from within these visions I would have no problem describing them in great detail. Such detail that they could not be described fully in music, which is why I often use texts to convey a deeper sense of connectivity to it.
Is this world located on a future Earth, on some distant planet where humans have migrated and mutated, or is the whole story completely unrelated to humanity, and it involves alien races instead?
I won’t ruin this just yet.
In the Atrium Carceri website you have published a complete timeline of the project’s discography, explaining how the releases are connected, and how the concept continues from one to the other. This has turned into a sort of ‘canon’ for your fans, that follow the timeline religiously, anticipating each new installment. Did you foresee such a response when you first started presenting the story?
It is hard to know what people appreciate in regards to what you do, but I have always been invested into storytelling and grand arcs. All albums (in all projects) have a connected progression and it warms my heart that my fans “get it”.
I was hoping that listeners would decode the messages I leave in my albums and many parts of the puzzle have indeed been solved. I often look into obscure forums to find out how far along fans have come to decoding and understanding the albums. However, there are still many connections that have been overlooked. It reminds me of the time when I once released a music video with an encoded message that no one successfully decoded…
The course of the protagonist through the timeline reminds me a little of the various stages of an initiatory process. There are also a lot of ritual elements within the story (for instance in “Kapnobatai” and “Souyuan”). Are you interested in the occult, and were there any such influences that affected the formation of the Atrium Carceri concept?
I have a background in the occult and it has affected Atrium Carceri and the concept very much.
In “Void” the hero seems to have finally pulled the curtain behind the Creators, and to have embarked on a new adventure. Is this the end for him or a new beginning? What does the future hold for Atrium Carceri?
Finding out the truth about why the illusion was created in the first place is a good starting point for a new beginning. Maybe only the demiurge holds the answer. The new Atrium Carceri album, “The Untold”, focuses on an expedition dedicated to finding the Demiurge, starting with going down the abyss where he was last seen before his dissapearance.
If you had to summarize the Atrium Carceri message in just a few words, which words would those be?
We are all “god”, we are all connected.
Your other project, Sabled Sun, also deals with a lonely hero’s quest for life in a post-apocalyptic scenery. Are these releases connected to the Atrium Carceri timeline at any point, or is this completely independent material?
I won’t spoil this for you, but an answer might be found within the soundscapes of the Sabled Sun albums, then again it might not be found.
In the “Signals” releases your music has taken on a space-ambient direction. Do you plan any more “Signals” releases for the future?
Yes, Signals III was just released and I have plans for Signals IV.
Your music – like no other name in the genre – is of a characteristically cinematic, illustrative nature, that could easily be used in a movie or videogame. Have you ever thought about it? Perhaps you’ve already had some propositions from related producers?
Thank you, I mostly listen to music with closed eyes or in pitch black rooms and as such music for me is always visual, which is why my own often takes on that cinematic edge. I have gotten many requests for producing soundtracks, but I do have to feel the project since production is such a personal thing for me. The future will tell what happens.
Being a big fan of the first two “Fallout” games, I have to ask you about it. Do you know/ like them? Did they inspire you at least in the slightest degree when you were working on Sabled Sun?
I love the Fallout games and I played the first Fallout games growing up as well, I also have huge respect for Bethesda and the reboot they did with the franchise. I am a hardcore computer and videogamer and a fan of videogames in general, which I believe to be a great artform containing not only music and sound, but amazing visual art topped with interactivity resulting in complete immersion. In fact I have not met many fellow music producers who are not also huge gamers.
As for it being the inspiration, sure, everything inspires. But it did not inspire the music more than moving beneath the old subway systems of Stockholm.
Where do you think humanity will be in the year 2145?
Judging from the concept of your albums, you seem to be fascinated by science fiction. What are the distinctive features you’re looking for in sci-fi books or movies? Do you have any favourite authors or films that you’d say, have particularly influenced your work?
When it comes to sci-fi I am maybe surprisingly more of a cyberpunk guy than a space guy. My favourite movie is probably “Bladerunner” still and it is hard to shake the impact that William Gibson had on me growing up. For me the fascination of sci-fi comes down to how humanity is changed by technology and how much we gradually change when we stray from our caveman roots. I am also fascinated with anything post apocalyptic, be it zombies or just post nuclear war.
Could you tell us, from a compositional point of view, if there are any differences between working on Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun?
Definitely. Atrium Carceri is a more personal project and I usually start every studio session with deep meditation to get into the right mindset and connect to my dream self, or at least open up those memories and channels. Sabled Sun on the other hand is produced more like a soundtrack for a movie, it is more “scene” oriented compared to Atrium Carceri. I also don’t use test listeners with Sabled Sun.
You generally don’t arrange live appearances for your projects, why is that?
I used to, but being a strong opposer to Idolry I find the entire premise of live appearances with an Icon on stage appalling. Also live performance used to be about quality of sound, nowadays it has turned into “shows”. I would go back to live gigs if we start playing in pitch black rooms, or having artists separated from the crowd beyond a black screen. We should never project ourselves onto others while listening to music, but close our eyes and travel inwards.
Are there any other artists/releases – besides the Cryo Chamber artists of course – that you feel have stood out in the last couple of years? Not necessarily belonging to the dark ambient genre, just those that have managed to make an impression on you.
“Machinarium – OST”, was impressive in terms of composition and sound quality. Anything Kammarheit or Desiderii Marginis is always a joy and of course my fellow Cryo Chamber Artists.
Tell us a little about your plans for the future. Any new releases at hand for Cryo Chamber, and your own projects?
“Atrium Carceri – The Untold” is finished, “Sabled Sun – 2147” is in production. I also have begun compiling a yet unnamed Atrium Carceri album with tracks that never made it onto the albums, I am taking all those tracks back into the studio to restructure, remix, remaster.
Is there a final message you’d like to send to our readers?
Stay free my brothers and sisters.