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Atrium Carceri - Interview #2

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

Atrium Carceri is absolutely one of the most important names inside the dark ambient scene, a true cult act, and in September this year the highly anticipated new album, Codex, came out through the mighty label Cryo Chamber. Atrium Carceri is without any doubt a proper powerhouse of cinematic dark ambient, the one-man act masterminded by dark ambient guru Simon Heath, with first seven albums released on the now defunct legendary label Cold Meat Industry, has since the beginning stood out from most of dark ambient acts by setting new standards and new elements inside the compositions he makes. The last album Codex is without any doubts one of the best releases he ever did, it might not be that kind of album for dark ambient "elitists" if they exists, but it's certainly a work of art that explores and sets new borders, it's an album that should appeal to many different listeners, from those into any kind of dark ambient and its subgenres, to fans of soundtracks, melancholic and also industrial music. But Atrium Carceri was lately as well involved in many intriguing collaborations, beside the fact that he is also the man behind the act Sabled Sun and he runs the before mentioned label Cryo Chamber. His music has been also featured in everything from Hollywood movies such as Deliver Us From Evil, to short films, documentaries and video games. I talked with Simon about the new album, the collaborations, about possible live performances, future plans and much more.

T.V.: Hi Simon! You made a really astonishing new album, congratulations. How do you feel about it now since it's out for about two months? What was the response from fans and media?
: Even after having released a solo album many times before I'm still as nervous about the reception now as I was the first time. Was I being too ambiguous? Was I being too on the nose? Too much exposition? Does the narrative make sense to anyone but myself? Will the audio sound good on all systems or just the ones I tested it on? These are the questions that spin around the inside of my skull during release. I'm very glad that Codex was received so well, I spent a very long time on this album so that means a lot.

T.V.: Codex is absolutely not a typical Atrium Carceri album, neither is a typical dark ambient album, how would you describe it in few words?
Simon: It's certainly not comparable to say Cellblock, but I think a common misconception is that the theme of Atrium Carceri is static, when in fact it's a progressing one. While early albums deal with trauma and how it leads to seeing that first crack in the illusion, the further along the albums you come the more you shed the horror and move into a space where you are faced with what to do with that information, the final steps to enlightenment, the mapping of these areas outside the illusion, and how to deal with the rough responsibilities of truth.

T.V.: But yet, if compared to any other of your previous albums, it has much more of industrial elements used. What was the main reason for that?
Simon: Thematically it deals a lot with areas where the machines grind in the Metropolis and wanted to depict the old city and how we recreate it in our world from memory. From a personal and technical perspective I wanted to include elements from earlier albums as an anchor point to tie them together, but morphed into a grittier version.

T.V.: As well the album is not so very homogenous as Atrium Carceri albums used to be, but yet there's a strong bond that connects the tracks. Tell me more about this, and how did you approached the compositions this time?
Simon: I used a lot of layering techniques and routing to build a kind of foggy/smoky feel to the mix. Using sparse layers in both frequency and time and then fatting them up together when grouping to busses. I did this to make the album feel timeless and a bit dreamy.

T.V.: Each one of your works has a story behind it, and I guess that also Codex is not an exception. About what it's the story or a thematical concept now?
Simon: I tend to not explain the thematical concepts much when there is a booklet with the release, this is to not override the listeners experience. I highly suggest anyone to check out the digibook or the Bandcamp release that comes with a digital booklet.

T.V.: And yet Codex is quite a strong and significant name for an album. It must have some kind of a deeper meaning or at least the album must have kind of a special position in the Atrium Carceri discography?
Simon: Codex serves as a kind of journal/mapping of different places within the Atrium Carceri mythos. It centers yet again around Metropolis like the albums The Untold and Metropolis making it the third one doing so. With Codex I wanted to jump between places more than bridge the gaps between them narratively like on some previous albums. It doesn't jump in time as much as earlier albums, but it jumps within the setting while exploring it. I did this due to the ambiguous nature of previous narratives to try and cement a foundation on which to keep building further albums so that it doesn't become only interpretation.

T.V.: What are the things that inspire you the most to make such intense but as well sorrowful atmospheres that take the listener on a proper sonic journey?
Simon: It is very hard to pin down inspiration like that, but I'm into all forms of art and escapism, be it video games, films, tv-series, books. This seems to be a pretty common ground for all of us artists at Cryo Chamber, we're pretty into immersive experiences it turns out.

T.V.: I guess it must be difficult to make something original in dark ambient these days, so many releases come out that sound almost the same, but Atrium Carceri is one of the acts that stands out from any kind of cliches. It's certainly a work of art that explores and sets new borders...
Simon: As a long time producer of multiple genres of music it gives me the freedom to create soundscapes not solely reliant on ambient genre-techniques. I believe each genre of music teaches you something new that you normally don't focus on, in fact some of the techniques used for layered saturation on Codex came out of my experiments doing lo-fi hiphop. I think we producers can get caught up in the middle of a genre sometimes, and while I do think it's important not to stretch a genre too far, or else you end up in another genre, you have to figure out what makes the genre appealing to you and expand on that with new techniques. For me dark ambient is about transforming your listening space and exploring an inner world when closing your eyes, and the story told within it has to be captivating enough for you to care. You have to make the sounds match the world within, you don't want to throw in a "cool" sound if it contradicts the world you are building, there has to be proper justification for every building block. The hard part is creating building blocks that feel fresh but fit together as a whole.

T.V.: You are also mastering almost all of the releases that come out via Cryo Chamber label. It seems that also other artists trust your ears and techniques, or is this a consequence that you are not satisfied with others outputs?
Simon: I have a lot of experience with mastering and our artists trust my ears and techniques. Sometimes we'll do both an artists mastering and a Simon mastering and listen to both and decide which one works the best for a particular album. For example we've done this with Flowers For Bodysnatchers when we decided to use his mastering over mine which fit his albums conceptual style a lot better. To me, the only thing that matters is that it sounds as good as it can, there is no prestige in mastering from my side. Everything we do is focused on maximizing quality output.

T.V.: Did you use the same compostional techniques, programs and instruments like always, or it was different this time. I think that I don't hear that much of field recordings, but I might be wrong and those are well hidden into the mix?
Simon: I decided a while back to use more spatial field recordings on my project Sabled Sun and to slim it down when it comes to Atrium Carceri to create more of a separation between the projects. There are still field recordings in here, but it's mostly room, cellar, bunker type background noise to create an organic glue that holds layers together more than footsteps, creaks and the like and it's pushed deep into the background at a very low volume. I also, for the first time on an Atrium Carceri album, decided to drop the vocals since the digibook comes with plenty of text and narration.

T.V.: So, as you mentioned Sabled Sun, the other dark ambient project of yours. Anything new in the works on that side as well?
Simon: I'm working on some new Sabled Sun stuff, but it's a little too early to spill the beans on that quite yet. Hopefully something new in 2019, but no promises.

T.V.: It has become more and more popular and common that dark ambient artist perform live. Have you considered now to bring Atrium Carceri on stage?
Simon: I won't rule it out in the future if things ever calm down around here.

T.V.: But, do you have in mind how would an Atrium Carceri live show look like?
Simon: Definitely smaller venues in darkened rooms, preferably with beds or sofas so people can lie down and close their eyes.

T.V.: Recently you were involved in some pretty enthusing collaborations. The one that stands out is for sure the one with Herbst9, Ur Djupan Dal. What can you tell me about this one and how did this collab even started in the first place?
Simon: There was a social media thread where one of our fans wrote something to the effect of "I wish Herbst9 and Atrium Carceri would collaborate", I saw it and tagged Herbst9 with a "Yes please" in the thread. We just started talking about it privately after that. I'm a big fan of Herbst9 so it was a big honor to be working with them. They are such professionals, we never had to re-edit any of the material we worked on together, we just let our music play off each other and the theme just naturally grew out of our collaboration. Definitely a weird way to collaborate but it worked surprisingly well, the album is shock full of details and it still took us less than four months to complete from start to finish. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

T.V.: In the interview we did more than three years ago you were mentioning some kind of a book that you might be working on, from your short stories and other writings. Are there any news on this matter?
Simon: Some of that is actually in the Codex digibook, but the plans for a more complete work got put on hold due to time restraints.

T.V.: Beside that you are also an artist doing artworks for the albums. I don't know, but need to ask you if do you paint pictures and if you have some to sell?
Simon: Yes I do most of the artwork, lately I've been working with a few outside artists and and inside artists like Keosz so I can spend a little more time in the studio working on music though. As for selling works of art, I don't really consider myself an art-artist in that way, I'm more of a digital artist. Maybe a few more years down the line I'll be more impressed with my own work.

T.V.: As you are the man behind Cryo Chamber it's obligatory to ask you if still something extra exciting is coming soon?
Simon: Right now I'm working on a collaboration with Pär of Cities Last Broadcast/Kammarheit, a follow-up to our album Black Corner Den. I'm really excited about that, but then again I'm always excited when I work with Pär, a true artist in every sense of the word and a source of enourmous inspiration.

T.V.: It seems that the cult label Cold Meat Industry, where you released your first albums, is facing some kind of a revival. What are your thougths about this?
Simon: I don't have many thoughts on that I'm afraid.

T.V.: I know that this might be an inapropriate question right now, but when can we expect new things from Atrium Carceri? Already some ideas for your next album?
Simon: Plenty of collabs I want to do in 2019, as for more solo works that will most likely not be in 2019. I'm a little torn on where to go next with Atrium Carceri, but I'll default to my usual routine when laying the foundation for the next album. A full evening with a creative pipe, dimmed lights and a reclined position to fully absorb all albums leading up to the next one. That is the only way to know which way to go.

T.V.: Thank you for all your answers and for taking time with them. The last words are all yours. 
Simon: Be free, cast your shackles of gold and build something, no matter how unimportant, after all we are the builders of this world.

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

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