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Chris Bryant, a.k.a. S1gnsOfL1fe

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  • Chris Bryant, a.k.a. S1gnsOfL1fe

    Chris Bryant, a.k.a. S1gnsOfL1fe, is not only a moderator here, but he is also a talented, up-and-coming Ambient Music artist and musician in general.

    He is the first in a series of interviews with questions posted by the members of Ambient Online with new and established Ambient producers and industry professionals.

    I hope you enjoy reading his answers as much as I did.

    Don't forget that S1gnsOfL1fe's new album, "Branches in the Sky" comes out April 3rd, 2013 on Arecibo Records.
    Discover amazing music and directly support the artists who make it.

    S1gns Of L1fe (Synphaera) / Starterra (Exosphere) is an ambient producer and sound designer from the Bay Area in California. He is one half of the band Ascendant and co-founder of Synphaera Records / Exosphere / Material Soundsets by Synphaera.

    S1gns Of L1fe Interview: Transcription

    • When did you discover your love for Ambient?

    First of all, my name is Chris Bryant. I'm approaching 35 years old and I've spent most of my life living in the town of Los Gatos at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains in the South Bay Area of California. I grew up listening to the music of Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, and Slayer and developed a passion for music in general at the young age of 9. My first exposure to ambient music must have been when I was 15 and a buddy of mine introduced me to a group known as "The Orb." I developed a secret fascination with ambient music that never left me. I started seeking out other forms of ambient music and found an album from a group named F.S.O.L (Future Sound of London) called "ISDN." This album was supposedly gathered from different radio performances the band had broadcasted all around the world using ISDN lines, which at the time was totally experimental and new technology. Looking back in hindsight, it seems almost commonplace because anyone could do this but to me, little did I know that ambient music spread out across the world, was to become my destiny! It's ironic, really.

    • Why do you create Ambient? What draws you to this genre and how did you get started?

    I create ambient for the sole reason that I believe that ambient music lives inside of me. There is so much stigma surrounding electronic music and the question whether it has "soul" or not. I truly believe that the artist behind the music does indeed live within that music that they create no matter what type of music they make. I try and express that through my music the same way an artist would express their inner vision on canvas. There is a primal desire to express therefore I use the tools to bring that music into reality. I've been making music since my early teenage years…playing in bands, teaching myself how to play different instruments and following my own musical path. It took me awhile to realize that ambient music was my true calling. Once it hit me, I have never looked back.

    • What are you inspired by or where do you get your ideas from? Are there any certain events or people you draw inspiration from?

    It's funny…when I'm composing a track I never really think about anything else except the music I'm making at that particular moment. I listen to a lot of ambient music outside of my own music so I suppose I could draw inspiration from that, but it's usually only parts of things that I try and incorporate into my own creative process. It could be a baseline or a melody that I find interesting that I might try and emulate or build upon, but it's nothing direct. I'm a firm believer in letting my music become what it wants to no matter what happens. If it's going to remain a soundscape, I'll continue to push it in that direction. If it's going to become rhythmic ambient, I'll start building around that idea and see what happens.

    • What do you consider important when creating tracks? What message are you trying to get across?

    Never give up. That's what I'm constantly telling myself. I used to give up on tracks constantly when I worked in Reason. I would build a track to the point where I'm adding the lead synth, perform it live for 5-10 minutes on my own without recording it, save the basic track and move on!!! I don't even know why either. It probably had a lot to do with fear of the unknown for me…never bringing anything to completion. I think I have that old folder buried on an external drive somewhere and I bet it's got like over 50 unfinished songs on it. Nowadays I constantly tell myself to not give up on things, put the time into it and take my tracks all the way to the finish line. It takes discipline, but you can do it if you're patient enough. It's so rewarding for me and I think that's what drives me as a musician. I want to create worlds that people will enjoy just as much as I've enjoyed creating them. I want them to feel what I feel, see the vision that I see and be inspired by what I've created. That's the ultimate goal for me; to share my music with others and translate the same passion I have for ambient music to them through my music.

    • What tools do you use? DAW? VSTs? Hardware? Software? Platform?

    I've always been a Mac person so I started out a long time ago using Digital Performer and eventually added Reason to the mix. These days I've switched my setup to Pro Tools 10 running a little known software called "VE Pro 5." What VE Pro allows you to do is run both VST and AU plugins inside of Pro Tools while at the same time offloading all the processing of those plugins out of Pro Tools and into VE Pro. It's unreal. I can use the industry standard DAW, offload my software synthesizers, and STILL use almost any AU or VST plugin!!! Seriously, how cool is that? It's not perfect but it's been working for me. I know someday I'll probably have to change my DAW and learn something else, but for now I'm going with what works and that's Pro Tools with Vienna Ensemble. On the software front I'm a huge Alchemy fan…I never make a track without it. I also love the stuff from Audio Damage and of course almost every U-he plugin Urs and his team have ever made. There's more…but I'll save that for another day and another type of interview. If you couldn't tell already, I love my software!!!

    • What do you consider your essential piece of equipment?

    My most essential piece of equipment is obviously Alchemy. I've never seen a piece of software more taylormade for ambient music than this. You can do almost anything with it!!! It's the world's most powerful sample synth and a VA synth rolled up into one. The guys at Camel Audio are absolutely insane. They rolled out the best ambient synth, put a price tag on it, and let everyone else try and catch up. They are true visionaries in my opinion. I can't wait to see what they're going to do with Alchemy 2!!! The way I use Alchemy is simple…I start with a preset I find interesting and I try and tweak it into the perfect texture. Then I lay it out across a track and put some movement in it using the remix pads. I might even add or subtract one of the 4 sound sources to minimize the sound or make it bigger…either way, once you layer that two or three times the atmosphere is so thick and lush there's nothing that won't sound amazing on top of it. I haven't been able to replicate this with any other synth. It's pure ambient bliss!!!

    • What is your greatest trick that you use in making Ambient?

    A true magician never reveals his secrets, right? Ha! However, most people who know me in the ambient online community know that I'm not afraid to reveal my secrets and do whatever I can to give back anything that ambient music has taught me. My biggest secret (that's not really a secret) is Numerology. What is Numerology? It's just the world's most powerful step sequencer, that's what!!! I've been using Numerology for quite some time and it's grown on me quite a bit. Numerology at it's core is a full fledged DAW and composition environment. It's modular, much like Reason, but uses different types of sequencers to achieve the goal of making music. What it allows me to do is easily create melodies and sounds that would otherwise take hours of clicking inside a midi editor. To me, at this point in my musical career, Numerology is an instrument in and of itself. I use it much in the same way like I was playing a guitar, or a piano. It's by far my favorite tool I use in my arsenal. It's currently on version 3 but the developer Jim Coker, is working furiously on version 4. I'm slated to be on the stack design team for version 4 which I couldn't be more excited about. I hope everyone someday finds out about Numerology because like I said, once you learn how to use it it's the most powerful step sequencer ever created.

    • Do you have a particular sound that you go for in your tracks? How do you achieve that sound?

    When I start crafting a track I tend to lean towards a signature style that people have started to associate with my sound. There's really no way to describe how I achieve it because that sound lives within me. It's in my head and when I sit down and compose a track, it comes out with any tools that I choose to use. As artists we use tools to manifest our visions and leave nothing on the table. I play with sounds until I find something that sounds right…and I think that playfulness is important because if we don't allow ourselves to be free in the creative process then what are we really doing this for anyway? I try and let that come out in my music. I want nothing more than for each and every listener to capture the same feeling and inspiration I do when I write music. Hopefully on some level, I achieve that.

    • What is your favorite aspect of Language of the Ancients?

    Language of the Ancients has been my foundation for so much more it's hard to express how grateful I am that people have truly embraced the album and complimented me on my work. Language started as a dream as I vision I had of an album and I never even knew if I was going to get there. I just stayed focused, inspired, and kept working and eventually everything came to me like it was meant to be. My favorite aspect of Language of the Ancients is the journey it takes you on; seeing another side of me with every single track. For me it was a progression, but for the listener it's a journey. Now that it's out there and people have listened to it and enjoyed it, I couldn't be happier. The title comes from a concept of vibration transcended through sound. In other words, using a language that has always been here before humans even roamed the Earth and how though music and vibrations we communicate our deepest desires and feelings. It sounds deep and somewhat superficial, but that's the concept behind the title and I love it.

    • Has the way in which you produce your music changed from how it was when you first begin producing? What has changed? Is it better now?

    Oh absolutely!!! When I first started, like I said it was hard for me to finish a track let alone be proud of what I had done. Since I'm a guitar player by nature (and by trade) to learn how to use the computer and keyboard as a medium of expression didn't come easy at first. I struggled with my lack of knowledge and skills especially in production. I remember wishing I needed other musicians to collaborate with. I felt very alone in the process. It wasn't until I started on the ambient journey that things started to connect in new ways and I started to feel confident in the creative process. That's a really important point for all of you up and coming producers out there or other artists who don't feel like they're ready yet. We've all been there and believe me, if you stay true to it and you believe in what you are doing then your time will come eventually. You only need to keep working with your tools and environment and believe in what you are doing and eventually the results you desire will become real.

    • You also have a previously-released album called Twin Soul under another artist name which is acoustic guitar-driven. Have you considered bringing your love and skill with acoustic or electric guitars into your Ambient productions?

    I have actually. There is an artist who goes by the name of "Cygna" who I truly respect and his latest album "Opus Eva" incorporates acoustic guitars and ambient music like I've never heard before. I remember listening to it for the first time and saying to myself 'That's what I want to do!!!' Easier said than done! I love that album and it still provides me with inspiration but I've found that my calling isn't using live instruments in my ambient music. At least not yet. I don't even use vocal samples in my ambient music yet. Why? I feel as if it takes away from the world I'm creating around these electronic instruments. When I feel that sound coming through the speakers, I think about what "else" could I add and I don't want to put anything into it that would take away from the experience. That's a really important point is to not distract from the theme or feeling of your work in even the smallest of ways. If you do, the magic could be lost in the theatrics.

    • You recently signed with the young Arecibo Records label. How has this affected how you produce or the way you think about your productions?

    Very leading question!!! I'll answer it though. Arecibo Records simply focuses on melodic and rhythmic ambient which I believe my music fits exactly in that lane. There's no doubt in my mind that I'm on the right label because what I do fits perfectly in their catalog. If anything, being on Arecibo Records pushes me as both an artist and a musician because I know their standard is high and I have to reach that and exceed all expectations. I hoped the day would come where I am producing music with the end goal in mind that a record label believes in it enough to represent it to the world and that day has finally come. My only goal now is to continually live up to that standard and blow away people with innovation in my production quality and experience. So much of ambient music is about relating to the sonic world you are listening to and I can only hope that my fans feel the same way about the music I create as I do.

    • Are you on any social media sites so that people can follow you?

    I'm on twitter, Facebook, SoundCloud, YouTube, LastFM, tumblr, instagram, pinterest, and etsy. Is there any left? LOL! I have yet to make a reverb nation account but perhaps someday I will. Most sites you can find me by searching for the user "S1gnsOfL1fe" and chances are I'll be there. My buddy Phase47 gave me some good advice early on…park your name on every social media site you can think of and don't worry if you don't use it…at least you've got it for later!!!

    • If you were on a desert island and were only permitted to have one musical instrument what would it be? Why? What would it be if computers didn't count as a possible choice?

    Without a doubt, the steel string acoustic guitar. I fell in love with the acoustic when I was about 20 and have been seeking new tones on it ever since. There is nothing the acoustic cannot do, especially when using alternate tunings to reach lower keys. I've been influenced by the music of Michael Hedges, Andy Mckee, and Ani Difranco. These artists know how to detune a steel string acoustic and make it sing. The possibilities are endless. I wouldn't even think about a computer…although it would be nice. Technology allows us to create electronic music and without it, it becomes more difficult and at times, as well all know, technology fails us too. The acoustic steel string hasn't changed much in the last 150 years. Save for the truss rod and the cross brace, the guitars today look very much the same as they did 100 years ago which is a stunning achievement to how revolutionary Martin Guitars were at the time. Anyone got a nice Taylor or Martin they're holding on to but don't play it? Mail it to my desert island.

    • If your nephew or niece or daughter or son told you they were interested in creating Ambient music what would you tell them? Where would you tell them to start? What kind of tools would you recommend to them to begin with?

    This has already happened to me!!! One day, around the time right after "Language" was released, my 11 year old stepdaughter Caitlyn started asking me if I would teach her how to make music. "What kind of music? I asked her. "You know, the kind of music you make…I'll call myself S1gns Of L1fe Junior!" I nearly died. How cute is that? I know in her mind she was just hoping for good things and I respected that. One night I told her all the tools she would need to make "ambient" and she wrote some of it down. Will it ever come to life? Unknown at this point but it doesn't hurt her to see she has a step father as an ambient producer who has actually started to make a name for himself. Influence is everything when raising children. I can only hope to set a positive example for her for future reference.

    • Other than yourself, who is your favorite Ambient Artist?

    There are so many, I can't choose one!!! If I'm going to call out an artist that doesn't know my name, it would have to be Solar Fields. His music inspired me to make ambient music in the first place. There's so much soul and guts in his music it's ridiculous. He describes himself as someone how has tools and knows how to use them. Dude, you are a master of these tools, own up to it! I truly respect him for his accomplishments. I also love Carbon Based Lifeforms, AES Dana, Cygna…they're all on Ultimae Records. Vincent Villuis has built up an all star team…they are the modern masters of the genre. Other than that…oh man, do I have to start naming names? I love you all!!! You know who you are.

    • What do you think is the future of Ambient music?

    We are the future of ambient music. Anyone who is reading this. It sounds crazy, or maybe it doesn't, but it's true! The future of ambient is in our hands and we continually sculpt and form it each and every day. That's part of the reason why I'm so passionate about ambient music and why I love it so much is I know I'm part of a movement that is changing our culture. Even if it isn't reaching the mainstream yet, it's changing people's lives because they are listening and discovering us. Ambient music is becoming more accessible to create and more accessible to listen to. I said once in another interview that music is back in the hands of the people and I still believe that. Everyone has this opportunity now and we are all collectively reaching goals and it's outstanding. I am honored to stand side by side with such talented artists, work with them and interact with them on a daily basis. The future is here!!! We are living it.

    • How do you think artists will be creating Ambient music in the future?

    The tools will definitely change, that's for sure. To what they will change into still isn't clear yet. I think personal computers are changing too which is both great and tragic all at the same time. It's great in the sense that I believe tablet computing and even platforms like google glass (eyeglass computing) will totally change the way we interact with our machines and each other. The potential there is absolutely undeniable. Imagine creating ambient with your EYES and not even moving a mouse or your fingers?! From where I stand, that's not that far off!!! The future is in our senses we haven't even begun to use yet. On the other hand, I love the way we work now. Searching for sounds and creating things from scratch takes time but sometimes it's the journey and not the destination that's the most rewarding. If everything is automatic and there's no challenge to it, will the emotion will be there in the end result? Only time will tell.

    • What single piece of advice do you have for other Ambient artists perhaps just starting out?

    Don't give up and don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Chances are there are thousands of other artists who are in the exact same situation as you and the difference between you and them could be simply putting your music on SoundCloud and letting others hear it and experience it, no matter how rudimentary you believe it may be. Just trust that with time and practice, you will get better and if you stay true to yourself and the vision you have, then you will succeed on some level. That's why I do the ambient online podcast because I want to give everyone a chance to be heard by others and to help them believe that their music is worthy of airplay. I try and give back as much and even more to the ambient community than ambient music has given me. I think that enthusiasm comes through and hopefully people will be motivated and inspired by it.

    • What sound gives you the most angst? What sound gives you the most joy?

    My question for you is, how can sound give you angst? Besides the obvious, nails on a chalkboard type stuff, sounds don't give me angst as I'm a seeker of sounds and know through manipulation, any sound can be created into something beautiful. My friend Matthew Barlow taught me that. Otherwise, it's up to the listener how you interpret sound to whether you believe it pleases you or not. I am in love with long pads, drones, and soundscapes that move but I think as a musical mind and as an artist, I'm just in love with sound altogether. I find myself floating on ambient clouds on a daily basis and I don't see any reason why that would change in the future.

    • Any thanks you would like to give?

    First and foremost, I want to thank my soulmate and partner in life Jeanne for her never ending love and inspiration. You are my foundation for everything I do in life and I would never be where I am today without you! I believe in you too so don't forget that! Followed immediately by my stepdaughter Caity and the wonderful gifts that only a child can bring and I hope she will one day grow up to be the beautiful and intelligent woman I know she can be! Secondly, I have to give thanks to everyone at ambient online for their continuing support and contribution to our community. Each and every one of you have given me this opportunity and I cannot thank you enough. Thank you to Carl Butler from Arecibo Records for trusting what others said about me and believing in the music I create. Thank you to my friend Luftrum for the advice and his amazing sound design. My signature sound wouldn't be the same without you!!! And finally, thank you to my family. My Mom and Sister Hilary, my brother in law Dave and my nephew Quintin and my niece Madeline. If there's anything I've learned it's that blood is thicker than water and family will always love you no matter what. Be the best person you can be no matter what circumstances surround you. You can be anything you want to be and if love is the reason you do what you do, then you've already succeeded.[/QUOTE]

  • #2
    Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, S1gns. I hope people are able to take something (or many things) good and useful from this interview.

    If you have any comments on the questions themselves, please let us know as this is the prototype for further interviews with industry professionals.

    Thanks again!


    • #3
      It was such an honor to be interviewed by the ambient online community!!! I can't thank everybody enough for this unique and memorable opportunity.

      Ambient online to me is so engrained in my daily life it's an extension of who I am. And while I don't post everyday believe me, I AM reading everyone's posts!!! I want nothing more than to see this online community continue to grow and remain the informative and welcoming environment it has already become.

      I really hope you enjoyed the interview. I can't wait to turn the tables on some of you and ask YOU some questions!!! You are all amazing.

      As always, CHEERS!!!!!! :biggrin:

      S1gns Of L1fe
      Patreon | Synphaera | exosphere | YouTube


      • #4
        Great interview of a talented and giving human being.

        Glad we have you as a part of this community.


        • #5
          Great interview. It was a good read!
          Music for Modern People
          - Bandcamp - Facebook


          • #6
            Great job Chris.


            • #7
              What a great interview. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Not only are you a talented musician, you have the knack of being interviewed too ;)

              Good luck Chris with your new up coming release. I smell a new S1gnsOfL1fe interview with that one
              All the very best.


              • #8
                This was an interesting and revealing interview. I enjoyed reading it this morning over breakfast. Maybe i differ slightly in my feelings regarding sounds/music causing angst. In some cases, sound/music can be designed to cause exactly these feelings. It could also be beautiful at the same time, but doesn't have to be. Some "ugly" music can be very listenable imho, although not necessarily within the ambient domain.

                "Arf", she said.
                Whatsisname's Little Fluffy Clouds | Campsite | Hearthis | SeismicTC | Twitter | Ello


                • #9
                  Beautiful Chris, very honest and open minded interview. And thanks for the kind mention my friend, you are a great source of inspiration for me too! Your compositional skills WILL take you far - you simply got it in your blood.
                  SoundCloud - Facebook - YouTube - Twitter


                  • #10
                    Great interview Chris. I appreciate your point of view and your encouragement. Looking forward to your new album!
                    Only dead fish go with the flow.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by ho66it View Post
                      Great interview Chris. I appreciate your point of view and your encouragement. Looking forward to your new album!
                      Thank you Ho66it!!!!!! I'm mixing it right now as we speak!!! "Biocentric" is sounding damn good coming out of these speakers! :D :listening:

                      Stay tuned on Monday for a special announcement!!!


                      S1gns Of L1fe
                      Patreon | Synphaera | exosphere | YouTube


                      • #12
                        Always good to hear other people's opinions on making music - thanks!


                        • #13
                          Latest release: never to be repeated

                          Hearthis | Soundcloud


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by aoVI View Post
                            Great interview of a talented and giving human being.

                            Glad we have you as a part of this community.
                            Thank you so much ontol!!! Your comment totally hit home with me. I truly appreciate your words as well as your own contributions as well!!! We have built this community together and I believe it in with all my heart.

                            Thanks again!!!
                            S1gns Of L1fe
                            Patreon | Synphaera | exosphere | YouTube


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by [Aphelion] View Post
                              Great interview. It was a good read!
                              Thanks Chris!!! I tried to make it a good guys hear me so much on the forums I wanted to share things I thought would make for engaging conversation. Glad you know I succeeded on some level!

                              S1gns Of L1fe
                              Patreon | Synphaera | exosphere | YouTube