Every now and then an artist arrives at the edges of synthwave with a skill set so unusual that a person can’t help but stop and question where the creator has come from and where they’re going. So it is with Signal Void, a Canadian producer whose polished take on cyberpunk music shimmers through the lo-fi fog like an oasis of innovation and creative clarity.
For many listeners, Signal Void’s music is a notable curiosity on the first listen and an audio revelation by the fifth. Subtlety is not simply a mark of this music but its defining characteristic. Few tracks on the album captivate in their opening seconds, but let any of them play in their entirety and you’ll hear them unfold into awe-inspiring compositions — somehow without ever attempting to be flashy or draw attention to themselves.
The artist’s backstory clarifies much of This Liminal Reality‘s uniqueness and production polish. Formally trained as a producer and holding professional work experience in the music industry, the creator left a conventional career path in search of creative independence. The Signal Void project was born from that search, and a handful of early singles from the project quickly snowballed into an multi-album deal with FiXT Neon and the release of the artist’s debut, This Liminal Reality.
Stream the full album for This Liminal Reality on YouTube.
In terms of its emotional identity, the album is characterized by a blend of beauty and darkness, its graceful melodies drifting across aggressive rhythm sections for a sound that is exhilarating but consistently underscored by a sense of melancholy. It’s the audio manifestation of what many of us dream about when we engage our visions of a dystopian, neon-noir future: electronic elegance with tragic underpinnings.
Signal Void’s unsmiling look into the retro-future has resulted in one of the most immersive creations to emerge from synthwave to date. From the punch of “Ultra Violet” to the grim beauty of “Gaia” and the heart-rending ambience of “Moving Mountains,” each entry on This Liminal Reality tells the tale of a world in which humans have gained everything they desired from technology but have compromised their own humanity to obtain it.
Iron Skullet: How did you decide on the name for your project? In terms of your music and the concept behind it, what is the Signal Void?
I knew that I wanted to try and carve out as unique of a footprint as I possibly could for this project going forward, so it was important to me that everything was tied together within a compelling framework that thematically fit the direction my music was heading. Of all the conceptual brainstorming I did, I kept coming back to the visual narratives of traversing cyberspace alone in a futuristic dystopia. There’s just something so dangerous and exciting about that to me.
On the surface, the narrative of this project is loosely based around a reclusive Netrunner who is struggling to cope with reality after spending so much time jacked into cyberspace. He believes he’s discovered something terrible in the Net, something he’s called the “Signal Void,” and unraveling the purpose behind it is now consuming him. However, his paranoia and fragile mental state have put him on edge, and he fears he is being hunted.
While that already sounds like a cool idea for a sci-fi novel by itself, things truly get interesting for me when you start to unpack these themes on a deeper level. Is the Signal Void merely a reflection of himself? How much can someone so fragmented between these two worlds truly trust their own judgment? There are so many intriguing ways to interpret the symbolism and the dualities there that I couldn’t resist developing it further.
For me, virtually everything in life is an experiment or exploration of balance, so I wanted Signal Void as a medium to reflect that in many ways. What would living in a society that values technological progress more than human life be like? What sort of person would find success in a world like this? And at what cost? I love asking these sorts of questions, so trying to incorporate these ideas into my music was a no-brainer for me.
At the end of the day – I know it’s just music – but I at least want to attempt to tug on a deeper thematic thread for the audience to explore if they so choose.
Do you feel like you experience some of that fragmented reality in your own life, a sort of liminality between our world and cyberspace?
Oh, absolutely. For one, I tend to live inside my head on account of being an introvert, so I can certainly relate to that on a personal and creative level. And on the technological side of that, I spend the majority of my free time glued to my PC. Braving the real world after several days straight of writing music or playing video games can be a bit of a system shock at times, but thankfully my girlfriend of six years is just as much of a geek as I am, so that connection we share really helps to keep me grounded and focused. Meaningful human interaction is a good reminder that regardless of how much technology pushes forward, we’re all still just walking bags of meat!
On the subject of balance, This Liminal Reality falls on the darker side of synthwave, but unlike a lot of rhythmic artists working in that space, your tracks often contain prominent melodies. There’s a certain tension in that contrast that makes the music very exciting. Where does that songwriting style come from?
That’s actually a really interesting observation. I suppose it’s not an accident that the concepts I’m exploring with this project and the dualities or power struggles they personify are also represented in the music itself. There’s always been something so hauntingly beautiful to me about pieces of music that convey obscure emotions or tell a story with the use of powerful melodies alone. The short answer to this is that I’m merely trying to take the audience on a journey, but there’s obviously more complexity to it than that.
In the context of balance, if you juxtapose two sides of a coin musically, it introduces a power struggle. You’re absolutely right. A dark bass section accompanied by a beautiful piano melody can be rather jarring because of the tension that’s created by telling separate stories at the same time – or perhaps different sides of the same story. Even the music I wrote in my metal days had this same sort of flavour. A face-melting rhythm section is one thing, but if you introduce a beautiful, somber melody to that in a different time signature, suddenly the vibe can shift into a totally different universe.
I simply want the music I write to tell you a story or make you feel something. That’s the hope and the intent, anyway.
You mentioned writing metal music. Are synths your first instrument, or did you play in bands, etc. before coming to electronic music?
I’m actually first and foremost a guitar player. My older brother and I taught each other how to play in the mid-’90s when we were kids. We’d sit around for hours after school going through guitar magazines trying to learn licks from our favourite songs together – everything from Nirvana to Pink Floyd, Tool, The Offspring — you name it, we probably had tabs for it. I looked up to him a lot growing up, so most of his musical interests inherently became my own. It wasn’t until I discovered metal in my early teens that I started to diverge and do my own thing musically.
I eventually played lead guitar for a few local metal bands in my high school years in the early 2000s. While it was a ton of fun at the time, living in a van for weeks on end wasn’t really the most glamorous or rewarding lifestyle for me. I was in my element the most when I was at home writing songs or trying to come up with interesting polyrhythms or melodies. As soon as we started recording EPs in local studios, I knew right away that I wanted to learn how to engineer records and produce rather than live on the road out of the back of a van. There was just something so fascinating to me about learning a new technology that enabled me to compose and record the melodies and ideas I had in my head into a program on my PC. It was the ultimate medium for me to express myself that I had ever seen, and I haven’t looked back since.
Your project revolves around retro-futuristic cyberpunk themes. What is your personal interest in that material, and do you have certain media (books, films, video games, etc.) you turn to for inspiration?
I think futuristic dystopias in general are probably the ultimate fantasy sandbox, regardless of what medium they’re in. I’ve been a PC gamer for nearly 25 years, so there’s definitely a strong correlation for me there. The original Deus Ex was a really important video game for me, and more recently the sequels as well.
The original Fallout games by Interplay were masterpieces in my opinion, even though they aren’t precisely in line with the same themes. Everything from the choice of subject matter and the way they presented such a unique take on the retrofuture and a post-apocalyptic dystopian society was nothing short of amazing. I still find myself blown away by the original Fallout games to this day.
I also can’t pretend that films like Blade Runner or 2001: A Space Odyssey haven’t inspired me immensely. So much of modern sci-fi still hinges on the incredible impact those films had on the art form. A few other films that are absolutely worth mentioning here are Solaris, Sunshine, and Moon. If I ever want to get inspired or put myself in the right mindset to write music, any one of those films are sure to do the trick.
And there’s nothing like a great book to lose yourself in every now and then, either. Anything by William Gibson is an obvious choice. I also can’t recommend Frank Herbert’s Dune series enough. That reminds me – I actually hope to find some time to re-read those before the new film adaptation by Denis Villeneuve comes out. Really looking forward to that!
At any rate, there’s certainly no shortage of great science fiction or fantasy out there to help spark something if I need a little inspiration, so my choices here barely represent the tip of the iceberg.
Synthwave is often associated with the ’80s, though your music doesn’t explicitly mimic music from that era. How are you interpreting the idea of ’80s music and synthwave in general for your Signal Void project?
The moment I began writing my first single “Ultra Violet,” I knew that the lens I was using to study the various synthwave genres was going to net different results than some of what came before it, but I didn’t really know in what capacity. I also wasn’t as deeply familiar with the genre as I am now, so I had no idea if what I was doing was going to connect with people. I just knew it resonated with my own tastes and with what I imagined synthwave could be, so that was enough for me at the time. In all honesty, I wasn’t very confident it was going to find much positive reception at all, let alone present me with an opportunity to sign with a label of FiXT Neon’s stature.
Synthwave was a brand-new genre and experience for me, so there was something really exciting about potentially pushing the envelope and planting a flag of my own in whatever small way I could. I specifically remember asking myself questions like, “what would the music from the ’80s sound like if it happened today?” or “what would music in a dystopian future sound like?”
The most difficult question I posed myself was “what really is it about the music from that era that makes it so special?” All I know is, I never once asked myself “is this synthwave?”
Personally, it had nothing to do with the gated reverbs or the huge drums or the ripping guitar solos or the synths they used. A great song isn’t great because of a really cool snare drum. There was just something way more intangible there behind the curtain that I had to figure out, and it’s still a question I ask myself every single day.
I had a fever, but the prescription wasn’t more gated reverb.
People who hear This Liminal Reality for the first time often note the high production quality, especially relative to other synthwave albums. Where did you learn to produce?
Much like my journey teaching myself the guitar, the vast majority of what I’ve learned has been self-taught through years of trial and error. It was probably a good three years of sleepless nights trying to improve my craft before I found some small success through some decently established trance record labels at the time. I had always loved trance growing up as a kid – and now that I had the means to try my hand at producing it myself, I was determined to learn as much as I possibly could.
The skills I learned eventually led to me joining a small film company as an audio director. We mainly worked with Ink Entertainment out of Toronto filming EDM events at many of their legendary night clubs, but we also shot a few short films that allowed me to really experiment with musical composition and post-production. I was convinced at that point that I wanted to compose music for video games, so I spent a few years building the skills I needed to do that, working various day jobs to keep the bills paid.
Eventually the regular jobs I landed were paying fairly well, so my passion for music fell to the wayside as a result. But the more I lived a regular 9-to-5 life, the more miserable and out-of-place I felt, so I decided to give it all up on a whim and try my hand at post-secondary education.
After accepting an offer into the best program in Canada for music production (Music Industry Arts at Fanshawe College), my girlfriend and I moved a few hours away and started a new life together so I could pursue my passions again. I had just began producing synthwave at this time, so trying to juggle all these exciting ideas I had for my own music with the time investment required to absorb and demonstrate everything I was learning about audio engineering in school was a pretty tall order.
After making Dean’s List in the first semester on around two hours of sleep a night, I was faced with one of the hardest choices I’ve ever had to make in my life – continue my education and potentially find a career in the field that I love, or do what I love by carving my own path. My body wasn’t going to be able to allow me to do both for another 18 months.
Let’s just say there’s no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice.
This Liminal Reality is a great debut and it sets a high standard for your discography. Where do you plan to go from here with your music?
That’s precisely the same question I ask myself every day. All I know is that it’s going to be one hell of a ride.
Enjoy Signal Void and other great synthwave creators in the popular Synthwave / Retro Electro playlist on Spotify