Joao Da Silva, owner of experimental label Fabrica Records, is also the man behind Luciernaga. Joao makes the ambient music I've always wanted to hear. Luciernaga is not ambient music that, as Joao says, you might do yoga to (not to look down on yoga music). He imbues his music with a certain, almost intangible, nuance that propels it forward, and compels you to keep listening; even all the way through a 22 minute looping B-side. It is music that is meant to be listened to and felt. Luciernaga is fundamentally human.
Joao Da Silva Politics play a role in almost everything we do. How we spend our money, how we treat and what we expect of others. I can’t divorce my creativity from that. I think all art tells a story or is a reflection on a moment in time. Even the most inane thing like a Top 40 pop song telling you to “forget all your troubles and dance” is an incredibly political act.
I want my music to tell stories, to make people feel or think, even though I’m not saying anything nor trying to impose a specific idea. I don’t hide my politics, they are very far to the Left, but I don’t feel the need to wear it on my sleeve or to regurgitate quotes or old ideas. I think my actions speak far more about who I am and what I believe than talking about it. The more outwardly politically-themed releases I’ve done are the "Plays Propaganda Songs" CD, and curating a compilation to benefit refugees of war called “You AreWelcome Here”. These were all done out of channeling something negative to create a positive.
EJ And that makes sense. Where a lot of ambient music does seem to suggest a fixation with what's outside of earth, or at least suggests that its scope is beyond the earth's (a lot of it is probably not about anything at all), Luciernaga seems to be heavily connected with the earth. The less tangible qualities about the project suggest that your eyes aren't just fixed on the stars. Is that fair to say?
JS That’s it exactly. I think the world we live in is mysterious and challenging as it is, there’s so much we don’t know. I understand why it’s important to know what happened with Mars billions of years ago, but I’m not sure how that impacts my day-to-day. We humans are obsessed with trying to understand our origins but I’m much more concerned with what’s happening now and where I will be tomorrow. I’ll never travel to space, but maybe someday I’ll see the Gobi desert, or walk through the Calat Alhambra or swim in the Mediterranean. I’m not even close to done experiencing life here on Earth, I don’t feel the urge to think too much about outer space.
EJ That takes us to how I first found out about your music, actually. I've been completely fascinated by the upcoming game No Man's Sky. I was watching a video The New Yorker did about it that features your music. Thankfully, they gave you credit for it so I knew where to start looking.
JS This was all news to me until someone posted a comment about it on my soundcloud account. I knew something was going on the day it was posted because that same day, all of a sudden, hundreds of people started downloading music from my bandcamp page. That video really helped my music get out there.
What happened was that the New Yorker magazine used two of my songs/pieces for a video review of that game. It was a nice surprise but I still would have liked to at least get an e-mail from the people involved letting me know it was going to happen.
I’m not a video game player, never have been really. Nothing against them, I just grew up in places where I could spend most of my free time outdoors so there was no need. I had a first generation Nintendo at one point but then sold it and never kept up with the newer ones. I’m aware of the fact that video games have come really far since I was playing Legend of Zelda, and No Man’s Sky looks really interesting. I think The New Yorker used the music really well for the review.
Some of my music is under a Creative Commons license that allows for non-profit use and as a result of that I’ve seen some of it used in some pretty interesting projects. A great online music webzine called Secret Decoder posted the digital versions of two very limited edition tape releases I did on Free Music Archive and, I think, that’s how it ended up getting picked up by The New Yorker. This also led to a film producer contacting me and using some of the very same music on a short film called “Circle In The Rock” which I enjoyed very much.
If I could quit my day job tomorrow to just constantly work on providing soundtracks for film/documentaries I probably would. I’m now providing permission for another song to be used in documentary by a Moldovan film-maker.
EJ Another good segue. Video games are very cinematic these days, and it seems that it's hard to separate ambient music from cinema, and specifically science fiction. Ambient music and sci-fi movies are very synonymous to me. They convey and evoke a lot of the same emotions. I'd imagine that technology has something to do with it. Does science fiction influence your practice?
JS Maybe? I can definitely see what you’re saying when I listen to a lot of Brian Eno, Popol Vuh, some of Eduard Artemiev’s work or more recently the “Under The Skin” soundtrack which is excellent. The only sci-fi author that I have read a lot of works from is Philip K. Dick, and I think I find his storytelling style far more interesting than the sci-fi elements. He wrote these stories that border more on prophecy or religious parables than anything you’d see on the Syfy channel. Unfortunately most of the film adaptations of his stories are pretty weak. I enjoyed Blade Runner but it really only skims the surface of what the original story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, touches on.
I think that ambient or experimental music, especially in the way a lot of my friends and fellow musicians approach it, comes very close to what folk music used to be. A very spontaneous and simple way for people to interact and share a moment through music. We’re all doing something that follows in traditions created by others, but we are all expanding on and feeding off of each other to create something entirely new. It’s at its best and most effective when it’s capable of telling you something without saying a single word. I tend to look inward for inspiration whereas sci-fi tends to look towards the unknown and the “far out”.
EJ So is there a role for technology in your music? Does it become a theme for what you're doing, or you use it more as a tool?
JS Really just as a tool. I’m not a gearhead at all. For example, I have no idea how synthesizers work. I tend to prefer very hands-on and acoustic instruments. You will never see me perform with the aid of computer software.
EJ Who/what are some of the influences on your music? What kinds of things led you to the work that you make, and do you have some ambient/noise pioneers that you look up to yourself?
JS I listen to a lot of non-First World music. I’m especially interested in music from the Middle East and Latin-American Folk. I also owe a lot to the work of people like Pauline Oliveros, Lamonte Young, Yoshi Wada, Robert Turman, Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Keith Rowe, Blind Willie Johnson, Son House, Elizabeth Cotton, etc.
I definitely have some people I’m constantly looking towards, like the ones mentioned above. Then on the less “academic” side of music: Throbbing Gristle of course, Esplendor Geometrico, SPK, Coil, Muslimgauze, Nocturnal Emissions and related projects like Caroline K.
EJ Now you also run a record label, Fabrica Records, so you might have particularly strong feelings about this question. What do you make of the state of music these days?
JS I find it very challenging to sift through so much that is out there and so I end up mostly focusing on the past and things I haven’t yet discovered. I’m sure there’s cool stuff happening all over the country and the world but it’s a challenge to even keep up with the number of new releases that come out every week.
This may be an unfair statement but I also think there’s not a lot of quality control (I’m sure people could say that about what I do and what I release) and there’s a lot of really derivative stuff out there that sounds and looks like a throwback to something that was already done to death in the past. But there are newer and younger audiences who don’t know that so they eat it up.
With regards to the label I believe that I’m better off focusing on what is happening close to me and I have an interest in documenting that, which is why I think Fabrica Records in the long-run will limit itself to working mostly with local artists. I want the label to be a part of a community that I interact with on a regular basis, not just a business.
EJ Speaking of recording, I noticed a lot of Luciernaga's recordings are on cassette. What's that all about?
JS Cassettes were the main medium to listen to and share music when I was coming up in the punk scene. When I moved to NYC and started interacting with some of the local experimental musicians I noticed the same thing was still going on but amongst a lot of noisemakers. Mostly as a tape trading scene. Artists and small labels trading with other artists and other small labels. It’s a warmer sounding medium (than simply sending digital files), it’s cheap and easy to replicate. That’s how I got back into it.
But what happens in the underground always filters out to the mainstream and then it starts to lose its meaning. Now a lot of bigger labels are trying to cash-in on it and turn “Cassettes” into the “new vinyl”, even starting something as absurd as “Cassette Store Day” which has caused a lot of people to go back to home dubbing because the wait times and cost of duplication via the last remaining tape duplication plants have gone up due to high demand from larger labels. The irony of this is that despite the constant “vinyl is back” or “tapes are back” media stories, most record stores and independent labels are still struggling. I like to see my music on a physical/tangible medium and I will continue to do that on cassette, cd-r, and vinyl depending on the circumstances.
EJ I think it's a great thing that artists still hold on to physical things. Still making records, still printing books, still making paintings. Hopefully none of that ever goes away. So out of curiosity, what's it like playing a live ambient set? I imagine the energy could be something very special.
JS It’s really all over the place and depends on your disposition and the energy from the crowd. I’ve had some totally crap shows and then some really great experiences. Like I mentioned before I’m still not very comfortable performing live but I’m getting there, although I won’t deny that almost every time before a show I think to myself “this is the last time I’ll do this, it’s not worth it”.
EJ Ha! Anything you'd like to promote/share/say in closing?
JS I just want to say thank you for your kind words and for checking out my music. There’s so much great stuff out there and I always feel really fortunate when someone discovers and likes what I’m doing because you really have to dig pretty deep to find it.
EJ Well, I'm certainly glad I did find out about it.