a smattering of what’s to come from quiet friend in early 2018 arrived last month in the form of “safe,” a swirling piece of high-fidelity pop majesty. project leaders nick zanca and steven rogers have imbued their forthcoming self-titled debut with a devotional equal parts pop and ambient, an end result that leans heavily on texture, atmosphere, and the implications that accompany both.
as the days grow shorter and the temperatures colder, ambient music can provide a unique respite, one that feels forever wed to winter months. zanca, a longtime purveyor of – and architect within – the genre, recently compiled an hour-long mix for the dimestore, focusing on works from ambient forbears of the 1970s and 1980s. it’s a sparse, affecting compilation best consumed through headphones, preferably in solitude.
accompanying the mix is a short but incredibly insightful conversation with zanca, throughout which he explores his relationship with specific pieces, how reactions to the current political climate are embodied within the genre, and an overall archeological pursuit of ambient music. the transcript follows the mix, below, and has been slightly edited for clarity. click play and immerse yourself.
influences like prefab sprout and the blue nile are proudly worn, but how do other offerings on this mix fit within the construction of quiet friend? have any of these artists – or perhaps their corresponding tracks – directly influenced this project?
as long as steven and i have been working together, atmosphere has been at the epicenter of what we do. with this record, it’s gotten to the point where atmosphere and texture dictate virtually every other aspect of the music, down to contributors, arrangements, choice of instrumentation (oberheim synths, delay systems, zithers, harmoniums, the string section) – a majority of the lyrics acknowledge space, even. regardless of who joins us moving forward, or whether our music gets lighter or darker from here, we’re always going to have a paw in the “ambient” pool. i suppose this mix acted as an exercise in showcasing that angle of our project.
other than the obvious u.k. sophisti-pop influence, i personally became very invested during this album’s production in the discovery of 1970s and 1980s ambient/minimalist music from japan and italy – both of which are represented somewhat here in this mix. both of those countries in particular are sonic goldmines as far as that kind of music is concerned. i’m not sure which record it was that opened the can of worms – i could name the work of hiroshi yoshimura, luciano cilio or midori takada as starting points – but once i began the journey, my boyfriend has a real hard time getting me off soulseek or discogs. since then, i’ve been fully committed to the almost archaeological pursuit of discovering older, underheard music in the hopes that at least one of these records can find a new audience. it’s also my hope that quiet friend could act as a similar vehicle for musical discovery.
the original release dates of these tracks range from the mid-1970s to the late-1980s; what about this period of time, specifically within the realm of ambient music’s evolution, speaks to you in particular?
it’s difficult to pin down what exactly draws me to that era in particular – i guess part of it has to do with the fact that digital music technology was still so nascent at the time and that creative possibilities in the studio seemed so boundless then. there’s also the diy aspect too – in most cases, these artists were privately pressing their albums and operating completely outside conventional channels of marketing and distribution. home recording had just become normalized and people could explore similar sonic terrain to brian eno, steve reich, and labels like ecm with very limited resources. there’s something very punk to me about that kind of ethic.
i was texting an old friend from college earlier this week who observed how huge of a year this was for ambient music – both new and old – and how much of that was a response to political unrest. i don’t think that’s wrong. as it is, so much of the history of this genre has borrowed cues from disparate heritages – indian raga, indonesian gamelan, african percussion, gregorian chant, american primitive guitar. listening to the way artists fuse these influences today in the face of an administration that has so clearly threatened multiculturalism seems to me not only like the strongest way to heal right now, but also functions as a wholly valid form of antifascist protest.
are there a couple of songs on this mix that you hold especially close, and, if so, would you be willing to elaborate as to why?
i could go on at length about any of these records, but i’m going to focus on three near-and-dears that deserve far more credit.
a track from venetian musician gigi masin’s album wind opens up the mix. this is a deep, minimal and icy album that was somewhat of a crate digger’s holy grail for many years – it was only ever sold at shows and many of the original copies were destroyed in a flood. it was finally reissued a few years ago and since then he’s been enjoying a bit of a comeback, both as a solo artist and with a new band called gaussian curve. the sound palette here – a lone korg poly-800 synth, a piano, a tenor sax, and a trumpet – is chillingly sparse but still manages to sound gigantic. i’ve spent a few winters watching the snow fall to this record.
i also included a cut from neighborhoods, the lone album of portland-based musician ernest hood. this record largely revolves around communal field recordings taken around the oregon suburbs where he grew up, which were then placed amongst washes of zither and synth. it’s a hauntingly gorgeous example of the power of the private press and proof that one can evoke nostalgia without venturing into overly sentimental territory.
nuno canavarro’s plux quba is a record from portugal that is incredibly difficult to pin down and even more impossible to write about – i discovered it through jim o’rourke who reissued it about a decade after its initial release in 1988. canavarro managed to build an entire world here with just a primitive 8-bit sampler and a outdated fostex 8-track tape machine. that this music predates oneohtrix point never, fennesz, or ricky eat acid by almost two decades is kind of baffling to me – it speaks its own language and exists outside of time. i dream of making records that have that kind of effect on people.
quiet friend is a collaborative, pop-leaning project, but you’ve been making ambient music on your own for quite awhile now. how does your immersion in more abstract sound design influence your headspace in a pop setting?
that’s a very good question and one that i’m not sure i’ve totally figured out the answer to yet. i think about it all the time though. i will say that i’ve become able to stop myself from overthinking about certain pop conventions when we’ve allowed the atmosphere of the music to take the wheel. the beds of texture these songs sit in almost become a vehicle for storytelling or a context for the melodies. with a song like “safe,” the drone section at the end is meant to add a ruminative quality that is only just beginning to be hinted at by the lyrics. we’re trying to create music that doesn’t reveal itself right away, that rewards repeat listens – never the same river twice.
quiet friend’s self-titled debut album is out march 9th via elestial sound. revisit the project’s first single, “safe,” here.