Interviews

A taste for abrasiveness: taking five with NYC producer Silica Angel

Evan-Daniel Rose-González operates under the name Silica Angel, programming a dense and glitchy sonic output that’s completely his own. He rocked onto our radar after releasing eponymous two-track Silica Angel, and we’ve been trying to decrypt the man ever since.

As part of that continued effort, we sat down with Evan-Daniel for the latest.

silica angel interview evan-daniel rose-gonzales

To celebrate the gritty latest release from Silica Angel, we sat down with Evan-Daniel Rose-González, the mind behind it all.

HAPPY: Hey Evan, how are things? What have you been up to lately?

EVAN-DANIEL: Hi! Things are going pretty well up here—I’m writing to you on my day off from handing out free samples at the supermarket, so it’s been a pretty laid back day. Recently, I’ve been trying my best to decorate my new apartment up here in Troy with as many potentially cursed ceramic figurines as I can find at the local Goodwill, trying to figure out which JUUL pod flavour I like the most, and arranging and composing an EP I started not too long ago.

HAPPY: Silica Angel has been out there for a hot minute now. How have you found the reaction?

EVAN-DANIEL: The reaction has been a largely polarised one, which is to be expected with something as dense and abstract as Silica Angel. I’ve gotten some really interesting blog rejection feedback—some of my favourites include “purely glitchy, ethereal, and soft dystopic”, “ambling”, “scary”, “too hard”, “too rambling”, and “overwhelming”—and it’s kind of amusing to me, because that’s entirely what I was going for! But in that context, it was presented in such a clearly negative way. I wasn’t totally sure how to take that, because I love when my music is described using those terms, but like—“wow, I love this scary ambling dystopic music”, you know? So the reaction has absolutely been mixed, but the feedback I’ve gotten has been affirming to me that I’m accomplishing what I’m setting out to accomplish.

HAPPY: Is an audience reaction to your music something important to you?

EVAN-DANIEL: It absolutely is, which I feel like might be kind of a surprising answer coming from someone working in harsh, experimental music, but I do take pride in myself as a composer, producer, and arranger—I don’t feel like I’m hiding a lack of depth of skill and technique by making unconventional tracks. Due to that, audience reaction is certainly very important to me! It’s important to me that my audience recognises the work and effort that was put in to making my music unpredictable and different, and that it wasn’t just something that happened by accident, you know? That everything they’re hearing exists where and how it exists with intention behind it. I recognise that often my music is abrasive, harsh, and not always easy to listen to, and I assume my audience recognises that as well—I expect some people to be put off by that, but I also don’t believe music always has to be easy or pleasurable to listen to to be good. The primary tenet of music that I was taught, right when I first started playing instruments, was that music was defined by its use of tension and release—as I’ve come into my own as a composer I’ve really aimed to exaggerate that concept to an extreme degree. I know it won’t be for everyone, but I also know there is an audience for it—and I believe my training and skill shows through to a degree that I certainly always hope my audience understands and appreciates.

HAPPY: I love the unpredictability of both Faustian botany and Cicada cartridge. What kind of headspace were you in while putting together these tracks?

EVAN-DANIEL: Thank you so much! I write a lot of my music in similar environments, which isn’t really intentional as much as it is a product of necessity—I’m usually sitting in the dark, for starters. I lost the power supply to my Ableton Push 2 maybe a week after I got it, and one of the primary functional differences between the original Push and the Push 2 is that the Push did not require an external power supply, while the Push 2 requires one for the lights on the pads to have full brightness. So I have to compose sitting in the dark, which sounds like such a tortured composer trope, but I’m really only doing it because I can’t see the lights on my pads otherwise. Being in that sort of environment definitely affects the direction I take compositions, though, without a doubt. Beyond that, I usually work in the very early hours of the morning, between like, midnight and 5AM; as someone with ADHD to a pretty extraordinarily extreme level, these are the most productive hours for me—no one else is awake. When I work and other people are awake, I’ll get really excited about whatever I’m working on and start talking someone’s ear off about it before it’s finished, which leads to me working way less. So again, it’s definitely kind of a corny trope that I work in these late, lonely hours—and, again, it absolutely affects the type of music I make—but I swear it’s a product of necessity.

As far as their structure goes, the way I’ve always written music is through solo free improvisation, which generally doesn’t lend itself to traditional structures. I’m capable of writing more traditionally, but it’s never felt really natural to me. When I write, I’m sort of just improvising and arranging as I go, transitioning parts when it feels right and ending the same way I would end a live improvisation playing a physical instrument—stopping when I get to a point where I feel as though the piece has naturally ended. I don’t usually go back and tinker with parts, arrangement, or structure until after I’ve laid down a full improvised take to serve as the basis of the arrangement—this ensures the preservation of the developing pathways and motifs I’ve created along the way.

HAPPY: There are a score of artists who have made their careers based off experimental, harsh or abrasive music. What drew you to this breed of composition?

EVAN-DANIEL: Necessity, mostly! Improvisation, in all of its forms but primarily musically, has always been the most natural thing in my life. I feel similarly about mixing things, as well. In music, these skills lend themselves to creating pieces that are uniquely structured, with a large focus on textures—and going back to the concept of tension and release, some of those textures have to be abrasive, harsh, and noisy for the ones that aren’t to have the impact they should. These skills also have their place outside of music—being an improviser has allowed me to think on my feet and allowed me to cultivate skills as a conversationalist, writer, and conceptualist; while my natural skill in mixing has made me, in my opinion, a very interesting cook and mixologist.

As I’ve progressed further into my studies, I’ve become fascinated by the idea of deconstruction, and that’s something I always strive to represent as Silica Angel. I absolutely love listening to pop music, traditionally structured music, and things I don’t think people would necessarily expect me to listen to. There are times where I’d love to make it, but in the end I think that field is better served by those who have the natural skills that lend themselves to that form of composition. I’m happy to remain a consumer and listener in that field, but as I’ve become more and more fascinated with the concept of deconstruction, the compromise I’ve made with myself is that to honor my love for pop music, a lot of my work is written with the concept of ‘deconstructing pop’ in my mind—I love to write hooks and melodies and motifs that can get stuck in your head, but I love the idea of having those things stuck in your head and having no immediate idea of where they came from.

HAPPY: Do you have any musical heroes in that off-centre field?

EVAN-DANIEL: I absolutely have artists whom I admire greatly, who have helped me develop some of these concepts and tenets, though my own work is entirely insular and not directly influenced by any artist’s work as much as their philosophy and concepts. First and foremost I have to give credit to my mentors who have helped me refine my weird brain and strange ideas into a musical philosophy and technical skill. Those mentors are Pauline Oliveros, Giacomo Merega, Raz Mesinai, Tarek Atoui, and Nick Cageao. Through my youth into early adulthood, these are the musicians with whom I studied privately, whose influence is ingrained in my style in ways even I still have yet to discover, and whose musical philosophies form the foundation of my own personal musical philosophies. Furthermore, they all were willing to put up with my constantly scattered brain and my shortcomings as a traditional student, and without their patience and kindness, I would have never been able to figure out how to convert any of my natural skills into finished pieces.

Beyond that, I have a number of musicians whom I admire greatly and whose work has rubbed off on me in some way or another—usually subconsciously. The ones that come to mind immediately are The Mars Volta, Ash Koosha, Aphex Twin, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, How To Dress Well, Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Judee Sill, and Ben Frost; but I make a point to avoid listening to their music very frequently because preserving my unique point of view is incredibly important to me. A lot of the time I’ll listen to an album I love only once or twice in a year and let the persistently fading memory of it provide influence for my own music—this is a boon in ensuring my work never comes off as derivative.

My greatest influence as far as musicians go is certainly my peers, though. Watching people I know personally—many of whom I have grown up with—creating things that absolutely blow my mind, technically and stylistically, is incredibly exciting and inspiring. Shout out to some of my close friends doing incredible things right now, including Stimmerman, WAG1 BHAG1, Ruben Dax, Sentry Sinvil, 99Sublime, LASHAWN, and Use Secret. I’ll stop there, because there are so many I could list and I don’t want to inadvertently forget anyone.

HAPPY: You said in your interview with Eva (Stimmerman) that you recently swore off hardware, what led to that decision?

EVAN-DANIEL: A lot of it came through studying Deep Listening concepts with Pauline Oliveros. What drew me to hardware in the first place was its seemingly esoteric nature and its mystique, and the attitudes of people passionate about hardware; that it’s superior in some way, and that analog synths are better than digital synths are better than using your laptop, or whatever—and I respect that point of view entirely! Many of the artists I respect and look up to are largely hardware-based. But my Deep Listening studies led me to realise that in the end, a sound is a sound. Analog synthesisers have a sound that people associate with nuance, and quality, but in the end, it’s just air moving in a specific way. From there, I came to terms with the fact that the process of interacting with hardware synthesisers does not lend itself to my compositional process in nearly as natural a way as working with a computer and software does, and that I am capable of creating sounds that have nuance and quality—moving the air in the exact way I want it to—through my own methods, using my own setup, and much more accurately and more reflective of my vision than I can with hardware. “Sworn off” may have been too strong of a term—I’m an experimenter, and part of my philosophy is not to swear off any tool—but I’m certainly not comfortable using hardware synthesisers at this point in my career, and I don’t expect to be using it often, if ever, any time soon.

HAPPY: It’s hard to imagine what your live show would be like. Could you shed a little light?

EVAN-DANIEL: I’m actually redeveloping it a little right now, but I can definitely share what I’m working on! Back when I was working with analog synthesisers, I worked with a much more maximal approach to my live show—a six foot long table covered in keyboards and controllers. In the few years since, I’ve moved to a much more minimal setup—just my Push 2 and my laptop. This is far more practical for travel, especially since I don’t know how to drive, and focusing on a single controller allows me to be much tighter and more nuanced while performing.

My recent live performances have involved me acting largely as a conductor, reading from a digital score and triggering stems accordingly, but my new live performances are going to incorporate more live improvisation. I always want to be able to adjust my performance based on the mood and energy of the audience. The thing I struggle most with live performance is developing a set list that differs from the order my music is in when released on record—I take track lists extremely seriously when arranging a record, so I’m generally averse to changing their order. I’ve been incorporating a lot more old and unreleased material to my sets recently, in order to subvert that.

Touching back on the idea of deconstructed pop, I would love to hire dancers for sets going forward—both on record and live, I want my music to completely transform an environment. Eventually, I’d be interested in bringing a large array of speakers to more accurately represent the localization of sounds one would hear when listening on headphones.

HAPPY: Any more music in the bank? What’s happening next for Silica Angel?

EVAN-DANIEL: Much more! I have a hard drive with around 50 unreleased tracks I’ve written since January, that I’m in the process of polishing and preparing for release. I’m sure not all of them will make it there, but I’m constantly writing and contributing to the vault. The next thing I have coming up is—well, I guess it’s an EP, but due to the length of my songs it’s closer to the length of a full length album. For the most part, all of the instrumentals are finished—though, knowing me, I’m going to tinker with their most minor details for the next few months. Other than that, I’m just getting a schedule ready for recording vocal features. I’d imagine the EP should be ready to go in around six months or so. I’d expect another single from me before then, though, and probably a video as well!

Looking into the further future, Eva Lawitts (from Stimmerman) and I are working on a collaborative album, though that’s not on any real timetable—it’s one of those things that we both sort of just work on when we have time to work on it. I’m planning on spending some time back in Brooklyn soon, so there’s a chance that process could be expedited once we’re in the same city.

HAPPY: Thanks for the chat!

EVAN-DANIEL: Thank you so much for letting me ramble! I really appreciate your time and interest.

 

Silica Angel is out now.