Name: Simona Zamboli
Occupation: Post production sound engineer, sound artist
Current release: Ethernity on Mille Plateaux
Recommendations: The visions of Hildegard of Bingen. 1928
I am studying the figure of this amazing and visionary woman called Hildegard of Bingen . I was struck by her being a prophetess of issues and causes that are still very current today. One of the few female figures in the philosophical- compositional music world of music.
If you enjoyed this interview with Simona Zamboli, visit her website for a deeper look at her work.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started very quietly by going to college and studying mainly as a sound engineer. I never believed I was an artist, I thought I had to deal with the machines and only had to have control over peaks, pitches and frequencies …
I wanted to explore the physical properties of sound, to understand how to create that unseen but perceptible creature that made my senses fall asleep like sails in the wind whenever I listened to electronic music.
Then I threw myself into learning digital audio workstations and started producing music for movies. My first work 'Prada Vision' was highly regarded by the director of the film for which I created the track in question and by other esteemed Italian composers. They found my sound very commercial and surreal at the same time. They had understood my intentions exactly. I had finally expressed myself in a new language but one I felt confident in.
Since then I have never stopped producing music.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Yeah, that’s true! I started producing music believing I was stealing the sound from someone, from my favourite artists. In the beginning, I felt confused and disoriented because having started the production journey totally on my own, I had to fight against a lot of hurdles to get at least a little bit of 'soft skills' before I even got into the technicalities. So, given my heterogeneous influences, I was afraid of not having an identity and I felt insecurities related to my bewilderment and fervent decision not to belong to a collective that could direct me or position me in an already constructed current.
Then I realised that this displacement was nothing more than curiosity and the desire to learn the sound that my heterogeneous listening had given me the opportunity to get to know, without putting brakes or barriers around me. What at first seemed like emulation to me was processed information.
Today I see it like this: my sound is fragmented, it is a mosaic that wants to honour me and what each artist - with his philosophy and musical aesthetics - has managed to convey to me. When I started writing my own stuff it was very spontaneous, the signature sound came after a long exploration and a hard fight against myself.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I am free and straightforward, I don't like having to stick to imposed identities; I am constantly growing and need to build my own worlds through evolution and innovation. I think this comes through in my music.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The main challenge was against myself, as mentioned above. I criticise myself a lot and once I've written a track, I feel like I have to go further already. I can't be static, I need dynamism, I need to produce because music is the only way I can express myself the way I want to.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I produced my first remix on Cubase, for business needs - when I was the post production sound engineer for an advertising Italian company I learned to be very confident about Pro Tools and then also Logic Pro x.
When I started with some live shows I picked up Ableton Live, and this is my current digital audio workstation. Approaching live electronics, I increasingly felt the need to use analog synthesizers, I find that the dexterity and warmness that is applied to the sound can never be achieved with digital. However, I am looking to expand my setup as I am embracing the idea of performing DAWless. However, I want to clarify that my music without computational sound processes would not be the same. So for me sound design is essential.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Sure the analogue machine support has affected the change in dynamics, but I have yet to find tools that make dramatic changes to my way of creating music.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I am in a period of turmoil and I owe it mostly to my quest to interconnect with other people's artistic expression. I do this through the interaction of gender fluid communities, through contests and calls, but mostly by proposing and listening to other artistic minds.
In the last few months I've been more open than ever to co-productions with producers and performers around the world, jamming and sending out lots of podcasts. You know, the Internet is a wonderful thing when used to its full potential.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I try to give a lot of weight to music and am inconstant training to best implement the resources I have and can enhance to find innovative ways to express my artistic-musical language. I currently make many connections outside of my country to improve my English communication and the way I promote myself. Even doing jobs to self-finance my project, I would not be able to think of myself as anything other than who I am and what I am doing.
Can you talk about a revolutionary job, event or performance in your career? Why do you feel special? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Certainly it was hard to win a remix contest to sign with Ropeadope Records. I found it very stimulating for the first time to deal with a production of that magnitude, I felt special and encouraged to do better, to continue. The second time has happened lately, with the release of Mille Plateaux. I grew up in electronics listening to the records and artists released by this legendary label and I can only feel honored to be part of the family!
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I am creative when I need to turn to myself or self-refer. I've always been a reserved and silent girl, never intentionally showy. Extravagant yes, but by nature. I don't need to force myself, the creative process is a vision, a call to which I only have to answer.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Art is pure therapy if it eviscerates you as if it were your best surgeon during an operation or, when you are down, at an autopsy.
I cried listening to nostalgic melodies in the late 90s, I cried in adolescence glued to the headphones of my Walkman and I still feel goosebumps when someone wants to tell me something about the notes and bits of emotional sequences. Music healed me as a listener, so I decided to be strong and allow myself the luxury of being weak by doing it.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think it is important to express one's own sonic identity which does not mean being repetitive. Consistency doesn't have to be static and cyclical, but it can change. If you choose to belong to a movement, you don't necessarily have to copy a genre.
I live in a country where, with its considerable delay, there is a continuous import of foreign trends; I admit I'm not a fan of ape, of reproduction stripped from all its values to the bone. I’m pro contamination and contamination involves restoration and innovation, otherwise it risks becoming dull emulation. Respecting a movement means being aware of it and requires constant research. Otherwise you run the risk of appropriating something you don't belong to and in that case copying is pissed off! (laughs)
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections with other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most stimulating overlaps between the different senses and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I feel involved and interested in the way our nervous system responds to emotions and stimulates the mind and body acting. There are chords and mixtures of scales that can give us one type of sensations rather than others and this is just a hint of how much the listening system is designed to interconnect autonomously with the other human senses. It's all numeric, it's all cosmic and organic.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I don't think you can create much without having a solid underlying message. Personally, apart from the emotional and personal discourse I have towards production, I believe there is a political-social cause that leads me to want to expose myself so much, as a half-technical, half-artistic-minded solo project woman.
I want to reiterate that I started my path in total autonomy and I continue to self-produce my project, I want to support the female scene and I want it to be clear that there are so many other talented and competitive women in the sound engineering environment and in electronic music. Here we are, we are present! There is no need to fight, but to take the field.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
A connection between the lived, the here and now and the thwarted.