by Randy Jones
Glia makes a very refined music that explores what looping and synthesis can do in a jazz context. Though Fela Kuti's funk is one of many influences he cites, there are no freight-train sized grooves here—think instead of an intimate Blue Note or ECM trio with acoustic players and friendly AIs.
A drummer first, glia has shifted more and more creative effort towards electronic music over time. His latest album, OUANEM, ties together a variety of fruitful collaborations recorded over the last two years into a cohesive whole. It's very deliberate, but far from sterile. It's enigmatic and runs counter to so many commercial trends of this time. To me it sounds like the jazz that future hiphop will sample.
I got to ask glia some questions.
How long have you been making music as glia?
I adopted the name back in 2008 as I more fully embraced electronic music and improvisation. Prior to that I spent a few years learning the basics of production, beatmaking, and recording but considered myself a drummer first and foremost.
One thing that strikes me about OUANEM is how it's short for an album, but very condensed. Like each track was distilled down into its essence. Is "album" a meaningful category for you or are you reaching for something new, here?
You are very observant...I can agree that finding the essence of a musical idea intrigues me. It's no accident that many of the tracks feel condensed but I'm not sure it was totally deliberate. I guess part of the reason they turned out this way is that I've always liked playing with scale/duration/concision in my art and find that, as a listener, I'm often drawn to repeat-listens of the same song. Making recordings brief is one way to encourage my audience to do the same & savor or study a tune more than once.
Albums do hold significance for me and I consider this to be a proper collection in my loose definition of the term (though I know ONM might seem too short...more like an EP for others).
The short nature of the tracks also serve as a personal invitation to revisit, extend and reinterpret them on future albums or live performances.
There are a number of other performers listed. Can you talk a little about how the collaboration works?
Each collaboration was unique. The common thread linking them all was remote file exchange...all the recordings and edits took place virtually with plenty of trust and communication to ensure we were happy with the completed songs.
I usually tried to build a rhythmic foundation before getting other folks involved and just followed an intuitive flow to decide what to do next or how to adjust the parts depending on what they contributed. There were, of course, a few exceptions (Chris Hill and Logan Kane sent me things to build around or rearrange freely)
What does building one of these tracks look like?
I recorded acoustic percussion or drums as a core rhythm. Then looped those parts and layered takes with more percussion, digital synths and woodwinds in ableton. I tend to use many fx but the arrangement or structural workflow is based heavily on the simplicity of "tape" recording.
How do you know when a track is done?
When I sit with a track for a few weeks or months and "hear" nothing else. Sometimes I know as soon as I finish recording but most of the songs on Ouanem were works-in-progress for all 1- 2 years. If I could listen to a piece after that period of reflection and still see beauty in it then I know for certain it's done...otherwise it might need things slightly adjusted (or might not be worth releasing)
What do you do when you’re not making music?
Think about music! My answer is surely cliché but I spend very little time actually making music. Studying language and religion is my main diversion outside of music. I also enjoy cooking, sports and watching films.
I've met you through the lines forum- (llllllll.co) --are there other online or physical communities that sustain your musical world?
The pandemic has definitely made me more cautious about connecting in person but I really love seeing what High Zero/Sonic Circuits and Rhizome in DC have done over the years to involve the community. NPR Tiny Desk Concerts are another local favorite of mine and it's crazy to see how their popularity has grown and spread worldwide!
The people behind Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago also come to mind, especially for promoting really incredible shows across the full spectrum of improvised music during lockdown. I'm a longtime fan of Dublab and felt immediate kinship with ESS heads cause they seem to cover a similarly diverse range of musical interests.
I feel a special connection to all the artists on past Smartbomb compilations and the creative team who worked on Video Home System the past few years. Also hard to ignore the positive impact certain labels have had on my music...along with Minaret I'm indebted to friends at Leaving, Phinery and the many artists associated with Dolfin, Eglo & Touching Bass. They've found unique ways to fill virtual spaces with the same beauty and intention their in-person events are known for...so I love checking archived shows and music videos for inspiration.