Interview: Jelena Glazova

Jelena Glazova came to my attention just last month, following the release of her split release with fellow Latvian artist Marta SmiLga. As soon as I learned that her music uses the voice as primary source material, I started to hear these sounds – streams of bad wiring, alien glissandos, foams of dead air – as augmentations of mouth and tongue and spittle and teeth. Suddenly, these pieces become a form of extended articulation, reaching for those sentiments that transcend the clinical clutch of traditional language, encasing extreme conceptual sentiment within capsules of extreme sonic execution.

Below, Jelena and I discuss autobiographical sound, existential justification and the distinction (or lack thereof) between her work as a composer and as a poet.

How and when did you first meet Marta SmiLga, and what led to you making a split release together?

We actually met for the first time at a split release party in June. I knew about Marta’s activities and heard what she was doing, but idea to put us together on the same tape belongs to Richard (Liminal Noise Tapes). He heard material I sent to him and decided to invite Marta. I was enthusiastic about this idea and am very happy with the result! 

You refer to vocal manipulation as a way to express “unpronounced speech”, which I love. What does “unpronounced speech” mean to you?

Initially it was an idea referring to the layers of subconsciousness of an individual, but in a context of my writing activities it also refers to some “unwritten texts”, not externalized speech, which is related to dynamics of creative process – some thoughts remain without being verbalized, some texts don’t represent the initial idea of an author etc. 

Even when the vocal manipulation is particularly intense, your music often retains a connection to the breath. I can just about identify the mechanism of respiration in amongst the digital processing. Is it important that your music retains a sense of “body” and physicality, even when the sounds are twisted out of their original form?

Yes, it is very important to me that the source material for my compositions is “organic”, not digital, although it is heavily manipulated. I wanted to have a sort of “soft” sound, which would remain of a human voice, to have some “physical”, autobiographical material as a source. 

If you’d be happy to divulge, I’d love to know more about the processes you utilise for manipulating the voice. What sort of software/hardware are you using for this?

Manipulation is a matter of experimenting with the source material, this is correct. I use software, namely Ableton Live and currently trying to switch to MaxMSP.

There’s a track on this split release called “Sisyphus Progression”. Only a couple of hours ago (as I write to you), I received an email from an artist stating that writing about music is like the myth of Sisyphus – as soon as we attribute meaning to it, the meaning slips away and we have to start again. In light of this myth, your piece carries a sense of stifled energy – sounds that press against the barrier of onward movement. What were your reasons for choosing this title?

The reason was the ironic interpretation of that myth – there is no progression for Sisyphus, of course, as his activity is futile, but we can imagine that there is some illusion of making some sort of “progression” even in this repetitive meaningless routine. Actually, it is an existential justification – finding meaningful in meaningless, referring banally to Camus The Myth of Sisyphus.

On your website, you note your interest in “the issue of physicality and individual’s physical identification in private/public space”. Have your thoughts on these issues been shaped or altered by the process of creating artistic work that fixates upon them?

I guess it was a part of creative process – the process of creating artwork also included working on the ideas behind the work itself. This is a simultaneous process.

Given this interest in physicality, how do your approaches differ between recording music and performing live?

Performing live differs from composing in a studio for me, and yes, you are right, my physical presence during performances is meaningful within the concept of my work.

Is there a particular environment – place, disposition, time of day – that you find works best for composing music?

In my home studio at midnight. I even have a poem dedicated to this: “Best enemy arrives at midnight”.

You’ve written about how your process of vocal manipulation is connected to your practice as a poet. To what extent do you draw a distinction between your work as a sound artist and your work as a poet, if at all?

I don’t really draw distinction between my practices as a sound artist and a poet – these are just different ways of expression, and sometimes I combine them into one work.

What records have you been listening to lately?

I have been listening to music composed for German pavilion at Venice biennale – Anne Imhof’s installation/performance piece Faust. I visited it in July. I don’t think it was released as a record, but I have been listening to some recordings of music for Imhof’s work I could find online.

What’s next for you and your music?

There are two split releases upcoming – both with Russian avant-garde musicians, one piece in collaboration for video installation planned to be opened in September in Riga, and I also plan to finish work on my solo album, dedicated to Bardo Thodol.