Glimpse Talks Analog Fetishes and Recording at the Zoo
There's a fascinating duality at the core of UK producer Glimpse's work. It's the duality of control vs. loss of control.
On one hand, he favors analog studio production over digital, reckoning that today's automated digital tools eschew the elements of human spontaneity and imperfection -- he grapples the dominance of the machines in the studio by leaving things to chance and allowing the mistakes to shape his sound.
One the other hand, Glimpse (AKA Chris Spero) is an obsessive, controlling perfectionist who'll spend weeks at a time crafting the detailed minutae of a single track, and who insisted on releasing his earliest records on his own label so he could maintain full creative control over his work.
But this duality is merely two sides of the same coin with Spero. It's what marks his artistic genius and masterful sound -- the intricately layered, lushly-produced productions heard in 2009's much-lauded Runner LP on Crosstown Rebels.
With Glimpse slated to perform during Air London's showcase at Electric Pickle on March 22, we couldn't pass up an opportunity to pick the studio wizard's brain.
Crossfade: When did you first get drawn to EDM and how did you begin producing?
Glimpse: My first contact with EDM was when I was 16. I was immediately fascinated by this music. At the time, I was playing guitar and singing in bands, so this music was very different but equally as powerful to me. This fascination naturally made me want to dig deeper and find out how this music was made, which led me to production and releasing my first record in 2000.
You released your first record on your own Glimpse Recordings. Why did you decided to release your debut yourself instead of trying for a recognized label?
I actually released my first records quite a while before Glimpse under different aliases. I guess I was scared of rejection in some ways, which was why I didn't send my tracks to the big labels. I had not been producing for that long and I wanted to put my music out in my own time and in the way I felt comfortable. I also wanted to be in control of the whole process from beginning to end, including the mastering, the artwork, the whole product. As soon as we started working with Kompakt, everything changed and the label became a success. It also helped a lot that the earlier releases were supported by some better known DJs, like Carl Craig, Magda and Richie Hawtin. About 3 years ago, I decided to start sending music to other labels which led to releases on Planet E, Cocoon, Cadenza and of course Crosstown Rebels. It's been quite a slow process but a rewarding one. A lot of artists appear overnight these days. I think I prefer the slower road, that way you feel more prepared and appreciate things more.
You're renowned for your analog purist approach to music production. Why do you shun digital technology in the studio?
I don't shun digital technology at all. I think it's all great, it just depends what you are comfortable with. If you boil water in a pan, on a stove, or in a kettle, you still end up with boiled water. It's just the process is different. They are just tools provided to us
as musicians, vehicles for our creativity. Personally, I prefer the analog route as I find it works for me and I am more likely to get the results I am after. I find that a lot of digital platforms can't account for the element of chance or surprise that I get with analog machines. I'm using lots of Moog guitar pedals -- they seem to have a mind of their own. It makes things so exciting -- routing them together, never knowing what's going to come out the other end. This is something I can't replicate digitally.
You certainly boast very lush and intricate productions. What is your typical process in the studio and how long do you usually work on a track?
I'm quite slow in the studio, compared to a lot of other producers -- mainly because I like to sit on tracks for a few weeks before I finish them. I also work on multiple tracks at any one time to keep things fresh. The best tracks, however, do usually happen quickly. If I go into the studio with a really strong concept for a track, I tend to nail it in less time. Like, my release on Planet E only took a couple of days, were as other tracks may need tweaking for weeks. I usually start each day by jamming on a synth or drum machine until I hear something that has some potential, and then try and develop the idea a bit more. This is also a lot easier on analog kits as the options are endless.
Field recordings also seem to make up some of the intricacies of your productions. Do you spend time out and about recording ambient audio for samples sources?
I find field recordings a great way to breathe some air into a mix. Even though you are adding sound rather than taking it away, it can give the illusion of space in a mix. With the right reverbs and side chains, it can give the impression of bleeding through the gaps in the
rest of the mix, thus giving everything the appearance of a wider stereo image when in fact it actually doesn't. It can be very effective. I try and record things when I'm out and about on tour, kind of like an audio diary. You would not believe some of the crazy sounds you can pick up in the most unusual place. There are whole channels running through my album that were recorded in Sydney Zoo a few years ago.
Your 2009 Runner LP on Crosstown Rebels is an album that merits countless repeat listens to absorb its complexity. What made you
decide to release in the LP format? Were there any special moods or
themes to tie this work together as a long player for you?
I think it started with a couple of tracks that had a particular vibe to them and I kind of built on that feeling. Originally, I had no idea which label to go with. My press agent Melissa sent the tracks to Damian [Lazarus] who made me an offer the same week. I have always been really drawn to very lo-fi electronics. I love the idea of imperfections caused by machines crashing or feedbacks building up. So there are lots of these imperfections on the album, like hisses and reverb tales that have been left in untreated. I guess this was were some of this complexity comes from. It's a case of choosing what to edit rather than what to write. I also have a passion for blues and jazz, so I think that comes through in the album. I found the whole process very rewarding. It was also great to work with such a fantastic label who were so helpful along the way.
Given your penchant for intricacy and the denser LP album format, which challenge short attention spans, do you regard your work as meant more for home-listening than the club?
A lot of the time when I play live, people are really surprised as it's so different to my album work, which is written for more of a home experience. I also make a lot of music aimed solely at the dancefloor, but I think an album gives an artist an opportunity to show slightly more. The dancefloor can be quite a restrictive place for a producer as certain things work, and certain things don't. On an album, you can really take that to a new place, hopefully not completely alienating the dancefloor, but doing something that can be appreciated in both places.
The stylistic references in your productions are also intricate, with jazz, soul, and world music to go with the obvious nods to deep house and Detroit techno. Which artists or records have been immediate influences for you?
I'm influenced by lots of different things outside of just house and techno. I listen to a lot of Afrobeat, jazz and blues, all of which inspire my productions. I also have a huge collection of Detroit techno, which I would say is my biggest influence. Artists like Jeff Mills and Juan Atkins have really inspired the way I think about EDM rather than the way my music sounds.
What's your live setup and how much of what you're playing is spontaneous?
My live set is Ableton live, midi controller and a Roland TR-909. I have a variety of different sets that I can play to adapt to a situation. The drum machine is also a great way to change the aesthetic of a track. You can turn quite a housey record into something a lot harsher just by reprogramming the 909. This gives you a lot more control in a live environment.
What's the status of your label these days? Any forthcoming projects or releases?
The last release I had on Glimpse Recordings was couple of years ago before the album. I don't feel in any rush to do anything on there at the moment and have no interest in releasing other peoples music on there either. I usually release about once a year on the label. At the
moment, I am working on another album to be released hopefully next year, so that is taking priority.
What were some of the highlights of your 2010 and what do you have going on for the rest of this year?
I would have to say my main highlight of 2010 would be the birth of daughter, Lola. Musically, closing the car park at Space or my Japan tour were very inspirational. This year is looking great so far with dates confirmed in Ibiza and a busy touring schedule. I'm also really excited about the new album.
Air London and Friends.Tuesday, March 22. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Doors open at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $12 to $20 via residentadvisor.net. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.
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