Glands of External Secretion began on February 8, 1992, when Barbara Manning was recording tracks for a solo single to be released by the Majora label, and summoned Bananafish writer/editor Seymour Glass for assistance pushing the record button. Ask a first-year science student, what’s the first thing one does if there’s any sign of abnormal chemistry? That’s right — goggle up. The room was filled with it and the protective eyeware is permanent. After 30 years of recording and performing together and apart, wobbling in the crosswalk at the intersection of song-craft and the type of audio event referred to by some people as, after hearing it for the first time, “whatever the hell that was supposed to be,” Manning and Glass push each other into the other’s oncoming traffic, so to speak, only to yank themselves back to the relative safety of a sweet little patch of the parking lot known as “somewhat listenable, a lot of the time.”
The flavor of their albums depends entirely on the ingredients list and dosages of each. Hard to say what determines what those will be. Could be a dart board, a ouija board, or a checkerboard. They’ve released side-long space epics, an airplane-glue-damaged tribute to Fripp and Eno, back porch live recordings, excerpts from radio shows, home recordings, every kind of spontaneity (from the candid to the accidental to the cut-up and processed), and covers of the Dead C., Traffic, the Shaggs, the BeeGees, Mike Oldfield, and Roberta Flack.
The duo’s live shows are similarly lacking in a standard baseline. It’s all about the deviation. Because, come on, sweet mystery of life and all that, right? Much of the time Manning is absent, tending fires that must be tended, with Glass mixing her prerecorded snippets into his whirlpool of objects, disembodied dialogue, electronics, loops, and processing. But when she is present, look out for multiple music boxes glued together, 20-yard mic cords that allow her to vocalize from the sidewalk, and inflamed head-turning rearrangements of tunes from her solo songbook.
Pictured: Glands duo at Human Resources, Los Angeles, April 2012. Photo by Lemuel Barbou
When Glands Of External Secretion shifts its shape to mirror the silhouette of Glass on his own, it becomes noticeably more buoy-averse. Alan Bishop described Glass’s solo set at Colour Out of Space in 2019 as “a psychotic butcher with logorrhea.” The “vocal-driven, collaged compositions” move along “on the verge of collapse,” notes the Canadian BlogTO. “Errant keys chime out over the heavy breathing of taxed strings, collapsing under their own weight. Warped vocals repeat, everything that was once real is now a temporary facsimile…. [T]ape loops sway, revealing crippled notes and reeling vocal phrases. Charred sounds, cracks and clips take over only to fall victim to the next disintegration.” A solo set by Glass is less structured than ones by the duo, with pulsating waves and semi-transparent layers of sound migrating in and out of places of prominence within the surreal murk and jarring cacophony, from live electronics to varispeed tape, radio transmissions, and acoustic amplification of found objects. All of this buttressed by performative antics such table top electric guitar played with a drumstick at the end of the line on a fishing pole, cabbage-shredding, beard clippings and ice cream jimmies falling on contact mic’d sheets of aluminum foil, metal lozenge containers getting swatted with badminton rackets, assaults upon empty pet food cans with steak knives, and other mad-housewife-evoking delights.
Pictured: S. Glass solo at Temescal Arts Center, Oakland, September 2019. Photo by Bryan Day