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Discography: Aidan Baker

img  Tobias

Writing a discography article on Aidan Baker means failing. We could probably just deal with the fact that he is as much a poet as a musician and has released some wonderful lyrics collections alongside his CDs. But then the trouble really starts: For one, Baker, who currently resides in Toronto, Canada, defies the usual boundaries by playing the flute, guitar, drums and a couple of other instruments – and uses all of these either in various combinations, as well as as in solo settings. Secondly, he has chosen to maintain both a career under his own name, as well as with two bands, ARC and Nadja. While the latter two have a more rock-oriented feel to them, Aidan regularly blurres the edges by allowing dreamy passages into his group-releases and by adding rock-structures to his delicate solo-soundscapes. And finally, it’s a question of size – in a mere five years, this man has presented the world with a staggerig 34 “Aidan Baker”-albums, seven ARC-full lenghts and six Nadja longplays. Can you keep up? Here’s an effort to start your journey.

Which in this case means beginning with ARC, his collaboration with Richard Baker and drummer/percussionist Christopher Kukiel. Formed out of a jam session  between Aidan and Kukiel, who were spontaneously joined by Richard on stage, this trio has developed a sort of meta-cosm, from which all the following Aidan Baker-releases would evolve. Especially, their combined efforts led to the founding of the arcolepsy label, which made for an ideal basis for individual efforts. After three early releases, “Feral” marks a decided change, as it was recorded in the studio, instead of in a live surrounding. Before, their efforts were defined almost exclusively by improvisation: “More often than not I improvise live. I usually just get up and play and let the music take me where it does... As to what constitutes a good performance... well, that too is pretty subjective. People sometimes say they can tell when I got lost in the music – a certain withdrawal into the sounds, the process, the moment – and that usually marks a good performance, I think, both for myself and the listeners... that the music is truly engaging and/or I’m truly engaged in the creation of it.” Despite the studio recordings, everything that turned their concerts into meditative celebrations is still here, though: Warm layers of sound move in slowmotion, while purifying percussive patterns present a persistent pulse. Pieces like “morphosis” reside at the border of soft anarchy, without ever falling into arbitrariness. The gentle flow of the album is only once disturbed by a five and a half minute long untitled “drum-solo”, but this only leads up to the grand finale of the mind-blowing aural waves of “nested”, which is like a thin tatter of cloth turning thicker all the time and shimmering bluely in the dark.

An entirely different affair is “Eyes in the back of our heads”, recorded in the same year, but only released a full twelve months later. Kukiel is not present on this one at all and his place is taken by Alan Bloor, who handles “amplified metal” on a dark and industrial disc. Three pieces, two of them around the 20-minute mark, dive into rusty and bare wastelands, void of any human life. Despite their petrifying nature, the hypnotic magic of “watch, watch”’s maelstrom, the title track’s epic allusions to the otherwordly early Tangerine Dream works and the surreal showdown of “sould window” never fail to leave a mark. After a lengthy silence, “The Circle is not round”, released on Italian outfit “Small Voices”, is a new and fresh sign of life of this daringly different band.


It would be easy to qualify ARC as the beginning, but Baker had already been performing long before that. To him, things really changed when he discovered the possibilities of a technical device: “I suppose when I bought my first looping device, that could mark a defining moment... I guess that was about 6 years ago now... although I’d still made ambient, atmospheric music several years before that – it just didn’t rely so heavily on a looping pattern. The electronic looping device just made it that much easier. I do try, though, not to rely on it too exclusively – to create loops manually, so to speak, through actual repetition, not
electronic.” Looping quickly became a recognisable aspect of his music, but it was not the repetition in itself that was remarkable, but Baker’s capability of using it in a very organic way.

If 2003 was an important year for ARC, it surely was an important year for Nadja (who released their first album) and for Aidan’s solo career. “At the fountain of thirst” was picked up by Belgian record oufit Mystery Sea, who had just started and was beginning to make a strong impression as “the ECM of drone music”. Daniel Crokaert, the man behind the label, had followed Baker’s career intensely (in fact, he may just be one of the few people to actually own close to all of his albums) and brought his music to a receptive European audience. In hindsight, the album was maybe not picked up immediately the way one should expect. “His music is quite alright”, Frans de Waard of “Vital Weekly” dryly remarked on the disc (he would later become a bit more complementative) and added that this was a “pretty varied release”. I tend to disagree. While the hollow structures of “Lorelei” (nothing to do with “Gilmour Girls”, we suppose) are indeed different from the longing siren’s call of “Undine” and the multi-layered guitar tectonics of opening piece “Melusine”, they make for a perfectly balanced listening session. While these tracks are “merely” more elaborate versions of something Baker had been exploring previously, the cosmic circle dance of “Rusalka” makes it hard to find the right words to decribe its beauty. Looking back, “At the fountain of thirst” may well be a second defining moment for Baker – the different ingredients came together in perfect unison and still left the field wide open for experimentation. It’s an ideal album to buy if you want to find out more about his music and appreciate the mellow side more than the darkness. It is also pretty much sold out, so you’ll have to do some searching.

Baker never looked back. The rest of the year and 2004 were spent with exploring different aspects of his music: “Mechanical/insectoid guitar drones”, “a study in minimal guitar tones”, some dark ambient and noise-related material and even “ambient/electro-pop tunes, combining elements of trip-hop, shoegaze, & electronica”. He also managed to release with famous German “Drone Records”, which firmly positioned him as one of the up-and coming personas to watch (even though it would be wrong to confine him to one scene exclusively). The diversity of his influences blend together perfectly on “Candescence”, a thinly disguised musical reference to early Autechre and a more rhythm-based music. Ondulating beats, spiralling chord progressions and subtle intruding noises are everything that is left inside a stripped and yet dreamy world. This album seems to stand still completely in space. Listen to it in the middle of the night, preferably.


Following swiftly in its steps, but again refusing to stay on the same tracks, was “Songs of Flowers & Skin”, in which Baker’s poetry meets elusive, vaporous rock. If guitars were any harder, this would be Doom-music, destined to be played at funerals. The way it is, though, the ambiance is more one of solitary contemplation and of exploring the hidden corners of one’s mind – the skin of the album’s title is Baker’s, as it reacts with the forces of nature of beloved or cursed ones: “Feed me your kiss/ Flowers blossom in my throat/ Thorns in my eyes/ Beez buzz on my tongues/ I’m undone” he sings on “Feed me your kiss” and you never know where pleasure ends and pain begins (or the other way round). Admittedly, not a happy work, but not entirely desolate either – the trumpet in instrumental “Dance Dance Dance” almost sounds like a light-flooded bed room on a Sunday morning.

With a four way split between him and Z’EV and  John Duncan, Aidan is in pleasant company and comes into direct contact with Dirk Serries, whose project Fear Falls Burning follows a similar trajectory – while managing to sound completely different all the same: “When I find myself on a bill with another guitarist/looper, someone like Fear Falls Burning, for example, I often wonder if the audience will think it’s all the same. But they seldom do. Regardless whether you use the same or similar technology and/or methodology, you have to put something of yourself into that tech/method and that accounts (or should account) for a

This also marks a perfect answer to all who have deemed his albums to be too similar and too little surprising. And Baker has no illusions about “the new” anyway: “Nothing is really “new”. History repeats itself, to spout cliche. If you start worrying about true, authentic “newness” nothing would ever get done. Everything is always the sum of its influences, an amalgamation of its predecessors, of history, in some way. This doesn’t mean that it’s not worth doing anything ever again – something may not be authentically “new” but it can be “evolved”. I think there’s too much emphasis placed on searching out the new and that leads to the whole faddishness of current popular music.” Which is a perfect way to close this introduction into his discography – for it may be foolish to write one, but if we started worrying about that, nothing would get done.

By Tobias Fischer

Pendulum (2006) Gears of Sand
Periodic (2005) Crucial Blast
Traumerei (2005) Evelyn Records
Still My Beating Heart Beats (2005) Pertin-Nce
Songs of Flowers & Skin (2005) Zunior Records
Candescence (2005) Suggestion Records
Figures (2005) Transient Frequency
Field of Drones (2004) Arcolepsy Records
At The Base Of The Mind Is Coiled A Serpent (2004) Le Cri de la Harpe
Butterfly Bones (2004) Between Existence
An Intricate Course of Deception (2004) Angle Records
Ice Against My Skin (2004) Arret Arret
Antithesis (2004) Petite Sono
Threnody (One) (2004) Nulll Records
Metamorphose (2003) S'agita Recordings
Black Flowers Blossom (2003) Sonic Syrup
Cicatrice (2003) Dreamland Recordings
Concretion (2003) DTA Records
Dreammares (2003) Mechanoise
Loop Studies One (2003) Laub Records
At the Fountain of Thirst (2003) Mystery Sea
Eye of Day (2003) Foreign Lands
I Fall Into You (2002) Public Eyesore
Pretending to be Fearless (2002) Flesh Made Word Records
Letters (2000) Arcolepsy Records
Element (2000) Arcolepsy Records

Homepage: Aidan Baker

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