In recent times, many people have invested in digital delay units and built whole careers around nothing, selling the results as some sort of meditation. Not so Canadian musician and writer Aidan Baker, one of the very few artists in the past decade whose discography has grown hand in hand with his compositional skills. His loop stratification technique features the guitar as the primary sound source, though voices, violin, flute and found sounds all have their place in a deceptive pulsating complexity of evocative siren calls, beguiling fears and hypnotic malady. Percussion is often looped too to create a peculiar variety of drum’n’bass in evidence on the albums Eye of Day (Foreign Lands) and Butterfly Bones (Between Existence). Trained in classical piano and flute, Toronto-based Baker is a self-taught guitarist, drummer and saxophonist, and also the author of several books of poetry (I recommend you get hold of a copy of Fingerspelling) and a regular contributor to various international journals, providing not only poetry but also criticism and works of fiction. Over the past seven years he’s released well over 20 albums, solo or in collaboration with other artists, many of which are among the most intense and beautiful loop-based listening experiences you could have the good fortune to discover, because, as is often the case, quality comes in small doses: you might have a hard time locating many of these limited-edition raw jewels. Baker’s website (aidanbaker.org) offers a comprehensive series of helpful links in his abundant discography, which also includes his work with the collective ARC, a more percussive / ritualistic combo in which he also explores fuzzy Frippertronics – their best release to date is Eyes in the Back of our Heads (Worthy) with metal soundscaper Alan Bloor, aka Pholde. Other Baker projects include the spacey trio Mnemosyne and Nadja, originally a solo affair but now a duo with bassist Leah Buckareff. This is the “acid” side of the guitarist, a slow distorted molasses of non-songs and mammoth riffs recalling James Plotkin’s trippier excursions, especially on the recent Bodycage (Nothingness).
There are several milestones in the Baker discography not to be missed out on. At the Fountain of Thirst (Mystery Sea) contains four mesmerizing still ballets dedicated to water nymphs, the second of which, “Rusalka”, is so delicately plangent and harmonically gratifying no sentient being could fail to be profoundly moved by its grace and levity. Skein of Veins (Phoniq) is an mp3-only release where Baker’s proficiency at superimposing repeating figures is at its very best, especially on the title track, in which lulling chants and sweet death kisses put the mind in an altered state where torment is nullified by an almost desperate sense of pleasure. The self-explanatory Loop Studies One (Laub) features maybe the best “deep ambient” music since Eno: the Toronto six-string charmer generates clouds of heavenly vapours through silent walks and motionless timbral hallucinations. The aptly titled Field of Drones (Arcolepsy) vies for the title of finest record in Baker’s oeuvre, if sheer beauty counts for anything. It’s hard to find words to describe this music; its inexplicable intensity is a close encounter with the crux of our own sensibility, a definitive travel guide to the world of therapeutic vibration. It’s also a slap in the face for those low-budget merchants of mediocre post-postness stasis. Baker’s recent output has brought several pleasant surprises, first of all a collaborative long-distance relationship with American Matt Borghi on Undercurrents (Zenapolae), on which the pair remix, rework and re-layer their droning materials, including some very beautiful piano improvisations, into a contemplation of a melancholy subaquatic world, a latter-day version of Roedelius in a never-ending drift to nowhere. Another epistolary collaboration with the French duo Ultra Milkmaids, At home with…(Infraction), freezes the listener in icy cages of electronic sound into which Baker’s guitars occasionally shine sunlight from afar, holding out hope of a thaw that never comes. Another mp3 release, out this summer, is Songs of Flowers & Skin (Zunior), the first proper collection of “songs” by Baker, whose more structured forms nevertheless don’t detract from the beauty of the music – listen to “Second Selves”. Baker’s soft voice is featured in different arrangements, including trumpet and violin, his dreams transfigured into brilliant pearls of dew that reflect a little of everything from Pink Floyd to Dif Juz. The future looks bright for Aidan Baker: his first European tour is scheduled for this autumn, and a double CD release on Jochen Schwarz’s Die Stadt label is due out early next year. I’ll be waiting by the window.