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Aidan Baker: DIY

james hörner

aidan Baker is a Toronto based musician and writer. His primary musical projects include Nadja, Mnemosyne, and ARC. As well, he works on musical projects under his own name. When he's not performing he's putting out music on Arcolepsy Records. Photo by Thom Hamilton.

Aidan Baker, Photo by Thom Hamilton

cancon
tell me a bit about your current projects.

Aidan Baker
My current projects are divided between music and writing.

Musical, creating, recording, performing: solo (under my own name), ambient/electronic/post-rock music, using electric guitar as the primary sound source; under the moniker 'Nadja,' drone/doom metal; the trio Mnemosyne, space-rock, in which I play guitar; and ARC a loose collective of musicians created experimental/improvised music. I am also occasionally working with a dancer, Susan Lee, exploring improvised sounds and movement.

Writing: I am currently working on a sequence of short stories, which might be termed fictionalized biography, on the lives/stereotypes of 'tortured' artists; and a series of 'synesthetic' poems, by which I mean poems about/inspired by/relating to other media (paintings, films, etc.).

cancon
the number of sub-genres out there nowadays astounds me. i could probably guess, but have no idea, what the drone/doom metal genre sounds like for instance. how did you end up in such specific areas of music?

Aidan Baker
Yes, all the categories and sub-categories are pretty ridiculous and I find it quite bizarre how people seem prone to ghetto-izing themselves within those categories (and not just musically speaking). With my music I like to cross-pollinate, so to speak, and try to incorporate different categories because I think that makes things more interesting...that said, my Nadja material is probably the least cross-pollinating, although it's not exactly "classic" doom metal (I've often had comments from metalheads that it's "too weird").

As for what qualifies as doom metal, well, it's usually very very slow and very very heavy. Think of some of the more depressing Black Sabbath songs, slow them down and tune the guitars lower, and you'll get a general idea. To make a distinction between "doom" and "drone" metal, you might say that drone is more experimental, in that it utilizes more of a minimalist mandate -- very little movement or variation, repetition, simple polyphonies -- within a maximalist sound. I think drone metal is comparable to some contemporary classical composers like Avro Pärt or Henyrk Górecki, except that one uses guitars and drums instead of strings (or whatever other traditional instruments).

Arguably, one could say drone metal is more prevalent in the US, doom metal in Europe (Japan kind of mixes things up, as is their want, and Scandinavia produces a whole different kind of metal again [death/black metal: see book "Lords of Chaos" for more]).

I started producing experimental/ambient music about 5 or 6 years ago -- influenced alternately by such groups as Sonic Youth, Skinny Puppy, Swans, etc. (there's a whole other bunch of subcategories) -- but I still listened to heavier music and wanted an outlet for that interest. And after hearing some groups like Sunn 0))), Halo, or Corrupted I decided to combine the two.

That's probably more than you wanted to know, but hey...

cancon
are you able to bring your audience from one project over to listen to your other work? how does the idea of genre affect the kind of fan-base you might have.

Aidan Baker
I have had more success with crossover in terms of music-to-music genres (which, admittedly, sometimes surprises me) than music-to-writing. There are people who are interesting in both my music and my writing, but I think they're a minority. Even though I bill myself as a writer and a musician, generally people who are aware of one don't seem to be aware of the other and I'm not sure why this is. Because people don't think one can/should be both things...?

A friend of mine is putting together an anthology of musicians-who-are-also-writers (or vice versa) and I think he would agree with me -- that may be one reason he's putting together the anthology in the first place.

cancon
what's the best advice you've received in regards to creating?

Aidan Baker
I can't really think of any specific advice anyone's given to me...I've always had the idea of "just keep working" in the back of my mind and (hopefully) every subsequent worked on thing will be a progression and/or an improvement of some kind. Practice makes perfect (or nearabouts).

cancon
can you describe your earliest musical memory?

Aidan Baker
That's not so easy to pin-point...my parents are both musicians, so there was always music in some form in our house. I do remember fooling around in this sort of "music grove" my father had set up in a cluster of trees in the backyard. The trees were hung with various lengths of metal pipe, pots, chimes, etc. and we'd bang on them and make percussive music (fortunately we didn't have any close neighbours).

I know that when I was maybe 4 or 5 my two favourite records where Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" and Weather Report's "Heavy Weather" which is a bit of a weird mix (early 20th century classical vs mid-70s fusion) and I probably drove my parents nuts with the incessant replaying of those records (even if they came out of their collection). So whenever I hear these albums, it's difficult not to think of early childhood...

cancon
what did your parents teach you about music?

Aidan Baker
Beyond technical ability, certainly appreciation; the ability to listen critically and to listen carefully (properly?). This may go along with appreciation, but the idea of cultural importance, the ubiquity of music; I perhaps took music for granted, to a certain extent, when I was younger if only because it was always around, though now that I'm older I've come to realize that it's not as ubiquitous for some people which is (maybe) unfortunate. I think I chose to pursue writing in addition to music because it was something my parents didn't do (at least not to the same extent). Similarly, my brother chose to pursue fine arts, though he is also a musician.

cancon
do you have any long-term creative projects that you currently can't do for whatever reason (financial, time, etc.)?

Aidan Baker
With recent technological advents, it's relatively easy to self-release music -- and with a bandmate, I've put out a few things on our label Arcolepsy Records. That said, it's still fairly prohibitive financially to do any proper studio recording, which would be nice considering the limitations of home studios...

Unfortunately, it seems a little less easy time-wise, $-wise, etc. to self-release literary material. I have put out a couple chapbooks, but it's not as easy (both in terms of production and dissemination) as it is with music. I have been planning to release a book of poetry with my partner -- who makes handbound books under the moniker ColdSnap Bindery -- but this has been in the planning stages for quite sometime largely due to financial constraints. And temporal, yes, but it's mainly the production costs holding as back. Hopefully, this will see the light of day come summer 2004.

cancon
what've you learned from the small label experience?

Aidan Baker
I've learned that one can do a fair amount by one's self but one can do a quite lot if someone else is doing it as well and willing to co-operate. I guess that's a convoluted way of saying I've learned to appreciate the network that exists (and what it offers) in the so-called underground or DIY music world. Certainly, the DIY music world seems fairly self-sustaining and relatively effective at dissemination, cross-pollination, and so forth, while still maintaining its "credibility" or not succumbing to the, well, hollowness of the mainstream music/media industry. Not to be elitist or make over-generalizations, but the DIY world does seem to value music for itself, rather than as a commodity.

cancon
conversely, what have you found to be some of the problems with the diy scene?

Aidan Baker
It seems impossible to avoid that anti-success attitude. There's always someone who feels that if you achieve even a modicum of success than you've sold out. Which seems pretty ridiculous. Certainly I'm not involved with the arts to make money, but I do want other people to have access to it.

cancon
you've tried your hand in a lot of areas - what's something you've never tried that you'd like to learn how to do?

Aidan Baker
I would like to learn how to build instruments. I have lots of ideas for custom guitars (and other instruments), but my knowledge of electronics/woodworking/etc. is pretty poor...

cancon
you noted in a previous question that you're "not involved with the arts to make money." can you articulate some of the reasons why you are involved in the arts?

Aidan Baker
Personal satisfaction. I enjoy the creative process and I enjoy other people's enjoyment of what I've created. Maybe that seems egotistical but it's honest. I certainly can't imagine myself working a 9-5 office job and being content.

cancon
ever see yourself getting comfortable?

Aidan Baker
I doubt it. I think comfort would probably bore me and I'd have to keep finding new ways of being uncomfortable or challenged.

cancon
what's one question you've always wanted to be asked?

Aidan Baker
What will you do for the people when you're supreme overlord of Earth?


james hörner edits canadian content.

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