There is something truly extraordinary about the music that Aidan Baker creates.
Whatever the guise, he is an arch prolific, an avant-garde musical artisan with a capacity for industry and the creation of all-consuming, enveloping compositions that is unmatched.
He is best known as one half of drone-gaze outfit Nadja, and their string generated cascade of swirling, suffocating and desolate soundscapes, drenched in often exhilarating atmospherics.
A cursory glance at the back catalogue shows the extent to which the depths of two minds are explored and expressed sonically. It is simply eye watering in its dimensions, and continues to expand exponentially.
Architecture Of Depression
Although in recent times Nadja have ‘stopped rolling and started rocking’, to quote the architect himself, the focus of this article will be on perhaps the most monumental of the full lengths from the ‘rolling’ era, the monolithic ‘Thaumogenesis’.
A one track album clocking in at well over an hour, it is one of the most outstanding pieces of music conceived within the remit of the broad pastel of ‘drone’ and beyond.
I have spent quite a few years trying to figure this album out.
Reissued in 2012, four years after its birth, there is nothing conventional or interpretable about this LP. Even the cryptic name, hinting at a dystopian industrial procedure, is enigmatic (although disclosed to me later that its provenance is none other than Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
The music itself is equally difficult to deconstruct. How does a composer sell the idea of a track lasting over an hour to a listener, even a fan boy, without getting his back up?
Baker himself told me in a recent e-mail, in relation to the intimidating length of the track that –
‘We were, at least in part, inspired by Corrupted’s ‘El MundoFrio,’ also one, long piece that ebbs and flows between heaviness and ambience, and wanted to write something that was simultaneously something to envelop the listener sonically and challenge their notions of time and endurance’.
Challenge & Endurance
The words that stand out from that quote are ‘challenge’ and ‘endurance’. The latter in particular is not considered a particularly positive one in relation to music, usually associated with poor releases that seem longer than they are, and are persevered with as a chore and without joy.
The challenge of this record of course is heavily related to its dimensions, but also with its rebellion against traditional rock structures, its glacial crawl towards fulfilment and the ceaseless looping repetition of three core musical ideas.
All of this, and plenty more besides is stretched over a gigantic template, an idea which on paper seems, frankly, a bit mad.
And there is palpable madness in this album, at least from a structural point of view. It begins with soothing, massaging tones, the guitar creating gentle ripples of sound which barely register, until without warning, a jarring increase in volume at around the six minute mark brings freezing Atlantic waves crashing all around the listener.
Deep breaths are gulped involuntarily as if being plunged suddenly into the ocean. The guitar tracks create an abrasive, choking ambience parallel with a sinewy, distance running riff and a bass which grows in confidence with each passing moment providing a chugging, belching industrial engine to fuel the soaring guitars.
At 34 minutes, an ominous and mechanical section smothers the preceeding riff, with scything, deliberate guitar strokes, two at a time are driven forward by the, tireless, excruciatingly heavy bass.
The layers of the sound are now almost unbearably complex and numerous, creating an ecstatically shrill sound, bursting the ramshackle dams that struggle to contain it.
An enormous, shuddering climax seems at the cusp of being delivered, but is constantly out of reach as the music slowly but irreversibly begins its descent down the arc from whence it came, allowing the heart and lungs of its witnesses to return to their normal rhythms before expiring.
More than the above however, this album is what I would refer to as ‘fantasy music’, in a similar vein to the very best that Dead Can Dance or JordiSavall could conjure, despite having nothing superficially in common with either. What do I mean by ‘fantasy’? I have thought about it myself for weeks in preparation for writing this article, and I will try to give a coherent précis.
Many reviews of ‘Thaumogenesis’ show a trend of a listening ‘experience’, the author being transported elsewhere by the music, whether a hazy stagger through a crippling hangover to competing with the crows on a battlefield deserted by the living, it has the power to generate vivid day dreams amidst the vortex of enveloping sound.
In the midst of this record I have exchanged my own skin for the a grim, condensed lifetime of a Soviet industrial worker, born gently and amongst the remnants of a theistic and familiar structure, before being violently torn from mother’s arms, triumphantly and eagerly taking my place in the steelworks, face and hands blasted, but euphoric to be an organ of the collective, the certainty of right and the surety of victory.
As the track reveals itself, so too does reality.
Nadja create a kind of Magnitogorsk, an ugly manifestation of a warped good intention, where lung cancer, cirrhosis and a grim trudge through endless days of industrial toil, reflected in the hammer blows delivered by the guitar in the third section, interspersed with the black clouds belched out by the merciless, inhuman bass are the filthy reality.
Peace and the wilderness are fleetingly granted, perhaps memories of an unspoiled vastness to the east and west, when Baker’s soundscapes extend across the horizon, the boundless white wastes, devoid of footprints of their Canadian homeland perhaps nodded to and corrupted.
Mercy only becomes a reality as death finally comes to our anonymous grafter from the worker’s paradise, as Baker and Buckareff ungently extinguish the track, blackened lungs and calloused limbs finally breathing their last with the drowning throes of the bass and the choking guitar.
Open To Interpretation
Despite its length, ‘Thaumogenesis’ is a surging and complex piece of music from which the synapses of the listener’s brains are certain to react in the most unpredictable way.
If you can imagine the haze and immersive beauty of Irish classic ‘Serein Falls’ by Thy Sinister Bloom warped and industrialised, an Ozyorsk lashed by grey November sleet to TSB’s high summer Trieste, Bakers pig-iron smelt guitar to Bailey’s delicate string work, you are perhaps in a position to understand the breadth of this album.
I have never come across a piece of music so open to interpretation or with the power to grant such powerful reactions to auditory stimulation. The piece itself is constantly in flux, as when played live, it is either shortened or improvised, and has incredible replay value.
The confounding structure is explained to a degree by Mr Baker –
“As for the architecture of the piece, much of it came about through improvisation and our usual methods of layering and looping and seeing what happens.
As with a lot of our compositions, we wrote a fairly basic melody and chord progression and allowed the process of playing and the manipulation of textures to create the shape of the piece.
Though, I would like to note that there are no synths used on this album — all sounds are produced by electric guitar and bass.”
From my perspective, this is unimportant in terms of the potential this LP has for an emotional response. And from Bolt Thrower to Primordial, Rory Gallagher to David Eugene Edwards and all the diamonds in between, isn’t that what we all want, fundamentally from music, and receive from those special few?
Of course, don’t take my word for it, seek it out and see for yourself. This is utterly peerless music, to be experienced and felt in one sitting and with the mind loosened and unwound. Simply astounding choonage.
– Kevin Jacob ::: 18/06/15