Review: Aidan Baker – The Spectrum of Distraction

99% of the time, the shuffle button is not a muso’s best friend. But sadly, it now stands for the way in which the general attitude to music has changed in the digital age. Albums are not standalone products to be appreciated in their own isolated narratives; they are poured into a continuum of music that exists on iPods and digital music libraries, with their chronology tangled and scattered in amongst other albums with which they share no relation. Such a sheer mass of music – accessed and downloaded at ease – leaves the listener overwhelmed with the possibility of what they could be listening to next, rather than what they’re listening to now. Couple this with the shuffle button, and the transition of power is complete: the listener is at mercy to their music library, overwhelmed by the enigma of the “track to follow”, and brainwashed by an impatience that gives each song mere nanoseconds to make its impact before it’s swapped for another.

The Spectrum of Distraction is conceptual representation of this age of evaporative patience and skim-listening. Spanning over 98 track fragments, the album is designed to be placed on shuffle and heard at random, culminating in a quick-shifting mass of stuttering breakbeats, crunchy metal grooves, tumbles of free jazz and fleeting ambient escapes. Transitions between tracks are seamless, with many of these pieces falling under the one minute mark: the end result is a body of sound that never settles long enough to take distinctive shape, and never permits silence to interject its relentless attack. Its mimicry of those soulless, track-hopping shuffle sessions is very effective, and while it only takes place within the existing base of Baker’s multitude of projects (snatches of Nadja, ARC and Whisper Room can be made out in the unsettled surge), that in itself provides a vast enough stylistic scope to make the transitions as dizzying and erratic as they need to be, while still providing the thinnest threads of cohesion through aligned tempos and timbres (not to mention the frequently recurring presence of Baker’s ultra-harsh distortion).

Aside from its “digital age” context, the record feels much like darting between various rooms, each containing its own array of colours, characters and narratives, and each operating in its own isolated time zone. The listener stumbles into kraut jams just as they rise into climax, intrudes on the tail-ends of drone resonances and abandons fuzzy rock-outs halfway through; it’s a frustrating sensation for those listeners that still view albums as indivisible wholes, but the fact that The Spectrum of Distraction conveys such a convincing degree of disarray is a testament to its success.