Review: Aidan Baker – Soil

UTILITY TAPES.

Within this tattered quilt of idling guitar loops, crumpled static and starchy interference, no single sound is permitted to dominate. Waste products are processed to pull their inner tonality to the fore, as tuneful as the plucked melodies with which they intermingle. Intention and happenstance are blurred into one. Many artists prior have sought to turn traditionally unwanted sound into creative material, yet with Soil there’s a subtle difference. Rather than simply pose the familiar assertion that all sounds are musically legitimate, Baker’s quote from the album’s accompanying text takes an alternate tack: “the titles are taken from terms relating to soil erosion, metaphorically suggesting that the songs were created, in the process of recording and processing the fragments, through a sort of erosion”. There’s the implication that rendering these so-called “waste” sounds into music, which usually carries associations of conjuring signal from the noise, is actually an agent of degradation. Through this lens, the whirr of a loose guitar lead is in fact pristine in its wholly incidental nature, yet to be discoloured by semantics and human intent. Rather than subscribe to the anthropocentric viewpoint that human intervention leads to the extraction of clarity, Baker’s music places our actions in parallel to every other natural process. Matter rots in our hands, subdividing into ever-smaller, evermore disparate parts, with our acts of construction recast as a mere scenic molecular reshuffling upon the slope of inexorable decay.

Throughout Soil, Baker makes clear the futility of clumping sound into momentary shape. Guitars writhe out of the mud like earthworms, vague in their movements as if caught between two choices, before disappearing back into the interference. On opener “Rill1”, these squiggles are engulfed by a static that gradually begins to sing, absorbing the musicality of the guitars like roots ingesting nutrients, culminating in a rich, resonant note that flickers and hums above the commotion. On “Sediment”, the cycling of phasers sends the earth into restful respiratory heaves, with patchy drones dwindling into a murk than surges in and out. The mind’s eye is invariably drawn to the overtly tonal elements here, but there’s also a beautiful blustering static at the edges. One can identify the spectres of highland gales and motorway traffic with patience, helplessly seeking significance within sounds that are otherwise content to stand alone. Even when the clouds of noise drift away, such as on the shakily-plucked three minutes of “Kolk”, Baker’s gestures seem brittle and only vaguely directed, still straddling the boundary between signal and noise when the latter is not audibly present. Instead, his guitar assumes the intermittent patter of rainfall, assimilating into the natural processes that are fated to eventually claim everything.