Music Reviews

Artist: Nadja/Aidan Baker (@)
Title: White Nights/Drone Fields
Format: 2 x DVD
Label: Beta-lactam Ring Records (@)
This one took me a while to review partly because what we have here is almost 6 hours of music recorded at two live performances. Unlike other sets, this one had visuals, so I couldn't engage in my typical review process listening to them on my commute into work or doing other work. After all, who has three hour blocks of uninterrupted time these days? Anyway, on to the music. First off, I'll let you know how the press release describes this set: 'this in-home installation is the ultimate video aquarium for the acid-minded. Baker's thrum-scapes lay back and patiently coo mantras something akin to mid-period Nocturnal Emissions or Vidna Obmana, while spectacular visions wend and squirm from the absolutely abstract to hi-def nature photography, all to blissful affect. Some footage oozes out and away, like Cocteau Twins albums come to life, while other footage juxtaposes layers of treated imagery ala Derek Jarman experimental films, or early Cabaret Voltaire Doublevision videos. The pieces are so beautifully mixed, often taking field footage and slowly tweaking colours, definitions, focii into indefinable splashes and spectrums. Smoke, fire, clouds, oil, water, glass, humanity and its relation to light and movement are manipulated in a million wondrous ways, matching Baker's epic garden music drone for drone; loop for loop; god for god.'

For the Aidan Baker disc, the imagery does mesh well with the music. The drones are soft and slowly evolving. This is one of the benefits to having something like a DVD of the music rather than a standard 80 minute CD. One of the chapters on this disc (yes, it is mercifully broken up into chapters) would consume an entire disc on its own. What many seem to like about drone music (myself included) is the ability to really immerse oneself into a track. The music is wonderful, but with Baker at the controls, did we really think that it would be otherwise? Visually, however, it becomes a bit less engaging. Perhaps part of it is in the way we are wired, but slowly evolving music is considerably more engaging than slowly evolving visuals. Watching what seems like rain falling onto a window makes it hard to maintain one's interest. There were some interesting elements, such as a segment where everything began to be filtered into a kaleidoscope, with increasing levels of abstraction. Some chapters seem to tell a story, while others simply focus on textures and light. For example, the view from a plane over frozen forests was nice, but eventually it began to feel like I was just looking out of a plane window on a flight. Perhaps this could be used for a much cooler Baby Einstein kind of thing ' Baby Drone, perhaps ' because the music is soothing and the visuals are likewise peaceful. My 3 month old liked it.

Musically, the Nadja disc takes a slightly different track from the Aidan Baker disc, with a bit more dissonance and a bit noisier. The imagery is also a bit different, with a bit more realism to it rather than completely abstract. Once again, the images work well with the music. For example, you get the sense that you're in the subway as the train rumbles by. Still, everything is processed into a hazy, dreamlike vision. Then again, so is the music, so it all works out. This one is a bit different in that we actually do occasionally see the artists mixed in with the visuals, making this more akin to the traditional concert footage. There are interesting video segments, such as the person beating a pig to serve at a wedding (according to the liner notes), but some fall pretty flat. For example, the last 25 minutes is simply a clock counting down the time to the end. Good thing that the music was pure Nadja awesomeness.

In short, if you are getting it for the music, you will be quite happy. After all, you are getting the equivalent of 4-6 albums worth of music for an excellent price. If you were hoping for an actual live performance where you see the artist, you will not get that here. The visuals were nice, but it is difficult to make 6 hours of abstract imagery engaging. I often found my mind wandering or looking elsewhere, but then again, maybe that's the point. I have to mention that the method of depicting chapters was pretty cool, with a slice of the imagery used to depict the tracks. This set weighs in at almost 6 hours. Did I mention the 6 hours of music?

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