Interview: Aidan Baker
Shaping sound into form, slowing things down, making things meditative, but attempting to retain a sense or hint of chaos within the tenuous structure of the songs.
Aidan Baker is one of the hardest working artists out there. During the last few months this now Berlin-based artist and writer has been touring with not only one but two of his projects, Nadja and Hypnodrone Ensemble, and releasing a few albums along the way. In between gigs, Aidan found a snippet of time to answer a few questions about the tour, releases and more…
E&D: Thanks for doing this interview. It’s been a while since our last interview back in 2021. So much has happened since then, including playing shows! At that time no one was sure when that would happen again. You must be pretty happy to be touring again?
Aidan: Touring again is a bit of a mixed experience, actually…yes, it is nice to be able to play live again and share music with people in person, but things have changed a lot post-pandemic which makes touring all the more difficult. This can be on the production side of things, as a lot of venues and promoters were adversely affected—though that depends where, as some cities/countries were more supportive of their cultural and arts institutions than others. Mostly, though, travel itself is not as easy as it used to be, which might seem like a little thing in the context of touring, but it’s all the machinations of touring that make it difficult in the first place.
E&D: I’ve heard through the grapevine that it’s been difficult playing shows in the UK. Have you had any issues on that front?
Aidan: It has always been relatively difficult playing in the UK for me—post-pandemic is not any better, as it was certainly not one of those places that was especially supportive of its arts and cultural community. It is more difficult now for European bands to play there, yes, but the entry requirements remain the same for me as a non-European as they were before Brexit happened, so nothing really has changed for me when it comes to touring in England. From my perspective Brexit seems to be more detrimental to British musicians and labels—it is harder for them to tour abroad and people are much less willing to buy music from the UK. It seems a lot of smaller, independent musicians and labels—like my friends at Gizeh Records, for example—have really suffered and struggled to maintain operations post-Brexit.
E&D: Since the start of 2023 you’ve been pretty busy with releases and touring. Can we start with your touring schedule? You’re not only touring as a solo artist but also with Nadja and the Hypnodrone Ensemble. How did you coordinate all that and stay sane?
Aidan: It was a challenge staying sane! I don’t normally book so many dates with different acts so close together, but this was mostly a case of responding to various invitations to play which all happened to be close together. Summers are usually not so busy for us (because I/we aren’t exactly summer festival bands), but I’m doing a few solo shows over the summer and a short tour in England. Nadja has a small EU tour in September, including a couple shows supporting Sunn O))), then we will be in Japan again in November.
E&D: Is there a possibility of adding any North American dates to the tour schedule?
Aidan: Well…probably not. We have not played in the US since 2018—mostly because entry requirements and travelling in America is so difficult and expensive—but we do try to play Montreal and Toronto every couple years, at least. We have been working on setting up a tour in Mexico, where we’ve never played before, which will hopefully happen in early 2024.
E&D: In March, Hypnodrone Ensemble released its latest album, The Signal In The Signal via Trepanation Recordings. It’s another beautiful release by you and the band. Can you tell us a bit about the recording process for this release? I read that it was recorded live. Did you already have a theme or path in mind before recording?
Aidan: The very minimal and simple bedtrack of the album was recorded live by myself on bass and Angela Martinez Muñoz on drums, which was then shared around with the other musicians to add their parts to, even those who live in Berlin (much of this was happening during various lockdowns). I did want to specifically record something long-form and repetitive, and after sharing an appreciation of Tony Conrad’s album The Dream Syndicate with Kristin Sebastian (who played drums on the previous album, but viola on this one), we wanted to explore something that delved deeply into minimalism and repetition. The live bedtrack of drums and bass did establish a certain core sound to the album from the outset, but the track changed and evolved, of course, as the other players added their contributions to the recording.
We were able to record live in person on an off-day in Prague on our recent tour, which was the first time we were able to do so in several years, as the last two releases were both done via file-sharing. So there will be a new Hypnodrone album at some point in the near future, after we do some editing and mixing of what we captured.
E&D: On May 9th, you had another release come out, this time via Gizeh records. The project is called Trio Not Trio and it’s the first in a series of five releases. The first is titled Yn Gyntaf and features yourself along with American drummer John Colpitts and British vocalist Stacy Taylor. Can you tell us a bit more about this series and how it came about?
Aidan: Trio Not Trio is a series of albums recorded using the same methodology: myself and another Berlin musician recorded an improvisational set together as a duo and then shared those recordings online with another musician elsewhere around the world to contribute a third part. I then mixed and edited the recordings down to approximately one hour long, choosing some of the best material but trying to maintain the sound and feel of the spontaneity of both the original session and the file-sharing additions. This was an attempt to explore different approaches to making music, combining the immediacy of in-person playing with the necessarily more limited/less immediate approach to working collaboratively with other musicians online.
In the end, I was able to do five sessions with the following musicians: Sofia Salvo (AR – baritone sax), Rohan Rebeiro (AUS – from My Disco – drums/percussion), Jana Sotzko (DE – from Point No Point, Hald Silks – drums), MJ Guider (US – guitar/bass/electronics), Tim Wyskida (US – from Khanate, Blind Idiot God, Insect Ark – drums), Daron Beck (US – from Pinkish Black – keyboards), Stacy Talyor (UK – aka Sarrf – vocals), John Colpitts (US – aka Kid Millions, from Oneida, Man Forever – drums), Tobias Humble (UK – from Lawns, Gang of Four, Tricky – drums), Ayami Suzuki (JP – aka Sand Fountain – electronics/voice).
Gizeh Records will release the albums as a limited series of CDs over the course of this year, available individually and in a special edition boxset.
E&D: On May 5th, you also had a solo album being released via Midira Records titled Engenderine. I read that the song titles for this album are from a few books you’ve read. One is written by Lidia Yuknavitch titled The Book of Joan and the other two are written by Tricia Sullivan titled Sound Mind & Double Vision. I have not read the books but I have read excerpts for each. They each describe a world in chaos, to sum it up simply. Can you tell us more about how these books inspired you to write and record this album?
Aidan: I think the common thread between these three books is that the characters have the ability to manipulate the fabric of reality—in The Book of Joan through supernatural or post-human abilities, and the Sullivan books through amplification or distortion of the senses, auditory and visual, hence the titles. This manipulation is something of an attempt to control or harness the chaos of the world, shaping and directing it in a positive and less destructive manner…which I was sort of attempting to do musically with these songs. Shaping sound into form, slowing things down, making things meditative, but attempting to retain a sense or hint of chaos within the tenuous structure of the songs.
E&D: Once Engenderine was completed, did you re-read the books with the album playing in the background (on repeat of course)?
Aidan: No, I didn’t…but probably should do so! Though there are still other books by both authors that I haven’t read yet.
E&D: Since being back on the road, what have been your most memorable moments so far?
Aidan: While I/we have toured extensively around the world over the years, there are still places we have not been to before. In March we were able to play a few new cities in the Balkans—Mostar, Sarajevo, Belgrade, for example—and it was quite interesting to see these cities and meet people living there.
E&D: Lastly, aside from the Trio Not Trio series, do you have anything else coming up for release this year?
Aidan: We are releasing a vinyl edition of Nadja’s 2016 album Sv, previously only available on CD from Essence Records, in September with Broken Spine. And there will be a collaborative album with the grind/mathcore band Fawn Limbs coming out later in the fall on Wolves And Vibrancy/Roman Numeral Records.
Photo credit: Jahvo Joza
11.06.23 – L’esspace, Paris, FR
14.06.23 – Schokoladen, Berlin, DE
18.08.23 – Strom Am Mittag, Zurich, CH
07.09.23 – Ausland, Berlin, DE
13.09.23 – The Peer Hat, Manchester, UK
14.09.23 – The Bishop’s House, Sheffield, UK
15.09.23 – St John On Bethnal Green, London, UK
13.06.23 – The Truth About Helga, Schaubude, Berlin, DE
04.09.23 – Paradiso, Amsterdam, NL – w/ Sunn O))))
19.09.23 – Muffathalle, Munich, DE – w/ Sunn O))))
20.09.23 – A Way, Liestal, CH
21.09.23 – Rote Fabrik, Zurich, CH – w/ Sunn O))))
22.09.23 – Ballonfabrik, Augsburg, DE
23.09.23 – Kantine Am Berghain, Berlin, De – w/ Uochi Toki
13.07.23 – Urban Spree, Berlin, DE