March 31, 2009
US CD Killer Pimp PIMPK009
Recorded & mixed by Aidan Baker & Eric Quach
Photography by Christy Romanick
Drawings by Eric Quach
Aidan Baker is a musician and writer from Toronto, Canada. Classically trained in flute, he is self-taught on guitar, drums, and various other instruments. Baker has released numerous CDs on independent labels from around the world and is also the author of three books of poetry. As a solo artist, Baker explores the deconstructive sonic possibilities of the electric guitar as a primary sound source, creating music that ranges from experimental/ambient to post-rock to contemporary classical. In addition to his solo work, Baker performs with the trios ARC and Whisper Room and the duo Nadja.
Eric Quach is a Montreal-based guitarist and sound engineer who is also a founding member of the instrumental rock band Destroyalldreamers. As Thisquietarmy, a one-man solo drone/ambient project, Quach composes visual guitar-based soundscapes and experimental music that goes beyond the typical song structure. Thisquietarmy performs live regularly throughout Canada and the USA, and has played with Ulrich Schnauss, Olafur Arnalds, Tim Hecker, Troum, Nadja & Caspian just to name a few.
Their first studio collaboration was the Orange EP which came out as a limited edition of 200 orange CDRs on thisquietarmy's own imprint. The tracks were recorded separately from their home, sent back and forth via postmail for months, and finally mixed and edited by Eric Quach. The release was quickly sold out, much to the dismay of the largely reputed Aquarius Records store who kept asking for more after having sold a large part of the run in a very short matter of time.
For their first full-length album, Baker & Quach have decided to do things differently by setting a simple rule beforehand: the record was to be played and recorded live together, adding a very minimal amount of overdubs if not any. The recording session took place in the fall of 2007, in Quach's own home studio TQA-HQ in Montreal. Because of their very busy schedule, it took about a year before the two artists decided to get together to work on these tracks again. This time, Baker finalized the mixes in his home studio, resulting again in four long movements, clocking at around an hour's length. Instead of the overall terror-ambient feel of their first collaboration, the first two tracks actually find both guitarists exploring the brighter side of their spectrum, evoking the hope and the beauty represented in Christy Romanick's photographs that were again used for the artwork, in conjunction with Quach's sketches.
Perhaps it was just a lovely sunny day when the recording took place. However, the sounds shift around darker tones in the second half, reaching as much of a party groove that ambient could ever reach, to end in a much somber mood evoking late-night exhaustion migraines and disturbed sleeps.
Somewhere between Popul Vuh's stunning vistas and Robin Storey's remarkable minimalism is Aidan Baker [Nadja] and Thisquietarmy's [Eric Quach] sonic picture of the heavens. And everything folded between it. This is music for driving with the mind's eye and laval lamps. Oh, and Nag Champa. From the curative "Imagistic Continuity" to the almost-menacing "Horizon Line,' A Picture of a Picture has no starting or end. Step in anywhere and journey off the map. - Chris Dick, Decibel
Following last year marvellous Orange Ep A Picture Of A Picture seals the collaborations between ambient master Aidan Baker and Destroyalldreamers quitarist Eric Quach. Four long tracks for sixty minutes of incredible droning music. Baker and Quach built huge cathedrals of sound that cover everything below. It's like the canadians found another common language to communicate: the music slowly flows from the guitars and elegantly climbs on great constructions. The climax reaches an high on "Negative Space." The following and closing track "Horizon Line" gets an incredible aquatic feel. Wonderful release. - Roberto Mandolini, Losing Today
So this is what Aidan Baker is up to when he's not creating Foucault-does-doom via the Cure's "Pornography" in Nadja with partner Leah Buckareff. With THISQUIETARMY (aka Eric Quach of Destroyalldreamers) at his side this time around, Baker creates airy, pillowy-soft, self-regenerating ambient bliss. Creating music that makes "Music For Airports" seem downright noodly, Baker and THISQUIETARMY manipulate sparse patches of watery guitar fuzz, cloudbursts of synth, and naturally occurring electronic sinewaves and pulses to create music that seems like microtonal flowers continually bursting to life, before slowly closing again. Closer listens reveal a much more lyrical bent to this music. The sound manipulators are very much in synch, each trying to out-sad the others with the most melancholy innervision, songs build, but so subtly and quietly you might not even notice it. Gigantic compositions and emotions rendered in quiet miniature. For fans of Brian Eno, Lycia, Harmonia. - Matthew Moyer, Movement
Look at any upcoming release schedule and there's a good chance you'll see Aidan Baker's name three or four times. He's the Robert Pollard of heavy ambient, releasing multiple records a year as part of Nadja, under his real name, and under various other guises. thisquietarmy's Eric Quach, though not as prolific as Aidan Baker and Nadja, is still respected as a purveyor of elegantly dark soundscapes. Their first collaboration, Orange, fell well within what one familiar with their reputations would expect. Filled with edgy, noisy, and droning instrumentals, it felt like a slightly claustrophobic turn inward. Their new collaboration, A Picture of a Picture, is a pleasant surprise, trading in the personal introspection of Orange for an approach which feels wide open and naturalistic. Lead track "Imagistic Continuity" starts things off with a slow fade in, getting up to volume only after a couple of minutes. Beginning with a calm drone which slowly moves up the register, over the course of the track sustained guitar tones are applied to create a slow, pulsing swell, noise spittling through here and there. Halfway through, the guitar tones stop swelling and turn angelically choral as the calm drone in the background picks up some low end and everything gets louder. Though it continues intensifying, it never really breaks wide open, content to spread out and settle in, and then dissolve into a breeze. The end result is a track that conveys in sound the visual progression of a sunrise. The wind segues directly into the next track, "Loss of Perspective", playing off of some eerie guitar tones, both parts slowly oscillating up and down. A third of the way in, the eeriness subsides as the ominous winds are softened by some trebly guitar, like rays of light slowly peeking through shadows, reflecting off of surfaces here and there. As the higher register parts build, they slowly vibrate and percolate, and it feels like the scope of the piece narrows from a broad landscape down to the study of light's component parts, and back out to a stop motion image of clouds passing through the frame to fade out. Where "Loss of Perspective" feels like a slow dissipation, "Negative Space" brings back the pure energy, coming out of the gate with overlapping plucked and delayed notes from high on the neck. After a few minutes, a higher drone starts to assert itself, while a muted pulsing bass figure reveals itself low in the mix and a buzzing drone swirls in and out of the mix. Distorted guitars notch up the intensity and whistling noises bring in another rhythmic element. The distortion ebbs, eventually the drones die down, and finally whistling noises take the track to its conclusion. If opening track "Imagistic Continuity" represents a sunrise, final track "Horizon Line" represents a sunset. But not an earthly sunset as much as a galactic one, as the awesome force of a black hole slowly and assuredly subsumes everything around it. The whistling from the end of the previous song transforms into a quickened pulse that is suggestive of crickets at night. Breathing drones layer over each other interspersed with wispy trills and deeply buried keyboard figures, until the pairing of a rumbling low end accompanied by some seriously chaotic keyboarding gradually gain strength and spread out over the top of everything else with brute force. As the 20-minute track comes to its end it dissolves into stillness, the same calm which began the album 60 minutes earlier. Along with his collaboration with Tim Hecker, Fatasma Parastasie, Aidan Baker is proving to be both a great collaborator and a master of the long-form, ambient soundscape. This is easily one of the most enjoyable efforts I've heard in this vein and it sounds like Baker and Quach brought a focus to this project that is often lacking in highly improvised, long-form instrumentals. Each track on A Picture of a Picture sounds like a successful realization of an idea, and the individual tracks work together as a song cycle which itself sounds like a complete story which makes sense as it plays out over the course of an hour. So chalk up another great collaborative release for Aidan Baker. Now, can someone get him into a recording studio with Fennesz? - Greg Argo, Delusions of Adequacy
Aiden Baker and Thisquietarmy's Eric Quach reconvene on this follow up to their first EP together, "Orange." Rather than relay tracks back and forth through the mail however, this time the duo made a point of working the material out live, with little to no overdubbing involved. What results is a symbiotic approach to drone that is concerned as much with forward momentum as it is with textural elements. Lasting an hour, the disc's four tracks each represent a logical exploration of one element of the unit's sound. The opening "Imagistic Continuity" glistens as the duo's guitars intersect in slow motion iridescence. Combining equal parts Fripp & Eno with an undercurrent of noisier influence, the piece transforms itself continuously as it radiates outward from its opening. The following "Loss of Perspective" immediately inverts itself however, slipping inward as it delves deep into some cavernous patterns of thick, folk strums and cresting tonal waves. There is a proggy, constructive element here that separates the material from your usual drone act, as it manifests itself more closely to a live composition than an overtly drone-oriented work. The result is some of the moodiest drone one is likely to come across, as harmonic progressions drive a dirge-like theme above the crystalline shards intermingling below. The work even begins to take on an almost club-like vibe, with a certain brooding trance feel not so far off from the same forest-of-the-mind traversed by Gas. "Negative Space" once more looks outward, as trickling notes delay and decay around one another, building into a tall cloud of sound whose intricacies are endless and immersive. Each movement, no matter how decisive, is swept into the cyclical center, only to be seen again when another revolution has completed itself. The addition of an amorphous bass line adds to the club feel, pulsing and bobbing in the light of night. Not that this is dance music whatsoever, though maybe the emerald green world of more mysterious creatures believe otherwise. The closing "Horizon Line," the longest work here at 20-minutes, only deepens the nighttime atmospherics of the rest of the disc, albeit in a far more haunting, even sinister, vein. Deepening the blackness, the piece moves through vast swarms of sinuous mental lines whose construction treads on the right side of a fine line between ambient/drone atmospherics and clichéd movie mood setting. Yet the duo exudes such clarity of vision that it is hard to not be swept up in the grandiose nature of the pieces. One for summer nights and firefly fights. 8/10 - Henry Smith, Foxy Digitalis
A Picture of a Picture is exactly what it advertises itself to be, with each of the four tracks focusing in on a particular aspect of visual art while working together to create a more expansive statement. The opener, "Imagistic Continuity", is sort of a reflection on flow. It opens slowly, with a drone so quiet that even repeated listens will have you fidgeting with your volume controls for the first twenty seconds before it swells and gives way to a soundscape of the truest kind. It brings to mind a pleasant Impressionist landscape over the span of twelve minutes before fading into "Loss of Perspective", a morose chord-based movement that perfectly encapsulates the titular concept. Any collaborative effort is a risk. Frequently one artist seems to dominate, or the collaborators will work as if in a vacuum, playing at the same time but not creating together. This is not a problem for Baker or Quach; the two have created something with this effort that clearly belongs to both of the artists' respective zeitgeists, but stands as something that neither could have created alone. Each part of the record (I hesitate to refer to them as individual songs since they work together so well) brings a unique flavour and perspective to the album and makes use of sounds - such as the echo-y fading guitar effect in "Negative Space" - that I've not heard before on any other record. While there's little that can be said to be surprising about this album, it is rife with spirit and a genuineness that many artists seem to be unable to convey. The bottom line is that A Picture of a Picture is an expertly crafted work, conceived and realised by two of the best artists in their field. No effort or detail was spared; the record jumps (gently) out of the speakers and dances around the room for an hour, and when all is said and done, you can't help but feel better for it. - Lee Stablein, The Silent Ballet
The pairing of Nadja's Baker and local one-man drone-meister thisquietarmy recalls the first meetings of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp on this ethereal, dense and haunting masterstroke. Brightness and hope take up the first half of the record before some seriously dark ambience rears its head on the remaining two tracks. A truly glorious listen. 8.5/10 - Johnson Cummins, Montreal Mirror
A Picture of a Picture begins peacefully as if opening its eyes to the dawning day. In "Imagistic Continuity," long, flowing tendrils unfurl beatifically and then slowly escalate in intensity until, six minutes in, the waves of guitar tones start to billow like clouds. The music's gaseous character extends on into track two, the ghostly and even more placid "Loss of Perspective," before "Negative Space" flutters into position, its harp-like plucks soon giving way to steelier atmospheres. The storm hits after about eight minutes, with guitars breathing fire and the duo shooting howling shards in all directions while a lava-hot cauldron churns below. Calm follows in the twenty-one-minute closer "Horizon Line," which is transporting in the best sense of the word. Immense masses of shimmering haze roll forth before slowly swelling into colossal, cyclonic structures at the center of which guitars wail in ecstasy. Needless to say, devotees of guitar-generated soundscaping should regard the release as required listening. - Textura
On "Imagistic Continuity," guitarists Aidan Baker (Nadja) and Eric Quach (thisquietarmy) engage in a slow, careful exploration of texture with full, amorphous tones, which shift, and settle, but never become quite clear. They tease, like delicate spring breeze piecing together thin, white clouds on a clear backdrop of blue, twisting each puff ever so slightly every time a familiar shape comes into view. Then, just as you get comfortable in their audible daydream, just as you feel this pleasant scene could last forever, a second breeze comes and wipes the slate clean. - I Rock Cleveland
Long overdue rematch between Mr. Aidan Baker, who is as you probably know also of Nadja, and Thisquietarmy, whose previous collaboration, Orange, cause quite a stir around here. And it still gets a lot of play at home, it's the perfect hazy moonlight drifting off to never never land sort of dreamy drone record. Almost like M83 with everything removed but that glorious soft buzz. Sorry if you missed out that one, it was limited to 200 copies and is long gone, but the good news is, that A Picture Of A Picture sounds like it could be part two. In fact it sounds like it could very well have been culled from the same sessions that produced Orange. Four long long tracks, each a slow swirling amorphous cloud of gauzy half melodies and thick layered textures, the sound slips from gritty and pixilated, to glistening and soft focus in a heartbeat. These two soundscapers are a fantastic match, it's really impossible to tell who's doing what, and where the work of one ends and the other begins, and it hardly matters, as the two together have created something ethereal and ephemeral, a sun dappled drift, equal parts minimal new age hush, and warm languid dreamdrone shimmer. A few moments find the duo ramping it up, but even then, it's only loud or heavy or intense, relative to the rest of this record, which does in fact spend most of its time hovering, whispering, floating lazing, gradually changing color and shape, it's the musical version of watching clouds drift across a brilliant blue sky, so tranquil and mesmerizing and meditative, even the occasional storm cloud, only serves to infuse the afternoon's siesta with some greys and browns, which perfectly balance the rest of the record's endlessly prismatic palette. So gorgeous. Definitely a new nighttime sonic soporific. Released on Killer Pimp, who also released the Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words cd, reviewed elsewhere on this week's list (psst... it's one of the Records Of The Week!). - Aquarius