Artist: John Baker
Album: The John Baker Tapes Vol.1
This has been a beserk listening experience - I know these sounds intimately already, they ping about in some closed off corner of my unconscious, in all our unconsciousness I suspect. These unearthly scrapings and enhanced blocks of musique concrete are the production of John Baker who was part of the pioneering Radiophonic Workshop, set up by the BBC in the 1950s to create music, jingles and incidental sound for its burgeoning media network. The inevitable thing to mention here is Delia Derbyshire's astonishing Doctor Who soundtrack, which came out of the workshop in 1963, but that was but one piece among many thousands (there are reportedly 4,000 hours of archived tape at Maida Vale) and the workshop was precisely that - a foundry of produced sound, with pieces created to meet demand as and when it came. So in some sense this is experimentation bridled by convention - an unsual working arrangment which probably accounts for the hit and miss nature of some of the pieces. But that isn't to detract from the sheer sonic invention on display here, and the almost uncanny way obvious everyday sounds are distorted and refracted to fit a purpose. It's no wonder that this at times expressionless 'music' has been such an influence on our received sonic palette. Just check the Dial M For Murder track below. I think Richard D James may have been listening...
Artist: John Baker
Album: The John Baker Tapes Vol.2
There are two discs to this set and it can become slightly cloying after a while, but as an artefact it does expand beyond the boundaries of mere nostalgia - not always, certainly - the second disc particularly has some teeth-curling light jazz moments, but there are sequence when this tips into something more than just time-capsule whimsy, indeed when it feels as if this is created from some anterior present, some other place removed from the usual grasping of our critical faculties. We should be thankful to the mighty Trunk for putting it together.
Download: John Baker - Dial M For Murder
I will say that there are many infinitely better qualified people than me to expound on this stuff and a good deal of excellent pieces around. Below are a few well worth reading.
Woebot on the Radiophonic Workshop
A piece on the same by Robin Carmody
And Simon Reynold's recent piece from The Guardian
Two excellent reviews of this release.
And finally the press release from Trunk which includes a poignant biography of John Baker by his brother Richard Anthony Baker. If any music ever resisted biography it must be this, yet strangely this piece adds an unusual, unsettling texture to the work.
The John Baker Tapes Vols 1 + 2
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