16th May 2020

Well, my track-a-day lockdown project didn’t get very far, which usually happens with me. I remember 11 years ago when I started recording Safernoc and was giving blog updates on a daily basis and then disappeared again until the album was finished, eight months later.

Nerra Ninna Noak came out a couple of weeks ago, on the wonderful Time Released Sound. The limited boxset sold out in two days, and the response so far seems very positive. There are still digipaks and downloads available from the TRS Bandcamp. Listening back now, it feels like a step on from Arboretum, more spacious in some ways, more dense in others. Unlike that album, NNN took a lot of moulding and shaping and editing and reworking to get into its final version. It started off as a much weirder sound collage, a touch of the darkness of Melkur with some of my FSOL influence sprinkled on top. Needless to say, the final version is a dramatic improvement and it’s an album I’m enormously happy with.

Speaking of Melkur, I’ve combined both the Borderlands and Enofa editions of that album together on my Bandcamp as I was never entirely comfortable having them separate. The albums are about 50% the same and deserve to be heard side-by-side. Anyone who previously bought the album can re-download and get a copy of both albums.

Despite not continuing with the track-a-day project, I have been working quite a lot on music over the past month or so. The result was, in some ways, the opposite of what I was planning: I’ve basically scrapped the best part of an album’s worth of recordings. The music itself was actually quite good, I think, but the whole thing just didn’t feel right. As I was recording it felt very much like I was covering ground I’d been over multiple times, recorded in exactly the same manner as Myosphere, Holosphere and the forthcoming Paxanimi. I’ve always been fairly open about my need to continually move forward – indeed, it was this that set up the idea of challenging myself to do new things in my abandoned track-a-day project last month – and while the tracks I was working on were great, I didn’t feel like they reflected me now, and I was ultimately left unsatisfied. Indeed, a lot of the work I’ve completed in the past few years has been of a specific type: dense, multi-coloured works with tons going on in them. The music has been full of greens, yellows, reds and other bright colours, with complex patterns and grains in the imagery. I feel somewhat worn out by this approach. I feel like returning to a plainer palette, with washes of greys and dark blues. In hindsight, this exact feeling is something I was beginning to explore on Arboretum and Nerra Ninna Noak, both of which are among my best works and probably the pieces from the last five years of which I am most proud. Coming to this conclusion actually filled me with a feeling of excitement and vitality, the like of which I’ve not had when it comes to my own music for some time, so I feel it’s probably the right decision.

Before all that, however, there is still Paxanimi to deal with, which is currently slated for release in June as a run of 30 cassettes on Doom Chakra. The artwork has been finalised and I believe copies are in the process of being manufactured. Keep an eye on social media for that. It’s one of the dense, multi-coloured works, but still a record I’m very happy with. Once it’s out, it’ll be a bit of a clean slate as I currently have no completed tracks and only a couple of vague sketches moving forward. Whatever approach my next work takes, it won’t be out until next year I imagine.

It’s taken a few weeks, but I’m gradually getting used to the current lockdown situation. The government have eased it this week, and the ‘R’ rate has shot back up again, so I imagine we’ll be back where we were pretty soon. I’m using the time to work through the rather large backlog of books I have (currently ploughing through Tolkien’s Middle Earth books) and revisiting albums I’ve not given enough time to in the past. In particular, Autechre’s work of the last decade. Ae albums always take some time to digest, and one thing or another has prevented me from dedicating the time needed to process the last few, so Exai, elseq and the NTS Sessions in particular have been on my CD player. I also realised, for the first time, just how good Untilted is. Only took 15 years.

I hope everyone is well out there and that you’re all keeping safe! x

4th April 2020

No new track today, as such, but an old one. This piece was recorded some time ago, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how to finish it. Guitar, synth, field recordings. I kept thinking it needs something else: another layer, a main melody, a beat… anything. Plenty of times in the past I’d have been happy with how it stands, but in the past three or so years I’ve kept pushing myself to add more layers, complexity, sounds, sections to my music. At the same time, I’ve been noticing that so much of my favourite music is actually very stripped back and minimal, and wanting to make music like that myself.

So today I challenged myself to leave this track. To let it be as it is. Listening to it again, I like it. It doesn’t need more to make it complete. It is what it is. It’s a quite dark sounding piece. It’s called Good Night Moonlight. Enjoy!

3rd April 2020

I wrote a year roundup post in December, in which I looked with hope at 2020. A quarter of the way through the year and obviously that’s all changed dramatically. With most of the world experiencing some form of social lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we face a situation that few imagined would happen. At this point, nobody knows what will be the situation in a month, or six months, or a year. It’s been challenging for most of us, myself included. And, like many others, I’ve taken the opportunity to try and do something meaningful with this period of enforced isolation.

Last year, I wrote comparatively little music. I started the year with a bit of a creative burst, but most of the rest of the year was spent sorting through this music, and other things I’d been working on for the six months prior to that. Because of this, up to today, I’d not actually worked on any new music for about a year. There are a number of reasons for this, but probably the main one is a feeling of dissatisfaction from not really pushing myself. Both Nerra Ninna Noak and Paxanimi are albums I’m very happy with, but neither offered me much new from a creative perspectives: they were both made using techniques and ideas I’d previously perfected. The same can be said of an album I recently completed, which ties up the material from an album I started working on before I started Enofa. Almost every album I’ve made in the past 20 years has been me attempting something different, compositionally and/or production-wise. Some people like to perfect and master an approach, but I get really bored if I’m not trying something new.

So when I started a track today, within 20 minutes I felt pretty unhappy. A nice synth pad – very ’90s, not from a Juno clone but certainly not a dissimilar sound – and a twinkly minor key melody. So far, so me. I almost gave up, knowing that I’d just end up doing the same things as usual. But then I decided to consciously challenge myself and do something different. So instead of a mellow beat, an acoustic drum loop, or indeed no rhythm track at all, I decided to put in a harsh sounding drum beat. It’s not actually particularly experimental or odd, but it’s not something I’d normally do. Maybe because I can sometimes be too precious about my music these days (unlike the past: back when I dreamed of actually having a ‘fanbase’, I loved the idea of throwing in stylistic surprises to confuse people). And suddenly the track came to life and went off in an unexpected direction. It sounds a lot more modern than I thought it would, and less overtly a ’90s throwback. And then I decided to put some guitar on it. I’ve not really used my electric guitar in my music for a long time. Last time I recorded any new electric guitar parts was nearly five years ago. So that was another very different approach for me.

I’m pretty happy with the track. It’s not a masterpiece, it’s not one of my best, but there’s a nice tune and, most importantly for me, it doesn’t just sound like a clone of something else I’ve done ten times before. It sounds like this:

So I decided I’m going to (try and) work on some music every day. And I’m going to experiment. Not everything is going to be very good. But I’m going to try something new each time, push my personal boundaries and move outside my comfort zone. Because I’m tired of opening up a DAW, playing around and realising I’m totally uninspired by what I’m making. I might write about each piece as it comes along, and upload the whole thing or a clip. Who knows, maybe an album might even come together at the end of the whole thing!

30th December 2019

Well, if the end of a year is a good enough reason to reminisce for a while, I suppose the end of a decade is equally worthy. Musically it’s been a fairly ridiculous and frequently difficult time for me: this time ten years ago, I’d just finished my third proper album, and was recording a couple of EPs for release in early 2010. In the years since, I’ve released somewhere in the region of a hundred records, although only 22 remain on my Bandcamp. This probably sums up my lack of quality control, my anxiety regarding my own music, and the change in the music industry reflecting how easy it is to ‘release’ music at this point in time. I’ve also released ten collaborative records, and been through four main aliases and countless side projects.

That said, the decade ended with my quietest year since 2009, with only one collaborative remix album released. And although I do have two albums lined up for next year now, I think the future will definitely be slower in general, with less emphasis on side-projects, EPs, experiments and such, and really trying to focus on putting a lot of effort into creating worthwhile ‘main’ albums.

2010 and 2011 were years of real confusion, as I basically put out everything I made – and ended up hating my own creativity so much I ended Second Thought as a project.
2012 was a bit of a reset button, going back to guitar, piano and four-track, and working on a series of albums I described as ‘ruralist’ (name borrowed from Andy of The Glimmer Room).
2013-2014 saw me minimalising this set up down to electro-acoustic drones, before building it up with synths and moving back towards an electronic sound more reminiscent of what I’d been doing in the past.
2015 was the start of International Debris, with a range of electronic records in different styles.
2016-2017 found me struggling with identity once again, playing with lots of different approaches but generally trying to fit in with the burgeoning vaporwave scene with which I found myself associated.
2018 marked the end of International Debris with a very retrospective album, Exteriors, and the conclusion of the heavily sample-based Sphere trilogy. By this point, the project had become bogged down with too much crap, much like Second Thought had. The end of the year features my first two releases as Enofa, including Arboretum, which is probably my most successful album to date in terms of personal satisfaction, sales, and critical / listener response.
2019 featured no releases because of a return of self-doubt, in many ways fuelled by the success of Arboretum. I recently found peace with this, however, and may have cracked the problem that’s been recurring for the last decade. I feel very confident that, going into the 2020s, my music will be satisfying and consistent.

I’ve come up with a list of the ten records I’m happiest with from the past decade, in chronological order:

Canal Seven
Leaf Pass
East of Evening
Eyebrook
cer
Anxiety
Ambisphere
Holosphere
Arboretum
Melkur

That’s split fairly evenly: two Second Thought, three Ross Baker, three International Debris and two Enofa. And regardless of everything else that happened in these ten years, I’m incredibly happy to have made these records. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a similar list the next time I write a decade-ending post.

22nd December 2019

It’s been a funny old year. My mental health’s been all over the place, there have been some astonishing changes within the UK, and I’ve not actually released a solo record. That makes it the first year since 2006 that I’ve not put any of my own music out, and the first since 2009 that I’ve not released what I’d consider a ‘major’ album. Some of that has tied in with the mental health issue: I actually send out some demos late last year, but my drastic drop in self-confidence meant that two tapes that were due in the first half of 2019 were scrapped because I just wasn’t happy with the music. That material is still mostly lying around on the computer waiting for some sort of home. Maybe one day.

Which isn’t to say that no music at all has come out. The very, very long-awaited Middlemarch remix album came out. The record started life as a very different thing, and the final version owes a lot more to Dimitris than myself, but it’s certainly something. And there have been odd tracks here and there – a compilation track on No Problema Tapes, and remixes for three friends: epitomeZero, Nonlocal Forecast and Nmesh. Those last two remixes are, I feel, two of the best tracks I’ve worked on to date, so I’m really happy about them if nothing else.

The last, and biggest, track of the year was ‘Missing Skies‘, the first release from Apertures, my new collaboration with Brian Dougans from FSOL. It was released as part of the superb Touched by Silence release from Touched. We’re working on our debut record, which will come along at some point in the next couple of years.

Still, the last full release of my own was in November 2018, which is a very long gap for me. This will be rectified in the spring, as I can now confirm two albums will be released in the first half of 2020: a collagey ambient cassette called Paxanimi on Doom Chakra Tapes in April, and what is, in many ways, a follow-up to Arboretum, called Nerra Ninna Noak, which will be released on Time Released Sound. I’m very happy to be working with Colin and Maria again on what will be my third TRS release – the label is beginning to feel like a home for my ambient-acoustic work! And Doom Chakra are a great little label who really get what I’m going for with Paxanimi.

So there’s a lot to look forward to next year. I feel like I’ll be ready to return to working on music in the new year, hopefully, on material that may well come out at the start of 2021, so ideally there won’t be too many long gaps like this again! I’ve made my peace with many of the demons that were haunting my creativity and think I have much more perspective on my own music now.

If my own output was not notable this year, then other artists’ work certainly was. I have a Top 15 albums this year, and this is the first time in as long as I can remember that I bought that many records that I believe will stay with me on regular rotation for a long time – normally that accolade covers seven or eight albums maximum. Those albums, in vague order:

Underworld – Drift Series 1
Desperate Journalist – In Search of the Miraculous
The Future Sound of London – Yage 2019
The Divine Comedy – Office Politics
Confluent Phase – Ad Astra
Aurora – A Different Kind of Human (Step 2)
Idlewild – Interview Music
A Winged Victory for the Sullen – The Undivided Five
Mikron – Severance
Humanoid – Built by Humanoid
Sigrid – Sucker Punch
Ariana Grande – thank u, next
36 – Dreamloops
Michele Rabbia / Gianluca Petrella / Eivind Aarset – Lost River
Off Land – Field Tangents

I’m starting 2020 with a holiday abroad – for the first time in 16 years – and then getting down to the serious business of sorting my life out. There’s lots to do, but I think I’ve got a better idea of how to do them than I have in quite some time. So overall, despite everything that’s happened recently, I do feel positive for the future. Some progress with my life, two album releases, and hopefully some new music behind the scenes – here’s to a great start to the next decade.

I hope everyone has a wonderful festive season. xxx

12th November 2019

It’s been quite a long time since I fully enjoyed writing and recording an album. For ages, it was the norm to set to work on an album, generally enjoy the process of creating it, and come out with a record that I mostly liked and largely expressed what I was hoping to express with it. I’ve written a lot in the past about my faltering confidence with my own music, and there have been moments of considerable self-doubt in the past few years. Nevertheless, it’s only really been the last maybe two years where the pleasure has become eclipsed by the difficulty. Arboretum somehow came together very quickly in that time, and I’m exceptionally proud of it, and the really positive response it received. Otherwise, however, I have to admit that it’s been exceptionally difficult, and never more so than the past few months, in which every piece of music I make has concluded with a feeling of absolute relief that I’m no longer working on it, and a sense of not being capable of making something I’m actually happy with.

A lot of it is to do with how I work. In October 2001, I was given a pirate copy of Fruityloops by a friend, and with this recorded the demo album The Bird That Sings at Night. It was around two years later that I made my last track in the software, as I was tired of the same approach. I recorded the second half of the Vacuum Road Songs sessions in Logic, which remained for Safernoc and 60º South, before I grew tired of sequencing VSTis. Since then I’ve made purely electronic music in Reason, played around with drones in Ableton Live, moved on to acoustic music recorded to 4-track tape, worked with both purely sample-based music and MIDI-sequenced stuff in Reaper, made albums entirely out of hardware synths, and frequently played with sound collage techniques.

In short, I’m very fickle with my creative process and get bored easily. I’ve worked on a lot of music in the 18 months since I completed Melkur, and although I can admit that some of it is pretty good, I’ve not found it a fulfilling process. In fact, I’d say this is the case for almost everything I’ve made in the past five years. There have been real moments of inspiration and satisfaction, but most of the time I’ve found it exceptionally difficult, and a lot of this is down to boredom. I need to try something new, but I honestly don’t know where to go next.

This partially factors into why it’s been a year since my last release (my longest gap in releases since 2009). There will be music next year. There’ll likely be a couple of albums: one already has a label, and I think I’m very close to sorting out the remaining tracks into something resembling a work I won’t be ashamed to release. But after that… I literally have no idea where I am, creatively. If I stay in the same place that I’m in now, then that album will probably be my last. But I doubt I will, I’m sure I’ll fight my way out of this and find something new and exciting to do. But until I find that new thing, it’s a weird and slightly scary place to be in.

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of FSOL, R.E.M., Underworld and various bits from FAX and ECM. That’s quite a lot of capital letters.

13th March 2019

It’s been an incredibly long time since I last wrote a full proper journal entry, which is kind of unusual, but there we go. Last thing I wrote was introducing The Borderlands, last June. Since then I’ve started up another new project, Enofa, and in the process accidentally consigned The Borderlands to almost-non-existent side-project. There’ll probably be a few compilation tracks, and there’s a tape with an early demo version of Melkur coming along, but otherwise that’s yer lot I think.

As Enofa I released two albums at the end of last year. Arboretum was released on Time Released Sound in two beautiful hand-made packages (both sold out now), and featured on a few end-of-year lists (including A Closer Listen’s top 10 ambient albums feature), which was absolutely wonderful. It also received airplay on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction programme. It sold out very quickly and I’m just really overwhelmed by the positive response the album received. It was swiftly followed by a self-released album, Melkur, which is much darker, generally a sound collage piece which I’d spent ages working on (initially as The Borderlands), and I wanted to just sort of get out there. It’s a free / pay-what-you-want download on the Enofa Bandcamp, and CDrs are available too.

I’m really happy with both of the albums, and they feel almost like a creative rejuvenation, in that both came totally naturally without any real worries about style or approach or anything: just instinct. My best music has always come from instinct, and that definitely benefitted both of those. Since I finished Melkur last September I’ve been dabbling with various sounds and styles and working on new bits, but nothing solid is ready to go yet. I’m quite enjoying taking a bit of time to just work at my own pace, as for the past few years I’ve always seemed to have multiple projects on the go. I’m currently working through arranging and organising my sample library, which mostly involves renaming and sorting through a few thousand files and putting them into folders so I have everything in places, and finding new sounds. I’ve actually discovered a huge load of samples, noises, even whole unfinished tracks from the past that I had no idea I even had (as well as a few things I don’t recognise at all and can’t even guarantee are by me). I think I’m most comfortable working with audio and collaging – it’s how I started making music, with tapes, and collaging and arranging is always my favourite aspect of working on an album – so after a few years of jamming around with synths and hardware, largely to much anxiety, it’s actually really nice to be able to get back to working in a way that suits me. The past few years have largely been dominated by enjoying making music but not being happy with the final thing, or making music I like but hating the process, so returning to a way that covers both ends for me is a really positive move. I just need to ensure I’m able to still explore new ideas and approaches within this area. Either way, having a neatly organised sample library will enable me to spend more time on creating and less time on looking for sounds while I should be arranging them.

Health-wise, I feel like I’m close to full recovery from the mental health problems I’ve been suffering with for the past nine years. I have a job interview next week – the first job I’ve applied for in six years and straight to interview stage! – and am looking to move to Birmingham this year. Exploring the city in recent times has revealed a lot more interesting stuff going on than I knew was there, so hopefully that should be a good move.

Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of guitar-based stuff for the first time in years. The Manics, James, Wolf Alice, Idlewild, and the new Desperate Journalist album. One of these days I’ll properly get to work on the third Curse of Kevin Carter album. And otherwise, FSOL and a bunch of beautiful ECM albums. As usual.

RIP Mark Hollis

RIP Mark Hollis.
I spent the first half of 2012 working on an album that eventually came out under the name Photographic Reflection. At the time I’d been listening to Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock and Mark Hollis’s solo album pretty intensely, and they had a profound influence on the album. I have books of notes about the album, and it was originally going to be structured as six long tracks. Although that never came to be, much of Hollis’s influence can still be found. The long gaps of silence between many of the tracks were a direct homage to his solo record. Both Talk Talk and his solo material featured frequently in the mixes I made around the time.
I’m devastated to hear of Hollis’s death today, at the young age of 64. Few artists stuck to their guns and shunned commercialism in the way he did, simply bringing his career to a conclusion after a solo recording, deciding he had nowhere else to go in the world of recorded music, and choosing instead to spend time with his family. His occasional interviews from the 1990s were beautiful pieces, full of rare insight from an extraordinary mind. He may have been silent to the public – a 50 second piece of film music aside – for the past 20 years, but the knowledge that he is no longer with us is still deeply saddening.

Introducing The Borderlands

Over the past six weeks I’ve reissued 30 of my past releases on CDr, including the bulk of my solo material, plus all of my collaborative albums as part of Captain Busby, Sturmazdale and Winter of the World. These will be available for the foreseeable future on my Bandcamp. It’s been nice revisiting my back catalogue, as there are many albums here I’d not listened to in a few years. In particular it was enjoyable going back over the collabs – I think those Sturmazdale and Winter of the World albums are unfairly overlooked, by myself as much as anyone. Some music I’m really proud of there.
 
During the brief period that I was considering doing more fleshed out, expanded reissues, I began to work on some tentative liner notes to accompany them. Getting back into the headspace that accompanied these old albums played a big part in my decision to make my forthcoming album Holosphere the last International Debris album. Just over four years ago I wrote about feeling ready to get back into making expansive electronic music again after spending a few years mostly working with low-scale, acoustic based ruralist ambience. Since then I’ve recorded Bathe in the Lights of Distant Cities and the Sphere trilogy, the latter being basically the albums I dreamed of making for years. With this achieved, I’m heading off into different territories and a new project.
 
One specific thing I got from delving back into past headspaces was the desire to have my own musical language. I remember, when I was working on Purlieu in late 2002, I actually put the four-to-the-floor kick in ‘Tsohg’ as a joke, to see how people would react to having an overtly dancey sound in my music, and also a nod to the fact that I’d started out making eurotrance type material. There was a fairly conscious decision on Purlieu to move away from beats and dance music, and during the initial planning sections for Vacuum Road Songs, the album was going to be almost entirely beatless ambience. Due to the creative block leading to the absorption of several projects into that album, it ended up being mostly rhythmic, and owing much to various existing genres. This inadvertently ended up shaping much of my music over the following ten years, and while I’m very happy of most of my beat-based material, I always find it sounds less individual or unique to myself, like I’m speaking somebody else’s musical language. So I decided to take the mindset I was in back in 2003 as a jumping off point for the future, exploring possibilities of where I might have headed had I continued the stylistic path I’d begun. It’s not an attempt to re-write history, but an opportunity to take my music in new directions. There are hints of this in what I’ve made since then – Leaf Pass and East of Evening feel close – but it will be different to the bulk of my material from 2007 onwards.
 
This is all the context with which I announce that, from here on, my solo electronic / experimental music will be released solely under the name The Borderlands.

16th April 2018

I’ve always been drawn to the chronology of things, being able to look back over periods of time and identify the evolution of an idea, a sound, a place. For a while now I’ve felt like I’ve been coming to the end of a particular era of my music, and have been tying things up in a faintly subconscious way. Arachnidiscs have just announced pre-orders for my new CD Exteriors, which sold out its limited run fairly quickly and has gone onto a second run already. That’s a compilation of pieces that never quite found a home, an album I’d wanted to make for ages portraying a normal everyday town situation, rather than the rural / exotic / surreal soundscapes I normally end up making. There are some very old tracks on it, so in some way it’s of a kin with Leaf Pass, but overall I’m really happy to have finally made this little record that’s been eluding me for such a long time now. You can pick that up from the Arachnidiscs Bandcamp.

Otherwise I’m now just sorting out label stuff for Holosphere, the final piece of the Sphere trilogy of that started with Ambisphere and Myosphere. It’s not too dissimilar in mood, although is the most rhythm-based of the three. The trilogy is born of my love of ’90s ambient, particularly the heavily sample-based end of it a la FSOL and The Orb. Sometime down the line once I have the rights to Ambisphere back I’ll be doing a nice 3CD box of those. In the meantime, Myosphere is down to the last four tapes on No Problema, so this is probably your last chance to grab that.

Holosphere runs a little like this:
01. Ladybird Spider
02. Verdant Sphinx
03. Blades of Grass
04. Baby Universe
05. Cromagnon
06. The Mauve Raven
07. Pargeons
08. Distance Collapse
09. Spacemoth
10. Little Leaf
11. Retrofire

To coincide with this, I’m also going to be reissuing my entire back catalogue on CDr. I had had plans to work on some nice deluxe 2CD reissues, but the time and money involved would mean the whole campaign would drag out over a few years, and frankly it’s not so healthy to be putting all that much effort into the past when I could be putting it into the present. So instead I’m going to make all of my out-of-print releases available on CDr again. In all applicable cases, these will be the same issues as were on sale on my Bandcamp for a limited time a couple of years back, only with slightly updated artwork (all will be credited to International Debris). There are also several which  have not received a CD or any physical release before, and some of these will be expanded editions. I’m hoping to have those ready by the end of May.

After that there’ll be a bit of a break while I start to work out how to translate all the ideas in my head into new sounds.

I’ve been helping out restart the Terminal project after a couple of years of silence. Season 3 of Terminal Radio is coming later this year, and there are some very big names involved. I’ve been working on mixes for that so I’ll be popping up and hopefully some artists I’ve invited along will be too. Once that’s settled in we’ll be looking at where to take Terminal as a collective and label, hopefully with physical releases and art editions somewhere down the line…

And while I’ve not been doing all that, I’ve been keeping myself busy working on my FSOL wiki.