On avait connu Marc Baron saxophoniste, notamment au sein d’un quartet composé de Betrand Denzler, Jean-Luc Guionnet et Stéphane Rives. Il semble qu’il ait quelque peu délaissé l’instrument ces derniers temps pour se jeter corps et âme dans la manipulation et le détournement d’éléments sonores. Le résultat de ces recherches apparait désormais sur un CD publié sur le label Potlatch : Hidden Tapes.
Marc Baron nous présente ici une époustouflant montage issu de vieilles cassettes, de sons glanés ou enregistrés. Il les manipule, triture jusqu’à en extraire la substantifique moelle. Le montage final, d’une redoutable intelligence, cherche à créer une véritable tension (on se référera à cet égard au site web de Marc Baron) qui tient l’auditeur en haleine tout au long des cinq magnifiques plages qui composent ce CD. On y passe allègrement d’une abstraction granuleuse, à des souvenirs lointains de pop songs déformées, de cartes postales sonores (prématurément ?) vieillies à une ébauche de punk rock famélique. Les sons se heurtente, se superposent, se confrontent et se répondent pour finalement promener l’auditeur dans un univers propre qui jaillit entre les oreilles de l’heureux possesseur de ce disque.
Bien sûr, tout ceci n’est pas sans évoquer certains travaux de Jason Lescalleet dont j’ai déjà dit ici tout le bien que je pensais. Force est de constater l’émergence d’une école de la manipulation sonore qui, sans renier l’héritage du GRM, se débarrasse de ses oripeaux élitiste et intellectualisés, et cherche à renouveler l’expérience de la manipulation sonore. Hidden Tapes apporte une pierre majeure à cet édifice en construction.
Freesilence's blog l Octobre 2014
Le label Potlatch est connu pour être un des meilleurs labels certainement dans le domaine des musiques improvisées, même si elles tendent aujourd'hui à l'être de moins en moins. Ces derniers temps en tout cas, on a retrouvé de nombreux musiciens axés vers une musique de plus en plus minimalistes et/ou réductionnistes tels Alfredo Costa Monteiro, Sergio Merce, Seijiro Murayama ou même Keith Rowe dans une certaine mesure... C'est avec suprise donc que j'ai écouté Hidden Tapes pour la première puisqu'il s'agit ici d'un solo de Marc Baron consacré à la manipulation de bandes et d'enregistrements dans une veine proche de la musique concrète ou du noise.
Je n'ai pas encore beaucoup parlé de Marc Baron sur cette page qui est pourtant un saxophoniste que j'admire beaucoup. Qui était saxophoniste devrais-je dire par ailleurs puisqu'il a arrêté le saxophone dorénavant. Je l'avais découvert il y a quelques années au sein de son trio plutôt rock OZ, qui ne jouait déjà presque plus de "rock" mais plutôt de longues notes tenues et parfois extrêmes, de la même manière que dans Propagations, paru sur Potlatch aussi (quartet "réductionniste" de saxophones avec Stéphane Rives, Guionnet et Bertrand Denzler), puis il s'est lancé dans une musique de plus en plus froide et minimale, une musique faite d'une note proche de la sinusoïde pour sa pureté, une note qui formait des formes qu'on ressent sans les comprendre. Il y a aussi eu cet excellent duo avec Guionnet dont j'ai déjà parlé ici, et Narthex avec Loïc Blairon que je ne connais pas... En tout cas, que Marc Baron soit un musicien apprécié et soutenu par Jacques Oger (Potlatch), rien d'étonnant dans la mesure où il fait partie de ces nouvelles générations de saxophonistes hors-norme, mais que Marc Baron pratique la manipulation de bande et que cette sorte de musique concrète soit publiée sur Potlatch, voilà quelque chose que je n'aurais jamais soupçonné...
Mais bref, passons à la musique elle-même, qui est vraiment excellente. C'est un des types de musique que j'affectionne et recherche certainement le plus, et ce disque est du coup un des disques essentiels de l'année pour moi, un disque essentiel tout court d'ailleurs. Comme je l'ai déjà dit, Marc Baron utilise et manipule principalement des enregistrements : il semblerait par ailleurs que la plupart soient des bandes magnétiques, des cassettes et peut-être quelques vinyles... En regardant quels types d'enregistrements sont utilisés et de quelle manière, c'est parfois difficile de ne pas penser au GRM et à Jason Lescalleet. Le GRM car Marc Baron affectionne les modifications de vitesse, et Lescalleet pour les enregistrements familiaux et les morceaux de musiques populaires retravaillés. Ce n'est pas le seul point commun avec ce dernier d'ailleurs, car Marc Baron semble s'approcher de l'audio-vérité en utilisant des enregistrements qui proviennent de sa collection personnelle et intime comme le laissent penser certains titres. En tout cas, ce que je trouve le plus remarquable dans ce disque, outre le travail sur les supports (un travail qui paraît aussi simple que professionnel, rudimentaire et extrêmement précis à la fois), c'est l'équilibre entre les différents types de sources sonores. Marc Baron utilise par moments des sortes de field-recordings quotidiens, puis passe à un travail sur une matière précise comme dans la musique concrète (grincement de porte, marteau, etc.), avant d'entamer un travail sur des dialogues, sur une bribe d'un concert punk, d'une bande originale de film, ou je ne sais quoi encore, quand ce n'est pas la bande, vierge presque, n'utilisant que les parasites.
Marc Baron a ici composé cinq pièces électroacoustiques époustouflantes. On passe de l'abstraction la plus pure et la plus austère à un chaleureuse incursion dans le domaine de la pop, du dialogue ou de la porte concrets aux parasites les plus durs. Tout un travail très précis et équilibré est fait sur les différentes dynamiques de chaque matière sonore, de chaque manipulation, mais aussi sur les couleurs bien sûr. Marc Baron développe une palette extrêmement large et unique de timbres, de textures et d 'atmosphères différentes sur Hidden Tapes. Un travail virtuose, unique, qui se suffit à lui-même, qui n'a pas besoin d'explication. Marc Baron a en effet accompli ici son travail le plus absorbant je trouve : une exploration minutieuse et intime, riche et dense, des bandes sonores. Hautement recommandé.
Julien Héraud l Improv Sphere l Juin 2014
Il me semble avoir déjà entendu Marc Baron en qualité de saxophoniste, sur ce même label et en concert. Le voyage proposé ici est de nature magnétique, comme les bandes du même nom. Voyage dans le temps et l'espace si on se permet de décrypter les très brèves notes de pochette, qui se limitent aux titres des 5 pièces proposées (1991-2005 / 2010-2012 / Interlude (Romania to Paris) / 2013- A happy summer with children / 1965-2013)... Mais, mieux vaut avarice bien contrôlée et bonnes intentions que mauvaise poésie et ridicule déballage ; une attitude minimale de la production donc, en cohérence avec la position esthétique de la collection... Allons droit au but : l'écoute de ce disque qui expose une symphonie du frottement et du balayage avec diverses mises en perspective et autres glissements gourmands au royaume des interférences, relief et profondeur de champ radiophonique, sources fantomatiques et quelques féroces ou douces apparitions, est une excellente expérience que je classe sans plus attendre au rayon personnel du psychédélisme de très bon goût. C'est un manège enchanté très certainement auto-biographique pour bruits, chuchotements et quelques silences. Pour les grands enfants aux belles oreilles à la recherche de mémoire, comme à la radio.
Le graphisme (signé Octobre) de la pochette est à saluer pour la belle, discrète et trouble présence.
Dino l Revue & Corrigée l Juin 2014
Marc Baron is perhaps best known for his reed instrument improvisations, but Hidden Tapes shows how he applies his sensibilities to composition and sound art, using cut-up, noise, and found sound in conjunction with pre-recorded pieces. This disc starts with 1991-2005, which sounds like a bomb falling on a Ministry concert, witnessed from a distant campfire. There is a brief aftermath of burning wreckage and anguish before the recording device finally succumbs to the assault. Then brief silence, broken by insectoid synth modulation.
2010-2012 is built on wave after wave of rumbling digital distortion, fizzing and lurching forward like molten lava. A sub frequency bass drum keeps things in time as more mangled sound events invade the listening space. Eventually queasy, churning feedback takes over and makes way for some more melodic smears of noise.
Interlude sounds a bit like a Burial track, minus the knife fight percussion. The meter seems to be provided by a malfunctioning air conditioner. Dread is the prevailing emotion here; time shifted voice intones goodness knows what while a malicious bass line throbs beneath.
2013 a happy summer with children could be the creepiest of the lot, with haunted house keys, rummaging through a tote bag, sub-marine tones, and the sound of children playing. Is this a field recording made by a pedophile? A distant military band is heard in various stages of proximity and processing.
1965-2013 starts at a coffee house gig as a riff starts and abruptly ends, falling into a subterranean black hole of ill will and distant sub bass. Hissing, warbling, and vengeful; this piece ups the ante on hair-raising sonics. Hinges creak and doors slowly swing open, signaling the presence of some sinister being. The tectonic splatter of low end eventually returns before the maelstrom finally recedes, revealing soft 808 kicks and fading noise-sludge.
Matt Schulz l The Squid's Ear l September 2015
Marc Baron has entirely remade himself as a musician over the last few years. Once an improvising saxophonist, his uncompromising 2012 solo album ∩ caught him at what must have been the end of a transitional period. A resolutely abstract and confrontational work, it alternated uneasy silences with tones played on both sax and electronics, adding incidental noises of mostly uncertain origin. Minimal and unsettling, it could not easily be described as saxophone music of any sort, so it’s not entirely surprising that Baron has now given up the instrument. His latest album Hidden Tapes is a work of tape collage, assembling found cassette tapes, movie excerpts, and bits of sampled classical music into a mysterious, constantly evolving patchwork.
Despite the abandonment of the saxophone, the artist behind ∩ is recognizable in the new album’s challenging qualities, in its refusal to cohere to the expected or the familiar. It is elusive, intriguing work, the kind of music where the density and seeming lushness of the sound world invite the listener to explore its depths, but without the promise of any easy paths through the dark labyrinths within.
Hidden Tapes encourages certain readings on its surface only to frustrate them upon closer inspection. It’s extremely tempting, for example, to read the album in terms of nostalgia, a pat association for any music assembled from old cassettes. Everything from the method of construction to the album title to the track titles (mostly ranges of years, presumably describing the breadth of material collaged together for each track) points towards a certain familiar narrative, towards sound bites about nostalgia and decaying tapes and loss.
And yet Baron’s actual music does little to accommodate those ideas. If there’s nostalgia here, it is difficult to access. If the album is saying something about memory and cassette tapes, like so many superficially similar past albums in this lineage, it’s unclear what that something is. Baron’s music is not sentimental, nor does it provide accessible hooks. Tape music is often narrative, but Baron intentionally obfuscates the narrative. The emotions evoked by this music – and it is, despite its difficulty, often quite resonant – are evanescent.
Arguably the album’s signature moment appears on the fourth track, 2013 – A Happy Summer With Children, the title of which establishes expectations that Baron then declines to fulfill. The track opens with tiny crackles and rustling noises amidst a droney soundscape. A warm, quasi-melodic ambient passage struggles to emerge from the glitchy background but is several times cut off or dissolved in encroaching static. When the beautiful drone finally does break loose, it’s one of the most conventionally emotional sequences on the entire album, exactly the kind of bittersweet, evocative music that one would expect from a nostalgia-tinged tape piece about children. Tellingly, it plays for only a few seconds unimpeded before Baron quickly hits stop, cutting off the catharsis. This is followed by the telltale clicks of tapes being switched out and buttons being depressed as a new tape is put in the deck, and when Baron next hits play, the listener is assailed with garbled voices, sped-up drums, and blasts of static.
Baron continually prevents this music from communicating in direct, openly emotional ways. In the second half of the track, the sounds of children playing and laughing can be heard, but they are distant, swathed in fog, hidden beneath waves of fuzz and distortion. The double-exposed, gloomy photographs on the CD sleeve are perfect visual accompaniments for this deliberately opaque aesthetic.
Even that much of a glimpse of the tapes’ more concrete contents is rare on this disc. Hidden Tapes begins with 1991-2005, precisely 10 minutes of abstract electronic collage: a musical sample so distorted and distanced it sounds like industrial-techno pounding at a club next door; pulsing synth-like rhythms enveloped by chittering, cut-up tape fragments; beeps and sine tones; waves of tape hiss that sound like running water, or maybe vice versa; unidentifiable clicks and metallic sounds. The occasional voice, heard only as an isolated syllable or a distant, echoey transmission in which words are unintelligible, is startling, a surprising reminder of the music’s sources. Gradually, the other elements fall away and all that’s left is a barebones melody, on a piano or synth, presumably sampled from somewhere: just a few spacious notes, very slow and mournful. Soon, even that fades beneath an even more stripped-down bass tone.
The second track, 2010-2012, opens with a snatch of garbled singing before low-key rustles accumulate into a dense, fast-paced stew of heavily processed sounds. Three minutes in, Baron presses a button with an audible click – the album was made entirely on analog gear, and the mechanical processes involved are frequently part of the music – and unleashes a stream of high-pitched tones that recall, in their ear-tickling abrasiveness, the controlled microphone feedback of certain harsh noise acts. Throughout, the sound is thickly layered and never static, with individual tones weaving around one another. Together, these first two tracks present a dense and seemingly impenetrable wall of noise separating the listener from the source material; rather than delving into the real-world resonances of the tapes he’s working with, Baron obscures the raw sounds to such a degree that the underlying voices and music are only rarely heard for seconds at a time.
A notable exception is the four-minute central track, Interlude (Romania To Paris), which features a slowed-down voice for most of its length, speaking over glitchy noise, throbbing bass pulses, and some clips of what sound like classically oriented singing (the Potlatch site lists “liturgical” song as one of Baron’s sources). The effect is eerie and narrative in a way that the album otherwise mostly avoids. It reminds me of Coil’s Things Happen in its sense of difficult-to-articulate menace, although here the voice is speaking in a language I don’t understand, and the warped processing further abstracts the story, if there indeed is one.
The album’s final track, 1965-2013, also hints at more of a narrative quality. The album gradually shifts – just slightly – in this direction after the nigh-impenetrable abstraction of the opening two tracks. Even the track timings hint at a very minor slippage in Baron’s stoical facade. He’s always favored exact timings: each track on both of his previous solo albums was exactly seven minutes long. The first four tracks here have times rounded to the minute as well – ten, eight, four, ten again. The unnatural precision of these timings is a product of Baron’s tight control over his materials. It’s a formal quirk he shares with Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet, the most obvious reference points for this album in many other ways as well. Tracks don’t just end when they naturally should, even if it means letting 20 seconds of silence tick by while waiting for the next increment to arrive. And yet this final piece lasts two seconds shy of eight minutes, just small enough of a difference to make one doubt it, to wonder if it’s a quirk of the pressing or the listener’s music player, rather than an intended self-subversion of the artist’s formal rigor.
In any event, the track opens with 15 seconds of guitar jamming with enthusiastic audience cheering (perhaps from 1965 if the track title is to be believed), quickly cut off and replaced with a plodding rhythmic drone, dense and lugubrious. Towards the middle of the track, the drone subsides to a dull bassy throb, and there are sounds of someone puttering around, opening and closing a creaky door and doing other little tasks. A more aggressive electronic passage follows, and then towards the end of the piece, more or less unintelligible voices are juxtaposed with a haunting segment that sounds like some kind of musical/melodic material being eaten up by static and decay.
Once again, Baron seems to introduce a hint of narrative, evoking intense emotions, but everything is kept at a distance, unclear, unrevealing. The guitar snippet that opens this track is the most untouched and human sample on the whole album, and yet its meaning is unclear: if the date in the track title is to be believed, Baron is too young for the year to mean anything to him directly, so is the tape of a relative, maybe a parent? Or were the tapes, including that fragment, actually found at random and thus don’t have any personal meaning to the artist at all?
Such questions are a big part of the album’s impact. There’s mystery here, and reticence as well, the same reticence heard on Baron’s previous conceptual saxophone pieces, ∩ and Une fois, chaque fois. Like those albums, Hidden Tapes is obviously a thoughtful, carefully considered piece of work. But it’s also a work that resists attempts to unpack or overthink its multilayered sounds. Baron, refreshingly, doesn’t seem to want his music pinned down to any one meaning. He doesn’t (at least as far as I’ve seen) spell out his concepts, nor does he rely on trite emotional signifiers, but the result, somehow, is music that’s both intellectually stimulating and deeply affective.
Ed Howard l reddy brown objects l March 2015
Alto sax mutator Marc Baron — who generally finds his hums and drones totally transmogrified via electroacoustic means — puts down his instrument entirely and composed with old cassette tapes — sped up, slowed down, otherwise manipulated. A mix of intimate concerts, creaking doors, footsteps, the sound of actual tapes being inserted, silence and 2013 - A Happy Summer With Children (a track that sounds like just that), Hidden Tapes is redolent of everything from early French tape music to hip-hop's collage aesthetics to field recordings to Found Magazine.
Christopher R. Weingarten
l Rolling Stone l December 2014
Here do we understand Hidden Tapes as containers, memory vehicles of what existed once : Playing these tapes leads one to conducting scorching clicks, stops and more clicks, along with close-up cracklings while taped music and dervish-like vocalist play on in the background. The musician as a conductor of “found” sounds. Even as crashes occur, or cracklings, or granular distortion, the general tone remains softened, warm. Coming and going, the buzzing sounds display a delicacy. Whenever an airplane-like motorized event happen, there’s a cosy saturated melting that spills all over, and soon, clicks abort the ensuing deluge. A concrete/discrete hissing of feedback wails, as the occasional clicks punctuate the rain. There’s hardly any blur, rather clear clattering objects. Distance is conveyed through rumour, with a zoom in/ zoom out action in control. Fingers malaxing material, blurred scraps and bits of sticks transformed into sand, through some operation : this conducting of sounds reveals an alchemical character, somehow : the contrasted elements at stakes seem to be rubbed against one another, in order to produce a third juice (at that stage, a crowd cheers, maybe in a pub ?) A door being shut ends it all.
Still, nothing hurts in this work : all splinters are carefully polished, and while they may cut, they never hurt the ear, you might even feel like bathed in spiraling drills, and still experience a cosyness (creamy bass drones shower the room). Circulation in a tubular environment could come to mind, if a series of switches weren’t close enough to re-locate your perception at a present time : as if you were on the driver’s seat (you’re driving through the past, remember : tapes); here and there, we hear words, voicings anyway, echoing people at a distance, grainy minglings, and the materiality of the tapes sometimes show : rusty, eroded/ contrasting with a majestic trombone build-up, ascending like waves… then the “eject” touch is pressed.
When field recordings appear obvious, it’s “field” in the magnetic sense of the term. Cut again, with faraway screams and very close moves, as if the mic operator had miked his KWAy up (for yes, it’s now raining particles). Awashed with that rain, we can reach a safe shelter, from which vantage location we can appreciate the warm deluge outside and if there’s scattered people here and there, there’s no panic : our safe island sure can filter out what goes on around.
Often “things” fly past us, we are unable to count or report them (because of the altitude and obviously, the cruising speed). There’s generally a playful sense of inside/outside, within/without, zoom in/zoom out engaged.
The sleeve speaks : Staring from a distant place, we overlook superimposed sepia photograms of the taped circumstances, while the inner sleeve displays a bright deep yellow field bearing a few lines of informations.
Ed Pinsent l The Sound Projector l September 2014
Since the turn of the millennium, Marc Baron has taken us on an interesting aural journey (albeit one that could have been more fully documented on disc.) He has evolved from an improvising alto saxophonist—maybe best represented by the sax quartet on Propagations (Potlatch, 2008)—through transitional experiments such as the "interesting" Formnction (Potlatch, 2009) by the duo Narthex, on which the sounds of bass and saxophone were replaced by constant frequency electronic tones, and a 2012 album on Cathnor which intriguingly consisted of seven tracks each lasting precisely seven minutes.
Now, Hidden Tapes confirms Baron's transformation from instrumentalist into composer. The album's tracks were constructed around old cassette tapes which (judging by the track titles) date from 1965 through to 2013, the year when Baron created these pieces. In addition to the original content of the tapes, Baron added sounds from other sources, including movie soundtracks and classical or liturgical music extracts. Using analog devices, he sped up or slowed down his sound sources, layered and transformed them. In typical fashion, Baron is not averse to integrating periods of silence into them, sometimes as respite, sometimes by way of contrast. Refreshingly, he only used a computer for editing and mixing, not as a source of sounds. So, the frequent crackles, hisses and pops which punctuate the pieces must originate from tapes and discs not computers.
The end results are five complex, multilayered pieces that integrate the content from those original tapes but go far beyond them. Each of the pieces is a unique soundscape that creates its own distinctive mood and reveals more detail every time it is heard, taking the listener on a series of voyages of discovery. Sometimes, the pieces seem to have a narrative thread, sometimes not. Party, that depends on Baron's use of voices but, given that the voices we hear seem likely to be those of Baron's friends or family—maybe even including his children, judging by the title 2013—A happy summer with children— it is understandable that they are often distorted beyond recognition; had that not been the case, listening to them could have felt intrusive or voyeuristic.
In the end, Hidden Tapes passes the test of any work of art that is worthy of the name: the more time is invested in it, the greater the rewards it gives back. There is no point emphasising that the music here is personal, idiosyncratic and fascinating—increasingly, those words define Marc Baron's work.
John Eyles l All About Jazz l August 2014
Is Marc Baron a saxophonist, a tape artist, an electronician? Yes to all, though it is a confused yes. Memorably a part of the bewitching Propagations, Baron’s work on alto has often begun from a point of self-effacement that others fear even as an outermost limit. Consider Une Fois, Chaque Fois, which featured long, sustained single notes stranded in different social milieus, a troubling document of the marginality of the experimental musician perhaps. This is to say nothing of his gnomic, fascinatingly unknown Cathnor release from several years back. Hidden Tapes is, despite being even more enigmatic than these previous releases, an absolutely riveting release. It is a kind of apotheosis of Baron’s music since 2010, when he abandoned the saxophone to become a “composer for speakers.”
The title is not merely evocative; it also at least partly describes Baron’s method. Each of these five pieces, constructed over the last few years, is made using cassette tapes supplemented by other recordings (“from movie soundtracks and classical or liturgical music extracts”) that Baron found in closets. We all know the feeling of stumbling upon a collection of dusty relics or withered papers, that sense of an encounter with an inscrutable history. Hidden Tapes makes gloriously dense, mangled sound of this sense of surprise and befuddlement. One can only imagine the bevy of beat-up, malformed sources in various states of degeneration. And when you listen to the pieces, you’ll be shocked to know Baron produced this fantastic array of sounds by only slowing down or speeding up the sources, which were then “layered and transformed with analog devices.”
1991-2005 is all crackle and pop, with a steadily faded in dance track (along with brief appearances by a billiard ball) that suddenly gets annihilated to the sound of Defender. Baron moves very quickly with a vast dynamic and imaginative range that occasionally gives you a breather as he backs off into a small symphony of hiss or the endlessness of a needle on vinyl at the end of a side. Yet he’s equally fond of sudden smacks around the head: ominous clouds of nasty analog synth, pipe-tones, whipcracks. A bizarre auto shop/cyclotron seems to roar to life on 2010-2012, a detuned throb pulsing beneath as if this is the club music for the creatures at the earth’s core (an impression deepened when fuzz tone gravity sucks you down relentlessly). A distorted, slowed-down human voice (vaguely Jabba the Hutt-ish) anchors Interlude (Romania to Paris).
One moment it sounds like the Butthole Surfers got hold of a Graham Lambkin track. And the next it’s like you’re prepping a meal: plopping water, salt shaking, veggies chopped. The trippy organ and drones of 2013 – A happy summer with children are deceptive all the way, because not only are there electro-hiccups everywhere, there’s a moment when such sonic presence overwhelms you that you feel as if you’ve been devoured by some beast, the track riding out on its stomach acids. And the home tape of an acoustic guitar sing-along is quickly mangled on the closing 1965-2013, which emits a flatulent moan, a creaking door, processed loudspeaker voices, and a snippet of Fennesz quickly gone.
It’s a pretty wild 40 minutes, consistently unpredictable and creative. In the fully immersive environments of Hidden Tapes, there is a continually feeling (mostly exhilarating, sometimes tense) that no sonic event is impossible. At times you feel like you’re listening to something from within one of those closets, evocation of apartment-block living, the music from various neighbors’ walls colliding to the accompaniment of appliances dying and coming to life continually. There are such pleasures to be had in sound that won’t be understood too quickly.
l Dusted l July 2014
One of those releases that comes along every so often, but not that often, and knocks you sideways. Marc Baron doesn’t release all that much music. When he does, it is in my opinion usually excellent (his last album was released on my own label) but even then I wasn’t expecting to take quite what I took from Hidden Tapes. Baron’s music is often unusual, mysterious and exciting. With this new release for the increasingly fine Potlatch label however it also feels highly personal and even emotional.
Previously a saxophonist, Baron has ceased to play that instrument for a few years now, and this new disc seems to consist of electroacoustic constructions made primarily from old tapes, presumably from Baron’s private collection. Notes at the Potlatch website tell us that grabs from movies and classical or liturgical music are also churned into the mix. There are five tracks, mostly titled with dates, perhaps linking back to when the tapes used here were first recorded, but as with much of this album, and Baron’s work in general, so much is left for us to guess at. The five pieces essentially exist as streams of thick, heavy abstraction- spluttering, noisy outbursts, blurry, almost mechanical smears and all kinds of electronic, or electroacoustic distraction, often at relatively high volume. These however fracture often, sometimes slipping into silence, but also often letting what we must assume to be the original content of the tapes to peer through the clouds of noise. So we hear bits of conversation, music, chatter, and a load more besides suddenly surfacing, and often disappearing even more abruptly.
The five tracks are not just the result of old tapes being played back to see what would happen though. Baron has clearly put a lot of time and thought into the arrangement of these materials. There is, in typically idiosyncratic fashion, a lot of use made of surprise. A blast of noise may suddenly be replaced by a creepily slowed down voice, a patch of strange old music might slide into a passage of eerily atmospheric crashing about in a resonant building, but that again could suddenly drop off a chasm into silence. The whole thing is stunningly crafted to continually hit you squarely round the head, but even then Hidden Tapes feels like it is about so much more than impactful a arrangements of interesting sounds. There is a strange, really difficult to describe sensation of unsettling sadness about it all. The titles suggest times in Baron’s life- 1991-2005 or 2010-2012, or 2013- A happy summer with children. Thesesuggestive titles, coupled with the way the tape remnants keep pulling themselves into the foreground give the album an oddly nostalgic feel, a sensation of reflection, but a secretly, masked reflection that means something to the composer but remains out of reach to the listener. 2013- A happy summer with children feels anything buthappy as it begins. Looming organ-like sounds flood through echoing scuffles through empty rooms, footsteps climb stairs and an overwhelming sense of mournful oppression is present until cut dead by the sound of a cassette tape being turned over and everything ignites again into a flickering mass of childish voices, white noise and what might be a piano. The closing 1965-2013, an intriguing title given Baron was born in 1981 opens with a burst of badly strummed guitar rock in front of a whooping crowd before it too is subsumed under tumultuous bass tones.
There may be no hidden meanings or personal structures behind Hidden Tapes. We are left of course to ponder for ourselves, find our own response to how it all feels, but for me this album, as well as being a superbly arranged work of exciting electroacoustic composition has a feeling of continual tension to it. Listening is at once an oddly moving experience and a fresh, vivid slap around the face. The natural response is to try and listen carefully, take in each moment, but the restlessness of it all makes this difficult. Rarely do we hear music that is at once both aesthetically and emotionally original and challenging. Hidden Tapes sounds great, but as it throttles your senses it also presents you with a puzzle to try and fathom out. It is for me a mysterious, enlivening masterpiece. One of the best things I have heard in quite a long time and completely essential.
Richard Pinnell l The Watchful Ear l May 2014
I knew I hadn't heard all that much music from Baron over the years but also knew that I liked what I'd heard and that his range had been considerable enough that I had little idea what to expect. Looking back, it seems I first encountered him as part of a saxophone quartet with Bertrand Denzler, Jean-Luc Guionnet and Stéphane Rives on a 2007 recording also released by Potlatch, Propagations. Check out this lengthy discussion on Bagatellen wherein Damon Smith and the never-disappointing Uli have at your poor writer for a while before the conversation veers into the morality of downloads, etc. (ah! 2007!) Perhaps the duo with Luc Blairon, Narthex (again on Potlatch) was next, along with une fois, chaque fois on Theme Park and finally, the supremely mysterious ∩ on Cathnor. They're all, in their idiosyncratic ways, very good.
As is Hidden Tapes. I'm not sure if "hidden" has any special meaning; I tend to think of the sources as found tapes from his personal library, apparently dated if the titles to the cuts are an indication. In any case, one of the overriding impressions I get from the five pieces is a decided sense of composition. In one way, I'm reminded of the INA GRM school of tape composition but the work here is far less stylized, much grimier (thankfully) and forceful. While most of the sounds come across as noise/abstraction, here and there are glimmers of the recognizable: snatches of music, voices, a brief pulse. Were I to listen to the third track blindfolded, I would have thought it was an excerpt from a Graham Lambkin work. Describing the music otherwise is a bit tough. It's more often fairly dense than not, though there are portions of near silence and a strangely poignant few seconds during 2013 - a happy summer with children where one hears the simple extraction and insertion of a cassette tape. As said, "noise", in the form of, I imagine, corroded and otherwise damaged tapes through which you can discern faint traces of the intended subject, predominates, but there are also mysterious and beautiful hums circulating beneath, often just within the range of hearing, emphasizing the ghostly nature of the sources. The last piece, 1965-2013 (Baron's life?) begins with some strummed, rockish guitar, quickly squashed by vaguely malevolent electronics, very Lynchian in feel but also imparting a strong sense of personal meaning to Baron, even a kind of sadness that reminds me, though the music is very different, of Lescalleet's The Pilgrim. A melancholy feeling of time having rushed by. A common enough emotion but expressed, via abstraction and a certain amount of distance, very movingly here. Fine work.
Brian Olewnick l Just Outside l May 2014