John T. Baker is all ambient

John T. Baker, sometime-guitarist for local bands the French Broads and Econopop, will be performing during the Big Ears festival Feb. 6-8. He says: “I’ve been making ambient music ever since I bought my first four-track back in the mid-’80s. Ever since I heard Brian Eno’s Discreet Music, I’ve loved contemplative, layered background music. My upcoming album Ohm is the third album of ambient music I’ve released. Most of what I’ve been listening to lately has been that kind of music.”

Pauline Oliveros Lear (New Albion Music, 1988)

Not many people know this pioneer in the field of music recording. She started experimenting with tape machines and tape loops in the ’50s. She has also experimented with novel recording techniques. On this album she has herself (on accordion) and two other musicians (on trombone and electronics) lowered into an empty two-million-gallon cistern to record. The natural reverb is so huge that it becomes an instrument unto itself. She’s coming to the Big Ears Festival and I’m really excited to hear her.

Lou Reed Hudson River Wind Meditations (Sounds True, 2007)

Apparently Lou made this music as an adjunct to his meditation and tai chi. It is mostly synthesizer drones and high-frequency sweeps. Very soothing and slow. Robert Quine was nowhere near this recording.

Les Paul and Mary Ford All-Time Greatest Hits (EMI, 1992)

I just watched a documentary about Les Paul and it reinforced to me what an amazing pioneer he is. His two main developments—the solid-body electric guitar and multi-track recording—represent the most important things in my life. His pop hits with Mary Ford are marvels of home recording. He plays an orchestra of electric guitars and Mary’s multitracked voice harmonizes like honey and warm tea. More amazing is that his recorder had no “undo” button, so if one of them made a mistake on the 15th track, they had to start all over from the first track again. It takes nerves of steel to hit the record button with all that on the line.

Can Ege Bamyasi (United Artists, 1972)

I’ve been on a Krautrock kick lately. Daring, willing to go out “there” and not concerned at all with making commercial hits. This is such refreshing music in today’s sea of old-time string band revivalists wearing big vests, fedoras, and outsized old suits, playing string basses and banjos. Bleh.

Nick Lowe: Labour of Lust (Columbia, 1979)

Okay, not ambient or experimental at all. But I found it used on vinyl for $1.99 the other day. This is what a pop record should sound like. Great.

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