The prospect of listening to over an hour of double bass music (adorned with an unlikely array of percussion, lyres and vocal harmonics), played entirely on open strings or using natural harmonics, filled me with dread. But I came out safely the other end, pleasantly surprised by the unexpected variety of textures and effects, and by the music’s capacity to move.
True, some of the tracks, featuring extensively repeated motifs and/or long drones, felt rather dreary and laboured as recorded music. But Baker makes a little go a long way, balancing the purest harmonics with deliberate imperfections – growls, husky notes and unearthly sweeps up and down the harmonic series – to shape melodies of great poignancy. And he actually starts with more scope than you might think anyway: playing high up the bass, the range of harmonic pitches is considerable, permitting both stepwise, folk-like shapes (as in his rendition of Seghill Ballad) and the dissonant, angular sorrow of Pressure, all beautifully controlled and expressed. Multi-instrumentalist Robert Evans chips in in numerous ways, including on the lyre, whose Pythagorean tuning system creates microtonal dissonances with the harmonic series of the bass.
One of the folk elements running through the album is the social agenda – tributes to forgotten, oppressed or unsung communities. Alongside these are four tracks dedicated to the history of mankind’s use of metal, the highlight of which is the third of the set, in which electric and acoustic basses plus reverb effects combine in a fantastic, expressionistic evocation of the ringing, humming and booming of an industrial metalworks.
As many vivid tableaux are conjured here as in much larger-scale music: go on, be brave.