Info Primal elements - Scott Baker 
by Abre Ojos
Dark Winter (dw057)


fn issue October 2011
'N-Plants' - Biosphere
'Sky Snails' - The Electric Golem
'Echo Park' - Willamette
'Gramophone Transmissions' - Broken Harbour
'Negative Space' - Blue Sausage Infant
'Home Patterning' - compilation
'Polychromatic Integers' - Richard Lainhart
'Generate Records' - compilation
'Sung In Broken Symmetry' - Aquarelle

In 2004, Scott Baker was an art student in New South Wales when Alan Lamb came to build one of his wind organs. Baker, formerly inspired by the frantic skitterings of Pan Sonic and Aphex Twin, found a comfortable place for reflection and contemplation inside Lamb's wires and changed his musical persona. He adopted the name Abre Ojos, a watchword of the Spanish explorers on Australia's rugged coast to stay awake and keep one's eyes open, for his creative activities. As Abre Ojos, he has developed sound and video improvisation tools which he has used both individually and in collaboration with other artists. Elements is his first solo release and includes both audio and video. In an unusual move for a net label, Dark Winter has released Elements as a limited edition DVD with a bonus track, but four elements are available as audio and video on Dark Winter's site.

Besides Alan Lamb, Baker also claims kinship with the doom metal group Sunn O))), from whom he took the resonance and discarded any trace of rock, leaving a common approach in deep, slow moving drones resonant with impulses from distorted voices. Earth's surges stand like pillars in an austere industrial landscape, hovering into uncertainty and groaning with a Beckettian agony. Fire starts with a low murmur, then layers sudden sheets of noise over the bass and finds hidden harmonies in the decaying spirals of feedback. The voice is more prominent, albeit no more comprehensible, in Water, with slow chants mingled with the constant metallic drone. Air is episodic, with very calm and quiet sections leading without warning into rasping growls of sound, pushing ahead with single-minded intensity before dissipating.

But in addition to the audio, Baker improvises with video as well, in this case with cold war propaganda film clips. Each video is centered around a different triangular glyph, white on a black background at the boundaries, vibrating and shimmering against parallel kaleidoscopic images in the middle. Earth presents its muffled voices and unearthly harmonics with factory turbines chased into shadows, with its triangle becoming a beacon before dissolving into abstract organic forms, swirling into a rose window of color. Fire uses vintage films of smoke and explosions, a slow motion combustion that evolves into a beautiful red kaleidoscope, with the triangle brightening to become the heart of the sun. Water borders on the erotic with its mirrored waterfalls that shimmer and dissolve into oceans, clouds, and other mysterious organic forms. Air is a departure from the other three, dividing the screen horizontally instead of vertically as in a tunnel, then building to a frantic intensity not seen in the other videos.

Baker calls his hypnotic performances "dystopian meditations," which would seem like an oxymoron if we only had the audio. But in the videos, images from our collective past appear in mirrors, drawing the eye to the mandalic figure in the center. The focus is narrowed further with the deep drones that swell to fill the audio spectrum, ominous harbingers of a world pared to the primal elements. The fifth element, Spirit, the bonus track on the DVD release, could be the redeemer.

Review by Caleb Deupree


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