A Journal Of The Dark Arts
“An attempt to honestly document life on the margins of social acceptability in the age of information overload. There are no mistakes. All avenues are open.”
Ship Canal‘s Daniel Baker‘s our kind of musician. In random disorienting moments, reading words in the dead of night, it almost seems as if we are the same person. Baker started Ship Canal’s ‘dole noise’ mission at the age of 24, flailing about in a state of post-Academia ennui and set to making a noise collage racket using only ‘cracked versions of software, free VST’s, a stolen Singstar microphone, homemade cassette loops, semi legal Youtube to MP3 converters and fourth generation Mancunian folklore exclusively.’
This is our punk rock.
Baker started playing in bands at 14, set on fire by the DC hardcore of Fugazi and other Dischord bands, but set down the axe for reasons unknown. In the interim years, he was grappling with heavy conceptual records by Throbbing Gristle and John Cage, and when he came back to it, in his third-life crisis, he began spewing out sound collage with a punk rock frenzy and one of the most thorough DIY ethos i’ve seen (he also runs a label called hand loom lament).
On 7 tunes… Ship Canal combines TG’s bleak xeroxed soundworlds, grayscale audio manipulation of quiet desperation, with modern dayglo loopy, gloopy spastic bricolage; a rainbow bridge connecting hi- and lo-fi. Most of the people who have written about Ship Canal so far have focused on the ‘bummer vibes’, seeming to find Baker’s antisocial dystopia ‘depressing’, neglecting the positivist spirit of making anything at all.
In an article for Minus The Shooting Daniel Baker wrote about the soccer player Andrea Pirlo, he speaks eloquently and elegiacly about a time before diminishing attention spans, without being sucked into a million information vortexes every day.
You will die.
You won’t hear/read/see it all.So, instead, you patch together curious fictions from the data rubble, junkyard excavations of inner space that eventually arrive at a kind of constantly fragmenting, transitory mode of radical culture, one that encompasses the actually pretty bloody Deluzian maximalism of, say, Rustie as much as it did the self publishing CD-R and cassette boom of the 2000’s. Which is paradoxical, really. The hand crafted, individually numbered totems that spewed out of Vermont and Detroit, Glasgow and Newcastle and a million other outposts of that free folk/noise nexus thing were meant to be a bulwark against dematerialization. Most of these groups still despise the download culture. But the fact remains that the majority of their admirers, whether through laziness, economic hardship or opposition to the notion of intellectual property and subcultural product as artefact, did download their stuff. This dichotomy was hardwired into the very ethos of these groups though, folk like Sunburned Hand Of The Man or early Charalambides, to name but two ostensibly pretty divergent examples. In bypassing the traditional clidhes of the clapped out MOJO humping linearity of musical history and repositioning figures from the margins of mainstream culture (John Fahey and Albert Ayler and Harry Smith in particular) as transformative reference points, they had been prefiguring the collapse of conventional material temporality that the advent of web 2.0, like some gauche, steroid loaded nutjob took a blowtorch to. No one escapes this shit. Not really. We are attempting to map entirely unnanvigated virtual terrain and anyone who reckons they know what’s really happening is a straight up fucking snake oil salesman. So we create our own fictions, we recalibrate our own backstories and try and grasp at something vaguely profound pre-sleep.–
In contrast to the self-deprecation, consider these words from the press release for Please Let Me Back In Your House, Ship Canal’s most recent album for 19f3:
He’ll hate me for saying this, but: Daniel Baker – Ship Canal – is a natural. He says he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and if that’s true, then – fuck my old boots! – it makes the music he’s created in the last few months even more special, more magical. And it makes a mockery of those who claim they do know what they’re doing. It makes a joke out of 98% of the stuff I hear.
Call it: DIY coping-strategies, home-brewed digital contrariness. Sterling-neutral ingenuity, emotional salvage. The elevation of the dismal into an artform. Fractured MeTube mulch made with a dodgy hard-drive and a broken Dell.
Daniel demonstrates how the flimsiest, most minimal of found-material and the crappiest, most-freely available tools – a YouTube ripper, an mp3-player, shareware, a stolen mic – can be turned to your own advantage. An artist’s greatest assets are imagination, intelligence and a fierce, unquenchable desire to create. Once you find that need within yourself and start to adjust your worldview, then everything becomes a potential tool – a sonic or visual possibility. This is how we turn the world back round. This is how we change things.
Fix yourself and then fix this stupid fucking world. This bad, broken copy of what it could be.
As you can see, the man’s music tends to elicit a battlecry from those that encounter it. What i most appreciate about Ship Canal is that i know i ton of people who make music in this manner, myself included, fucking about with an Ableton rip and doing what sounds good, and almost every one has an inferiority complex. They don’t consider it real music, even though it sounds good.
Daniel Baker does what he has to do to get something out, he has something to say, and the trvth will out, and good art will always prevail. Ship Canal’s music is standing at the diabolical crossroads that every modern technological musician faces. How to cope with diminishing attention spans? Where to find QUALITY? How to recognize it?
Like that press release said above, Baker has good instincts. His microbacterial loopsources are lovingly sampled and sequenced, and he hangs the pieces together well. Most of the material on 7 tunes sounds analog-sourced, or processed, and it prevents the album from becoming shrill and jarring, as many digital albums do. Perhaps his pre-Internet attention spans remembers a thing or two about mixing and EQ, and it goes a long way towards making a mesmerizing experience.
7 Tunes has a radiophonic air about it, it conjures visions of tape spooled ankle deep, and you can practically smell the burning solder. With the rise in interest in modular synthesis, the likes of Keith Fullerton Whitman and the recent canonization of St. Delia Derbyshire perhaps the world is ready to ingest these sounds? It’s not exactly clinical, however, so leave yr labcoats at home, with track names like ‘Massive Coil Rip Off’ and ‘Derick May Massive Head’, there is a biting and hilarious sense of humor operating behind the scenes here. And while he may be mocking some of the biggest innovators of the electronic genre, he also captures some of their spirit in the process, and there are some moments of misty, spraying Techno rising out of the petri dish.
Ship Canal is inspiring, and he is using his wits, good taste, and every tool at his disposal to cut through the distracting fog to make something inspired.
i can’t wait to hear his other two records.
You can read a really excellent interview with Mr. Baker at Zone Styx Travelcard.
find him on Facebook.