Ka Baird is a New York-based multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, better known to be one of the founding members of Spires That In The Sunset Rise. Sapropelic Pycnic is the new album that is out now via Drag City. It features Max Eilbacher (electronics), Sandy Gordon (vibraphone) and Troy Schaefer (violin). We had a talk concerning the new album and other interesting stuffs.
Let’s start with the new release. “Sapropelic Pycnic” is your debut as Ka Baird. What about the creative process and the main inspiration?
At the time I was writing and performing “Sapropelic Pycnic” I became interested specifically in music as a vehicle for transcendence. I was always into this idea but in the last couple of years it became ALL that mattered to me. As John Cage credits Gira Sarabhai, an Indian singer and tabla player as saying “The purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences” I was in my own way trying to do that through an act of physical release, culminating in a bodily possession of the sound I was creating. I felt like I had to match my mental energy in a physical sense in order to overcome it. The ONLY criteria was to create a sound that could shut up my internal dialogue.
The tracks on Sapropelic Pycnic were the sounds that were capable of doing that for me.
The name comes from “sapropel” which is the dark nutrient rich sludge at the bottoms of rivers and oceans. The play of words means to engulf or gorge oneself on this dark sludge, this unseen substance in the mysterious depths of the oceans that has so much vitality and power. A metaphor for the subconscious I guess.
In 2014, You moved from Chicago to New York. What impact had this change in your life and your music?
Moving to NYC was an ultimate step in following my bliss. I had been living in Madison Wisconsin (not Chicago) before moving to NYC 3 years ago to be with a woman I fell in love with. In addition to the love affair, at 38 years old I was ready and willing to make the next step in dying for my art form, that is to say I was done making compromises and had no more illusions about who I should be or what I should do. I was ready to be what I am: an artist. I was done looking for anything else. Period. And although it has taken some time, NYC has responded loud and clear that this is where I belong. I thank the universe that all the stars were aligned for this to happen.
Visual part seems to have a great relevance for your music. What about the artwork and the videos for “Metamorphoses” and “Oneiric”?
You are right, the visual element has become a bigger and bigger part of my performance. It is all about the attempt to create a multisensory experience to make people stop thinking and be completely present. I have performed many times with sound reactive visuals, washes of colors faciliated mostly by my partner Camilla Padgitt-Coles. It has been described as a color therapy by some friends.
Regarding the videos, for “Oneiric” I asked my friend Brenna Murphy who along with her creative partner Birch Cooper of the art collective MSHR are two of the most revelant artists I know who walk this earth today. To read more about what they do check out this interview I did with them through a magazine I publish with Camilla called Perfect Wave here:
They create these light-audio feedback systems with 3-d printed sculptural synthesizers and along with lazers, fog and movement they create these multisensory experiences that are captivating and fucking mindblowing. I cannot say enough about their work.
For the “Metamorphoses” video I was just being playful with very simple tools, inspired by this city salt pile in Brooklyn.
What is your definition of research and experimentation in music?
To me research and experimentation in sound always comes from deep listening and a willingness to get lost. We all have these safe zones we get stuck in, these zones that we feel define us as artists. To mess things up, to fail, to try again. Just like the Samuel Beckett quote “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” I have embraced the idea of the serpentine path, growth is not a straight line. Creation is messy etc.
You are currently on tour and there will be some dates in 2018. How do you generally conceive the live shows compared to the studio session?
I know someone once said to me to imagine your 8 year old self and be that/do that in adult form. As a very young child, I remember going to plays and falling in love with the magic of the stage. A scenario where the roles are clear: are you a performer, are you a spectator? Etc. While modern art can blur that line for sure, it is still in most cases clear who is on stage and who is not. I LOVE that kind of clarity. So to me, performance has always been more than just “presenting” my songs. It is the ultimate platform. I never feel more alive than when I perform, life never feels more immediate than when I am on stage. All the mess, all the love, all the ennui coalesceses into some beautiful roaring vitality when I perform. The recordings in the studio are a represenation of that. I consider myself a performer more than anythng else, above being a musician.
Are you working on new projects?
In 2018 I have been granted a residency at Roulette in NYC through the Jerome Foundation and I plan on premiering two new pieces exploring multi-channel and performance in May or June. Both pieces will revolve around the Tibetan Buddhist illusory realm of the Hungry Ghost, or the Preta Realm, the realm that characterizes insatiable appetite, never being satisfied, always looking outside of oneself for “what is the next thing.” This is often represented as “hungry ghosts with mouths the size of a needle’s eye and a stomach the size of a mountain”- a metaphor for people futilely attempting to fulfill their illusory physical desires. Through sound, light and movement I want to create a multisensory experience.
What are the best release you appreciated this year?
I loved Felicia Atkinson’s “Hand in Hand,” Sarah Davachi’s “All My Circles Run,” Aaron Dilloway’s “Gag File,” and countless fucking others. SO MUCH GOOD music