Dive into a singular artist whose beautifully chaotic energy inspired us during the pandemic.
Last year as the pandemic forced us all inside to isolate, the fantastic speaker system and performance series Oda invited the New York (via Chicago) based experimental composer, flutist, sound artist and improviser Ka Baird to make music as part of their annual subscription series.
Joining a stacked roster of out-there icons including Terry Riley, Beverly-Glenn Copeland, Pauline Anna Strom, Madlib and Laraaji, Baird presented a breathtaking set of pieces that, piped live through Oda speakers around the world, blended voice samples, woodwind chirps and caws and improvised rhythms to create a swirl of harmonic chaos. (“It has been a pleasure to be a small part of this visionary hustle,” she said after the performance.)
The set provided a glimpse of Baird’s vision, and offered a sublimely magnetic opportunity to explore her work. Though no recording of the Oda performance exists, it is reflected in the May, 2020 performance below as part of Chicago hub Experimental Sound Studios’ series the Quarantine Concerts. Put on your seatbelts.
“I’m interested in the places between precision and something unrestrained,” Baird told the Wire in a 2019 feature. “If it was just one big long vomit, that’s not interesting,” she added, noting that those attending her events are “watching me go through some kind of personal journey and may be joining me.”
Baird has released records for labels including Drag City, RVNG Int., Nihilist, and Astral Editions, all of which showcase an artist who, while inviting a form of chaos into her work, appreciates dynamics, meditative journeys through repetitive measures and sudden, joyously jarring interruptions.
Below, a few entry points into Baird’s singular world.
Ka Baird – Walking
Taken from Baird’s 2019 album for RVNG, Respires, the video for “Walking” finds Baird stumbling through an industrial zone as if experiencing some sort of body quake. As with a number of Baird’s works, she samples her voice to use as percussion, and uses that same voice to bark out phrases and ideas.
Ka Baird – Heaven & Hell
“[Respires] has a lot of elements of repetition on it taking a certain simplistic approach, seeing what you can do with the least amount of ideas, or things,” Baird told the Wire as the album was coming out. “In this day and age where there’s an infinite amount of things you can use, or by, I’m becoming less and less interested in virtuosity and gear – even melody is starting to slip away.”
She added of her memorable performances, “I’m not proud of this, but sometimes I’ll injure myself. It can get kind of aggressively physical. I’m trying to get better with that. It’s definitely not an aesthetic decision to bleed on stage, but if I’m swinging the mics really intensely I’ll club myself in the mouth. Again, it’s not necessarily something I have conceptually mapped out. I’m just turning my brain off, trying to create this kind of frenetic whirlwind of energy.”
Ka Baird – Ka
Taken from Baird’s 2017 album for Drag City, Sapropelic Pycnic, “Ka” finds the artist presenting percussive flute bursts that recall Kraftwerk’s early use of the instrument. She layers her breaths via a loop box, adding a sense of panic and disease.
Spires in the Sunset Rise in performance
Before embarking on a solo career in the mid-’10s, Baird was a member of the Chicago group Spires in the Sunset Rise. The quartet was together for more than a decade, and their work is essential to understanding Baird’s exploratory reflexes.
Ka Baird & Pekka Airaksinen – Syzygy (For Pekka)
Dedicated to the memory of the late Finnish electronic music composer Pekka Airaksinen, the just-released video for Syzygy is part of RVNG’s “intergenerational collaborations series” FRKWYS. As described by RVNG, the installment “brings together vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ka Baird with avant-garde composer and radical performance art pioneer Pekka Airaksinen. Recorded six months before Pekka’s passing, Hungry Shells alchemizes separate but similar spiritualistic practices, canvassing Baird’s voice and synthesizer rituals and Airaksinen’s lysergic sound explorations into startling, surreal landscapes.”