Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

It seems that I collected John Baker's work for years without even being aware of it.

John worked for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop from 1963-1974, producing a huge amount of experimental music using the technology of the day. You know, the usual sorts of musical instruments - rulers, shampoo bottles, cash registers...

Well, they were the kind of brik-a-brak that everyone in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop used to perform on, aided by many painstaking hours of pitch-shifting and tape-splicing to assemble it all of course.

Much of John's early work for the Beeb is funky, intriguing and haunting all at the same time. In fact, it's his compositions for the corporation that are concentrated on in the first compact disc.

His theme for 1974's Dial M For Murder uses the unthreatening sound of a ring-tone and mutates it into… hum, well, I might not wait so long for you to pick up next time.

Then there are the news idents for BBC Radio Sheffield. I've never visited that part of the country, but boy, they sure used to have some lively news happening up there.

Then there's the disturbingly titled The Locusts, which is every bit as creepy as the name suggests.

Towards the end of the disc is what might be his finest composition - music from the 1960s underground crime series Vendetta: The Sugar Man. This is crammed with so much saxophone and elastic band twanging that it sounds like Seinfeld, only made as a crime caper.

Volume two however explores John's musical life outside of his day job. Inevitably a man of his creative talents also found himself composing independent library music and scoring commercials.

What maybe is surprising though are his more traditional recordings, which this second disc increasingly delves into. There are some beautiful piano and jazz tracks here, as well as some priceless home recordings, including an unmarked tape reel that he apparently laid down as late as the 1980s.

Despite the sheer originality of the pieces he created, the most vivid thing on either release though is the sad biography which accompanies the first volume. Here his brother Richard unashamedly tells his devastating story as it was, and charts John's personal battles both inside and outside the BBC.

The final line in particular speaks volumes about the fragility of not only creative genius, but the human condition itself.

"His misfortune was to be born into a world for which he was too tender."

So long John, and thanks for finding so much music in something as mundane as a cork.

Available to sample and buy here.

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