Text: James Waters
“Paris” makes up the A side of Derek Bailey’s Aida, lasting 19 minutes on a 33rpm, 2018 reissued LP and 19 minutes and 36 seconds on the YouTube video of the album I referred to while writing this (most likely ripped from the CD version, reissued by Jim O’Rourke and David Grubbs’ Drag City imprint Dexter’s Cigar in 1996). The 36 seconds that separates the two versions either elongates or shortens what was already a delayed conclusion.
Chords begin to formulate at around the 17 minute mark. Before this point, each string could be heard on its own, Bailey familiarising both himself and the audience with the guitar’s six points of articulation. The audience is silent until his alarm goes off at the 18 minute mark.
Bailey seldom recorded in a studio, attributing the decision to a difference in “vibes” from a live setting and the „cubic“ measurements of playing possible in a live setting vs. a studio. In this sense, Aida isn’t a solo record, despite its subtitle: “Solo Guitar Improvisations”. His relationship to the audience isn’t begrudging, condescending, obsequious nor apathetic. His label, INCUS (which he initially ran with Evan Parker and Tony Oxley), was founded among the discovery of “free improvisation” as a practice. This is a music built on ritual, down to Bailey’s annual “Company Week” that fostered relations between the global cadre of free improvisers and their successors – among them Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy, Han Bennink, Jamie Muir, Joëlle Léandre, Johnny Dyani, Julie Tippetts and John Zorn.
The audiences’ eventual affect in Aida is only audible because of the unerring silence that precedes it. The willingness to fail can’t feed an artist when isolated for hours on end in a studio, hence the live “vibes” Bailey refers to. The audience – even if made up of only ten (as it often was) – reciprocates.
I remembered on my last listen to Aida that Bailey had timed the end of his performance perfectly with the alarm’s ringing. The opposite is in fact true, as the alarm eats into his set. He pauses from playing for approximately five seconds (corresponding with five alarm beeps) and continues playing for another five seconds and four chords. The combined ten seconds map out, in succession; the giggles of a couple of audience members that coincide with the alarm, Bailey’s final strums before turning off the alarm, the sound of his chords hanging in the air as he turns off said alarm, the giggles of some more audience members as Bailey plays out the final chords and quietly says:
“Well that’s the first part…”
Applause feeds the ellipsis that trails off his sentence.
Time, here, is no longer measured in seconds, but sounds. One can attribute this „cubic“ measurement, as Bailey would put it, to the 36 second difference in the two versions of the albums and how, despite the difference, they sound much the same. The 10 seconds that finish the record last longer than this missing 36.
Aida was recorded in Paris at the Théatre Dunois by Jean-Marc Foussat. The recording is dedicated to late Japanese music critic, Aida Akira.
Images from the shooting of One Plus One 2 (C.W. Winter, Anders Edström, 2003)