Release date: March 22, 2024
Ka Baird returns with Bearings: Soundtracks for the Bardos, an album that intertwines elements of the New York based vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and composer’s ecstatic live performances within minimalistic, visceral compositions that expand in scope and sound through collaboration. The album’s eleven movements manifest as shapeshifting invocations defined by their own multiplicity; the emotional outcome of circumstance and grief, played against rigorous conceptualism and musical craft.
For more than twenty years, Ka has explored the outer dimensions of sound through performance. Extending far beyond their roots in the psychedelic folk movement of the early aughts, Ka is known for their raw, boundary pushing solo performances that bridge experimental sound, performance art, and ritual. Their tool set in the live arena includes extended voice and microphone techniques, electronics, flute and piano. Bearings follows their 2017 debut Sapropelic Pycnic and Respires, their acclaimed 2019 album.
Initially conceived as a twenty minute composition and presentation commissioned by Lampo in Chicago in the spring of 2022, Ka first explored the concept of “bearings” through a series of intimate performances where they shifted guises between magician, shaman, clown, and athlete, all enduring ongoing states of groundlessness through a physically demanding performance that entailed both play and struggle. This piece, in tandem with the heaviness of caring for a dying parent during the subsequent year, laid the groundwork for Bearings, with the album’s final narrative structure revealing itself in the months after their mother’s death the following September.
Ka explains: “This record began to come into focus in the summer of 2022. I was living in Decatur, Illinois with my mom after she had received a terminal diagnosis in February of that year. For the following six months, I would work on assembling, arranging, and creating these sounds in the quiet moments while she slept. The live performance of Bearings, combined with the experience of caretaking for my mother and witnessing their death, fomented this record.”
Bearings is a meeting of streams; where the theatricality and spirituality of art reckon with impermanence and embrace the cycle of life and death. Named in part after the text The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo (more commonly known as Bardo Thodol or The Tibetan Book of the Dead), the album is divided into eleven gates, bardos, or “in-betweens,” each of which sonically represent states of suspension or experiential gaps, and each of which correlate with transitions, traveling, obstacles, portals, surrender, and release. Bearings proposes these ongoing states of displacement and precarity – the suspension of one’s bearings – and the search for sublime meaning within its flowing, intoxicating forms. In Ka’s words, “We are always in a bardo because impermanence never takes a break. “
Enlisting a cast of contributors including Andrew Bernstein (alto saxophone), Max Eilbacher (flute processing, electronics), Greg Fox (percussion), gabby fluke-mogul (violin), Henry Fraser (contrabass), Joanna Mattrey (viola), John McCowen (contra clarinet), Camilla Padgitt-Coles (bowls, waterphone) Troy Schafer (strings), Chris Williams (trumpet), Nate Wooley (trumpet), and their beloved cat, Nisa (purrs) to create a collective hum and thrum, Ka and company create sprawling minimalist densities, punctuated by abrupt starts and stops, complex harmonics and textures, percussive flourishes, and a single, cyclical lyrical phrase: “Here. Disappear. Poof!”
Ka considers the album to be a deviant nod to a song cycle, throughout which certain motifs are repeated in different configurations. In the album’s sonic lexicon, a trumpet blast signifies a birth or death, or a distant string motif denotes a memory. Bearings is a durational work of profound abstraction and focus, within which sonorous elements, structure, and meaning reach a single, unified form. This amounts to nothing short of a creative high-water mark for one of the most dynamic and uncompromising artists working in the landscape of music today.
Ka Baird’s Bearings: Soundtracks for the Bardos will be released in LP, Japanese import CD, and digital editions. A portion of the proceeds from this release will benefit Doctors Without Borders, who provide independent, impartial medical humanitarian assistance to people affected by conflict, disease outbreaks, natural and human-made disasters, and exclusion from health care in more than seventy countries.