With 2014’s Hidden Tapes, Marc Baron carved out an approach to composition that merged the rigour of electroacoustic improvisation with the allusive density of tape music, and in doing so brought a warmth and wit to a field often characterised by chilly abstraction. Built entirely from Baron’s own collection of tapes, the judicious choice of sources combined with often-inspired editing gave Hidden Tapes a mysterious and hypnotic power. In particular, his use of domestic recordings gave the muffled collages of Hidden Tapes a specific, addictive intimacy that never backed into ad-land schmaltz – perhaps because Baron’s impassive presentation made listening to pieces like 2013’s A Happy Summer With Children an almost uncomfortable act, like drilling a hole in your wall to spy on a neighbour’s private birthday party.
If Baron’s subsequent recordings – 2015’s Carnets on Glistening Examples and this latest work, again on Potlach – don’t quite hit the same level of uncanny immersion, there is, nevertheless sense of an aesthetic being gradually refined. Un salon au fond d’un lac may seem sparser than its predecessors, especially in the glitching thrum of its opening couple of minutes, yet it feels like Baron is gradually expanding his territory, slowly pushing at its borders and exploring its archipelagos. Thus Un salon au fond d’un lac shares many of the its forerunners’ characteristics, with Baron’s compositional nous and superlative cutting skills being deployed to create strange, sometimes unnerving soundscapes. The disorientating splutters and whirls of Un Salon are a case in point, Baron joining together recordings of family fun and games with enigmatic wafts of synth, field recording, queasy spooling whirls and some very strange heavy breathing. At first it seems like a completely artless tape dump, as if Baron has crashed together some odds and sods from his leftovers box and wandered off for a coffee. That feeling gathers impetus with the onset of La Structure, which consists almost entirely of some synthesised voices repeating decimal numbers (‘Six point three’, ‘Two point two’ and so on), while various fizzes and scrunches – and a recording of some seagulls – muss up the background. Odd blips and scuffs add to the impression of ramshackle eccentricity.
Gradually, however, a mysterious magic emerges, and while an underlying structure or overarching meaning never quite reveal themselves, Un salon au fond d’un lac starts to exert a strange allure. Something is definitely happening here – we just don’t know what it is. But really, that’s fine. One of the beauties of Hidden Tapes was its refusal to give up its secrets immediately, and Un salon au fond d’un lac is similarly tricky to parse. Its dreamlike structure, its juxtaposition of diverse objects and its deployment of memory and nostalgia is a kind of surrealism (the album title is a quote from Arthur Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer, and Rimbaud’s broken, hallucinatory poem bears some structural resemblances to Baron’s work). The spooky synth tones of Un Lac stretch out like some parched, endless plane of a De Chirico landscape, true, but perhaps more telling is the eerie resonance that haunts this whole piece, tape chirrups and all, its significance as impossible to quantify as trying to grasp a fish in a murky river. Un salon au fond d’un challenges us to engage with it in a spirit of unknowing, to leave our usual critical tools at the door. We may never know the exact details of its histories and sources, but Un salon au fond d’un acts as a kind of spirit guide to our unconscious, giving us the tools to navigate the foggy hinterland of our own dreams, our own memories.