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Tom Baker

Listen to "Rumor" here
from the CD: Gospel of the Red-Hot Stars
on the Present Sounds label

The intention of any artist is a difficult thing to describe, both for the artist and for the artist’s critics.

To describe my work, one might say that it utilizes a variety of techniques and instrumentations, including spoken text, computer-generated sounds, improvisation, opera, and traditional acoustic instruments. One might further say that my work explores new and unique soundscapes that are not easily classified, in solo, chamber and orchestral textures.

To describe the direction my work is takin me, one might note that recent works have been exploring personal human themes. One might look to my recent chamber operas and find that they are exploring the issue of loss and grief. These works are proving that chamber opera can express these concepts in both contemporary and historical settings, and can touch an audience with both intimacy and immediacy. Or one might look at recent avant-jazz works that borrow from the jazz tradition, and create new forms and blur the boundaries between jazz, classical, and freely improvised music.

To describe the inspiration for my work, one could look to the quiet presence that unfolds from my compositions and find a relationship to the golden, lonely landscapes that dominate high deserts of the western United States, where I spent most of my childhood. One could find the themes of loss, grief and redemption as threads through much of my dramatic work, and trace those back to personal experience. One could see the gentle tugs of many of my most influential teachers, including Henry Threadgill, Chinary Ung and Stuart Dempster, or find a balance in my work between disparate influnces such as Morton Feldman and Ornette Coleman, Bill Frisell and Gyorgy Ligeti, Charles Ives and Jeff Beck.

But to describe the intention of my work, one can only listen. Frank Zappa said that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture." The dance might be beautiful and tell us much about art or life, but will not likely reveal much about the nature or the intention of architecture. I believe there is a willful purpose to the act of composition. My work has intention, and I am striving for its expression. But the most relevant way for me to articulate this intention is simply to compose. The most relevant way to interpret this intention is simply to listen.


Tom Baker has been active as a composer, performer and music producer in the Seattle new-music scene since arriving in 1994. He is the artistic director of the Seattle Composers' Salon, co-founder of the Seattle EXperimental Opera (SEXO), and an advisory board member of the Washington Composers' Forum. His works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada and in Europe. His chamber opera, The Gospel of the Red-Hot Stars, was presented in April of 2006 to critical acclaim and box-office success, and is now available on CD. His most recent chamber opera, Hunger: The Journey of Tamsen Donner, premiered in April of 2008.

Tom has received many awards and grants for his work including awards from Meet The Composer, the Seattle Arts Commission, King County Arts Commission, Artist Trust, and Jack Straw Productions. He was awarded a fellowship as an associate artist-in-residence from the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida in 2006, where he spent three weeks working with composer and saxophonist Henry Threadgill. He received his doctorate in composition in 1996 from the University of Washington, where he taught Composition and Music Theory from 1993-2006. He has studied composition with Chinary Ung, William O. Smith, and John Rahn.

As a guitarist (on both fretted and unfretted instruments), Tom has presented concerts and recitals in several U.S. cities including Seattle, San Francisco and New York, as well as concerts in Holland in 2006. His music has been recorded on several labels, including Rosewood Recordings, Acoustic Levitation, and Present Sounds Recordings, on which he released his solo CDs Sounding the Curve in 2002, and What Remains in 2005. His avant-jazz group the Tom Baker Quartet released their inaugural CD, Look What I Found, in January of 2007; their second CD will be released in April of 2009. Tom is also a member of Triptet, an improvising trio of musicians in the tradition of Sun Ra, and Baker-Moore, an ambient musci duo of guitar and gongs with Dean Moore.

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