Writing Music About


Ian Mathias-Baker

Ian Mathias-Baker is a British-born writer, musician, theorist, information technologist and designer. He lives in the Lecrín valley, south of Granada in Spain.

Background & education

Born in Hereford, England in 1968, Ian Mathias-Baker was educated at Hereford Cathedral School, where he received a choral scholarship, and later at the Universities of Exeter and Southampton.

During a hiatus in his academic studies Mathias-Baker formed a friendship with Robert John Godfrey of the progressive rock band The Enid and moved to Godfrey’s Northamptonshire studio to work on his Come September pop project. He appeared on stage with the band at a number of shows including at London’s Borderline and Powerhaus. Living and working with the irrepressible Godfrey proved to be a formative experience on many levels, personally and intellectually.

Moving to Cambridge the following year and spending time in academic libraries he was persuaded to return to university. He chose Southampton, solely because their fees for self-funded students were a fraction of those elsewhere. They were also more forward-looking than Exeter where he had had more music technology in his student room than in the entire music department. Southampton at that time was also blessed with the brilliant Nicholas Cook, subsequently Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge. Championed by Cook, he undertook a M.Mus in Musicology and then a Ph.D, both funded by the British Academy. He was awarded a doctorate in 2000 for his thesis ‘The Musical Object in Consumer Culture’.

Professional career

As a teenager during the home PC revolution in the 1980s, Mathias-Baker had taught himself computer programming, and had written some rudimentary software that could perform pieces of music. He was an early adopter of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) technology and computer sequencing, setting up a computer based home studio while still in his teens.

During his postgraduate studies at Southampton this interest in computing was taken further, developing his own system for managing his research materials, doing some work for nearby IBM, and developing some educational software in conjunction with his wife Miranda. This led to a career in computing, where he established himself as an expert in user interfaces. This expertise saw him eventually going on to found a Airdrop, a highly successful remote consultancy specialising in the design and development of computer user interfaces.

Musical career

Even as a teenager it had been obvious to most that a career in the mainstream music industry was unlikely to be fruitful. Although he found early success with a contemporary Christmas carol in a national songwriting competition, he was naturally drawn to serious themes and a richer musical language than was common in pop music. More problematically he was deeply suspicious of mass culture: the Come September project had been an attempt to wrap progressive music in an easy-to-digest pop wrapper, but ultimately that project had failed, having been poorly received by record labels.

On hearing some of his early compositions, Peter Gabriel had advised him “not to try to make a career in the music industry” — either a helpful piece of advice or a none-too-subtle put-down, depending on how you look at it. However it was intended, it was sage advice: completely lacking the temperament to cope with the vicissitudes of a musician’s life, it would have been a disaster on a purely practical/personal level.

As a result, Mathias-Baker decided as a young adult that it was better to make a living though other means, and to make the kind of art he wanted in his spare time without having to worry about finding a market for it. He is still uneasy about the monetisation of the Arts, believing that artistic expression should flow from a less compromised source than the desire or need to make money, and also that consumption of the Arts should be available to all, regardless of financial resources. The same sentiment applies to the monetisation of the Internet: he is an active proponent for an open free internet.

Written work

It turns out that a natural propensity for throwing things away isn’t conducive for establishing a body of work. Thus, very little survives of Mathias-Baker’s written output pre-2000 — only those poems that became lyrics for songs. Since 2010 he has made a more concerted effort to collect and preserve his writing in its own right, and to actively develop the writing habit as an end in itself.

Several themes recur in his written work. These include alienation, psychosis, unreliability, the absurd, consumerist/capitalist culture, ecology and philosophy (particularly the philosophy of language and semiotics).

Poetry itself is another running theme, with poetry, poets and poetic quotes also featuring in many musical works.

His works are characterised by conciseness, contextual ambiguity, formal elasticity and dark humour.

The works on this site are offered free for private consumption online under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 .

If you'd like higher resolution versions of anything, or to discuss other usage rights or collaborations, please get in touch on Twitter or Facebook

About this website

This site exemplifies my philosophy regarding both Art and the web: the content is free to consume (and hopefully enjoy), without adverts or cookies, and it's presented with a focus on simplicity and ease of use.

The site doesn't use any CSS or JS frameworks – just plain old hand-crafted HTML, CSS and Javascript.

The 'collection player' is my own javascript which can be freely downloaded and used if it's of use to you. It builds a collection of HTML marked-up poems or stories into an app-like experience with a table of contents, and which you can use the keyboard arrow keys or swipe gestures to navigate through.

The music player uses Scott Schiller's SoundManager2 javascript library.

Swipe gestures are supported to navigate writing collections by virtue of John Doherty's Swiped-Events javascript library.

Obviously, for best results, Javascript needs to be enabled, but the site will work without it.