srijeda, 23. listopada 2013.

Tim Hecker - Virgins (2013)


Instrumentalna plazma za stvaranje stigmi na rukama, nogama i fantomskim biografijama.

full album:

Not many experimental solo artists get the attention in the mainstream music press that Tim Hecker does. Bands seem to get a little more coverage, especially those with experimental takes on more popular genres (see: These New Puritans boundary-pushing orchestral indie/rock/whatever you want to call it, or Pitchfork’s predilection for cutting edge black metal), but those working roughly in the environs of electro-acoustic drone, soundscape, ambient are harder to come by. This is not to begrudge the theft of one of ‘our’ bands, or indeed that more haven’t been stolen. More, it is interesting to wonder why Hecker and his fellow crossover artists make it when others don’t. The reason can’t just be because they’re good, otherwise more would make the jump. Money, label-backing and not a small amount of luck must play a part, sure, but that can’t be all either…
A possible connecting thread is that they all treat mainstream concerns in unmainstream ways. William Basinski’s ubiquitous Disintegration Loops deal with one of the most significant historical events of modern times; The Caretaker’s rise to prominence taps into a current cultural interest in memory, and coincides with a specific scientific interest in Alzheimer’s; Fennesz revolutionised guitar music, which, despite what some people may tell you, is very much alive; similarly, the loopy, psychedelic output of the Editions Mego label dovetails with a resurgence in kosmische-inspired and psychedelic music across the spectrum. Hecker’s music, especially Virgins, fits into this pattern both on the theoretical side and on the sonic.
The dominant global narrative of today is one of cultural transfer, dialogue and conflict. Peoples move across the world, either forcibly or by choice. The internet allows you to encounter and consume a thousand art forms from a thousand places and times with minimal effort. In effect, there isn’t one dominant narrative at all, but the intermingling of many. It is at this intersection of cultural turbulence that Hecker exists. The main reference of Virgins is to European classical religious music. The percussive, tumbling sounds of the piano in “Virginal I and II” are distinctly reminiscent of church bells, the repetition of motifs recall early symphonies or early religious incidental music and then there is the artwork, of a shrouded figure on a pedestal in a church. Hecker’s treatment of these references, however, is unique. It is not as reverential as the ‘holy’ minimalism of Arvo Pärt – whose tintinnabuli, bell-like style is an important influence on Virgins – and others. Nor is it irreverent; it doesn’t twist religious signifiers into something ritualistic, dark and irreligious (although the atmosphere can at times be oppressive).
Rather, Hecker seems concerned with the possibilities of these sounds in a modern, experimental setting. The first sounds on Virgins are of the chiming pianos deconstructed and churned into roiling drone for opener “Prism”. The percussive qualities that the instrument acquires in “Virginal I” are flattened and drawn out. Across the album, Hecker takes the sound through the aggression at the close of “Virginal II”, to the meditative calm of “Black Refraction”, to the violently euphoric “Stab Variation”. He revitalises his religious reference points by throwing them in with all of his other influences and his distinct working processes. The religious notes are vital to Virgins’ soundworld – to the cathedral sized, heavenward-looking drone of “Radiance”, or the thunderous, clanging announcements of the “Virginal” pair, or the puncturing staccato of “Stab Variation” that conjures images of crucifixion – but for Hecker’s collision of old and new, of varying traditions and narratives, other historical references would suffice.
This is the most obvious of the cultural transfers in Hecker’s work, between history and contemporaneity. His music relies on the manipulation of acoustic source material through digital processing, but without ever losing that original organic sound. The piano, which is the main acoustic source of Virgins (various woodwind also appear), comes with a tradition of hundreds of years, but the music here is as much a part of a tradition of mid-twentieth century electro-acoustic experimentation, or of modern drone as it is of ‘piano music’. Even within that loose bracket, Virgins references classical piano and, in its hard, hammering strikes, Schoenberg-esque prepared piano. “Live Room” showcases the vibrant, chaotic possibilities of Hecker’s stylistic union. The opening is probably the most bell-like the piano ever gets on the album, and then it is like hearing the very process of it being chewed up by the computer until it’s notes seem fragmented, jittering in speed and overcome by bursts of noise. A stunning wash of ambience and a softer piano also make an appearance, and this only in the first half of the song. In the final half, all of these elements begin to cohere as a more stable drone takes over, relegating the acoustic instruments and noise stabs to textural detail. The track soars with the dense grace that Hecker has mastered over his many years as a musician. The coda, “Live Room Out”, pares that lingering drone down and coats it in slow, rich chords of woodwind. The attention to detail is astonishing; no corner of atmosphere is left unattended to. The piece is those multifarious narrative interactions made manifest in music.
For all this theorising, however, Virgins is not a self-consciously intellectual album. A writer for the Quietus recently expressed some consternation at finding chairs laid out for Hecker’s gig at St John at Hackney. It’s easy to sympathise, since his albums have always struck first at the gut, not the head. Virgins is no different. “Stigmata I”, if it was played loud enough and late enough, could even just about find a home at a (quite experimental) club. The dance music influences, yet another of Hecker’s musical precursors, are not as prominent as they were on Ravedeath, 1972, but Virgins is still remarkably visceral. The shifts in volume and sudden incursions of bass link to electronic music, even if they are in no way dance friendly. “Stigmata II” confounds expectations somewhat by dropping the intensity and club-bothering drive, but the track still has an anxious energy in its Reichian pulse. The album is also, by Hecker’s standards, surprisingly clear and unabstract. The source sounds are much more visible through the clouds of drone, with defined piano melodies and rhythms coming through repeatedly. It’s probably his most accessible album yet; it wouldn’t even be much of a stretch to nod and hum along at times.

This is Tim Hecker at his best, capturing an original, modern sound at the confluence of so many genres, traditions and reference points that is far more than the sum of its parts. It’s reminiscent of Ben Frost’s compelling live show, in which he samples musicians around him, whose original playing is inaudible, and moulds it into a barrage of experimental noise. Hecker does a similar thing, but rather than single instruments and instrumentalists, his sound is built with larger cultural signifiers – religion, whole instrumental histories, genres from across the spectrum. The transfer, dialogue and, yes, conflict of these is not always pretty but it is sublime, frequently beautiful and it is unmistakably, vitally the sound of now. This idea of describing a cultural space has a long history in Hecker’s work. An Imaginary Country exemplifies it best, in that the album sought to create a fictional place with sound, a place with history and culture – it probably sounded more like the modern world than most albums that actually try and describe real countries. So does Virgins. Perhaps this is why Tim Hecker has endured in the mainstream consciousness then: his music taps into the most mainstream of concerns, the shape of our times. - Matt Gilley

Tim Hecker exchanges bombast for intimacy on his follow-up to 'Ravedeath, 1972' and his 'Instrumental Tourist' with Daniel "OPN" Lopatin. Using the gristly, naked grain and off-key, out-of-phase accents of woodwinds, piano and synthesizer played by an ensemble including Ben Frost and Valgeir Sigurdsson, and heightened by his studio alchemy, he highlights tense, almost fraught relationships between all involved with visceral, keening dissonance approaching a narcotic potency when experienced over the full duration of the album. He makes allusions to the ascetic, theological aspiration of early minimalism yet pulls back from full blown prostration, instead preferring a more impressionistic approach focussed on capturing atmosphere, sensation and synaesthetic qualities and connotations. For us, the results are more richly satisfying and intimately romantic than being punched in the face with blooming harmonics that scream "bow down, hear how f**king beautful I am!". ..  -boomkat

If I were to make my own distinction in the nature of things, it would be between stuff that beats into the earth and stuff that sort of floats on top of it — stuff that relentlessly enforces itself and stuff that is magically lifted by its own inner balance. I say this because, listening to Tim Hecker’s new release, Virgins, I realize that his music has become a perfect manifestation of that duality: a formation born of the courting of the mechanical and the spiritual.
What you immediately notice about Virgins with respect to Hecker’s consistently reputable oeuvre is a certain shift in focus. Associated above all with ambient soundscapes and artists such as Stars Of the Lid, I have always regarded Hecker’s musical production as activity that arises out of passivity. Even on 2011’s acclaimed Ravedeath, 1972, which contained a considerable amount of sonic movement, it was on the whole a certain circular withdrawal into itself — tracks fade in and out with repose, and remain as untouchable as the enigmatic aftertaste of rave itself. The sketches for Ravedeath, which were released afterward as Dropped Pianos, illustrate well that movement of serene formation and disappearance. The sense of time on Virgins, however, is different: there’s a much stronger sense of overall growth and movement: even tracks such as “Incense at Abu Ghraib,” which remain very much contained, preserve their sense of drive and élan by virtue of the transitions and segues that weld them together. This is ambient music without abstraction: a lowered gaze of incisive vision.
If you core into a hill with ravenous machines, you will expose beautiful layers of sedimentary time. Thinking about how that ecstatic rush of a biting blade prises open the purity of a rock brings out the kind of reaction you might feel in relation to Virgins: there’s a real violence channeled into the noise that reverberates the album, but one that also agitates and unveils simple, enduring harmonic moments. That rip-raw sound that Ben Frost’s By The Throat executed so well finds itself voiced more prominently here than on any other Hecker release. The sound exposure is maximal, with immensely heady onslaughts that excavate the “grain” of sound — put on “Prism,” the album’s opener, at full volume and you will know exactly what I mean.
This sense of immersion comes about because of the live quality of the sound: there’s a certain immediacy and lack of distance between sound and listener. Moments of particular beauty occur when this is brought out into the open, for instance on “Live Room Out,” when everything is pared down to the simple moving harmonies of two husky organ lines, exhaling and inhaling. Although engineered by electronic means, the album feels truly embodied in space and its formation is very much alive in real-time.
Virgins is music that breathes both religious mysticism and transcendence on a secular terrain; the spiritual is the purity of sound, the virginal quality of the grain. This is always created by the opposition of violence and release. Piano lines on “Virginal I” and “Live Room” hammer insistently and insatiably, but not quite metronomically, like machines sliding out of control. The general sense of ecstatic disorientation occurs by the collision of such parts that Hecker overlays: they are individually immodest, uncompromising, and fuse unwillingly. The spiritual balance that emerges is the intoxication of this heterogeneity, thrown into perception by the contrast of the timeless, morphing drones that Hecker is so very good at forging.
So what you get are various mechanisms circling and circling, whose melodic beauty is exposed by the surrounding noise: the rhythmic and harmonic become the melodic, or rather the melodic is rendered futile by the recognition of the primacy of those primal forces — the harmonic and the rhythmic — of which it is essentially formed. “Stigmata II” is the supreme example of the remnants of melody, a serene dance of recurring beeps, and “Stab Variations,” the closing track, beats out the testimony of its death.
I guess nobody is really doubting the expertise of Tim Hecker, which he has displayed over his decade-long career. Virgins is, however, no lull in that sequence of releases: he runs no risk of churning over the same drones; this album has all the presence that you should expect it to have. - 

Tim Hecker’s first album under his own name was called Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do It Again. This was 2001: Ambient and electronic music was still ruled by the penetrating austerity of labels like Mille Plateaux and Raster-Noton—labels whose artists strove to make their music sound as digital as possible. Markus Popp's Oval, which inspired a lot of supposedly funny comments about whether or not its CDs were skipping, is still probably the best example of this—and in an era where CDs are starting to go the way of the public pay phone, probably the most quaint, too.
From its title down, Haunt Me presented a model of electronic music that was spectral, imperfect, and capable of erosion. The most applicable metaphors for it weren’t technological, but natural: Parts of the album sounded like the slow tearing of paper, other parts like wind blowing across infinities of sand. Hecker didn’t just imbue his computers with “warmth”—a lazy term that has long needed to be put down—but with mortality. (Remember that that this was 2001, a year after the Y2K scare made supposedly infallible stores of digital information look vulnerable in a very human way.) At the time, Haunt Me’s most obvious companion was Fennesz’s Endless Summer, a grainy, blissful album that resembles easy-listening music coming through on the broken broadcast of a distant star.
Hecker has more or less followed course for the past 12 years, releasing high-quality albums with the low-key consistency of someone apparently unconcerned with trend. His approach to sound and texture can be traced to mid-2000s Radiohead, the ominous holding patterns of Godspeed You! Black Emperor (fellow Canadians with which Hecker has toured), William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops, and basically any music that sounds like it has been abandoned by its maker to rot. His peaks are arguable: My favorites are 2006’s Harmony in Ultraviolet (his most conventionally beautiful) and 2011’s Ravedeath, 1972, which was built out of a single session of live organ, piano and guitar, recorded in an Icelandic church, and later worked over in the studio.
Virgins is the first Tim Hecker album more focused on performance than process. Most of it was recorded with a small group of orchestral musicians affiliated with Bedroom Community, the collective that also includes composers Nico Muhly, Ben Frost, Valgeir Sigurðsson and Paul Corley. (Frost helped record Ravedeath; Paul Corley engineered both Ravedeath and Virgins, and co-produced Oneohtrix Point Never’s R Plus Seven at Bedroom Community’s Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik; Oneohtrix Point Never’s Dan Lopatin collaborated with Hecker on 2011’s Instrumental Tourist: The world of forward-thinking electro-acoustic music is a small and fraternal one.)
The live-room conceit is an interesting turn for an artist who for a long time worked in a primarily digital realm: Rather than having the music conjure a space, the space now shapes the music—a return to idea of sound as something that exists in the air before on hard drives, and of albums as specific records of specific people in specific places. Even the electronics—and there are still plenty of electronics—sound like they’re refracting and ricocheting off of wood and metal, scraping a ceiling, trying to find a way out.
Hecker’s music has always been eerie, but never this forceful. Some sections of Virgins feel like soundtracks for horror-movie climaxes when the camera fixes on a sickening image and refuses to turn away, fascinated and trapped at the same time. Even the album’s quieter moments are more tense than they might’ve been on Hecker’s earlier albums—a function, maybe, of a live-room environment where every creak and whisper seems to be happening a few feet from the speakers instead of at some artificially cavernous distance.
This is music that benefits from being heard loud and/or on headphones in the same way couches are best experienced by actually sitting down in them instead of just brushing your fingers against the upholstery as you leave the room. Like a lot of Ben Frost’s albums (or something like SwansThe Seer), Virgins feels possessed by the idea that no advancements in society or technology will ever shake our primal reactions to fear, wonder, awe and what in a more naïve era used to be called the sublime. And while it’s a fallacy to think that hyperseriousness is the only way to strike people at their core, it’s still inspiring to hear an artist—especially one who started out as mellow as Hecker—double down and make a statement so confrontational. Once haunted, now he’s the one who haunts. - Mike Powell

Tim Hecker's music has always worked best at high volume—it makes for more tension when things go quiet. This was especially true of his last album, Ravedeath, 1972, which saw him make incredible use of a church organ to push his bass obsession to its limits. In making Virgins, his seventh solo album, Hecker recorded with a group of live musicians for the first time, resulting in a much more diverse set of sounds for the Canadian artist to work with. Where his past records have been purposefully droning and indistinct, here the sounds of strings, pianos and woodwind instruments cut through the noise. There is a new sense of clarity and precision.
Hecker's songs now feel like architectural structures. They're spacious and strong, built to last on solid foundations. The epic, sky-scraping rise to nothing of "Live Room" is soul-stirring, its human breathing and rattling of bows becoming one with thunder-and-lightning electronics. You can hear the forging together of natural and unnatural in the way "Virginal II" shifts from its initial Steve Reich piano into a blizzard of reverberation and then through the strange, raw synth tones. There is so much happening, it's almost difficult to keep up. That Hecker manages to layer such full, independent sounds over and across each other without ever losing the emotional heart of what he's building is evidence of his increasingly unique understanding of texture and mood.
One central aspect of Hecker's music is that nothing goes uncorrupted. Outwardly beautiful tracks like "Black Refraction" become undermined, their constituent parts slipping against each other strangely. The pure tones of classical instruments are sampled and looped, made to feel inhuman as they cut sharply from note to note. The noises and distortions don't assault, they insinuate, poisoning slowly instead of going for the jugular. Still, the mood is not as claustrophobic as it was on Ravedeath, 1972, which relied on its domineering organ work for density. Here we find brief moments of light and space pushing the clouds back. "Stigmata II" works as a palate cleanser near the end, a brief and wavering respite from the tumult.
Hecker's constructions never collapse into simple harmonies or traditional crescendos for the sake of emotional impact. Instead, they build awkwardly towards strange and jagged peaks before crumbling into patches of desolation that are both beautiful and painful. His tracks are not bloodless academic experiments or hacked-out splurges of noise; they shiver and howl with a passion that challenges the shapes we expect such emotion to take. There is a kind of pure, cathartic rage in Virgins and it leaves moments of intense peace in its wake. - 

It was easier to sum up Tim Hecker‘s work when he was in a niche. Even though earlier releases like 2001’s Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again and 2006’s Harmony in Ultraviolet found the Montreal-based Hecker in full, impressive control of his sound, it wasn’t until 2011’s stunning Ravedeath, 1972 that his excellent work combined with high-profile opening gigs for bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Ros and reliably great word of mouth to make him the rarest of things in noise/experimental/ambient music: a breakout star. Which in context means more that plenty of people who don’t listen to most of Hecker’s contemporaries (such as Ben Frost, who assisted here and whose By the Throat is one of few recent albums that can match the visceral power of Hecker’s music) have heard or even heard of that album, rather than Hecker being in any danger of hitting the top of the charts. Which leaves him in the enviable position of having more people than ever anticipating Virgins, even as the attention he’s gotten recently means that at least some of those anticipating it have little clue what they’re in for.
Not that the author is likely to mind; Ravedeath, 1972, based largely around reworked and repurposed church organ drones, may have been noisy and enveloping in a fairly warm way, but there was certainly still an astringent, bracing air to the music, and song titles like “Hatred of Music” and “Studio Suicide, 1980” indicate both Hecker’s often mordant sense of humour as well as the core of transcendent darkness running through his work. Virgins, from the stark, Abu Ghraib-evoking assemblage on the album cover on down, is a more sonically confrontational record, more abrasive, starker and more savage. But it’s also lighter in places; Hecker is still using manipulated instruments here, but the woodwinds, piano, and synthesizers on Virgins are more often given distinct spaces to work in.
Sometimes the mix on Virgins is more separate just so those instruments can fight each other; early on the monumental “Live Room”, for example, a harried, frantic (and often Reichian) piano line is pitted against distortion that literally sounds like something being ripped apart. That noise swells to eventually wipe out the piano, slowly shifting into the gentle clarinets that bloom throughout “Live Room Out,” a respite before the piano gets the stage to itself for much of “Virginal II”. Lovers of Hecker’s masterfully vivid use of thickly layered sound can rest assured that the exultant “Radiance” and the lurching “Stigmata I” demonstrate he hasn’t lost a step there, but that almost-percussive piano keeps popping up, often insistent or terrified, or on the lovely “Black Refraction” swirled around and reflected onto itself. Hecker’s post-Ravedeath collection of demos Dropped Pianos was mostly based on the instrument and played like a spacious photo-negative of the finished work; at times, Virgins feels like the synthesis of the two.
But whereas Hecker’s other work can sometimes seem monstrous, brutal, imposing in the right frame of mind or at the right volume (even as it remains surprisingly melodic, inviting, even easy to wrap around yourself), Virgins might be the first time it actually feels like a horror movie. But whereas, for example, the Haxan Cloak’s very fine Excavation album seems like the soundtrack to something horrible happening outside of the music, the drama and conflict is rooted right inside Hecker’s work. Excavation is entirely capable of conjuring up all sorts of images in your mind while the music plays, but Virgins keeps you focused instead on what’s happening inside of it; for music with so few conventional entry points, Hecker has again managed to make his work structurally and viscerally gripping. Partly this is because the man knows his way around a grace note, whether a tiny one like the second, much gentler piano line that plays over the last five seconds of “Virginity I” only to be cut off mid-stride by “Radiance”, or a much bigger one like the mid-album, multi-part respite that culminates with the gently peaking “Amps, Drugs, Harmonium”. And he knows that the contrast is part of what gives the harsher moments here their kick, like the opening “Prism”, which sounds a bit like the crazier bits of Boredoms’ Super æ warped Inception-style chasing you down a hallway.
If that description makes “Prism” sound a bit gleeful in its assault, that points out part of what might make Hecker appealing to such a relatively big crowd. As much as a ton of work goes into his records, both sonically and conceptually, it never stops Tim Hecker records from being tremendously exciting and enjoyable, and from feeling like Hecker is enjoying himself. That’s not to say Virgins isn’t a serious, complex, often challenging work; it’s all of those things. But from the first it’s also strangely thrilling, even before the listener’s mind and ears have quite made sense of what’s going on. Ravedeath, 1972 was justly lauded and loved, but in comparison to Virgins it lacks a bit of variety and full-throttle intensity (and it’s not exactly a record I’d call laid back). Hecker deserves his recent acclaim; with this album, he deserves to attract even bigger crowds. - Ian Mathers

On his last solo album, Ravedeath, 1972Tim Hecker seemed to be exploring his own frustrations with, containment within, and destruction of music. The song titles found him “In the Fog”, looked at his “Hatred of Music”, and discussed musical “Paralysis” and “Suicide”. The music itself (as is often the case with the drone master’s work) pushed and strained at the boundaries of expectation and patience. Hecker’s latest, Virgins, does the same. This time, though, instead of looking at his own issues with the music, he’s focused on the other half of the equation: you.
The virgins of the album’s title aren’t about to be deflowered, but rather sacrificed. The image on the cover evokes the infamous torture at Abu Ghraib, also mentioned in a song title. Other titles’ references to refraction and a “Prism” could be the prying surveillance program, or the object that refracts light, but either way it is the object through which something passes that is being discussed, not the passing. Ravedeath featured recordings of a church organ later chopped and screwed digitally, Hecker alone in a studio; Virgins is composed of live musicians in small rooms, presence and interaction recorded. Which is all to say, these movements are designed to make an impact on someone, to “Stab” at them, to produce “Stigmata” on their hands and feet.
While Hecker was clearly aware that there would be listeners when releasing his other LPs, this album looks at the relationship more explicitly, digging deep at the core. Even more astonishing is the fact that Hecker does all the intense, challenging work of scrambling your brain without relying on the tools of abrasive noise and power electronics (though heavy-hitting synth does factor in, as on the bassy bursts of “Live Room”). These drones chill the air just outside of your reach, low clarinet gurgling under the phasing strings on “Virginal I”, bandsaw scraping the undertow of synth arpeggios on “Stab Variation”, rough-hewn piano figures careening against each other on “Virginal II”.
Somewhere within the depths of tracks like the haunting, haunted “Black Refraction” there lies a core of simplistic beauty. But, throughout Virgins, Hecker organizes things just a little bit off, pokes at it just enough to be unsettling, and then pushes things away just when they start to make sense. Music has so clearly affected him, and now he’s making sure it’s doing the same for you. - Adam Kivel 

Tim Hecker is one of the few instrumental recording artists who attracts the attention of the mainstream.  We knew this album would be well-covered, so we waited to review it, hoping it would still sound just as good after half a season.  It does.
To these ears, Virgins is the best album of Tim Hecker’s storied career.  The artist has been recording for over a decade, long enough to have developed a signature sound.  The trick here is that he shifts it.  Fans will still recognize the outlines: extended drones, tonal shifts, a sense of classical development.  Yet piano, organ and woodwinds nudge the album into a more developed realm, while the tension between Kara-Lis Coverdale’s church organ and Ben Frost’s electronic treatments allows it to look forward and backward like Janus.
Hecker is no stranger to collaboration, but the results have seldom been this stunning.  Frost’s By the Throat is an apt comparison; like that album, this is something we hadn’t heard before and weren’t expecting.  One associates the church organ with hymns, not with experimental textures (although to be fair, organists are no stranger to experimentation).  In opposing fashion, one associates electronic dissonance with the new; to hear them both integrated so well is a testimony to Hecker’s brilliance.  After winning a Juno award, many would be content to make the same album again; not so Hecker.

The artist calls Virgins a “theological album”, which may be interpreted in a few ways, including the literal (track titles include “Incense at Abu Ghraib” and “Stigmata”), the metaphorical (a commentary on the relationship between the traditional and the modern) and the stylistic (hints of minimalism, although the volume causes it to seem maximal).  Listening can become a spiritual exercise.  One is awash in tones throughout, immersed in a power greater than one’s self.  Is God in these notes?  As the piano keys falter in “Live Room”, does faith falter in empathy?  When the synths descend, do the angels start dancing on the pin?  It’s easy to ascribe weights and counter-weights to the instruments, but it may be better to hold back, to reflect upon what one doesn’t understand.  If the album succeeds as a theological venture, it does so through complexity and cloud, the opposite of comprehension.  Karl Barth would describe this as the “No-God”, an honest read of what is by nature undefinable.  Hecker creates the desert through which the listener wanders, and thus provides the setting for a possible revelation. - Richard Allen

The line between the avant garde and the mainstream has become increasingly blurred. Experimental artists like Dan Lapotin, James Ferraro and Julia Holter have released some of the highest profile releases of the past few years, and one of the most lauded albums of this ilk, Tim Hecker‘s crushingly powerful Ravedeath, 1972, won a Juno award in 2011 against more traditional offerings. With its nebulous piano and pulsating synth work, the album felt like falling backwards into a dream. It’s orchestral quality and use of broad space set it apart from its contemporaries predominantly insular and electronic albums, and now, with Virgins, Hecker pushes forward once more in search of an even more distinctive sonic palette .
Whilst Ravedeath made use of ethereal space, Virgins is almost punishingly claustrophobic. Layers of sound collide throwing new textures across the albums canvas. There is an organic progression to the album and despite being devoid of any lyrics, the record has a strong sense of narrative cohesion.
The tracks move with theatrical intensity, at times building to almost unbearable levels of tension before collapsing under their own weight. Looping piano lines rattles through the mix, strings swell sinisterly as the bass builds to seismic levels. It’s only through a masterful understanding of his medium that Hecker manages to balance these chaotic elements. Instead of vague soundscapes littered with bursts of noise, he’s somehow able to convey distinct metaphysical ideas without a single utterance, particularly of the impermanence of beauty and the inevitability of disintegration.
That the album was recorded, at least in part, in Reykjavik comes as little surprise. The crystalline textures immediately evoke the Icelandic tundra and it is perhaps telling that I suspected the involvement of Valgeir Sigurðsson and Ben Frost long before reading it. The mournful orchestral arrangements and monolithic synths in tracks like ‘Live Room’ bear the hallmarks of the two’s earlier collaborations, particularly Frost’s stunning 2007 release Theory of Machines. There’s a disintegrative quality to the record; each moment of beauty is fleeting, each counterpoint and interlocked rhythm collapse into noise before they can be truly grasped.
For an album as seemingly challenging as this, I struggle not in the slightest to sit through two to three listens at a time. Each track possesses countless substrata of harmonic and rhythmic intrigue such that no two listens feel quite the same. What at first may feel overwhelming becomes immersive, and despite it’s 49 minute runtime, the pacing and dynamic shifts keep the album from ever feeling like an endurance test. The hollow piano of ‘Black Refraction’ around the midpoint of the album provides ample time for reflection after the intensity of the first half and before the darker twists at the tail end.
‘Stab Variations’ comes closest to what may be called a piece of traditional electronic music on the album. Reminiscent of Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas project, the pulsating white noise tears through the lower frequencies in place of a kick drum. Almost as soon as we adjust, the pulse becomes a powerful brass section which in turn dissolves into reverb.
Despite obvious parallels with experimental artists like William Basinski, Nico Muhly and recent collaborator Daniel Lopatin, I feel that this record bears just as much resemblance to the brutality and transcendental chaos of a Swans concert. The layers of noise, which at first may seem intimidating, are so harmonically rich they immerse the listener as the sounds interact creating new and unexpectedly mellifluous sounds. It is perhaps not so much the impermanence of beauty that this record suggest but the innate ability of beauty to spring from the most unlikely of sources. -   

Ravedeath 1972 (2011)

You might call Ravedeath 1972 Tim Hecker's goth record: suffused with death, its haunting, organ-driven meditations feel like they're drifting among tombstones on a sunless afternoon. It seems the man has gone inward, taking the contemplative grandeur and catharsis of recent albums, like the symphonic gush of Harmony in Ultraviolet or the topographical expanse of An Imaginary Country, and re-applied it to a space that feels much more mournful by comparison.
No doubt the sound source has something to do with it: the entire album is based on a live recording made of a church pipe organ in a Reykjavik, and the resulting studio manipulations feel heavily permeated by the scene, reflecting a kind of icy solemnity, the spirituality of winter's solitude. In addition to the album title, a tracklist with phrases like "Hatred of Music," "Studio Suicide 1980" and "Analog Paralysis, 1978" underscores the dark spirits that have been given reign, and the use of specific dates seems like commemorations of singular instances consigned to oblivion.
The conceptual restraint does Hecker well, giving him a rich yet reduced sound palette which will appeal to fans of his earlier work as well as the likes of Fennesz and Oneohtrix Point Never—yet at the same time invoking minimalist/maximalist organ works by Terry Riley and Hermann Nitsch. One of the few traces of Hecker's trademark distortion comes at the opener, where it enters in media res only to be swallowed by an ambient-trance cloud. The title "The Piano Drop" appears to reference the album art, a strange and violent photograph of a crowd, flushed with Jacobin energy, hurling a piano off a roof. The image of a clavier homicide only makes the album title even more cryptic—although apparently it's a mystery even to Hecker himself, who accounted for the phrase by saying he "had no idea how it manifested. Sort of ghostwritten, like fingers on an Ouija board." It's a description that fits the listening experience as well—as if you're receiving transmissions from parts unknown, signals that lure you in only to overwhelm you.
The three-part "In the Fog" shows Hecker at his strongest, deploying electronic sound manipulation in a deft and organic way that parallels the flux of natural phenomena: the shifting clusters of looped samples invoke waterfalls, the movement of wind across a plain, kaleidoscopic patterns of filtered light in a forest. Hecker's compositions often display a kind of nimble density, thick tides of sound that wash over your ears but always manage to ebb away before you drown.
Ravedeath 1972 begins with a piano falling and ends with "In the Air"—another three-parter that winds through disjointed keyboard plonk and heavy drone, ending up in curlicues of pealing bells, tolling for some half-forgotten loss. "In the Air" also suggests that perhaps the doomed piano actually never finally strikes the ground, remaining pitched earthward but suspended in a photographic freeze—with the Iceland wind howling across its strings. - 

Tim Hecker had proven himself to be one of the great survivors of 90s electronic music. While he might have only surfaced at the tail-end of the ailing IDM scene, Hecker's distinctly original brand of rich, textured ambient music set him apart from his peers. Many have tried to emulate his sound, but few have come close, and while he peaked with the punishingly noisy and effortlessly beautiful 'Mirages' a few years back, his subsequent flirtations with a quieter, more meditative sound have been similarly arresting. Unusually, 'Ravedeath, 1972' sees Hecker moving away from his comfort zone and collaborating with one of the very people who attempted a second-wave of the Hecker grit, grind and harmony - Ben Frost. This is a move which saw Hecker up sticks and fly over to Iceland, where he proceeded to record the album over a handful of days using that most hallowed of instruments, the pipe organ. Frost clearly adds some of his production expertise (he moonlights as an engineer) and with this there can be no doubt that 'Ravedeath,1972' is the most hi-fi album in Tim Hecker's discography to date. The crunch that Hecker has made his own is now reproduced in 1080p High Definition, billowing from every orifice of the speaker set with basses dribbling like viscous lava and treble firing with the slick precision of an M16. The powerful pipe organ sound underpins everything, coughing, wheezing and stuttering beneath Hecker's expertly crafted granular sounds like the ailing ghost of the Catholic church itself. At times it might simply appear in amongst a cloud of white noise, and at others there is only the familiar shadowy blast, shrouded in the trappings of morals and dogma. Pitting his knowledge and skill against that of Ben Frost has yielded an album's worth of crushing, near-spiritual sound. Whoever thought of throwing the church organ into the mix had clearly eaten their Weetabix for breakfast. Recommended. - boomkat

There are plenty of synth and drone artists that make epic, transportive music, but one of the unique things about Tim Hecker is his conceptual ability. Each of his records, from the cinematic rush of Harmony in Ultraviolet to the dreamed-up cartography of An Imaginary Country, explores a specific theme, often in great detail. When he talked to us last month about the artwork for his latest LP, Ravedeath, 1972, Hecker mentioned that he'd been consumed with the idea of sonic decay. "I became obsessed with digital garbage," he said. "Like when the Kazakstan government cracks down on piracy and there's pictures of 10 million DVDs and CDRs being pushed by bulldozers."
That idea, the notion of music as a cheapened, battered object, touches nearly every aspect of Ravedeath, 1972, a dark and often claustrophobic record that is arguably Hecker's finest work to date. The album is based on a single day's worth of recordings in a church in Reykjavik, Iceland, where Hecker used a groaning pipe organ to lay down the foundation for its tracks. (Throughout, you can hear the vastness of this place, as sounds ricochet around, bounce off the rafters.) With help from Iceland-based producer Ben Frost-- whose ominous By the Throat is a touchstone here-- Hecker then finished the record in studio, digitally adding synth wash and wailing shoegaze crunch to his live recordings.
The result is a strange hybrid that lives somewhere between the digital and material realms, and it's remarkable how seamlessly the two are combined. For example, in a track like "In the Fog II", it's difficult to distinguish between the organic church sounds and the processed ones that came after. But while there is harmony between the source material, Ravedeath, 1972 is by no means about prettiness or tranquility. Hecker pits noises against one another in such a way that creates a constant push and pull between discord and beauty. It's a bit like William Basinski's Disintegration Loops, but instead of music aging over time, this is far more combative-- like these songs are being attacked from the inside out.
It's an unusual concept but relevant given the rate at which music is consumed and discarded these days. More important than the record's ideology, though, is what Hecker does with it-- the weight, atmosphere, and contrast he builds into these songs. Take for example the "In the Fog" suite, where over three tracks, Hecker lets dissonant squall threaten an undulating organ drone until it's taken over by wailing guitar noise in third passage. Or the two-part "Hatred of Music", which recalls an Oneohtrix Point Never synth shimmer before it disintegrates into distant industrial creaks. In each case it's not just about the wild, unearthly sounds he creates but the force with which they move around the mix.
Hecker is also smart with pacing and knows when to dial things back or add in softer, interstitial numbers when things start to become overwhelming. That's the case in the record's back half where he uses open-ended pieces to achieve the same foreboding effect. "Studio Suicide, 1980" is almost dreamy but has a sinister undercurrent, sounding something like the more punishing moments of My Bloody Valentine's "Only Shallow" heard through the walls of a neighbor's apartment. I wouldn't go so far as to call songs like this and "Analog Paralysis, 1978", which has a similar celestial vibe, "ambient," but they are subtler than those in the first half and give the album a sense of balance and a natural arc.
If you buy into the concept of Ravedeath, 1972 as an examination of music threatened by technology, there are pretty clear threads that pop up over the course of the record to support that. For one, it seems that the organ sounds Hecker captured back in that Rejkjavik church represent a certain purity of sound and that the digital noise battering it throughout act as the enemy, the corrosive effect. There's an ongoing struggle between the two that's mirrored in the menacing song titles and gripping cover art. It's important, then, that the album closes with "In the Air III", a track that features almost no interference whatsoever, just the plinking organ by itself. If I'm reading it right, it feels like Hecker's point is that music, in its purest form, survives no matter what you throw at it. - Joe Colly

All too often it's easy to overlook non-musical influences when listening to an album. Given that a great deal of music (and music writing) takes quite a singular approach, avoiding multidisciplinary thought in favour of placing sounds within an established canon, it's wonderful to occasionally come across a record that's intensely evocative of the world beyond its self-contained universe. Demdike Stare's recent Tryptych is a great example, its darkened samplescapes summoning a grey and drizzle-soaked – i.e. uniquely British - vision of the occult, as is the volcanic force that regularly tears through the Arctic crust of Ben Frost's By The Throat. Tim Hecker's Ravedeath, 1972 is another, right down to its intensely visual title and demonstrative track names (‘The Piano Drop'; ‘Hatred Of Music').
On an immediate conceptual level, then, even before the record's started to spin, Ravedeath, 1972 is intensely preoccupied with mortality and the passing of time. In that sense it sits neatly alongside modern sonic adventurers like Philip Jeck, Raime, Shackleton, King Midas Sound and Demdike Stare, who channel a sort of nameless dread through exploration of the processes of decay and resurrection. In some cases – King Midas Sound, Shackleton – those themes are made manifest, either vocally or by strongly harking back to music in its role as primal release, as means of releasing pent-up tension through physical action. Others, like Demdike Stare and Jeck, are less prescriptive about the themes that run beneath the surface of their music, instead choosing to allow methodology to dictate meaning. Both use ancient, creaking vinyl and a library of esoteric samples to tunnel wormholes in time, opening conduits between past and future and, in Jeck's case, stretching single moments to the point of eternity. His wonderful An Ark For The Listener, released last year, is a case in point: its opening track ‘Pilot/Dark Blue Night' extends the final desperate gasp of a sinking ship over eight long minutes, before the blueish glow of its porthole lights finally dissipates beneath the waves.
Indeed, the first record that springs to mind when listening to Ravedeath, 1972 is Jeck's latest, though aesthetically Hecker explores a region somewhere between that album's abstract approach and something a little more direct. On the one hand, the twelve instrumentals on this album could easily work as standalone, such is the sheer force with which opener ‘The Piano Drop' ripples and roars into action, before crumbling away into three part epic ‘In The Fog'. Combined with artwork, track titles and lofty concept, though, it's a glorious, elegiac meditation on loss and transcendence, uniformly greyscale and melancholy in tone and given to vast, sweeping gestures. Whilst much of it is content to lie languid in clouds of fizzing ambience and drone, when noise hits – and it does – it really hits, with an elemental power matching that of Frost's By The Throat (unsurprising, given the latter's involvement in its recording).
Two other major themes make themselves strongly felt throughout, both of which are inseparably linked to one another, and the album as a whole. The first is spirituality – Ravedeath was recorded in the first instance using an organ in an Icelandic church. That instrument's bombastic resonance and sense of the grandiose generates a sort of secular solemnity, less preoccupied with any single religion than with the fears they all hope to address. The second is Iceland itself; but rather than Iceland the beautiful, touched upon by Mum and Sigur Ros, it's Iceland the bleak, as a pure and living example of the Earth's enormous power. Again, in that sense its closest bedfellow is almost certainly Ben Frost's work, which brims with the same feeling of barely contained feral rage.
In an interview with The Wire towards the end of last year, Sam Shackleton talked to Derek Walmsley about going to see a church organ recital. "It always makes me laugh," he mused, "as if sub-bass was some kind of modern thing. Those guys in the church have been listening to sub-bass for years... [In the past] if you were in the sticks, and you came to the big city for the first time in your life, this must have been mindblowing... Just as if you go to a club the first time and hear a proper soundsystem, it's something incredible."

There's certainly something to that notion, something that can't help but spring to mind when listening to Ravedeath, as ‘Hatred Of Music I' escalates to a climax so all-encompassing it feels as if the very speakers it's playing through are about to erupt. Religion has always about gathering people together under shared beliefs, to share experiences, but ostensibly on a level where everyone is equal. The anonymity and depth of electronic music, especially played through a decent soundsystem, often allows it to serve the same purpose. At high volume, Ravedeath, 1972 approaches transcendence, achieved through the overwhelmingly physical resonance of channeling the past through the present. - Rory Gibb

As an invention that predates our modern understanding of sound waves and the notation and tuning systems in use today, the pipe organ is impressive to say the least. Get a church organist to hit the right combination of keys and those stories of creation and apocalypse will need no further explanation, as air shuddering through the towering metal flues and finely honed reeds summons up a chorus of a hundred angelic trumpets or the groans of the eternally damned.
Today, however, most of us prefer our revelations to come coded at 192 kbps, whispered divinely into our ear canals as we go about our business in a world whose everyday activities would have a medieval organ-builder whimpering and gibbering about witchcraft. But if you could pop a pair of headphones on him before he turned on his heel and fled, that distant ancestor of Bob Moog might find something familiar in much of today’s ambient and drone music: namely, the shifting, complex textures, the slow, hypnotic pulses and the love of a good fire-and-brimstone climax.
Montreal-based sonic architect Tim Hecker must understand this, having drawn much of the sounds from which Ravedeath, 1972 is composed from a session with an old pipe organ, recorded, along with guitar and piano in an Icelandic church, with fellow musician Ben Frost helping out with performance and engineering. The initially cryptic title makes more sense when considered as a wry, triangular pun whose other corners are the opening track, ‘The Piano Drop’, and the cover image, a photo of Hecker’s wall bearing a copy of a black and white picture of a group of American students in 1972 on the verge of executing a ritual ‘piano drop’ off the edge of a tall building. The track itself is the nearest you’ll find to anything resembling dance music here and that’s only in the way its stacked tremolo fuzz and floor-dwelling bass suggest a smudged, bleached-out photocopy of some near-forgotten trance anthem.
Bearing equally mysterious titles – ‘Analog Paralysis 1978’, ‘Hatred of Music’ parts I and II – the album’s other tracks invite similar speculation. But too often writing about drone music comes off as an attempt to use words to justify its grandiose buttresses and gravity-defying domes from the ground up, as though a sound whose richness offers so much to the imagination but does little to direct it needs an intellectual scaffold for support. So whatever grand plan Hecker may or may not have had in mind here, let’s just say that much of Ravedeath, 1972 will put you in the position of a slack-jawed medieval peasant, floored by hearing the power and beauty of that organ for the first time.
Had John Martyn not got there first, the album could easily have been titled Solid Air, as Hecker’s layering of multiple ambiances, effects and sonic manipulations sculpts a series of colossi out of echoes, fleeting impressions and the split seconds either side of something happening. The three-part ‘In The Fog’ sees glinting, Terry Riley-esque organ tones and piano chords that drop like melting icicles battling successive waves of hiss and distortion and corroded, rust-edged guitar. ‘No Drums’ provides a murky, underwater interlude whose initially optimistic strain of melody repeats to the point of stifling claustrophobia, before ‘Hatred Of Music’ spills forth. Here, the music shudders and churns before collapsing inwards under its own mass in a way that recalls the dark ambient spacescapes of Tangerine Dream’s Zeit, one artefact from 1972 that still sounds detached from its era.

Yet despite song titles such as the above and ‘Studio Suicide 1980’ – the latter offering a faint glow of melodic sunlight through thick, murky stained glass – the dominant flavour of Ravedeath, 1972 isn’t one of decay. It draws upon the grandeur of the past but refuses to crumble its bones into sonic dust, instead recasting the organ’s strength and harmonic range into shapes more suited to an age when an imminent day of judgement is feared less than the constant trickling away of the present. As the final minutes of three-part closer ‘In The Air’ sees slabs of astringent white noise give way to contemplative piano, Hecker even teases us with snatches of what could be human singing, but might just be another organ sound. The voice of God, indeed. -  Abi Bliss

Dropped Pianos (2011)

A companion to his acclaimed Ravedeath 1972 set, Dropped Pianos collects sketches for that album recorded by Tim Hecker last year. While on paper it might sound like something for completists only, trust us when we tell you that this LP is a beguiling listen in its own right: shorn of the disruptive electronic processing which defined Ravedeath, what you get instead is a series of exquisitely reverbed and layered piano instrumentals which showcase Hecker's gift for minimalist composition and mournful melody. Richly evocative of rainy, post-war cityscapes, of mortality and of thwarted romance, it's another masterful offering from an artist right at the top of his game. - boomkat

Tim Hecker is a Canadian-based musician and sound artist, born in Vancouver. Since 1996, he has produced a range of audio works for Mille Plateaux, Alien8, Force Inc, and Staalplaat. His works have been described as "structured ambient", "tectonic color plates" and "cathedral electronic music". More to the point, he has focused on exploring the intersection of noise, dissonance and melody, fostering an approach to songcraft which is both physical and emotive. His work has also included commissions for contemporary dance, sound-art installations, and various writings. He is also an acclaimed producer of techno, having toured and produced under the name Jetone. Tim has presented his work in a live setting around the world, including performances at Sonar (Barcelona), Mutek (Montreal), Impakt Festival (Utrecht), Victoriaville in (Quebec), IDEAL (Nantes), Vancouver New Music Festival (Vancouver), and Transmediale (Berlin). He currently resides in Montreal.

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