The Canadian sound artist’s most powerful album yet.
Chris Power 2011-02-08
Over the past 10 years Canadian sound artist Tim Hecker has established himself as a master of atmosphere. Creating his drone-based tempests with a mixture of laptop, keyboard, tape and effects-drenched guitar, his music is often fundamentally serene despite the chill winds whipping across its surface.
Hecker regularly displays a keen gift for melody, but it tends to remain subordinate to texture. That’s certainly true on his seventh album, Ravedeath, 1972 (or ninth, if you include his recordings as Jetone), but this time out there are differences in approach that cast his project in a refreshing, and even profound, new light. Having been recorded in a Reykjavik church, the album makes extensive use of pipe organ. The instrument sets the album’s tone from the outset, giving the beatless, shimmering rave arpeggios of opening track The Piano Drop a requiem-like solemnity.
One of the album’s most compelling features is the way it places emphasis on the playing as well as the processing. On the short, powerful Analog Paralysis, 1978 you hear the guitar’s fret board squeak and can hear the room in which the music was played. This sense of a location’s unique reverberations is noticeable throughout, which may partly be down to the contribution of Iceland-based composer Ben Frost, a producer of pronounced talent, who played on and assisted with engineering the album.
One unexpected result of the live feel to the sound, and especially the prevalence of the organ, is the revelation of a significant prog-rock element to Hecker’s sound. The angst-laden brooding of the In the Fog suite is somewhere between Bach toccata and Silver Apples-style wig-out, while both parts of Hatred of Music carry strong whiffs of early-1970s Pink Floyd blended with early-1980s Vangelis.
Ravedeath, 1972 probably ranks alongside Hecker’s collaboration with Aidan Baker on Fantasma Parastasie as his most claustrophobic album. As the title of the album’s first long piece, In the Fog, suggests, we are uncertainly feeling our way. The closing suite, In the Air, promises some respite, but the fog proves no thinner up here. Lonely, warped piano figures echo across scratchy shortwave currents in a way that’s beautiful but also resigned. Whatever it is that’s been hemming us in for the length of this album, it suggests, we’re probably never going to get away from it. Hecker’s latest seems to ultimately be about making peace with our mortality, and as such is his most powerful album yet.