Friday, April 8, 2011

Record Review: Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972

For working within a genre so often derided for its anonymity, the ambient/drone constructions of Montreal-based sound-sculptor Tim Hecker are notably concrete. From the beginning, Hecker’s brought an uncommon focus and conceptual breadth to a genre more than willing drift off into the distance. At its best—say, on his 2001 classic Haunt Me, Haunt, Do It Again, or 2006's exquisitely realized Harmony in Ultraviolet—Hecker’s music is amongst the most vivid and disarmingly powerful being produced today. Regardless of preference, each Hecker album thus far has been an airtight, immaculately detailed sound-world unto itself, appropriate in distinct ways for varying moods and desired results. Hecker’s sixth and newest album, the darkly compelling Ravedeath, 1972, is another in this line of conceptually precise, grandly drawn immersions in sound. And it’s amongst his best work to date.

Resisting the tendency of many of his peers to leave their work mostly open to interpretation, Hecker has consistently and thoroughly contextualized many aspects of his music. From album art to song titles, his records offer distinct hints toward thematic framing which is then regularly reflected in the accompanying music. It’s not difficult, then, to locate the underlined narrative in any Hecker album, but the results are so densely concentrated that obsessive detailing of these vast sonic landscapes is naturally reciprocated. For its part, Ravedeath, 1972 concerns itself with the inevitability of sonic decomposition. In a sense, this theme was perfected on William Basinski’s 4-disc magnum opus, The Disintegration Loops I-IV, which literally documented the sound of dying tape loops, but wisely Hecker moves in the opposite aural direction while staying true to the implications and contradictions inherent in the marriage of the digital and the analogue.

In fact, Ravedeath, 1972 sounds almost like a response not only to the prosaic trends in a lot of recent ambient music, but also to his own previous album, the pastoral, underrated An Imaginary Country from 2009—which is to say this may be Hecker’s most aggressive, claustrophobic album to date. The album’s instrumental foundation, which is built heavily on the sound of a heaving pipe organ, was recorded at the Frikirkjan Church in Reykjavik, Iceland before Hecker (with the help of kindred spirit Ben Frost) returned to the studio to spray his digital debris across the surface area of these deep, often times harrowing productions. The resulting song cycle weaves its way around these cresting sequences of cathedral-like sound (“In the Fog I-III”; “In the Air I-III”) and the ominous whir of placid ambiance (“No Drums”; “Studio Suicide, 1980”), never losing the thread connecting this music not only to its prescribed goals but also to its arrival at this moment in the Tim Hecker trajectory.

The two-part “Hatred of Music” suite arguably articulates best the album’s informed yet resigned belief that sound can simply not be wielded, manipulated, and therefore contained by humans and our advancing but far from ideal technological resources. This 12-minute sequence spills forth with amp feedback, waves of synthesizer, and just the faint evidence of the human spirit as Hecker and Frost entangle organ and piano lines beneath the din. Just as Basinski used the real-time rate of decomposition in the Disintegration Loops to open up a conversation between his very own past and present as a musician, Hecker similarly taps the extremes of his tools in an effort to contract the distance between what once was seen as a constricted medium and what now feels like, with our slow acknowledgment to the effects of duration and the latent echoes in the elements of the everyday, the limitless potential of recorded sound. These variations can seem intangible, their development often times microscopic, yet not only is the evidence all around us—in the air, in the fog, in the studio, in a church, between held notes, in a sepia-toned photo of students dropping a piano off a building at MIT in 1972—but this capacity for transformation and its continuing evolution, even in a dormant state, are undeniably informing every note of music we consume. Ravedeath, 1972 is aural evidence that this discourse is not a closed circuit but a living, breathing expression of our changing roles as listeners. [InRO]

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