Review Summary: Ambient music not for the faint of heart.
Tim Hecker is the best impressionist musician in the 21st century.
Ambient music is almost by definition impressionistic, not in the sense that music theorists talk about Debussy and Ravel’s uses of extended tonal concepts – ambient music owes more, structurally, to minimalists like Erik Satie and Arvo Pärt – but in the sense that all impressionist artists, musical or otherwise, took images and gave them general form rather than defined detail. Ambient music’s stereotypical haziness derives from the impressionist tradition.
Most ambient artists use impressionism as an excuse to meander about for ten minutes, calling it a rumination on the tides. Hecker, on the other hand, chooses definite imagery to play with, and gives those images a warped, definite form through his music, much as Debussy did in “La Cathédrale Engloutie.”
2009’s An Imaginary Country
gave a panoramic view of something massive, a country no doubt inspired by his native Canada, and succeeded in conveying not only a general portrait of the country in Hecker’s mind, but also areas of the country in each of the tracks.
Despite Hecker’s previous high, powerful concepts, Ravedeath, 1972
is his most monolithic, impressionistically successful album yet, an album that uses Hecker’s typical expansive sound and applies it to provocative imagery. The cover and the first song of the album reference the annual “piano drop” at MIT, where students take a piano and drop it off of a roof – destroying something beautiful. Hecker, clearly inspired by this, deconstructs the sounds of him playing an organ in Reykjavik and uses it as the primary source material for his music.
Most of Hecker’s work, though, is done in the post-production phase. On top of Hecker’s omnipresent organ are layers upon layers of white noise, filters, feedback, and synths. To put it in a more visual perspective, the organ is Hecker’s object on the table, but his post-production layers are his paintbrush and paper, his tools to construct the image. The rumbling, distorted bass in “The Piano Drop” pull the synthesized organ down like gravity pulling on the piano as it tumbles from the roof. The rushing waves of white noise and distortion do their best to outshine the frankly beautiful music underpinning the “Hatred of Music” suite. Hecker imbues the suite with a sense of anger and urgency, two emotions rarely tapped by ambient composers, and Hecker succeeds, no doubt assisted by his mixer and contemporary Ben Frost.
While Ravedeath, 1972
does not finish with some defining concept like An Imaginary Country
, the album definitely conveys an image. Hecker says that, more generally, he was inspired by “digital trash”, and Ravedeath, 1972
certainly piles on layers like a landfill, a repository of all of Hecker’s frustrations and victories. The stagnation of “Analog Paralysis, 1978” is tragic; the lightness of “In the Air” is refreshing.
Hecker’s amalgamation of layers and images compiles to form a twisted meta-statement on the destruction of beauty. Each of Hecker’s layers are shards, something incomplete, but with just enough shards, a fragmented, disturbed image is formed, and that is the result of Ravedeath, 1972