Tim Hecker: Ravedeath, 1972

Tim Hecker's latest collection Ravedeath, 1972 finds the Canadian electronic producer up to his usual enigmatic tricks: why, for example, does the cover show a piano being pushed off the top of a building? And what sense should be made of mystifying track titles such as “Analog Paralysis, 1978” and “Studio Suicide, 1980,” or the Ravedeath, 1972 title itself, for that matter? The mysteries pile up in a way that runs parallel to the unusual production approach of the recording itself, with Hecker having recorded much of it in a single day in July 2010 in a church in Reykjavik, Iceland with a pipe organ the primary sound source. Should one read into the gesture some spiritual theme or an attempt to infuse his work with a kind of divine spark, or was it simply by some fluke that the recording opportunity arose? Only Hecker knows, leaving the rest of us to speculate as is our want (though he apparently did say of the album's title that he “had no idea how it manifested. Sort of ghostwritten, like fingers on a Ouija board”). It's fundamentally a live recording, though one presumes a large amount of processing and sculpting was applied to the raw material following the church visit. And though the organ is the predominating instrument throughout, it's one sound of many, and the album ultimately plays like a quintessential Tim Hecker project as it fuses melodic fragments and textural elements into a constantly shape-shifting whole.

With each of the twelve tracks flowing uninterruptedly into the next, the album can be experienced as a single, large-scale work of fluctuating character, design, and mood. In the opening “The Piano Drop,” tones blister and shudder as they cascade amidst surges of rippling combustion, and synthetic-sounding swells thicken the sound mass. In the first of two triptychs, “In the Fog I-III” finds a churning engine (a boat's?) quickly giving way to pipe organ swells coated in abrasive grime as the titular fog moves in, blurring the elements into a smudged and eventually flickering mass as the distance from shore increases. The organ's oscillating treble and bass tones pulsate, resulting in an insistent weave that pushes determinedly forward, despite the presence of grainy noise clusters that emerge alongside. The collective sounds move in and out of focus, growing hazier during some passages and defining themselves more sharply during others, the organ tones the common thread running throughout the piece's three sections, until the fog lifts and once again the chug of the engine reappears to bring closure. “No Drums” reinstates the restraint of the opening track with three minutes of muffled melancholy, and in the two-part “Hatred of Music,” droning pitches swell into euphoric, upper register masses that deftly position themselves midway between glorious rapture and ear-splitting noise. It's at such moments that Hecker is at his sound-sculpting best, as he shapes the heavily manipulated organ, guitar, and piano elements into rising waves of epic proportion before easing them back down into episodes of more restful character. The album's second triptych “In the Air I-III” presents a seeming counterpart to the earlier “In the Fog I-III,” but don't think for a moment that the former eschews grime for crystal clarity as it's as windswept as the latter. Piano and organ sounds flirt with inaudibility as they're progressively buried under grinding convulsions of noise yet manage to remain within earshot no matter how dense the layers accumulating o'ertop of them. During the third part, however, the sound mass grows quieter and the willowy piano playing is able to move to the forefront to ease the album out on a relatively soothing note.

At day's end, admirers of Hecker's past work won't be disappointed by the new release as Ravedeath, 1972, despite its individuating qualities, sits comfortably alongside Hecker full-lengths such as the superb Mirages (Alien8, 2004) and his previous kranky outings Harmony In Ultraviolet (2006) and An Imaginary Country (2009). In all cases, one finds Hecker exploring in slightly different manner the extreme contrasts between juxtapositions of ambient melodic gestures and abrasive fields of grainy noise.

February 2011