I bought Tim Hecker’s LP Harmony in Ultraviolet off the shelf at NYC’s Other Music in 2006. Frankly, I nearly pissed myself when the album opener, Blood Rainbow, tore through my speakers for the first time. It was like a Kandinsky painting had exploded across my living room in sonic imagery perched at the intersection of noise, dissonance, and melody.
The critically acclaimed Canadian’s work has been described as “structured ambient” and “cathedral electronic music”—the latter phrase was what actually made me pick it up, because it has a certain Shakespearean oxymoronic imagery I appreciate, and I don’t know who said it, but they were spot-fucking-on. As a very special guest of the Bedroom Community label, Airwaves 2009 will mark Hecker’s debut in Iceland.
Ben Frost: “I find it easier to talk about music in visual terms than in aural ones; and with that in mind, to me your music is very much a painted image—oil paints on a brush. Would you agree with that? Your records also imply grand design, demonstrated if anything by the way in which everything is carefully stitched together, and by your use of refrains and codas—compositional devices rooted in classical music. Thoughts?”
Tim Hecker: Yes, I think that’s quite fair and spot on. Although I often see the music more in terms of squeegee-based oil painting than maybe brush-based. During the recording one of my last records, Harmony in Ultraviolet, I was reading a collection of Gerhard Richter’s early writings and found that text a million times more inspirational than anything directly musical. His flickering large abstract paintings from the 80s and 90s have immense depth, and it was fun to think of how something like that would transfer into the sonic palette. Having said all that, however, there is a limit to the music-as-visual-art metaphor.
I also agree with all the attempts to obfuscate, transform, mangle and vaporize instruments or structures, I’d say it still fails in that it falls back on sometimes very traditional notions of musical form. Maybe that’s good though, in that there needs to be some sort of anchor or things have the tendency to float away in a bland maudlin sonic fog—or if not, then too difficult to render any sort of pleasure or sliver of transcendence to the listener.
BF: What other people hear in your work is one thing, and lining your work up next to Christian Fennesz, William Basinski, or myself even (ha!) I suspect is tolerable, but probably a far cry from what you hear in it. You have influences I’m sure, but I’m interested in the ones your listeners wouldn’t see—the ones you’ve abstracted far beyond the point of recognition, and beyond music. I imagine literature, ice hockey and beer have as much input…
TH: You could say that the ice hockey game I played last night has as much or probably more influence than abstract electronic composers, but who knows for sure. I love all the musicians you mention, but those direct links are only part of the package. I think the space of arrangement makes a huge impact. Music composed in dark, dank, windowless rooms often seems more pressure-infused than the work done alongside light-strewn windows or even outdoors. Time of day, again, is something else.
I also find it interesting how much music relates to what I’ve been doing that I’ve never even heard—you know, sort of diffused through other artists—through second-order relationships, maybe hearing pieces in passing. I’m listening to some new age music, probably from the early eighties right now, as I write this, and could have been released last year on certain ‘contemporary’ respected labels from England or Germany (who would touch ‘new age’ music though!??!).
The web of interrelationships is wide beyond imagination. I could say, ‘I’m interested in making music at levels of immensity never heard before, and realise that both that thought is not novel, nor has it not been attempted before. I’m writing right now about certain monster pipe organs built at the turn of the century that would kill anything I could make with a computer and PA system. And the heavy metal band that tried to outplay the organ in Atlantic City in the 1970s also failed to beat it.
BF: Like paintings by Leonardo or Michelangelo, your compositions, to me, often reveal structure only from a certain distance, but up close they are infinitely human and flawed, even. Your new record, An Imaginary Country, is like a chapel fresco painting with noise—which is perhaps most interesting considering that you started as a techno producer, a musical discipline which, if anything, visually conjures a pragmatic, architectural approach. Are you working from gridlines and blueprints or from light and shadows?
TH: Part of why I sidestepped from techno music was because of the need to have predictable time signatures and things like that. My way of developing music is very messy and unstructured. This is partly the fault (or blessing) of the software I use. But it’s also a decision to keep things off a linear, organised path. I know techno producers who are far more disorganised than I am, so it’s probably not that. I guess I was just more interested in music unhinged from the direct referent of the metronome. Or as you say, drawn to the ‘light and shadows’ instead of the right-angles of edifice.
Tim Hecker performs as a special guest of the Bedroom Community Label Night @ Iðnó on Friday October 16 at 22:20.
- When: Friday 22:20
- Where: Iðnó
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