Tim Hecker Fort Massey United Church, Halifax NS, May 24

Tim Hecker Fort Massey United Church, Halifax NS, May 24
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Clad all in black, Tim Hecker walked to the church stage without much fanfare and, given that there was still daylight sneaking in through the stained glass windows, without much obvious notice, either. A few audience members who were still at the merch table, or outside for a smoke, could be seen awkwardly hurrying to the pews when they realized the show was about to start, but they needn't have worried: Hecker started his first drone slowly, clearly waiting until everyone was seated before ramping up his cacophonous collision of sounds.

This was courteous, sure, but it was as much for the audience's safety as anything else: Hecker's 50-minute, continuous set was a decidedly physical experience. Not since seeing My Bloody Valentine five years ago have I been so grateful to remember to bring my earplugs to a show. Hecker's electronic soundscapes are often referred to as "ambient music," but that seems far too polite a term: his sound is assaulting, arresting, debilitating in its darkest moments and beautiful in its most glorious ones. The sampled piano tones gave the sound a physical texture, something to grasp onto, while around them noise and dissonance swirled. Many of the segments were familiar from Hecker's records, including last year's Virgins, but came together as if the set were a piece in and of itself.

With each escalation, I felt as if the show might reach its physical breaking point: that the shaking pews might snap in two, or the chandelier — seemingly twirling in response to the physical force — might break and fall down on the pulpit. But each time, Hecker would turn some dials and pull back from the edge. He was so good at the retreat that I almost wondered if, rather than saying goodbye when the set ended, he would just disappear into the church's haze (generated by copious smoke machine usage). He didn't, but it would have been a perfect end to his impressive set.