Tim Hecker Plays Up The Tension

Tim Hecker Plays Up The Tension
Photo: Tim Hecker
In Canadian music, Tim Hecker is a bit of an anomaly, still an obscure figure even though his international reputation confirms his stature as a visionary of abstract guitar music. His sixth album, Harmony in Ultraviolet, is a testament to the no-man’s land between black metal and musique concrète, a jarring constitution of white light and white heat. By his own estimation he draws fans as diverse as "computer nerds and longhaired goth dudes with painted fingernails.” They may not see eye to eye on much else, but when it comes to Hecker’s recordings, they readily agree, something special is going on.

The ability to jump borders, in music and audience, has been key to Hecker’s way of thinking from the beginning. "My approach as a young suburban kid was always to be in a band, one with great communication and some transcendental product that would surpass all of our abilities and make some magic,” he says. "That never really happened. So my music is really just a product of failed collective experience. Out of necessity I bought a sampler, so I could loop drums and play guitar over that. Gradually, the sampler seemed more and more interesting, and I played less and less guitar. Soon I hooked that sampler up to my computer and went from there.” Hecker first made a name for himself internationally in his mid-20s as the atmospheric click-techno producer Jetone. Jetone’s second album, 2001’s Ultramarin, had found a home on the Force Inc. label, at the time a highly recognised outlet. Ultramarin garnered critical raves and a strong following, setting Hecker in the same sphere as Toronto’s Thomas Jirku and Montreal’s Akufen as the new hopes of Canadian techno.

At the height of his techno popularity, he took an unexpected turn: Hecker dropped the BPMs. Within a few months of Ultramarin, he released his first ambient record, Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do It Again. Initially, because of its proximity to the Jetone album, Haunt Me was considered a well-executed side project. After all, the album was delivered at a time when almost every electronic producer was working under multiple aliases. But by the time 2003’s spectacular Radio Amor emerged, it was becoming increasingly clear that Jetone wasn’t coming back.

"Working on multiple projects leads to a form of cultural schizophrenia,” he says. "It’s one thing to say we live in a schizophrenic age, but I was trying to combat that, unifying everything and combating that urge to do 20 different projects. I wanted to consolidate it all, work on something as a craft instead of just an exploration. You put your name on it; this is what you did musically. When you spread your music out over multiple aliases, it kind of dilutes responsibility.”

Certainly, Harmony in Ultraviolet, has little in common with Hecker’s contributions to fellow Montreal experimenters Fly Pan Am. It has even less in common with his work as Jetone. Harmony in Ultraviolet takes a step back from the claustrophobic depths of 2004’s Mirages, returning to the subtle melodicism of Radio Amor and the comparatively open spaces of Haunt Me. All in all, it capitalises on the most attractive qualities of his earlier work while still forging ahead. Hecker’s tenacity for uncovering the musicality within noise has propelled his recording into that rarefied tenure of timelessness. They’ll never sound old, nor will they ever sound completely new. At their most rigorous they sound otherworldly, at their best they sound sublime.

"These days I’m interested in making fucked-up attempts at transcendental music,” Hecker admits. "I don’t think I put much value into any particular approach. I put more emphasis on the end result: did it succeed or fail at being transcendental music? You could probably try to do this with 1975 four-track technology if you wanted to. I guess I just enjoy that mind-warping quality, not because that’s what I feel I want to listen to all the time. Just because I feel that’s what I can add to the world.”

Hecker’s contribution to the world transcends not only time, but also the contemporary artistic spectrum. Much like Austria’s Mego collective (Fennesz, Pita, Kevin Drumm et al), he belongs to an isolated smattering of abstract minimalists who borrow as heavily from contemporary fine art and installation theory as they do from traditional instrumentation or computers. "My attraction to noise is artistic, intellectual, personal. I enjoy finding that threshold where noise, which has been traditionally associated with something unpleasant, unwanted, merges with harmonics or melodics. How that tension synthesises into transcendence.”

The sources of Hecker’s noise may be unwanted, but few others play with the tension noise conjures so beautifully.