Published Feb 20, 2011Montreal-based musician and sound artist Tim Hecker is all about contrasts. With his new album, Ravedeath, 1972, he explores the nexus of the organic and the processed, the sinister and the romantic, the serious and the playful, the live performance and the studio setting.
The majority of the album was recorded in one day last July during a trip to Iceland. "I love it there. I find it a strange, fantastic place. The first time I went was in the dark of the fall and there was barely any light and then I came back in the summer and it was nothing but light. A lot like the Yukon or something for a Canadian."
The central performance is based around a pipe organ housed in an old wooden church discovered by engineer and collaborator Ben Frost. The recording was then taken back to Hecker's studio for a month of editing and mixing. "I brought in pieces that I had been working on that weren't finished and improvised a lot and layered over them and so afterwards it was just a question of montage and editing decisions. It's a hybrid of a studio and a live record."
Churches are somewhat of a motif for Hecker, having played the Music Gallery in Toronto and performed several pipe organ concerts, including in Poland, as part of the Unsound festival last year. "Reykjavík is a mellow city and the church is mellow. I went in there with anticipation and it was awesome to spend this day recording music in a new fashion for me, which was doing feedback systems with the pipe organ and using guitar amplifiers and nice microphones."
The album is partly about the destruction and disposability of music. The date in the album's title references its cover photo showing the first MIT "piano drop" stunt. ("Piano Drop" is also the name of the opening track.) "The titling is the icing on the cake. It's a great opportunity to just have a laugh. All those heavy titles, it's kind of a put-on and also genuine on the other side."
Hecker's particular style of brooding, ambient music has always straddled the border of electronic and analogue, but on his new album he appears to blur these boundaries even further "I've never felt comfortable as a digital or electronic musician. I find everything in our popular musical cultures is digital, or electronic even. It's nearly impossible to hold that distinction anymore. My music is intentionally out there to obfuscate journalistic categories. I very much get pleasure out of making it difficult."
Ravedeath, 1972 is full of grey areas and welcome contradictions. A live recording that was started and finished in the studio, a serious comment on music that retains a sharp sense of humour and an album that confounds easy genre categorisation. In parts it evokes William Basinski's Disintegration Loops with its distorted organ and slow, haunting, reverb-laden tones but it is quintessentially Tim Hecker and possibly his most powerful and arresting work to date.