Saturday, 3 November 2012

Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin - Instrumental Tourist

 

2011 was a great year for the two artists in question. Where Tim Hecker's 'Ravedeath, 1972' was one of the ambient droner's most refined and chillingly revealing records to date, Daniel Lopatin - through his Oneohtrix Point Never alias - provided us with 'Replica', a record far a field from his establishment of part-drone part-analog experimentalism in electronics. And while it was unfortunate I didn't share my views on the former, my review of the latter praised Lopatin's homage to sampling and refining of the sound into a flurried sense of emotive detailing. Yes, 2011 saw the two artists produce arguably their finest works to date, and while the genre of ambient and drone often finds artists collaborating together, there's no hesitance or attempts to hide the surprise at seeing Hecker & Lopatin joining forces in 2012. 'Instrumental Tourist' to name the record, sees the American duo re-orchestrate their electronic tendency, tuning their skills towards a scope of tempered sounds - the ambiguity and awe of their meet-up surfacing on numerous occasions.

'Uptown Psychedelia' sees the album start off on a glitchy flurry of crystallized picks and warming flutters of synths, Hecker's ideal for mystery and reveal coming as much into play as Lopatin's evidently ambiguous texture of electronics that run through this track. And while the prickly edges of the track dissipate a lot sooner than other parts, there's still that familiarity in tone and temperament about the music. Even when the progression starts to focus a lot more on the glitchy switch between synths and the feedback in the backdrop, there's still that same atmosphere carried through. There is then a perfect balance in moments like this where the music is more investigative than it is responsive, and it comes across strongly especially when the concept of layering it all is focused on. 'Scene From A French Zoo' sees the lavish palette of Hecker's ambience been put, almost pressingly, beneath the grittiness of these brash and crunchy synth loops, the jagged launches hitting as equally hard as the more noisy blurs do so atop it all.

The album then takes a turn as we get past the opening marks and find ourselves delving more into the mystery of these delved sounds. It's here then that the album unveils the strength and the decisiveness as to Hecker & Lopatin's collaboration, and ultimately, answers the question as to how the two musicians go about finding an equal and evenly-matched playing field. 'Vaccination (For Thomas Mann)' is a lot more orchestral and vocal sound-wise, the chamber-like scale of voices reminding me quite strongly of a track like 'Remember' or 'Explain' from Lopatin's recent release. And while for something so stripped back from the previous tracks - and despite the success of the music's lavish textures and droning spread of tone - there's very little of Hecker's thought-patterns present here. Fans of the former artists will find an evident lack of any form of means to discover; rather the music feels more placed and content in its position. Likewise, 'Intrusions' while despite showing some experimental play to the glow of synths that sway to and fro between bright and stark, taking this away it feels little more than just some electric jam of ideas with littler sense of stripping back and actually unveiling itself.

It's Daniel then, who seems to have the bigger contribution. Or more likely, the bigger say in what actually comes across to us. And while I wouldn't necessarily say it's completely without structure, it feels somewhat complacent and attempting to skip between phases too fast, too quickly. An album like 'Returnal' - while despite still giving us some quite stark contrasts in positioning - still had a sense of linking itself together and feeling more like one related concept. 'Harmony In Ultraviolet' too was a perfect example of Tim Hecker's perfectionism in carrying a sound forward from the nurtured beginnings all the way to its fading end. There's less of that here, and worse still, there's imbalance too in where they demonstrate their own musical identities. 'GRM Blue II' I guess is Tim's attempt to return to the forefront, despite it still showing Daniel's love of unconventional placement in where each instrument or piece of electronics is placed. But I still find myself liking Hecker's contribution that bit more. The atmosphere of the piece continues that tightrope-walking insecurity of bliss and melancholy - this dazed half-conscious lull to its progression makes the keys move not as steadily. As a result, it brings a sort of surreal translucency to its quality, further emphasizing that on-the-fence perspective about it being halfway between positive and negative on the emotional spectrum. Indeed, the strongest substance that comes out as a result of this collaboration, is this sense that the music is some chemically balancing act that keeps itself mobile.

'Racist Drone' has this very spacious and eery air to its sound, yet the way the dynamics keep shifting suggests this isn't exactly promising optimism or joy, or any other positive emotion. It is then the key success story, I suppose, to Hecker & Lopatin's working together in order to find an equal playing field. Even if the field in question is not without its unfavorable atmosphere. But that's what I like and feel has helped these two musicians find the respect and admiration they've received over their varied careers. And when the content of this music is not about the actual material itself, and more about the way it plays out, the atmosphere and emotion of the music becomes in itself the essence of what this music is truly all about. 'Instrumental Tourist' plays on both men's strengths because of this, Lopatin's decision to keeping his playing of keyboards to the back only makes the sounds that extra bit more haunting and suspiciously drawn towards. And all the while, Hecker is left to play about all this open space in the foreground - at times, there's glitch, at times there's looping. And all the while, this merging of what's taking place both in front of us as well as what's just beyond our sight works rather well, given the way the track seems to refuse to go about maybe [re]discovering itself. 'Vaccination No. 2', the album's final track is certainly not of a quiet or conserved nature. Despite the humble underlay, there is still this agreed-upon division whereby the rasher more rougher textures of the music can coexist alongside what is the soft and warming underlay of the music. It's a simple piece and not exactly one that provides as much means of development, but like the self-titled track, there's an admirable and quite respectable sense that both men know each others work flow and have found a means to adapt to it.

So can we go away from this effort satisfied? It is one of those albums that fans - let alone your atypical music listener - of either artist could show less attention towards in contrast to their major releases. Not because it's bad, but because here on 'Instrumental Tourist', this collaboration has less of a cohesive structure to it as to where exactly the middle ground should be positioned between Hecker's ideas and Lopatin's own. It's an interesting discovery like I mentioned at the beginning; the surprise at seeing these two guy's working together is still somewhat of a surprise. But where there as many successful balances of textural and audible development in the music, there are still those evident moments where the listener undoubtedly will feel one artist is taking precedence at the cost of the other. Nevertheless, if they were to agree on a second release under this same configuration, I certainly wouldn't argue against it. I'd be excited yes, but as you'd realize after listening to this, there would remain that unshakable sense of caution as to whether the two can - like they've done many a time on solo efforts - carry this very balance through from start all the way to the finish.
~Jordan


6.8

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