Monday, 16 September 2013

Tim Hecker - Virgins


In 2011, the Canadian census reported nearly a quarter of the country's population considered themselves non-religious - higher than America's 20%, but significantly lower than the UK's 66%. Why bring up the subject of religion, no one asks me - a result no doubt of the obviousness the album title and visual depiction shown in Montrealer Tim Hecker's seventh studio album, Virgins, seems to imply. Surprisingly, that's not the reason why I'm shedding some light on the Anglosphere's religious/non-religious state at present. The odd thing - though unclear which side he himself falls into - is that speaking as a non-believer [in the established sense], Hecker's sound tends to justify the collectivism of religion offered in society, but in a way that disconcerns either the message, or even the finer doctrine of beliefs. Tim Hecker's message - carried forward by his duality on ambience and ambivalent expression - instead directs attention to the opposite theme: singularity. Independance, challenge; vulnerablity, loneliness, difficulty. Since the veilling chill on debut Haunt Me Haunt Me, Do It Again, the Canadian producer has put forth - with each variance of atmosphere or context the challenge of an open World laid bare, with its listener simply this nameless victim brandished beneath many a provocative textural and sonic challenge. While 2012's Instrumental Tourist, a ten-track collaboration with fellow synth play-maker Daniel Lopatin didn't match the standards set by either men's inspiring [solo] catalog, Hecker meanwhile continues to deliver sounds less as rhythmic or melodic components, but more a frostier mechanic in revealing the greater truths to our World.

That's not to say Lopatin's playful antics haven't brushed off on his once Canadian co-worker. Opening track Prism comes off like the spectral refraction its name seems to suggest. Hecker's corner-of-your-eye predation is at its most chilling; frosted drones creeping up with immediance - gradually increasing dynamically. It's the startling impact of what sounds like a distorted organ or piano playing high-octave keys both forwards and backwards that shunts in and out of presence, that hits the hardest on this track. And while there's this brief calmness in the latter seclusive piano, it feels little more than a rudimentary after-effect to Hecker's surprisingly brutish and open honesty in effect that such stricken instrumentation can have. The way it leads into Virginal I cements that belief; a belief, as we realize, built from a salvation away from the shock and stunning sights before us. But instead, the once nimble piano dartering begins to increase again texturally and sonically, all the while synthesizer done buzzing around almost in a swarm-like mass - targettive and ready to strike. For this six-minute piece however, the track attempts to balance itself between illustrating what internal feelings its listener might be experiencing, and expressing the sheer coldness and malevolence to such external surroundings and stimuli Hecker seems to profess as crudely calculating. Almost ingenius t a degree.

It's this microcosm of detail that the Montrealer, despite concentrating on it over the span of his career, seems to want to profess more character and colour over than perhaps his previous albums actually presented. Radiance again seems to play rather fittingly into the listener's hands in that it foresights the sonic and textural direction Hecker is attempting in his track. And here especially, the way his synth layers paint a brighter, slightly more hued and colourful portrayal of the environment seems to shift back into that religious context mentioned above. There's a bit of unfathomable blindness in how concrete and direct the synths expose themselves; visually it reminds me of looking directly at the sun or maybe even a flashlight and experiencing that blacking-out of the imagery around you. And Hecker's focus - his decision to direct the sounds in a linear, more projected path - feels less like a ray of UV, and more a light of holy origin. A heavenly light, an ascending light. Live Room then seems to be the one asking the question: what lies at the end of this ray of light? And its self-initiated response seems to expel something of a doubt and scarce certainty. The looping, almost manic pace of piano keys, scrutinizing percussion and noise-drenched synthesizers paint a very conflicting state of affairs. But above all, Hecker's direction turns rather than addressing the chaos of the outside, to projecting the openess around us as yes a risk, but not necessarily some absoluted threat to our well-being. The track's second-half declares this potential for brighter stimulus in how it adds more warming tones and denser huddles of drone amidst the high-pitch scatter of instrumentation. 

Likewise, Live Room Out's less-than-three minute follow-up conveys a warmer narrative to Hecker's bleaker, wintry longer-running composites. Electronics - while still making reference to the rupturing, indecipherable terror that might dwell beneath/around us in its low frequency tones - instead comes off like it means to share in the expanse of the surroundings, and embrace us with its presence than (un)necessarily add hostility. However, while there is a brief mention or utterance of melody that creeps up in the track's closing footnote, it would be foolish to ignore the lack of such musical structure on this album up to this point. So it's fortunate that Virginal II springs to life from out its initially-faint gust of piano notes and eventually clears itself of the album's former wintry opaqueness. The looping piano hits, while still emanating this same crunchy texture, feel evermore afront and in focus. Because of this, Hecker's notational and accented writing persists and strikes me as a listener hardest of all. And despite the drone again that sliding into view - almost as if with intent to collide with the instrumentation - and adding some friction to the piece, I remain reeled in by Hecker's simple but effective application of timbre to emphasize the dynamic-turn-emotive impact of such minimal, but organic sound. Moments such as these bring out the Steve Reich influence that ring the most with Hecker's work. It's the endurance of length or delivery that here becomes almost null in importance. The focus shifts instead, for moments such as these, to the relation and to the context...and it's almost without limitation that that repetition seems to strive for. 

Speaking for the entire second half of this record, there's a far better fluency in progression and transition presented than what there is in the first half. Black Refraction may not provide as much the same resonant or refractive quality as other tracks on this album - and in doing so doesn't shield it from the somewhat arrhythmic dawdle it coasts along in - but at least here, there's some faithful understanding into Hecker's mind-set, and how exactly he's going about surmizing this poignant religious context to which he's projecting. Amps, Drugs, Harmonium is another of these moments in the narrative where Hecker seems relatively at ease with his imagery (in the same someone's soul/spirit may be at peace for having finally passed away) while at the same time making sure not to lose himself to his own marvelling bliss. The song as a result, holds a slightly more positive and uplifting vibe than previous tracks - the fluttering woodwind and minute piano in the background giving Hecker's sound a lofty, natural aesthetic than previous.

But more-so, while the same structural techniques remain apparent and instrumentation continues to follow along this repeating-onto-itself fashion, the decision here to focus on more aesthetical instrumentation leaves something of a gestural sensation as the track slips from view and the first of the two Stigmata tracks unfold. While Stigmata I focuses its heavly-dense drone and staticness on perhaps the inability to move in what might be at this point some non-physical beyond-Earth after-life, Stigmata II resides with a suprisingly rhythmic resound of beats and vibrance in its percussive textures. Stab Variation begins on what feels like a very anti-climatic simmering-down of pace and content, and yet the way Hecker again proceedes to lay down a pattern of beats and conflicting pitches in the electronic components to his music, builds the track up again - perhaps a initiation of delivering these sounds almost like they were being arranged live on stage. But beyond the performance of the piece, Hecker still refrains from lawding us with drone or noise throughout, instead deciding to gradually increase and decrease its presence, as opposed to building it mechanically from scratch.

This unveiling is what Tim Hecker continues to specialize with in contrast to fellow artists who push electronics to their utmost narrative extreme. Like Harmony In Ultraviolet before it, Virgins stands as one of Hecker's most provoking and conceptualized records to date. An album displaying a shot of a tapestry; its religious assemble emptied, planted with restoration-associated equipment in both ladders and sheets alike. That inevitably addresses semantics on something breaking down, crumbling, falling. Yet listening closer and more thoroughly to the album's approach, the feeling here is that it's not the church or structure of such holy shrines that are falling, but rather matters more in line with faith and belief that appear broken. The album, in both halves, tells the story of the demise-turn-rise of society finally finding the will to self-identify, as opposed to relying so uniformally on religion to see them through. True, the antagonistic and quite cold affiliates in Hecker's ambiance seem to represent that of the baronness of the World away from religion, but more and more the context seems to relay back to people as both a collective as well as that of individuals. And the way Hecker orchestrates this two-part narrative in a way that comes across primitive in one instance, and mannered in the next...its craft is just one more benefit to the Canadian's alternative to speculating over life's great qustions on surviving...and what lies beyond survival's limit.
~Jordan

8.3

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