Tim Hecker - Konoyo

A Closer Listen

Tim Hecker‘s Virgins was our #1 album of 2013, while 2016’s Love Streams was never picked up for review ~ the tonal differences were so great that they caught our reviewers off guard.  We missed the abrasion, the jutting edges, the jagged wrecks of sound.  This year, Hecker is back to doing what we love.  We’re even re-visiting our initial reaction to Love Streams, asking ourselves if we had been too harsh in hoping for harshness.  After all, the composer had admitted that he had grown tired of repeating himself.

Konoyo is certainly no repetition.  Not only is it vastly different from Love Streams, it bleeds different timbres than Virgins.  The veneer of beauty remains while the sense of danger returns ~ in the very first second.  The opener launches with descending glissandos, like an alarm, setting the tone for the entire album.  But if the album can be defined by a single variable, it would have to be the presence of gagaku ensemble Tokyo Gakuso, playing instruments such as shō, ryuteki and hichirik.  These sessions were recorded in a temple, lending the music a spiritual veneer, even if the impression is one of faith on the edge of collapse.

One of Hecker’s many strengths is his ability to take raw material ~ passages of music or even entire songs ~ and to play with the components, dissecting, reassembling, layering, occasionally shoving round pegs into square holes.  We recognize the end product as drone, because of its sustained tones, although the influence of modern composition is crucial as well.  “This life” builds into a miasma, then secedes, leaving the impression of a popped balloon before the pieces hit the ground.  There’s sadness attached to this switch in viscosity, reflecting the overall theme of “ritual and regret.”  The old ways no longer serve us, but we haven’t found effective new ways.  Despite its mournful nature, Konoyo serves as a metaphor for the way forward, the composer continually re-inventing himself, creating during a time of cultural disintegration.

There’s a lot going on in the cover photo ~ fire, water, wreckage, but also symmetry.  The album looks like it sounds, or the other way around.  Moments of tranquility allow the listener to reflect between developments, the best examples being the tender “Is a rose pedal of the dying crimson light” and the orchestral finale of “In mother earth phase.”  The outer drama comes and goes in waves, while the claustrophobic atmosphere accumulates.  The songs grow longer and longer: an eight-minute track, a nine-minute track, a ten-minute track, finally a quarter-hour piece to close the set.  The more time one spends in Hecker’s world, the more the sessions expand.  It’s as if the artist is inviting the listener to acclimate to a longer the attention span.  Time is received differently in western and eastern cultures, the latter more attuned to the moment, as Hecker experienced during his trips to Tokyo.  The title is translated “the world over here,” but as the composer brings the music home, “here” simultaneously becomes “here” and “there,” representing a fluidity of cultures rather than a series of borders.  In the end, the only ocean between us is one of sound, which we cross on a ferry of notes.  (Richard Allen)

Fri Sep 21 02:01:28 CEST 2018

85

Pitchfork

On the least dense and most inquisitive album of his career, the experimental musician creates a fascinating dialogue between his technology and some of the world’s most ancient instruments.

Fri Sep 28 07:00:00 CEST 2018

80

The Guardian

Kranky

Having created his own particular aesthetic over nearly two decades – imagine an ambient dreamscape in the rain-soaked alley between a church and a nightclub – the Canadian composer Tim Hecker continues to hone and broaden it out. On his previous album he semi-abstracted an Icelandic choir; now he looks to Japan, collaborating with Tokyo Gakuso, a group who play traditional courtly gagaku music. Hecker takes their drums, chimes, and close, borderline discordant strings – a heady, spiritual sound – and adds his own sense of disruption, suggesting real or psychological fracture.

On the most adventurous pieces, such as This Life and Keyed Out, the instruments are made to shiver and thrash as if on a hospital gurney, struggling for equilibrium, as Hecker’s trademark plumes of static billow beneath. On the magnificent Across to Anoyo, the album’s only steady pulse is crowded out by a kind of maniacally melodic feedback, itself taken over by industrial chords and bass notes of pure dread.

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Fri Sep 28 11:30:52 CEST 2018

80

Drowned In Sound

It is often assumed, falsely, that great solo artists are those who struggle to work with other people. This often provides a myth of independence that comes to overshadow the importance of external contributions to the work of such individuals. Tim Hecker, the Canadian experimental composer who has risen to become possibly the most famous contemporary ‘ambient’ artist, provides a case in point. Here is an artist most listeners would struggle to imagine as part of a group (Hecker’s 2012 collaborative record with Daniel Lopatin – aka. Oneohtrix Point Never – might be the most commonly overlooked record in his discography) and yet recent Hecker records have seen him dependent upon musical ensembles.

On 2013’s stunning, and at times jarring, Virgins, saw Hecker build around the work of a small collective of orchestral musicians. On 2016’s beautiful Love Streams, Hecker tore up choral before putting them back together again, in the process creating one of his most startlingly alive records to date. This was a far cry from much of the Canadian’s early work, which occasionally felt purposefully dulled, making the inanity of the everyday seem captivating through its transformation into electronic sound.

Konoyo by Tim Hecker

Hecker’s collaborators on Virgins and Love Streams were largely Icelandic, or based in Iceland, and included the great Jóhann Jóhannsson, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Konoyo sees Hecker turn to Japan for inspiration, albeit largely thanks to Jóhannsson, who introduced Hecker to gagaku, a form of ancient Japanese court music. Impressed by the powerful restraint of gagaku performances, Hecker has produced Konoyo with the collaboration of specialist musicians.

The result is simultaneously quintessential Hecker and yet something completely different from his previous work. Gagaku music itself is music of the elite, traditionally made and performed for Emperors, yet Konoyo often feels so sonically comprehensive as to make such a tie appear faintly ridiculous. Opener ‘This Life’ provides an enormous, all-consuming canvas upon which Hecker drops flashes of squalling melody. It’s beautiful and vaguely terrifying at the same time. Moreover, like all of Hecker’s best work, it feels like a genuine soundtrack for the times, capturing adeptly the dystopian sense of being adrift in a landscape in constant transformation. This is music that is strangely accessible not in what it does musically but in its uncanny ability to mirror the disorientation that surrounds us all on a daily basis.

The weaving of acoustic sounds into the mix here is done even more impressively than on Virgins or Love Streams. It is obvious that, when recording the album, Hecker engaged in a real dialogue with the gagaku ensemble he worked with. Rather than a slightly dubious ethnographic exercise, Konoyo works as an unusual, but nonetheless genuine, meeting of musical styles. At its best – on ‘A Sodium Codec Haze’, for example – Konoyo exists as a glorious symphony that brings together the starkness of electronic experimentation and the human warmth of traditional acoustics into an astonishing whole.

As ever with Hecker, essential listening.

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Mon Oct 01 17:10:00 CEST 2018