Not all ambient artists are treated with the reverence usually shown Tim Hecker, but then, his music is much more than just ambient in nature. It is difficult to ignore, not only because it feels so harrowing, but also because it’s so physical when played at normal volume, full of tactile textures and warm, low-end rumble. When the recent news broke about whole flocks of birds dying from airborne trauma blasts, I wondered if they happened to be roosting on top of a venue Hecker was playing, falling from the air as they tried to escape. Even as that scenario is well within the realm of possibility, there’s something about that picture which doesn’t quite fit his music either. While his music is dark, it isn’t the embodiment of an evil, attention-whoring deity who wreaks havoc just to provoke fear and call attention to itself. Rather, it sounds more reflective of a personal recognition of the world’s moral uneasiness, a shapeshifting flux which can’t be pinned down but courses through everything in shimmering waves.
Going back to the idea of Hecker’s work as being categorically ambient, his new album Ravedeath, 1972 works less effectively in that mode than either of his last two Kranky albums (Harmony in Ultraviolet and An Imaginary Country), which is ultimately a good thing. Ideally, his work should not be ignored, but when relegated to the background, Ravedeath can feel a little bit like yesterday’s news, just more static and sustain. And while it definitely is more static and sustain, you really need to turn this up, put down whatever else you’re doing, and connect with it in the moment, as this is very present music. It feels like a refined version of his past esthetics, and is more intense for the limitations he has decided to work under. The primary source material was recorded in an Icelandic church on a pipe organ, mostly over the course of one day. After recently witnessing Hecker shake the foundations of a cavernous, dilapidated theater with billowing noise, it seemed that was the ideal environment for his work (to the detriment of future home listening), so the focus on recording inside a similarly sized space with such a mighty instrument makes sense. While the organ and church acoustics occasionally sound huge – studio electronics still provide the most overwhelming qualities – they also work a more suggestive role by making a more explicit connection with some of the death themes touched upon in song titles and accompanying artwork over the years. Broken into three suites with softer material stitching them all together, Ravedeath, 1972 pulls you in with immediate loudness and plays out in grand fashion, a continuous long form work ostensibly constructed of smaller tracks. Amid the sheets of sound and layers of movement, a piano plinks throughout, providing a melodic centering which reverberates sadly underneath the weightiness of it all.
The themes of decay, oversaturation, the sacred, detuned-ness, tinnitus, paralysis, sorrow, and elegy seem like a comment on music’s culture that parallels a fatal view of culture and society in general. In the rush to adopt the newest technologies, foundational relationships become attenuated or obliterated. The sad ink on stacks of yesterday’s CD-Rs tell a story we didn’t stick around long enough to hear. We build these towers and cathedrals which ultimately feel empty, with reverence toward acquisition but devoid of the context of deeper connection or function. Each voice that speaks up makes all the others less likely to be heard, but the chorus swells with technology’s advance. This informational noise and physical disconnectedness cause a decentralized distress and nebulous depression, the type of acute despondency which brings a man to a church alone to make one last appeal in a world that no longer listens. Opening the door, it sounds like Ravedeath, 1972.