Canadian Bands You Should Know: Tim Hecker

Tim Hecker has been constructing shimmering landscapes of electronic noise for nearly 20 years. Based out of Montreal, his first proper release, Ultramarin, came in 2001 under the name Jetone. Released on Frankfurt-based Force Inc., the album fits alongside the minimalist sub-genre of techno, developed and popularized largely in Germany on iconic labels such as Kompakt. Driven by subtle, glitchy beats, this album hinted of the glacial soundscapes that would become Hecker's signature as his work developed.
Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again, was Hecker's first release under his own name. As with most of Hecker's subsequent work, the album is based on guitar and piano recordings that are fed through a laptop and modulated the point where the source sounds become unrecognizable. The album works as a unified piece with tracks bleeding into one another, with tape hiss buzzing in the background and the occasional piano melody floating through the ether. The album won Hecker a great deal of acclaim and while it marked a departure from his earlier, beat-driven work, it did not end his association with the electronic music scene. Instead, Hecker has continued to play high profile electronic music festivals such as MUTEK in Montreal, Sónar in Barcelona and Impakt in Utrecht.

Two EPs followed Haunt Me, including My Love Is Rotten To The Core, perhaps the most interesting release in Hecker's catalogue. The album, named after a line from Van Halen's “Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love”, is created from samples of Van Halen songs and interviews, forming a loose narrative involving the dissolution of the band. Hecker's next album, Radio Amor, was another conceptual experiment. Waves of drone crash into each other, matching the album's nautical themes. Songs such as “Shipyards of la Ceiba”, “The Star Compass”, “Azure Azure” and “Songs of the Highwire Shrimper”, explicitly reference sea travel and the tone of the album achieves an uneasy balance between the exuberance of freedom on the high seas with dread of the unknown.
Hecker's move to a more conceptual style of music over subsequent albums such as An Imaginary Country and Harmony in Ultraviolet distinguishes his music from many other artists in the ambient electronic and drone scenes. For example, there is an underlying obsession with digital garbage, mp3s, and the internet in 2011's Ravedeath, 1972, “like when the Kazakhstan government cracks down on piracy and there's pictures of 10 million DVDs and CDRs being pushed by bulldozers.” However, Hecker also seems to reject an overly analytical approach, stating: “The title I just wrote down as a joke almost, and it kind of stuck. I think it started from some imagery I’d seen of a rave disaster in L.A. where 30,000 people crashed a fence, and there were candy ravers with blood all over their faces.” Similarly, in an interview for 2004's Mirages, Hecker rejected an approach that placed concepts first:
“There has really never been an overarching concept to any of my recordings, a concept if you will that has guided the entire recording process. The concept I've used for previous records has been more of a practice of writing, almost an act of fiction, just like the efforts used in designing the artwork. That's not to say that all of my recording processes have been devoid of ideas or directions – they very much do exist, but I've tended to ham up the presentation of a record, almost in reaction to much of the pretentious pseudo-conceptualization that is endemic to the electronic and experimental genres.” 

Whatever the conceptual undertones of his work, Hecker's music works best on an emotional level. His music reveals a complex range of emotions, from nostalgia and longing to exuberance and joy, creating an impact without veering into the new age schmaltz that is the path of least resistance for ambient artists. In this regard, Ravedeath, 1972, was another success. It was also Hecker's most widely recognized work to date, gaining him a wider audience than ever before and earning positive reviews not just online but in mainstream music publications like Mojo. The album was largely created over one day in Reykjavik, Iceland, with collaborator Ben Frost. The primary sound source was a church pipe organ in an ancient cathedral, with the bludgeoning organ tones hinting at a sense of solemn religiosity that runs through the album. Ravedeath culminates with “Hatred of Music I”, a haunting, angry piece that matches dark, slithering melodic lines to shifting slabs of noise, working towards a climax that never quite comes as the song dissolves into a muted drone like digital garbage flickering out. 
Hecker has continued to record prolifically and collaborate with other artists. Most recently, he released Instrumental Tourist with Daniel Lopitan (aka Oneohtrix Point Never). The album features a range of sounds, with melody balanced precariously against atmosphere. He also remixed Philip Glass's “Montage” for the recent Glass tribute REWORK. While the track was rejected for that album, it surpasses many of the remixes that made the record and was released online. Hecker's work continues to grow, exploring new ideas and sound territories, adding to a body of work comprising some of the most vital and engaging new music available today.

– Mike Oxman

The National Music Centre Mailing List

Subscribe to receive news, updates and special promotions.