Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky)

When winter arrives and the sky goes grey I like to close the blinds of my apartment, turn the heater up to eleven and cuddle up in my bed. Usually this custom of mine goes together with the computer placed on my bed and a thick blanket of music that fills up the air around me. When this morning I glanced outside and there was no apparent source of sunlight to be seen, the never-ending stretch of clouds had me a little bit excited as I figured this would be the perfect moment to experience the new Tim Hecker release, on the Chicago based Kranky imprint. Ravedeath, 1972 is the result of a live improvisation session in a church in Reykjavik and the studio process that followed afterward. Recorded with the support of none other than Ben Frost, I anticipated a throwback to the guitar themed noise that was so prominent with Hecker in his early EP, My Love is Rotten to the Core (Substractif, 2002). The two installments of “Hatred of Music”, “Analog Paralysis” and “Studio Suicide” also had me brace for a grim listening experience much like Frost's By the Throat (Bedroom Community, 2009). But when the heavily edited organs start to buzz through my room, it seldom had me grind my teeth. Not that this is a bad thing. Hecker playfully combines his characteristic chromatic chords and dissonant layering of sounds with the special qualities of the 'studio'. The acoustic of the recording location rubs off on the already churchly character of Hecker's work. He takes full effect of the reverb that the church permits, creating even more dense structures with each layer of sound folding up on itself. The record does not get violent or grim, instead it feels like a careful study of different motives that entrance the listener. “In the Fog” is a suite consisting of three pieces that starts out with a landscape of sounds that has different tones colliding with one another much like waves hitting other waves near a cliff. At the end of the first installment, a rhythmic pulse sets in and the music becomes more fluent. This sine wave, that reminds me a lot of the pulse used by Jim O'Rourke in I am Happy and I am Singing and a 1, 2, 3, 4. (Mego, 2001), gradually fades out during the following section, before coming back in “In the Fog III”. The inclusion of touches of the piano at the start of the third section is maybe a sign of Frost's presence. This together with the buzzing pulse and a growing almost dronish noise makes this the standout track for me. “Hatred of Music” starts out with high pitched ethereal waves of noise in which textures slowly turn into something darker. The light tones are transformed into multiple layers of sound that take shape in a grim dissonant sound sculpture. It is the first and only sign of the unnerving atmosphere I anticipated when putting on the record, but the moment is fleeting and quickly dissipates growing into a calm yet dark soundscape. The triptych “In the Air” functions as some kind of closing piece of the album. It starts off really accessible with nice soothing tones, but gradually gets filled with Hecker's heavy chromatic chords. Ravedeath, 1972 very much builds up on his previous work. The typical dense layering of sound is something Hecker has mastered like no other and the abstract form of his music creates a different experience for every listener and on each listen. I feel as if Ben Frost's major influence was in the inclusion of some more pure tones. Both the touches of piano in “In The Fog” and the steady guitar based drones that are present in “Hatred of Music”. This is good music to listen to or rather experience on a day when the weather does not let up. Recommended for listeners that enjoy Fennesz, Stars of the Lid and Lawrence English. |

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Review prepared by Caspar Menkman exclusively for Headphone Commute.

Also on Headphone Commute:

Interview with Tim Hecker

Editor's Note: In June of 2010, I attended MUTEK, an international festival of electronic music, taking place in Montreal, Canada. During my stay, I interviewed many artists in person (yes, I know, I've failed to share many of these gems). Among them, I had an opportunity to talk with Tim Hecker. The following is a transcription of our conversation.

Talk a little bit about your upcoming performance tonight, at MUTEK.
Well, I'm playing a concert... I'm trying to make it a special thing because I don't play here very often. It's about once a year lately - this is my hometown - and I played at MUTEK maybe five or six times, so it's kind of strange. I've been here so many times, it's almost a déjà vu, although in this case, the venue is a bit different.

And how has it evolved over the years?
Well it's grown in both, the organizational structure and the size of the audience... as well as in its curatorial aspect. It has definitely changed with music shifting a bit.

MUTEK represents a sort of marriage between Music and Technology. What does it represent to you?
I'm not so crazy about the "technology" being the most important thing. Every musician uses technology, so why do we need to talk about technology in electronic music? Is it more interesting than the guitar's wood resonance? That's technology also - a more organic form of amplification. Do you know what I mean?

What do you think about the state of electronic music today? Do you pay attention to the trends?
No. I don't even know what 'electronic music' really means. When one refers to aspects of traditional electronic music - what does one mean by that? Synthesizers? Computers? I can give you a million examples, and I can give you a million ways in which electronics have been integrated into what we call 'mainstream' music. And I don't even know if that word means anything anymore. I tend to think of my work, not as electronic music, but as something like fake church music, neo metal drone, satanic pagan sacrificial rights music... I'm joking about that, of course. But with electronic music... it's hard to say.

What are some of the challenges in doing a live show?
It's definitely a challenge for me. I'm honest about the fact that I'm first and foremost a studio artist. I work on crafting documents that are usually around 60 minutes long, designed for a CD or vinyl. And that's my main form of work, where I put my greatest labor and love into. And performing live is a great change, a refreshing way of putting works out there in a different sense - it's more physical, overbearing and loud. It gives me a chance to really push things, to almost the threshold of sometimes pain and sometimes pleasure.

When you put together music, is it meant to be conceptually from beginning to the end, and do you expect listeners to consume it as such?
Well I hope that they would. I'm kind of nostalgic about that. I hold on to the idea of works of longer duration, where an album is not just a collection of hit songs with eleven B-sides attached to it. I like a long flow that has repetition, cycles, returns, counter points and bridges. And I think of an album as a big song, and always constructed them in that way.

Do you think there's an ideal setting where someone should consume your music?
Absolutely not. I try not to set too much interpretive framework around the work, so it's not overly conceptual, so that it's a more of an open context, it's open to a million interpretations, and also makes it more possible to be enigmatic in certain ways, than when it's totally pinned down and has an attached meaning or structure.

[ - s n i p - ]

Read the entire interview on Headphone Commute

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Also on Headphone Commute

Sound Postcard : Taylor Deupree - Single Sound

Headphone Commute's Sound Postcards project was inspired by Taylor Deupree's One Sound Each Day project, where for a year, Deupree would record a sound, regardless of how 'mundane' it at first appeared. As the owner of the amazing 12k label, and one of the pioneers behind the ambient and minimal genres, it's only suitable for Deupree to enjoy every single sound produced by organic and inanimate objects. We are honored to host an installment from Deupree for today's Sound Postcard!

Listen to this Sound Postcard on Headphone Commute

Dustin O'Halloran - Lumiere (130701)

I first discovered Dustin O'Halloran when his beautiful track appeared on Explorer's Club series, from Loaf (on which I accidentally landed after an appearance from Hauschka, Nils Frahm and Jóhann Jóhannsson). I then gravitated towards O'Halloran's release on Sonic Pieces, titled Vorleben, and immediately fell in love with his music. His album was later featured in Headphone Commute's Best of 2010 : Music For Watching The Snow Slowly Fall In The Moonlight. So when I heard that his newest album, Lumiere, was to be released on FatCat's post-classical imprint, 130701, I wasn't even surprised. It's where O'Halloran belongs. Welcome home. With nine beautiful pieces, spanning a 43 minute album, O'Halloran pours his heart and soul through the delicate piano keys, making love to the music, the instruments, and my mind. It seems that even the mere mention of a solo piano album may evoke a passive response in avid followers of experimental and instrumental music. But true connoisseurs pick up on the slightest hint of the rising aroma from the padded hammers and the dusty strings. And Dustin plays for them. Where the piano can execute a variety of moods and genres as commanded by its player, in the hands of O'Halloran it gently weeps. Add to that a few string harmonies and a brooding cello, and you've got a cocktail for magnificent despair, that's, oh, so welcome, on these winter nights. Accompanied by New York's acclaimed American Contemporary Music Ensemble (previously appearing on works by Nico Muhly, Max Richter, and Hauschka), the album employs subtle electronics, guitar from Stars of the Lid's Adam Wiltzie and violin from yet another favorite of ours, Peter Broderick. The album ties this incredible collective of amazing appearances with a mixing hand from Jóhann Jóhannsson - and we immediately have a classic record on our hands... I mean, seriously, who's missing here? Nils Frahm? Oops, sorry, he also gets an engineering credit on Lumiere!!! O'Halloran has been playing piano since the age of 7, performing his own compositions at 11. Enrolling to study art at California's Santa Monica College, O'Halloran continued his life intertwined with music. Recording Lumiere during the last three years, at the ancient Grunewald Church in Berlin, an old farm house in Italy, an old book shop in New York, and at his homes, O'Halloran suddenly became aware of a new phenomenon - he could hear music as colors. Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which one involuntarily experiences one sense in another cognitive pathway. Famous synesthetes include Liszt, Rimsky-Korsakov, as well as Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett and the ever elusive Richard D James (Aphex Twin). Composing for an ensemble, O'Halloran evoked a new sensory palette of sound: Somehow in composing I had always viewed the work similar to how a painter would approach it, adding colors, texture, adding space, painting over the whole thing and maybe leaving just a corner. O'Halloran may be a new name among the circles of neo and modern-classical circles, but he's certainly no stranger to the street. He has previously composed music for Sofia Coppola's film, Marie Antoinette (2006), William Olsen's An American Afair (2010) and Drake Doreumus' Like Crazy (2011). There are also two volumes of Piano Solos released by Splinter Records in 2004 and Bellan Union in 2006, and of course, the above mentioned Vorleben. He's also a member of Dévics, where, together with Sarah Lov, they have released three albums on Bella Union: My Beautiful Sinking Ship (2001), The Stars At Saint Andrea (2003) and Push The Heart (2006).

Read also Headphone Commute's Interview with Dustin O’Halloran

Interview with Dustin O'Halloran

Talk about the moment when you discovered that you had synesthesia. How has this condition affected your composition?
I always had this condition, but never really understood it or knew there was so much information about it until I started to study painters with this same condition. It really opened up a whole new world that connected painting and music, sound and color. I really started to read a lot about this connection when I was asked to perform at the Guggenheim in NY for their 50th anniversary, it was also the opening of the Kandinsky exhibition at the same time. Walking through this retrospective it was incredible how musical these paintings were, and how his series of "compositions", which he felt were his musical interpretations, how they really FEEL orchestral.

In my own compositions it helped me to have more freedom expressing these ideas and perhaps also help me get ideas across to other musicians that I work with. It's a language I understand, and I suppose since I am not formally trained it gave me some grounding in what I believe is a really important part of music and composing.

Describe your process of composing solo piano pieces. Do you improvise by the piano for hours? Does a single melody simply come out of nowhere?
I think all pieces start from improvising, and slowly start to take form over time. I do like to get them to a place where there is an idea and structure… sometimes that can change at the last-minute in the recording process. But I like the idea of every note being important, and no note is treated as a throw away… I want them all to count and mean something to the piece. I guess that's also why I work in a minimal way... I think a lot of music has unnecessary notes that just seem to be there for the sake of making a piece more ornamental. I am interested in the core of what makes music work.

From your earlier solo works, I can hear a lot of classical influences in your sound. Who are your favorite classical composers and why?
Yeah I spent a lot of time listening to the classical composers, and of course it's found its way into my work. I love this deep sense of composition which I think really was unique to that time... no film, tv, radio, or all these external distractions we have now. Does anyone have years to develop a single piece of music anymore in this world where everything must happen so fast?

As for composers I love: Gavin Bryars, Chopin, Bach, John Cage, Steve Riech, Arvo Part, Morton Feldman, Stravinsky, Debussy, Erik Satie, Philip Glass to name a few...

Did you like studying the piano when you were a kid? Were the lessons something you looked forward to, or did it feel like a chore? What were the other kids doing in your neighborhood while you practiced for hours? And finally (I know this is a loaded question), how do you think this has affected your childhood, and inevitably your adult life?
An interesting question... I didn't really have serious piano studies, so it was really my choice to learn. Just simple lessons from our church organist, no conservatory or anything. I really loved to play... of course there were times when I didn't want to practice... I just wanted to be able to play instantly, and of course you have to put the time in. Most of time I was pretty happy to... but yeah, your friends are going out to play and I would stay in, that's always hard when you're a kid. But it was not a really rigid schedule I had, and perhaps now I wish I had so that I could have had a better training when I was young, as I am catching up to a lot of lost time now.

I had a long period where I didn't play piano as I was moving around a lot in my teenage years, and it was not until later when I started to get into playing guitar and playing in a band that I came back to it. Now in my adult life I am trying to learn all the things I wished I had done when I was younger, but I guess the positive thing about that is I really want to, and its a pleasure to stay in play.

[ - s n i p - ]

Read the entire interview on Headphone Commute

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Read Headphone Commute's review of Lumiere