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Mar182011

Tim Hecker - Ravedeath 1972

TIM HECKER - RAVEDEATH 1972

Kranky

With apologies to faceless-techno empiricists, Tim Hecker albums do seem to improve once you know the concepts behind them. Ravedeath, 1972 is his latest album in a considerable body of work over the last 15 years, and the title, cover and first track (“Piano Drop”) make it fairly obvious that it’s concerned with the “death of music”: apparently something to do with pirate CDs being bulldozed and heavily-compressed MP3s. So, what better way to conceptualise this than to go to a church in Iceland and record yourself playing an old pipe organ, then hook in local resident Ben Frost to help you grate the field recordings through your patented wall of coruscating static? Hmm.

On initial listen the album may appear not to live up to this heady theme. I was expecting something heavier and more visceral, perhaps a relation of Frost’s incredible 2009 album By The Throat, but by comparison Ravedeath, 1972 was far less immediate - almost boring on the first listen. Persistence pays off though, and over a few repeats the album reveals some individual and addictive qualities.

In keeping with previous Hecker albums, across the album several epic 10-12 minute tracks are split into multiple parts. It’s hard not to slip into classical-speak here: possibly “movements” is a suitably grandiose word, as there are often discernible mood changes between each segment. Take the 12-minute In The Fog, which builds into a bowing, dissonant wall of sound through the first part. Then an almost-melody collapses under a weight of static into a perhaps more ambient final third, with a meandering piano and found sounds becoming increasingly audible above the general gloom.

It’s the differences between the organ’s natural tonal quality and the post-processing that provide the most dramatic highs. When the pipes burst free of the surrounding waves of static towards the end of “In The Fog II” it’s a head-turning moment, the source material suddenly becoming visible and making more sense in context. And closing suite “In The Air” uses fairly untreated piano sounds to great effect, with a near post-rock ending.

It’s a fine line though, and this tethering to the organic has pitfalls. On the shimmering “Hatred Of Music I” an emerging massed choir oversteps briefly into potential cheese; at the end of “Analog Paralysis, 1978” the pointless overdub of a idly struck pick-up brings you right back from mulling over the nature of the universe and straight into a shreds parody.

Overall, the album stays on the right side. And whatever you may think of the slightly overwrought concept, Ravedeath, 1972 is intriguing, occasionally powerful and ultimately rewarding. Perhaps it’s better not to know the “why” after all?

Sam Stagg

Reader Comments (1)

My copy just arrived and only now just finished playing it for the first time.
My immediate thought was the same - expecting it to be a tough visceral listen a la Frost, that I was almost afraid to place in the tray as my first CD for the day.
Still, it's a wet morning in Sydney, and I thought that appropriate.
It's certainly not the visceral listen I think many expect, but it is an album that will clearly take time to get to know, deepen and appreciate. Works for me, and I look forward to getting to know it. Even on face value, it does have some immediately engaging passages.

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpetesrdic

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