Tim Hecker, Ravedeath 1972
How I stumbled on this album at my local library and sidetracked out of my jazz compulsive browsing remains a mystery. At the end of the day, I’m glad I took the time to give it a listen and expand my rudimentary knowledge of electronic music.
So, my neophyte self would place this album somewhere in between the ambient and drone genre, for lack of more advanced categorization. For starters, there’s this ominous cover and this evocative title, Ravedeath. Oh Edgar, “T’ is the wind and nothing more!”. A quick Wikipedia search reveals Mr Hecker reused a photograph from the MIT archive showing students pushing a piano off a roof of a campus building. As for Ravedeath, Hecker came up with the phrase at a rave, a title he impishly described as “the wrongest and the most right title ever”. With a processed pipe organ as the main instrument, this music is spacious and ethereal, a stark soundscape full of reverb and bleached-out washes of sound. With self-explanatory titles like “In the Fog” , “No Drums”, “In the Air” ”, the power of this music lies in its consistency, its takes you into dream mode and never really takes you out. This would be boring if it wasn’t for the compelling work on textures and dynamics here. Mr Hecker explores the grainy edge of music while steering clear of a noise-driven agenda. That’s the point, the storm has blown over and what we are listening to is the scattershot mix of sonic shards it left in its wake. Imagine a distant lawnmower inadvertently left unattended and somehow sounding inviting and harmonious. The resonant quality of these sounds makes the instrumentation hard to detect at first. On “Analog Paralysis” for example, percussive stabs of electric guitar poke through at 2:50 reminding you they were there from the beginning but you just weren’t paying attention. On the provocative, if not provoking “Hatred of Music”, the music swirls and builds, but the organ pushes through again, enveloping the music, locking it into the ether. That may be Ambient’s defining characteristic, that it seems to be headed somewhere but never really gets there. These songs seem to want to take off at some point but remain anchored in a paralyzing shroud. At the end of Hatred of Music II, human voices are heard but soon vanish into thin air. The piano loops that run through the proceedings are here to lift the music out of the doom it seems to inhabit and into a gripping and melancholic light. Are these angels calling at the end of “In the Air III”, the album’s closer? There is something overtly spiritual in this endeavor, an unrelenting attempt to explore the afterlife of music, what would happen if the destruction of our world would first translate into the total disappearance of sound, the erasure of all music. Scary huh? This act of destruction, like the ritual of dropping a piano off a rooftop embodied on the cover, is arguably at the core of this musical offering. Consider the funereal “Studio Suicide” and my point seems to stand up. Here the studio is a gothic cathedral where the organ pipes sound as if tuned to one continuous note. By featuring instruments in their distorted usage – that rumbling bass is sick! – Hecker doesn’t merely twiddle with knobs, he interrogates the survival of music, he celebrates its timeless appeal. The static enveloping the instruments is proof that music can and will survive, for all attempts to degrade it, if we are willing to listen to its implicit beat.
Postscriptum: Wow, it appears this album was very popular upon it release in 2011. Check out the abundant reviews online.