Tim Hecker, Konoyo
By no means I am a knowledgeable expert on electronic music. In fact, I often think to myself I might have been missing out on important music in the last decade or so by disregarding the genre. Luckily, being a jazz nerd and musician, I am used to getting my ears pulled in the unlikeliest directions. And that’s exactly what happened when Tim Hecker’s new album Konoyo popped up on my radar. I’ve been sort of keeping track of the electronic music composer since I discovered his iconic Ravedeath album a couple of years ago. In many ways, this new opus is a confirmation of all the sonic qualities that have appealed to me in this music. A gritty soundscape of rough edges, full of fuzzy overtones, echoing blasts of seemingly abyss-born organisms, and most intriguingly, an orchestrated conflation of ancient traditional instruments and modern-day synthesizers.
Here again Hecker pulls off the difficult feat of making digitally processed music feel somewhat natural, and well, “acoustic”. His is an eerie world full of mystery and unidentifiable ghosts blasting in from the deep recesses of the ocean, earth, space, you name it. Whatever Hecker is looking for in his sonic excavations, there is certainly an elemental drive guiding the process, a sonic quest for music beyond music. Titles like “In Mother Earth phase mode” or “Death Valley” point to the deeper strata of our planet and whatever rumbling manifestations may inhabit them.
As on his previous offerings, Hecker seems to straddle an aesthetic divide that leaves the listener wondering what kind of musical world he or she can relate to. If you could imagine a symphony orchestra somehow performing on the ocean’s floor, you may be able to hear remnants of violin and brass sections oozing out through the murk. In fact, Hecker convened Gagaku musicians for this project, an ancient Japanese ensemble consisting of multiple flutes, drums and a pipe organ improvising to Hecker’s bandleader instructions and synthetic inputs. In contrast to the previous albums, the results seem a little more stark, as if all the multilayering process that defines the composer’s previous albums has been pared down to the elemental.
The opener “This Life” sets the tone for the ensuing variations around one major theme. On this faux-LAPD police siren choir, a skeletal melody surfaces and soon blends into a clangorous chorus of metallic drones and washes of synthetic static fading in and out. Every time anything remotely resembling a theme is offered, the composer undermines it, canceling any risk of singable catchiness.
On “Death Valley”, ancient Japan seems to drift by on a timeless American road trip gone wrong. Instruments feel like they literally drop from the sky against Hecker’s enveloping ether.
“Keyed Out” seems to have a kind of double bass tuned twenty octaves lower than its range and then explores a mesh of percussive strings, harp-like harmonics and reverberating flutes.
“Across to Onoyo” brings the album full circle. Here a whale song morphs into a sawmill-like ambiance in freeze mode. Of course, there is something ethereal and perhaps indulgingly dark at times about this music but repeated listens will always unlock new sounds to listen for and uncharted destinations to let the listener’s mind wander in.
There is something unpredictably poetic in how the tracks string together apparently unmatchable sound sources, as on “Mother earth phase”, where a cello drone naturally emerges from the preceding synthesizer buildup only to fade back into the abyss. Or consider this, the track called “Is a rose petal of the dying crimson light?”, arguably a good title for a song teetering on the edge of disappearance.
To be honest, I found myself drifting out several times at first – this is not your average I’m going to have this song stuck in my head all day kind of music – but I guess it’s the point of good ambient electronic music. When you’re about to give up, something unusual and heartwarming draws you back in.
Tim Hecker, Konoyo (Kranky, 2018)