Ambient producer Tim Hecker has been making splashes in the world of electronic music since the late 90’s with his minimal techno work under the name Jetone, and since has delivered widely loved albums under his own name such as Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do it Again (2001), Harmony in Ultraviolet (2006) and An Imaginary Country (2009). His latest studio LP is Ravedeath, 1972, a two disk exploration in melancholy musical landscapes. The album was recorded in an abandoned church in Reykjavik, Iceland, and mostly features sounds from an old organ, intensely manipulated and augmented with Hecker’s own electronic palette. This isn’t a far cry from his other conceptual work; 2007’s Norberg was recorded in an abandoned mineshaft in Norberg, Sweden.
At this point in his career, it would seem that Tim Hecker has explored the farthest reaches of the possibilities of ambient music. When listening to Ravedeath, it becomes increasingly obvious that he has not yet run out of steam. Using the melodic framework of An Imaginary Country as a launching pad, Hecker enters the new decade with a despairing, anxious approach to mood music. Some of these pieces, particularly “No Drums,” repeat minimal musical phrases like mantra, building and sustaining tension. Others feature only one or two chords, which the artist elaborates on with abrasive noise and subtle details. The result is both beautiful and disturbing, and most importantly, very engaging. Tim Hecker knows how to make albums that have lasting appeal, fully formed experiences with new ways of approaching ambient music.
Hecker is by no means the first artist to take basic, emotional melodies and both disintegrate and augment them with noise, but it’s self-evident that he does it just as well as his contemporaries, like Christian Fennesz and Stars of the Lid. Like those other artists, his strength is not in how intensely he can warp sound, but rather in his skill at writing lilting, affecting melodies. The cover of the album speaks to what Hecker’s intentions may be. The scene is a still frame of an annual MIT ritual of destroying a piano by dropping it from a tall building. It’s hard to definitively conclude that Hecker is interested in the destruction of music (though the song title “Hatred of Music” implies as much), but what we find on Ravedeath, 1972 is an artist that is obsessed with breaking down music into its most basic components and wringing as much emotion out of them as he can. Ravedeath in particular is one his most emotional statements, a perfect entry point for new listeners and an exciting album for longtime fans.