Listening to Tim Hecker’s music is a little bit like looking at that Rothko painting on the left. At first it seems like nothing, like any child could have painted three colored rectangles, but after you stare at it long enough (the larger the better) you’ll see that it reminds you of something basic but essential, something at the core of experience in general: the horizon, as it appears in all its various forms and colors. It could be the sea, the land, and the sky. It could be the street, the buildings, and the infinite. Whatever it is, it hits at the quintessence of life as we collectively experience it.
Tim Hecker’s abstract electronic music hints at something similar. Like all abstract art, the music on these albums defies simple definition. Most of the songs consist of drawn-out tones that fade in and out in no discernible pattern, quietly or loudly. They are instrumentals, but what instruments they are is frequently unclear. As if a recorded moment in time has been captured, held, and tortured, the tracks bleed into each other, and the albums blur together as well.
Personally, the best time to listen to any Tim Hecker album is late, alone in a room, playing Witcher 3, when the darkness of the record can shine through. Though often ominous in nature, the sounds are soothing and can lull you into a meditative state. In fact, I would venture to say that any activity can be improved with these albums playing in the background.
As a child I would have scoffed at the idea that Tim Hecker’s albums should even be considered music, but that was childish thinking. Since then, Tim Hecker and others have helped to expand my notion of what music is. But how would I personally rank his albums? I would like to include high on the list Instrumental Tourist, his recent (2012) collaboration with Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin, but leaving that one out, my top five would have to be:
1. Ravedeath, 1972 (2011)
My entry point into Tim Hecker’s music, and you know how much of an effect that can have. I can’t help but use the word static to describe what I love about these albums, and Ravedeath exemplifies this aspect of Hecker’s work. This is static from Poltergeist though, that comes alive and begins to crawl around the corners of the room. The fuzz of the various types of static is like an eardrum massage, in the same way that chanting Om can be a message for the brain, when stretched for a long-enough time.
2. Haunt Me (2001)
This is more a subdued album than some of the others, driven by the wintery images of the song titles. The music fits the Arctic imagery because it feels like an expansive, like wandering the tundra. I had never heard this one until a couple weeks ago, so I’m probably not one to judge, but I find myself repeatedly wanting to go back to it. The album reminds me of the most enjoyable parts of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, Vol. 2., specifically “Tree.”
3. Love Streams (2016)
I know that I still need some time to figure this one out. My first impression, though, is that it’s one of his best. The album cover well-suits the music, as both of them incorporate blurry versions of a choir. Here Hecker delves into the world of manipulating the human voice, something that had been unheard of in his work until now, but something which it seems that he was born to do.
4. Virgins (2013)
Expansive, loud, and haunting, Virgins was recorded live in an Icelandic church and then manipulated to all hell. The second album I heard by Tim Hecker, it is nearly offensive in its unwillingness to conform to any set standard or prior precedent, and that is exactly what’s great about it.
5. Harmony in Ultraviolet (2006)
Not sure what to say about this one. It sounds similar to Ravedeath and Virgins to me, and I really like both of those. Heavy industrial drones that drift through one ear and out the other and back again and again, until that one stops and some weird buzzing noise starts up that gets louder for a while and then quieter again while something that sounds like a helicopter sweeps through the headphones and a buzzsaw grinds on a locked metal gate is the only way I have of describing any of these albums. That and static.
Though I might not have much to say about the rest of his albums, the remainder of his discography as a solo artist follows.