Monday, July 16, 2007

The Invisible End of the Spectrum: Tim Hecker

In The Poetics of Space, Bachelard quotes Henri Bosco’s description of an oncoming storm: “there is nothing like silence to suggest a sense of unlimited space. Sounds lend colour to space, and confer a sort of sound body upon it. But absence of sound leaves it quite pure and, in the silence, we are seized with the sensation of something vast and deep and boundless.”

Slow dazzle.

Some artists (Bowie, Miles Davis) seem capable of completely changing their direction with each release. Most, however, become what they are and then remain so. And then there are some whose work demonstrates not so much a progression (in the first case) or stagnation (as is all-too-often the case), but as process of refinement. So, for example, in the case of bands as diverse as Cocteau Twins, New Order, or Boards of Canada, their art can best be described as moving by means of minimal difference - each new release is like the last one, only more so.

Such is the case with Harmony in Ultraviolet, Tim Hecker’s sixth
release. The “Tim Hecker sound” (that sonic area signified by the proper name T.H.) exhibited on this record is not all that much different from that exhibited on his first release Haunt Me (which did exactly that, thank you very much), and yet, it is more so. The sub-Arctic spaces inhabited by the earlier records seem more dematerialized, as though the lichens that beguiled like Sirens on Haunt Me have taken residence in the waves and particle of the hidden parts of the spectrum. It would be easy to say that with HIU the Aurora Borealis sings, but its not quite enough.

The dematerialization of sound is now an old, verging on tedious, narrative charted by, among others, David Toop. Let’s not reiterate his argument here, save to note that Hecker’s method - the sound art modus operandi of sampling and refashioning tones, frequencies, instruments using digital technology - has a peculiarly mimetic relation to the sense conveyed in this record of being simultaneously adrift and buffeted in frozen skies. But also, the... um… glacial pace at which this record moves (not even slow propulsion, but motionlessness, or, better still, passive mobility) suggests the hour-long sunsets that are a feature of Prairie summers. But, again, not an Eno-esque quiescence; this record is, at times, an extremely loud one, paradoxically rematerializing its textures and contrasts in a thick strokes.* There are very few high frequencies; Hecker (album title notwithstanding) sticks to the low end of the sonic spectrum, allowing the tracks to accrete and gain mass before they fade away, disappear really.

And there are few melodies, as traditionally understood; like the song structures themselves, what melodies there are seem to exist in a liminal zone between actual and virtual. They are there to find, to grasp at, before another drone arcs from out of nowhere partially erasing the figurations that preceded it. (Not for nothing are two of the tracks called “Palimpsest.”)

So what is accomplished with this record? (A question that I really think artists as well as listeners need to ask themselves as cultural overload continues to threaten.) On the one hand, that simplest and most absurd of all goals - to produce more art.** On the other hand, well…how about this: the vastness of Hecker’s sound palette produces a paradoxical situatedness in the listener, paradoxical because we are listening to invisible phenomena, the ring and drone of electromagnetism itself, whether from Hecker’s laptop or the atmosphere itself. This is the true sense of an objective correlative: the physical manifestation of an affect or chain of affects. Harmony in Ultraviolet compels, beguiles, forces the listener into a position of rooted rootlessness, at sea among the photons at the invisible end of the spectrum.

* This is particularly evident in his live performance, which are like being caught in a thunderstorm at its height, and not really minding that much. Hecker’s live performances not only emphasize the sheer physicality of the music, but its painful beauty.

** Maybe not so simple or absurd. Deleuze: “The more our daily life appears standardized, stereotyped and subject to an accelerated reproduction of objects of consumption, the more art must be injected into it in order to extract from it that little difference which plays simultaneously between other levels of repetition, and even in order to make the two extremes resonate - namely, the habitual series of consumption and the instinctual series of destruction and death. Art thereby connects the tableau of cruelty with that of stupidity, and discovers underneath consumption a schizophrenic clattering of jaws, and underneath the most ignoble destructions of war, still more processes of consumption. It aesthetically reproduces the illusions and mystifications that make up the real essence of this civilization, in order that Difference may at last be expressed with a force of anger which is itself repetitive and capable of introducing the strangest selection, even if this is only a contraction here and there - in other words, a freedom for the end of a world.” (Difference and Repetition)

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