October 23, 2013

Test Spins: Tim Hecker, Virgins

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By KAI SAM NG

The best way to understand Tim Hecker’s music is by listening to his 2006 album, Harmony in Ultraviolet. It is a masterwork of ambient noise masquerading as drone music, deftly drifting from song to song in a perpetually haunting haze, making the whole of the album worth more than the sum of its songs. But Hecker is also a master at emotion-crafting, and he has an uncanny knack for moving fluidly between spacey haunting wonder and material anger.

With Virgins, released as a followup to 2011’s abrasively pounding Ravedeath, 1972, Hecker tones down his signature haze but broadens his music’s emotional palate. Unlike his previous albums, where he manipulated with recorded sounds he already had (Ravedeath’s piano and organ were recorded in a single sitting), for Virgins, Hecker commissioned a group of musicians to record arranged music. This change manifests in the album’s first surprise, “Virginal I.” The song begins with a ghostly undistorted harpsichord, which slowly builds up the electric embellishments before being cut off by sinister woodwinds.

Virgins represents the biggest shift in Hecker’s career: silence takes a front seat and rotting found-footage Basinski-esque songs are eliminated. Instead, Hecker achieves groundlessness by layering overwhelming amounts of instrumentals and purposefully introducing flaws into the music. Without electric embellishments Hecker proves that he can make something just as beautifully and hauntingly mesmerizing, appealing to our most basic senses and leaving us unable to explain just exactly how we felt.

Kai Sam Ng is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at kng@cornellsun.com.