Tim Hecker has always made physical music. His pieces target not only the mind or the emotions. They also aim at the body. Beyond the usual heart and soul, Hecker’s compositions induce quivers and shakes up and down the skin. Sentiments of love or hurt — the expected, comfortable motifs — fade out and give way to sensations of terror and reverence. An escape is never offered. You listen and often find your whole self overwhelmed. It envelops you and triggers a total immersion of the mind and body.
Despite this physical intensity found throughout Hecker’s discography, he only recently began to foreground more conventional, concrete instruments. Ravedeath, 1972 prominently features a church organ sliced into abstract pulsations. Virgins marks another similar turn as Hecker collaborated for the first time with live musicians.
Love Streams, Hecker’s most recent release and his first for the 4AD label, continues the progression. Although the Canadian artist has released seven albums before Love Streams, this record introduces us to the composer’s first significant usage of the human voice. For a musician who mostly deals in the pure forms of electronic sound, this addition to his vocabulary arrives unexpectedly but with appreciation. Inspired by the “liturgical aesthetics” of music like Yeezus, Love Streams’ vocal pieces emanate from the performances of the Icelandic Choir Ensemble, arranged by Theory of Everything composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. For the inspiration behind their chopped-up, polyphonic mania we can also thank Kanye West, who according to Hecker himself, made the musician consider the “transcendental voice in the age of auto-tune.”
West’s Life of Pablo and Love Streams both utilize the choir to cultivate a sense of something sacred in their work. Whereas with Life of Pablo the person behind the music becomes the holy subject to which the listener must bear witness (are we hearing about Christ or Kanye?), Hecker makes every effort in his music to obscure his role as an artist. What’s sacred in Love Streams is the place you must inhabit while listening to it, the forces to which you must surrender. As with previous releases, the most poignant moments on this album are not the eye of the storm. They are the storm itself. The quieter but no less beautiful scenes remain contemplative and dynamic. “Bijie Dream” and “Up Red Bull Creek” might not show you the sublime. They will, however, keep you occupied with the cosmic cathedral soundtrack so consistently at play here.
But on tracks like “Music of the Air” and “Castrati Stack,” Hecker taps into a grander and more explosive energy. Colors and textures arrive in a dense mass which the composer consistently refines into an eruptive flow of sound. The disorder, destruction, and decay hold together via a thin but strong gravity. You hear the components fall apart and fragment, but at the same moment you can also feel an order beneath them.
The Icelandic Choir Ensemble creeps into the mix in a manner reminiscent of both collage and broken radios. They conclude as elements all the more contributive to Love Streams’ atmosphere of holy terror. Hecker takes well to the human voice. He siphons its tone and toys with its significance to the listener, rendering it anew in meticulous and gorgeous detail. It often transforms into vocal lines and melodies beyond the capability of singing, but without which the music would fall flat. The first part of my favorite piece on the album, “Violet Monumental,” showcases this fact quite well. Its second part resolves in a percussive rhythm atypical of Hecker’s work, yet still manages to perform the typical job of a Tim Hecker conclusion, or rather a lack thereof.
With the whole of Hecker’s oeuvre I can never tell whether I’m falling into nothingness or ascending into heaven, perhaps it’s some combo of the two. Either way, Love Streams takes you to the cliff, lets you jump off and then live in the middle of movement. It is there in the freedom of the air that you realize diving and flying are just different perspectives on the same motion.
Stephen Meisel is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]