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Tim Hecker, "Konoyo"

cover imageWhile he has long been one of my favorite artists, Tim Hecker has truly blossomed into a creative supernova over the last several years, as each fresh album seems to set a new standard for the state of electronic music. For the most part, this latest release continues that improbable streak of masterpieces, though Konoyo's vision is radical in a much different way than Love Streams or Virgins. The raw material was quite a bold departure from the norm, however, as Hecker collaborated with a gagaku ensemble in Tokyo. Despite the unusual instrumentation and the unexpected participants, Konoyo still sounds perversely like a classic Tim Hecker album, albeit the broken, squirming ruins of one. I suppose that makes it feel like slightly less of visionary bombshell than some other releases at times, but that is merely because Hecker's focus was on more subtle evolutions this time around, stripping away unnecessary density and adventurously playing with textures and structures to present a hallucinatory masterclass in experimental composition that seethes and churns with dark emotion.


The conceptual premise for Konoyo ("The World Over Here") is rooted in some conversations that Hecker had with a friend (now deceased) about both the concept of negative space and a frustration with the ineffective overuse of density as a compositional crutch.The path between the original inspiration and the album that ultimately results is never a linear one with Hecker though: given his exhaustive and ambitiously transformative creative process, it is always a surprise to see what shape the music takes when it finally emerges at the end.For example, I suspect Tokyo Gakuso would find most of their contributions here to be fragmented, twisted, and decontextualized into utter unrecognizability.Hecker definitely took the thoughts about density to heart though, albeit not quite in anything resembling the expected way.In the opening piece, "This Life," the central theme of howling, swooping, and tormented strings unfolds over an unpredictably shifting backdrop that wanders from tumbling, smeared arpeggios to bleary chords to grinding, bass-heavy surges of power without ever building towards a stable structure or arc.It feels quite fluid and improvisatory, despite the fact that it was all painstakingly planned, as the structure of the piece feels like it is bending, waxing, waning, and dissolving in reaction to the serpentine movements of the main theme.That approach works beautifully for that specific piece, as the demonic strings are vivid and vibrantly alive enough to thrive on their own, particularly since Hecker is continually intertwining new sounds and transforming their dissonant harmonies.With a strong enough central theme, the underlying structure does not need to prop anything up or provide any sense of forward motion, so Hecker is free to use it instead to create a wonderfully disorienting sense of fractured and fragile ephemerality.Everything is changing all of the time and it is deliriously absorbing and gloriously hallucinatory.Not every piece on Konoyo manages to pull off that feat with the same aplomb, but it is certainly great when it works.

That free-form approach to compositional structure makes Konoyo a challenging album to wrap my mind around, as it feels like I am experiencing an endlessly changing flow of motifs and fragments over a willfully inconstant and unsettled foundation.As such, the album is more like a shifting series of compelling moments rather than a structured presentation of seven individual compositions.That deeply experimental approach is still quite compelling, as Hecker's music is characteristically wonderful and distinctive as ever, yet Konoyo is perversely like a John Coltrane live recording: it is undeniably dazzling on a moment-to-moment basis, but I will be damned if I can remember which songs were played or when they started or stopped when it is all over.That said, a few pieces besides the opening "This Life" stand out as especially striking, most of which fall on the album's second half.In particular, I love the many inspired textural flourishes that billow out of the brooding and amorphous "Keyed Out," especially the squirming, stuttering arpeggios and the buried sounds of distressed vinyl or mangled tape."A Sodium Codec Haze" is another favorite, as Hecker tears through a gorgeously swaying and rippling reverie with whistling howls and chattering surges of something like garbled machine noise.Also, the final stretch sounds like a chorus of slow-motion and nightmarish wind chimes, which is quite appealing as well.The album's two longest pieces are quite powerful too, as "In Mother Earth Phase" is the most nakedly beautiful and structured piece on the album, while the epic "Across to Annoyo" is a feast of skittering, gnarled, and strangled textures.

Aside from the radical transformation of his compositional technique, it must be said that Konoyo is also unique among Hecker's releases in its darkness, as its beauty is very much a bleak one.The strange and cryptic cover art is quite fitting, evoking a kind of contemporary urban dystopia that is cold and devoid of beauty, though ramshackle art can still blossom from its sad detritus. If Virgins sounded like it was recorded in a collapsing cathedral and Love Streams felt like it was recorded by a choir of angels, Konoyo feels like it was recorded in a post-apocalyptic junkyard by light of flaming garbage cans.  I will not attempt to guess what Hecker was feeling or whether he had any deeply metaphoric intentions, but the tone is definitely a heavy and striking one.In stripping away much of his usual artifice, Hecker has created a much more direct and raw emotional connection than usual.As such, this release is unlike anything else in Tim Hecker's discography and I love him for that.He could have easily made a universally beloved album by sticking to his rough trajectory, but instead he opted for a much more sorrow-steeped and difficult road.As such, Konoyo is probably the most challenging and prickly release in his discography, which may alienate some less-adventurous listeners.Artistic boldness and listenability rarely go hand-in-hand though and this is easily one of Hecker’s most ambitious and provocative statements to date.

Samples can be found here.