'Konoyo', Tim Hecker’s ninth album, is a balanced, thoughtful record that can feel at points both joyous and suffocating. The affective imagery on this album is crisp, the subtonal range is distressing, and the crescendos are perfectly measured. This is, without a doubt, the forefront of ambient music today.
Hecker’s ambient compositions revolve around an attempt denaturalize sound. 'Konoyo' arises out of collaboration with Tokyo Gakuso, an ensemble who play Gagaku, a form of Japanese classical music usually associated with imperial ceremonies. Hecker’s music is highly abstract. Rather than producing anything evocative of landscape or cinema, 'Konoyo' is finely tuned to the materiality of sound.
'This Life', is a suspenseful, intricately textured opening track that ranks among Hecker’s best work: a cicada ring, melody like a revving engine, electronic and hyper-modern without any of the kitsch. 'Keyed Out' is more abrasive, moving from chimes to dizzying, high-tension string patterns that collapse warmly on the listener instead of providing any simple immersive relief.
The result of all this is 'World Music' that upends any image of the exoticized East in favour of something more cognizant of its own encounter. There’s a wry sense of humour to 'Konoyo': a recent press photo of Hecker (for a performance at Hollywood Forever cemetery no less) has him positioned in front of a foggy coastal range, hooded, with hands clasped in prayer.
But there’s another dynamic to this encounter with devotional music: the recent death of a friend and Hecker’s attempt to reckon with loss. 'A sodium codec haze', mesmerizing, sparse and unexpectedly intimate, proves to be a really compelling exploration of mourning and the possibilities of a digital afterlife.
The press release identifies “regret” as an essential feature of grief, which I find difficult to ignore on this album. Hecker’s music alerts us to a kind of universalism grounded in the painfully specific. To be ambient in feeling, to be ambient in song, to be ambient in devotion - this is Hecker’s project.
Words: Josh Gabert-Doyon
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