Tim Hecker is an absolutely vital component in this list of essential ambient albums; his work over the last 10 years within the Ambient, Drone and Electronic genres is in a league of its own. Released earlier this year, Ravedeath, 1972 is the latest full length album addition to Hecker’s extensive and important discography. In my personal opinion, it is also his finest and most refined work to date.
I have heard many criticisms of ambient music and one of the most prevalent is that “it all sounds the same”. Of course, this simply is not true and you only need to look at Hecker’s work to prove this point. Unlike the common ambient stereotype, Hecker’s work is not calm and serene, it is powerful and loud. Here, Hecker is trying to be somewhat more thematic; Ravedeath focuses on the concept of music destruction and decay. Not in a Basinski way where the melodies are decaying, but music as a medium is decaying, that we hear so much music that perhaps it loses its meaning and significance. This is perfect sonic territory for him, a man who so effortlessly summons powering walls of sound and sweeping drones at his fingertips.
Underlain by the digital cacophany of this album are two fundamental instruments; the organ and the piano. Now, we can break Ravedeath into three parts. The first part, the In The Fog suite, utilises the organ to the utmost, which of course is capable of elongating notes. It is seamlessly integrated with the digital processing of the drone, blurring the boundary between digital and acoustic, and it creates a rather uneasy product, especially when the distorted and fractured guitar sequences appear near the end. Backtracking slightly, the intro of “The Piano Drop” is quite honestly one of the best intro tracks to an album I’ve ever heard. It’s fascinating to hear the disparity between the overwhelming coarseness of the intro butted up next to the “soothing” drone of the organ that follows it. This really is the only unconformity in the album though, since most of the tracks flow effortlessly into one another.
The middle chunk is a curious sandwich combining the Hatred of Music suite, which follows somewhat in the footsteps of the In The Fog suite, with the more peaceful tracks of Analog Paralysis and Studio Suicide. The Hatred of Music suite is probably the weakest part of the album for me; it introduces nothing really new and I feel that it is unnecessarily brash; it almost wails its way along, grating as it goes with those little digital additions. Analog Paralysis is a little gem amongst all of this though; here we see the reintroduction of the guitar again, but in a far more delicate way than previously seen, used primarily for as a textural addition as the fingers slide along the frets.
The last segment is by far and away my favourite part of this album; In The Air I, II & III. His original sketches found in his new EP Dropped Pianos really formed the cornerstone for this suite, bringing the piano to the forefront of the pieces and yet keeping that digitally destroyed noise we all know Hecker for in the midst of it all. The balance of delicate piano keys and that unsettling white noise is disquieting and downright beautiful. It finishes the album off perfectly; we begin with chaos and harshness and power- the fight against the decay - but slowly the album evolves and succumbs to it, giving up the power struggle and slipping away quietly.
This album took me a long time to love; at first I chastised this for being a case of too much too soon, that Hecker was shouting at us through the music and leaving no breathing room for exploration, but after many listens I am still finding new elements and new meanings. Hecker provides us with so much sonic detail it is easy to dismiss this as being messy, but it is expertly produced and it has many hidden depths that a couple of listens cannot plumb. After much thought, I consider this to be one of the finest ambient albums I know, and certainly Hecker’s best. If its calming, peaceful ambient you are looking for, this is not it. For music of power, scope and significance, this has everything. Incredible.
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