Tim Hecker: organs, long-form and the death of rave

In the past, Tim Hecker’s pieces have been described as ‘cathedral electronic music’. Ravedeath, his sixth solo album, is a direct response to this. Its foundations are a series of organ recordings from Fríkirkjan í Reykjavík, with the ‘overt spirituality and traditional theological elements’ of the sound removed. Hecker used to be ‘very wary of working with acoustic sounds. I thought it was a ham-fisted way of dealing with the real aesthetic issues: the limitations and insufficiencies of digital based music.’

In previous works, all acoustic instrumentation was pummelled beyond recognition, the source smothered. ‘I’m becoming more and more comfortable with letting traditional instruments not be cloaked in reverb. I’ve slowly brought in organic instrumentation over time but tried to do it in a way that keeps the potential for abstraction and sound transformation, and that liminality between being discernible, and not.’

Ravedeath, clocking in at 52 minutes, ‘buttresses up against contemporary penchants for short, digestible pop material; the alleged shorter attention spans of modern youths.’ The album functions as a continuous piece, but is subdivided ‘into shorter movements that keep the work’s integrity, but index it.’ Even so, ‘I always find the tracks a little underwhelming when taken out of the context of the work. I always want a piece of music to stand on its own, whether it’s a short piece or not. It needs to have an immediately suggestive quality to it that holds up outside of the context of the record.’

‘I’m not the kind of person who lines up my ten best tracks and presses burn on the CD player, album finished.’ This is the point at which Hecker starts to create an album, ‘which is a process of revisiting, layering and working the record like a composition.’

Hecker’s upcoming organ concert in London on 6th February ‘sold out in five days, still two months before the date. We try to make it work better for us since it’s so expensive setting everything up, buying the PA and miking up the organ, so for the first time in my life I decided to do two gigs in one night.’ For all the preparation, ‘you can’t really expect anything from the concert because there are so many unknowns. It relies on a sensitive feedback system between the organ (which runs through a computer and goes out of the PA system). You have both the organ filling the space in the traditional way, and the processed sounds being played through the PA system. The live space is associated with a lot of errors and things aren’t ideal, but there are also fleeting moments that are gone. I enjoy that aspect of it.’

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The venue, St. Giles-in-the-Fields church, strikes me as an interesting one, as are most of the places Hecker is invited to play at – theatres and gallery spaces, for example. You rarely find him on the bill of the local O2 Academy. To him, ‘space is always an important consideration. Inappropriate places can ruin a concert.’

‘I would prefer the concert not to be in a religious space. It’s not saying that I’m going to deliver a spiritual experience just because the concert is in a church. I prefer secular spaces for that because they are stripped of any spiritual expectation.’ The spiritual connection is an obvious one for me. The density of the sound and the seemingly infinite layers envelope you. Although the message isn’t a spiritual one, there are ‘people who say they had a moment; a really great moment of loss of self, which is as much as you can ask for. I’m happy however people take it and try not to be too prescriptive about the correct way to digest my music.’