Tim Hecker is the next Brian Eno (apologies to the continued semi-success of the current one). His albums under the Jetone alias, notably for Germany's Force Inc. label, gave him a generous following of house fans early in his career, mostly thanks to the pristine cuts of deep techno Hecker scoured off his laptop. His stuff stood out immediately, but instead of following it up with more beats, he put out two powerful and critically-acclaimed ambient records on Montreal's Alien8 imprint Subtractif. The first, Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do It Again, counts as one of the great achievements in the genre, up there with Eno's Thursday Afternoon and Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Vol.2. However, whereas both of those albums developed a style that lends itself to minimalist references, mostly utilizing active loops and simple chamber music progressions, Hecker's work is utterly restless -- non-repetitive but deeply peaceful. There's no proper comparison; it stands as a piece of art.
Hecker's recent My Love Is Rotten to the Core is more playful and still more accomplished, turning the ass-headed live banter and sleazy guitar solos of eighties rock hair-metal bands like Van Halen into a dark, wicked collage of expressionistic sound. The assemblage is perfectly seamless and totally seamy. It's funny without being a joke, and Hecker once again proves to be at the head of the glitch scene.
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Splendid: It seems every country has a few major hotspots where a lot of great electronic music is being made. Not that these cities are the exclusive place where the good stuff is coming from, but you could say that in Germany, Cologne is probably considered to be the epicenter. In the UK, it's maybe Sheffield or London. In the US, I could cite Miami or San Francisco. Up here in Canada, I don't think there's much to argue that it's Montreal. In the past few years alone, the genre has seen the emergence of new ground-breaking artists hailing from Montreal, yourself included. Could you give me a brief history of Montreal's place in the electronic music world, and how you see yourself fitting or not fitting into that history?
Tim Hecker: In terms of contemporary (non-electroacoustic) electronic music, Montreal has had a long past with the genre. For what I am aware of, artists like David Kristian and Martin Tetrault have been working on such experimental music as least since the 1980s. More recently, Montreal has been viewed from outside as a sort of "hot spot", as you say, thanks to such great festivals as Mutek and a lively artistic infrastructure with supportive venues such as the Casa del Popolo.
While there certainly is something to Montreal's musical community, I think this sort of thinking helps mostly to inflate the successes of those who exist within that community, while subsequently diminishing the acceptance of those on the outside. Toronto has a healthy artistic community, as does Winnipeg, as does Vancouver.
In terms of my work, I do enjoy the nice community of people in Montreal. Interesting things come up, challenging friends, great record labels.
Splendid: The Mutek festival put a lot of attention on Montreal, for sure, and resulted in the Montreal Smoked Meat compilation, released by the highly esteemed and influential European label Force Inc. I've never been to the festival, but I have that album and it's terrific. You have a track on that comp under your Jetone alias, and put out a whole Jetone album with the same label. I hope it's fair to describe your Jetone work as rhythm based, suited to the dance floor as much as it is to the intellectual beat of the Force Inc. ideology. Now, under your own name, you've released a couple albums with a Montreal label called Subtractif, which are quite opposite in method. Both the full length, Haunt Me, and your newest small (but highly conceptual) album My Love is Rotten to the Core are more textural, more liquid, and, well, ambient. It's going to sound a little overboard but I think Haunt Me is maybe the best ambient record since the glory days of Brian Eno. What are the less obvious differences between your T Hecker work and your Jetone work? And can you give a brief explanation of the wonderful premise behind My Love is Rotten to the Core?
Tim Hecker: There is little difference between the Jetone work and those under my own name, except that most of the Jetone music is rhythm based. Right now, I'm mostly doing more ambient and non-beat oriented work. I'm not sure how much more techno I can make!
My Love is Rotten to the Core was initially a piece for a series of nights in Montreal, curated by a fellow named Eric Mattson, who does the Oral label. The theme of the night was appropriation. So much work was poured into this Van Halen half-joke, half-serious piece that the Alien8 people released it.
Splendid: My Love... is a great piece of music. At first its humor is a little perplexing, because the effort involved is definitely felt. It's a fairly serious and intense piece of music, with a funny core. On top of that, I think it's become very successful. People find the concept attractive and curious and want to experience it. Humour is a rare thing in electronic music. I can think of a couple Warp artists who do it well, but not many more. Are you interested in pursuing more half-joke, half-serious pieces?
Tim Hecker: Yes, maybe, but for the time being I'm not really doing anything with a strong sense of humor. Irony is a bit too endemic in contemporary music, and it's hard to avoid being lumped into that critical mass.
Splendid: One of the really huge differences between, say, writing, and the kind of music you make is how clearly the technology has affected your practice and not mine. Today, it's hard to find any novels that, when you read them, you can tell right away were written on a laptop. The technology hasn't changed the genre all that much in any noticeable way -- whereas the laptop has infinitely changed music. I've asked writers about their process, and so I'd like to ask you, as the level of programming and explicit distortion is a major component in electronic music. Can you give me some details about how you made certain tracks you are most proud of, what programs you used, what kind of organic elements you transformed, and how?
Tim Hecker: I don't think spelling out my process or what programs are used is very helpful or relevant. There is so much software out there that there's a million ways to come to the same end. What is always interesting is the people who push their process, the applications, to extreme ends. Computer applications are so sterile, the preset sounds so generic, that it requires a lot of work to use the same interface as many other people, while maintaining a distinct personality. It's few and far between artists in electronic music, where you can instantly tell who made the work you may be listening to without knowing it. So personality becomes totally relevant.
A separate point you bring up is the technological presence in electronic music. Unlike writing, where there is a deep historical tradition which transcends the medium it is delivered on, electronic music is completely related to technological issues. Buried somewhere in electronic music is a logic of technological fetishism, that the value of a work is related to the complexity of a patch or the implementation of a plugin. For those working in the discipline who have more interest in traditional or romantic ideals (songcraft, melody, etc.), there seems to be some sort of disjuncture. One strategy is to resist the technophilia so prevalent in the genre.
Splendid: How do you approach the live setting? One of the big problems facing electronic music is how to produce it live, without looking like a guy sitting at his desk in front of a computer. It sounds like a lot of European venues have found ways of masking the inevitable drabness of laptop music by developing rave-like art spaces, complete with visuals and other weirdness. Have you had a chance to play a gig like that?
Tim Hecker: Yes, I've played many spaces like this. You come across all sorts of strange performative contexts in this business. It's a problem on both sides of the fence. Audiences often complain, just as you mention, about someone looking like he's working at his office. While this assumption isn't wrong, there is some underlying bias which devalues someone doing complex audio processing (interfacing with a technology), with someone sitting down playing saxophone (also interfacing with a technology). The most important factor for me is to listen to what comes out of the speakers. If it's engaging and interesting, a lame performative delivery means little; if the music is not interesting, then there is no mercy.
Splendid: One thing I really like about the electronic music I'm listening to is the audible synthesis of a huge and disparate history -- everything from Ussachevsky to Grand Master Flash, up through Aphex Twin to Gavin Bryars. Do you feel strongly connected to the academic streams of electronic experimentation as well as the more indie rock or pop variety?
Tim Hecker: Absolutely. The most amazing things come from such disparate and unorthodox sources.
Splendid: Even so, there's an orthodoxy to electronic music that stems from its conceptual background. Do you have an affinity for the conceptual side of music, or are you less theoretical when you sit down and start making sound?
Tim Hecker: There is always a conceptual side to music, whether it happens blatantly or under the surface, or an afterthought is an open question. I generally don't put too much conceptual depth to the music I do, or at least when I'm doing it. I tend to have a romantic "music is the inexpressible passion, blah blah" approach to composition. I can conceptualize and speak at lengths about it afterwards, until the cows come home.
Splendid: What kind of music do you love to listen to?
Tim Hecker: It depends on my mood. I'll list some sitting on my desk: Morton Feldman, Slowdive, Kevin Drumm, Fugazi, Mos Def, Godspeed, Conet Project, Nerd, Blond Redhead. Basically, things that affect me in some sense or other.
Splendid: With writing, it's hellishly hard to figure out if what I've put down is any good at all. The ability to know quality in the work is a real challenge. This is why writers always have editors at publishers, so that someone else can tell you if what you've done is on the right track or just plain awful. Is there any need for that objective ear in music? I wonder if your record labels discuss alterations, or do you have friends you test your tracks out on, or does the ear just know?
Tim Hecker: I tend to consult some friends whom I absolutely trust their taste in music. I'm doing this right now for an album I'm finishing. I can't trust my own ear after a period of listening to the same thing 50 times; one needs an outside reference. Once you have that, you are more sure of where it stands. Writers have this, and it often helps out with weak spots or argumentative holes. With musicians it should be more the case. I rarely do any "alterations" with record labels. I work with small labels which often champion experimental musics, and they usually either take it or leave it.
Splendid: How important are song and album titles for you? I only ask because abstract, semi-meaningless titles are endemic to electronic and experimental musics lately, and your own work, especially your last two records, has had pretty fantastic titles.
Tim Hecker: Perhaps my titles, and the thought put into them, is a reaction against the absolutely horrid pointless practice that occurs in electronic musics. I think a literary approach, or something that points somewhere or has at the very least a cheap poetic currency, is far more valuable than a string of colons and punctuation marks. There was an aesthetic purpose by some early electronic composers and more contemporary ones, which was a sort of "I am man-machine" cyborgian orientation. This is an aesthetic which has deified the technology in the compositional process, and made the process a deep and integral part of the finished product. I've tried to avoid this man-machine consciousness in every way possible.
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Lee Henderson lives in an ice-cave atop the world's highest mountain, where he makes macrame wall-hangings.
[ graphics credits :: header/pulls - george zahora | photos - kindly provided by Sean O'Hara and Tim Hecker :: credits graphics ]