Tim Hecker - Biography
Montreal-based musician Tim Hecker is one of the most widely recognized producers of computer-based ambient music, second possibly only to Christian Fennesz. With a style nominally similar to his immediate predecessor Fennesz, Hecker manages to carve out a unique sound with an emphasis on creating huge swaths of spatially inclined ambience. Hecker’s sound is less overtly pop than the sugary rock references for which Fennesz is known. Creating submerged slow moving chord progressions and fog filled caverns of blurred texture, Hecker focuses more on creating enormous spaces in which to obscure melody into a sometimes blissful, sometimes ominous cloud of dense sound.
Born in Vancouver in 1974, Hecker first released minimal techno under the Jetone alias for labels like Pitchcadet and Force Inc. Although fairly well received, Jetone records like Autumnumonia (2000 Pitchcadet) and Ultramarin (2001 Force Inc.) were by no means the most interesting work Hecker had to offer. Focusing on beat-less ambience and textural noise, Hecker released the first record under his given name in 2001. Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do it Again (2001 Substractif) marked an original take on post-Eno ambient music; icy drones covered in digital hiss and crackle, buried layers of glacial melodic movement, fragments of radio interference and clicking textural detail merged to form a spectral strain of abstract music. There are certainly precedents for the sound — Eno, the industrial ambience of Organum and Illusion of Safety, Labradford’s cold dronespace, the digital smear of the Mego roster — but Hecker’s take on melodic development was obviously something personal from the start.
The following year Hecker released two more records. My Love Is Rotten to the Core (2002 Substractif) showed the depth and total control of Hecker’s ability to digitally process his chosen sound sources. The EP is made from Van Halen samples that Hecker manipulates into oblivion. The effect is a droning mess of musique concrete-inspired collage with Eddie Van Halen licks and David Lee Roth yelps zinging through drones of thick fog and chopped-up guitar riffs repeated ad nauseam. Moving between passages of beautiful atmosphere and hilarious sound-collage, it's an engaging release.
Trade Winds, White Noise (2002 Parachute Magazine) was included with the July 2002 edition of Parachute Magazine. The record moved back toward the gorgeous whiteout of Hecker’s debut, further defining those ideas while hinting at a slightly warmer sound to come. All of Hecker’s early records suffer slightly from an overly digital sound. The sound of computer processing and sample manipulation was obviously something interesting to him at the time, but too often obvious manipulation scars an otherwise epic track on these early records. On Trade Winds a more restrained and organic approach begins to manifest and it is something Hecker will actively develop on releases to come.
In 2003 Hecker moved to the sadly now defunct Mille Plateaux label. Radio Amor (2003 Mille Plateaux) was easily his strongest release at the time. The record was critically praised and it proved him to be one of the most singular producers of abstract electronic music. The Wire called Radio Amor one of the most important albums of 2003 and deservedly so. Beginning with a building haze of radio static, the opening track immediately morphs into one of Hecker’s most melodic pieces. Fuzzy piano loops collide into each other, ringing out with ghostly reverb and dipping back into waves of static to create an emotive whirlpool. Immediately the overall tone is warmer and much more organic while retaining Hecker’s cathedral-sized sense of space. The computer is used more subtly on Radio Amor and the record dates better for it. The processing is much subtler and the effects seem less obviously digital while the compositions and sense of atmosphere remain true to Hecker’s style. Radio Amor is Hecker’s first major statement as a composer, as opposed to a composer of computer-based music. It stands as one of the best records of abstract electronic music ever made.
Mirages (2004 Alien8 Recordings) further delivers on the organic quality heard on Radio Amor. Beginning with one of Hecker’s noisiest tracks, the strangled doom-metal drone of “Acéphale” soon gives way to those wistful piano sounds of Radio Amor. By Mirages it is obvious that Hecker has developed a trademark sound and the record employs these techniques to breathtaking effect. Gone are the overly digital manipulations. What we are left with is timeless ambient music of the highest order, merging dissonance and textural dirt with soaring melody and shimmering space. The five tracks that make up the mid-section of the record are absolute perfection, a blissful engine roar that engulfs everything around. This section resolves in “Kaito,” a quiet collaboration with Australian sound artist Oren Ambarchi, whose clicking processed guitar tones add heavy warmth to the track.
2004 also brought Hecker’s contribution to the ongoing Mort Aux Vaches series of live recordings done at the Dutch radio station VPRO. The release, simply titled Mort Aux Vaches (2004 Mort Aux Vaches/Staalplaat) explores Hecker’s live processing of tracks throughout his catalog.
Hecker would take two years to deliver his next record, Harmony In Ultraviolet (2006 Kranky). It was well worth the wait. Following through on the promise of Mirages, Harmony In Ultraviolet makes a massive statement. It's Hecker’s most confident work yet, both sonically and structurally. The record opens with an achingly grand melody, shrouded in foggy ambience and sounding impossibly huge, and it doesn’t stop until the album ends. Closing track “Blood Rainbow” perfectly sums up Hecker’s current sound. It’s a flawless merger of smoldering noise and yearning, blissful beauty.
Keeping busy, 2007 brought two EPs, Atlas (Audraglint Recordings) and Norberg (Room40). Hecker also maintains a steady performance schedule, having played with artists such as Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Isis, Jesu, Fly Pan Am and Fennesz. In 2008 he released his first collaborative full-length with Aidan Baker of the prolific ambient metal band Nadja titled Fantasma Parastasie (Alien8 Recordings).
Moving forward while maintaining a signature sound, Tim Hecker is surely creating one of the most unique bodies of work in electronic music. As each release moves further away from the clichés of typical computer music toward a more timeless sound, Hecker’s music continues to evolve and grow into something truly singular.