It’s Hecker’s idea of the human voice that emerges on Love Streams.
After eight albums, Tim Hecker is still finding ways to surprise his audience. Prior adventures from the Canadian seeker including 2011’s Ravedeath, 1972, a somber meditation on music’s elusive nature, and 2001’s appropriately titled Haunt Me Haunt Me, Do It Again. Since each of his records were saddled with labels such as “drone” or “ambient,” one might begin to think of Hecker as a man bent on only producing sounds with the latest technology. In reality, his greatest interest seems to be teaching us to hear the old in new ways and the new in ways we could not have considered. Above all else, he’s a composer, keenly aware of tension, release, mood and tonal color. This time, he introduces into his work an instrument that has long been a muse for those laboring in his profession: the human voice.
But it’s Hecker’s idea of the human voice that emerges on Love Streams, a mutation that’s neither futuristic nor of this world. The voices come, in some sense, from the past. He used choral ideas penned by Franco-Flemish composer Josquin des Prez, fed them into pitch modification software and arrived at sounds that all but obliterated the standard musicality of the source. Jóhann Jóhannsson arranged the sounds for a small choir that crops up in the most unexpected places throughout. So we have something that has a trace of the human but has perhaps been more fully shaped by machine.
The delivery can be unsettling. In the closing “Black Phase,” we ask ourselves whether the choir is taunting or praying, friend or foe. There are seeds of disquiet scattered here amid throbbing, distorted keyboard lines that easily summon images of the ambient undertone lords in Sunn O))).
“Violet Monumental I” reaches a frenzied climax that is either intensely spiritual or intensely sexual and perhaps both. It also may not be the most pleasant way to experience the spirit or the flesh. Here, the voices and the music work in contrary motion: The former glide toward an apex that is either pleasure or pain while the later becomes increasingly ill-defined, under-realized amid the frenzy above. Then, at the necessary moment, it resolves and becomes the quiet and comforting “Violet Monumental II,” a softly poetic piece that begs for comparisons to composer John Adams’ best work.
“Castrati Stack” offers some of the same but the landscape is glitch-filled, a firm reminder that this music emerges from well inside this century. “Voice Crack,” meanwhile, imagines a collision between something that might be the psychedelic guitar and something that might be the harpsichord. It’s a collision of the acid-soaked festival and the powdered wig drawing room. It ultimately resolves with some of the album’s most beautiful and sanguine vocals. Its successor, the penultimate “Collapse Sonata,” finds Hecker displaying his compositional acumen, marrying the motifs planted earlier in the affair. For the first two of the piece’s four minutes, we are witnesses to simple but stimulating passages of light and dark, flourishes of fancy and a strong sense of the contemplative. Then, it all dissolves into a free association of discomfort and dissonance (cognitive and otherwise). Back and forth we move until the track’s end and we once more find ourselves drifting to another shore.
What has been said of other Hecker records might also be said of this one: The listener is free to hear it as a series of individual compositions or one continuous piece. Whichever manner you choose, there’s no denying that the composer and his collaborators have given us a work of lasting worth and one that fits quite nicely with others from an impossibly strong epoch in the creator’s oeuvre.