Tim Hecker: Mirages
Tim Hecker's 2003 Radio Amor (Mille Plateaux) justifiably garnered attention for the originality of its conception and the forcefulness of its execution. He translated radio chatter, wind sounds, and shortwave static gathered during a Honduran encounter with a shrimp fisherman into provocative, suitably oceanic soundscaping—a tough act, conceptually and sonically, to follow. Mirages is not only a very credible reply to that challenge but also marks Hecker's return to Alien8, as Haunt Me and the Van Halen-inspired My Love Is Rotten To The Core were issued by the Montreal imprint's Substractif sub-label prior to Radio Amor.
Accompanying press information purports that the project was inspired by “Italian partigiani and the counter-attack of the anti-Vichyists” and, while all that may be true, you'll hear nothing so literal when listening to what's fundamentally an extended work of abstract sculpted sound. What you do witness is Hecker's deft hand at creating textural masses where melodic beauty, even tenderness, and granular noise coexist in a manner that inevitably invites comparison to Fennesz. There's no over-arching concept to be gleaned from it but that's no criticism as, notwithstanding the programmatic suggestiveness of the song titles, Mirages remains an extended travelogue of evolving episodic character. Hecker has wisely assembled it so that each piece segues smoothly into the next and, consequently, less overtly melodic pieces sound stronger when woven into the overall fabric.
The album opens with the stunning “Acéphale” (presumably named after the secretive French group that published the post-WWII Da Costa Encyclopédique, a compendium of concepts associated with Georges Bataille). Violent, screeching guitar noise appears (suggesting that the “ambient death-metal classic in waiting” press description may not be inaccurate) but soon morphs into a massive Fenneszian blur. A majestic theme emerges, its clarity disrupted by prickly guitars and scrambled flutterings that threaten to bury it completely. Hecker transforms piano motifs into reverberant glimmerings and drones in “Neither More Nor Less” and in “Celestina” a melancholy wavering theme is voiced by bright chords of organ shimmer and raw guitars. Guests Le Fly Pan Am and Christof Migone appear on “Aerial Silver” but, frankly, their contributions are wholly subsumed into the industrial mélange of whirrs and clatter. Oren Ambarchi's gentle guitar clicks, on the other hand, are clearly audible in the more idyllic “Kaito” while David Bryant adds his guitar to the hallucinogenic “Incurably Optimistic!” The penultimate track “Balkanize-You” revisits the style of the opener, as its majestic theme rises towards the surface through hiccupping layers of grime. The track moves through different stages, at one point sounding like crashing waves transformed into clouds of static, and ends peacefully with soft bell-like tones. Throughout the album, Hecker sometimes uses organ to generate a droning base on top of which he adds layers of scabrous tones and gaseous emissions.
With Mirages, Hecker compellingly distills the beauty of poignant melancholy and the noise of industrial machinery into an episodic work that manages to be both abstract yet accessible. It's the ease with which he's able to reconcile such disparate opposites that perhaps impresses most of all.