An otherworldly time capsule

All that glitters is not gold, opines the Bard, and the same axiom applies to the amazingly deceptive work of Tim Hecker, the acclaimed Vancouver-born electronic maestro.

The cover for his eighth album, Love Streams, appears as a gorgeously dreamy swirl of ultra-violet, Yves Klein blue and milky white, with blurred-out figures to resemble an army of angels.

Reality is stranger. The artwork is a screen-grab of an 80-strong police choir in Bijie Grand Theatre in Guizhou, China, seconds before the faulty stage beneath them gave way, sending them tumbling through air for 5m amid horrific screams.

The visual perfectly captures the suspension between beauty and danger in the music, the so-called "precarity of music-making".

Two tracks address the incident. Bijie Dream has fluttering synths, as if gravity-defying, before succumbing to harder sounds like that of a steel pan. Collapse Sonata is buoyed by heavenly bells and book-ended by mutating organs and motorik bass.

In a press release, he says that he is influenced by the 15th-century choral scores of Franco-Flemish composer Josquin des Prez, "the transcendental voice in the age of the Auto-Tune", as well as by - get this - the "liturgical aesthetics after Yeezus", the latter being the 2013 hip-hop masterpiece by Kanye West.



    Tim Hecker


    4/5 stars

As it turns out, Hecker may well be. Love Streams is both ancient and super-futuristic, a time capsule from some alterna-universe. It does feel ecclesiastical, with the faraway purring of the Icelandic Choir Ensemble, as helmed by Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson, refracted in cavernous space.

Hecker juxtaposes the human voices the same as he would with the woodwinds and keyboards, like parts of a jigsaw puzzle to be reconstituted.

At times, song titles such as Violet Monumental I and II allude to synaesthesia, where folks see, taste and feel things in colour. The tracks do not reveal their secrets early. Like cascading sheets of bright light, they bedazzle with their otherworldliness. Before long, they are invaded by a sprinkling of clattering beats or a churning machine.

Such is the tactile quality of Hecker's provocative work. Is Castrati Stack, flecked by metallic synths, a tribute to castrati, who achieved their beautiful vocal quality by having their sexual organs excised before puberty?

The song is followed tellingly by Voice Crack, a braiding of fluvial drones, glossolalia and gnarled electric-guitar riffs.

Hecker's social consciousness extends to Live Leak Instrumental, named after the controversial video- hosting website which screened the beheading of American journalist James Foley at the hands of the Islamic State militants as well as the execution of Saddam Hussein.

Arrhythmic drones and staccato bass constantly puncture the unearthly synths, making us witness to the primal howl at the core of this stunning work.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2016, with the headline 'An otherworldly time capsule'. Subscribe