Konoyo by Tim Hecker

Release date: September 28, 2018
Label: Kranky

Tim Hecker is now one of the most high profile experimental musicians mapping out the territory between modern classical, noise, ambient and drone. Konoyo, his ninth album, was mostly recorded in a temple on the edge of Tokyo in collaboration with members of Tokyo Gakuso, practitioners of the Japanese musical tradition of Gagaku. Gagaku is the music of the Imperial court with roots in folk songs and Shinto religious music. It’s the stuff that flutters across the soundtrack to help establish we’re in Japan. If, like me, that’s about the extent of your knowledge there don’t worry. I’m sure Hecker’s engagement with these traditions is both informed and sensitive but ultimately it becomes a particular set of sound sources for his unique musical manipulations.

On ‘This Life’ keening notes are drawn out and scattered with bending isolated drops of sound. Some twanging notes of the Koto and wood block percussion poke through ‘clean’ on ‘In Death Valley’ only to rattle and echo, pushed around by disjointed bursts of grainy sound. It’s nice to know where and by whom this stuff was originally played, the ideas that have informed it, but in another way it’s a misdirection. The key thing about Hecker is how cut free of the physical world his music is, it just seems to float, to appear like weather. You don’t hear or picture musicians performing these pieces, it’s hard to imagine how they might be annotated, or to guess how much or how little editing is involved in producing these recordings. At times it seems to be almost randomly self generating, the tracks often ending through seemingly abrupt fade outs rather than structured conclusions, as if cut from lengthy pieces that began to veer off into a ditch shortly after.

With a title like a melancholy, philosophical, art film ‘Is A Rose Petal Of The Dying Crimson Light’ seems to most capture the meditative vibe you’d expect recording in a Japanese temple to bestow on proceedings. A limpid reflecting pool of gentle calming sound, it’s short but beautiful. Hecker has talked about ideas of negative space and the need for restraint in connection with this record. While there are still plenty of busier, noisy, sections it is characterised throughout by isolated notes sparkling and resounding in that space. Konoyo is almost always warm and melodic but those floating notes never form an actual tune, they shine and sparkle like stars, part of a beautiful whole but not arranged in any narrative order.

The image on the sleeve offers another level of contemplative mystery to parallel the music. What is going on there? Some sort of scrap built self destroying robot? Out on the back lot, its head a broken, fire spewing synth while water sprays from its nethers. A junkyard dragon birthed by elemental forces. It’s not exactly pagodas and cherry blossom. The perspective is awkward and the image is so odd it isn’t clear if it’s an actual photograph or, at least partly, photoshopped. It suggests another Japan, of sci-fi and technology, the Tokyo of Blade Runner, which inevitably, if only subtly, comes through in the levitating, glowing spaces of the music as well. Hecker is an extraordinary artist able to mould and sculpt sound in a remarkable way. Konoyo sees him again balance a wide range of emotions and textures into a beautiful, mysterious whole.

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