Albums of the Decade: Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky, 2011)

Ravedeath, 1972

2011 was a pretty revolutionary year for me and Ambient music, and it’s been difficult to pick one record out of the pool (other honourable mentions go to Nicholas Szczepanik and Giles Corey), but there’s one album that has resonated with me ever since my first hearing, and it’s one of the records that convinced me that my path down into Ambient was the right one. That album was Tim Hecker’s arguable magnum opus, Ravedeath, 1972. I know this record has been discussed to death elsewhere and analysed time and again but this gigantic and seamless effort filled with religious connotations in a world losing its musical principles is a true juggernaut of effortless genre-blending that I think is a must listen for Ambient naysayers.

Hecker’s world is a calamitous one that seemingly flits between the present and the distant hopes of a cynical past youth, with the instantly visceral destructions of opener “The Piano Drop” recalling the MIT tradition of throwing a grand piano from the roof of the engineering building, an image duplicated and reinforced by the album art itself, the cusp of electronic revolution. It’s a real and physical destruction felt here in the shimmering and bending oscillations, its tones thrown into chaotic irreverence that seems to relish the obliteration of this stalwart of musical production. It’s here then that the other iconic and singularly valuable instrument of not just this record but Hecker’s discography is introduced, the organ in the “In The Fog” suite. Across its three tracks it throws up an obfuscating and ethereal drone mass, filled with claustrophobic additions and dizzying confusions as the ghostly guitar lines fight back and forth in an effort to break through its uncertainties, rising across the suite in urgent and anxious waves of paralysing emotion, lost in feeling as well as time.

A brief and ominously woozy lull in “No Drums” brings the bleary unconscious respite of sleep for a few moments, its swirling drones unburdened by thought with its heartbeat in its ears before the next hammer blow is dealt in the “Hatred of Music” duet. Part one rises up deceptively at first to a quickly overwhelming crescendo of wailing organ lines that effortlessly batter the listener into awed submission, nigh on reverential in its transcendent multi-textural might leaving one feeling as though peering up at a musical god, a moment of religious fervour at the music presented powerfully amplified by the presence of the organ. Its magnanimity is subsequently preached in Part two as piano twinklings hover over the blistered remnants of the tattered atmosphere it leaves behind, the hushed lull after a powerful sermon delivered as though from the mouth of god itself.

The peculiar doublet of “Analog Paralysis, 1978” and “Studio Suicide, 1980” form another moment of reflection and memory searching, suddenly blinking on as though they’re another station on this revelationary rollercoaster, both lost in mesmerisingly washed out currents of guitar drone that seem to drift in a directionless void, at first naively ignorant and supplemented with oblivious noodlings before turning to unsure and woozy passages of sound uncertain of the past they recall and their emotional significance. These introspections and life events shape our future and mould us into the people and personalities we are today, and as such our journey culminates in the ruminations of bookending suite “In The Air”, a wispy and insubstantial shell that seems depleted after our ordeals. Faint pianos populate the thinned atmosphere left at the tattered and ragged edge of our faith, lonely and isolated in its steadfastness. Part two lashes out one final time as a last bastion of grizzled sound before it devolves into the miserable and resigned airs of part three, sucked into a black hole of organ sub-bass affirmation as it slips away on sufficiently admonished fragments of pure piano tinklings, fading pieces of pure and admirable principle like ships in the night.

Its seamless construction and effortless segues make this less of a record and more of a single chaptered piece that wants to rally against the one-shot brevity of erosive pop values, clinging to the dignified purity of acoustic instrumentation in the piano and guitar like the ardent supporters of purportedly “real music”. The religious connotations are not lost either; the gigantism and fervour of the organ remind us of a similarly fading bastion of (supposed to be) upstanding moral values instituted by religions the world over, fading quickly in relevance in an increasingly secular world but clinging valiantly to their principles even as they fall apart, as music similarly becomes a soulless and cheapened venture ensconced in celebrity culture. It’s complex, staunch and emotionally tumultuous and honestly this is an Ambient must-listen in my book.