Few in the field of explorative ambient music have remained as questing and unclassifiable as Canadian composer Tim Hecker. During the past two decades, he has moved through shades of reflective electronic noise, experiential sound design, and modern composition with a deft and distinguished touch, producing a wide collection of music for labels including Kranky and 4AD. His works have been described as “structured ambient”, “tectonic color plates” and “cathedral electronic music”.
More to the point, he has focused on exploring the intersection of noise, dissonance, and melody in his work, fostering an approach to songcraft which is both physical and emotive. His repertoire spans over ten albums, including the seminal and critically acclaimed Ravedeath 1972, Harmony in Ultraviolet, and Virgins. He is frequently commissioned for contemporary dance pieces, art installations, and film scores & recently completed a 5 part series for the BBC entitled The North Water, directed by Andrew Haigh, as well as independent film Lucifer by Austrian filmmaker Peter Brunner.
The latest by Hecker serves as a beacon of unease against the deluge of false positive corporate ambient currently in vogue. Whether taken as warning or promise, No Highs (2023) delivers – this is music of austerity and ambiguity, purgatorial and seasick. A jagged anti-relaxant for our medicated age, rough-hewn and undefined.
Morse code pulse programming flickers like distress signals while a gathering storm of strings, noise, and low-end looms in the distance. Processed electronics shiver and shudder against pitch-shifting assemblages of crackling voltage, mantric horns (including exquisite modal sax by Colin Stetson), and cathedral keys. Throughout, the pieces both accrue and avoid drama, more attuned to undertow than crescendo. Hecker mentions “negation” as a muse of sorts – the sense of tumult without bombast, tethered ecstasies, an escape from escapism. His is an antagonism both brusque and beguiling, devoid of resolution, beckoning the listener ever deeper into its greyscale alchemies of magisterial disquiet.