Tim Hecker: Konoyo (2xLP, Kranky, September 2018)

I have a bad habit of using Tim Hecker comparisons in this blog as kind of a lazy shorthand for a really full kind of ambient drone, the sound that fills the spectrum, fills the sound-stage, and fills every last cubic millimetre of your brain cavity with a giant pulsating fuzz monster. This is largely based on a phenomenal 2010 live show and on 2011’s brilliant Ravedeath, 1972. And it’s kind of embarrassingly out of date: with its moments of sparseness and its recognizable instruments 2013’s Virgins was quite different, and 2016’s Love Streams even more so. (I’m not sure whether it’s because that gig had made such an impression on me that I couldn’t get my head around the change of direction, or what, but I didn’t rate either of those two albums enough to actually buy them.)

Well, maybe this is the record to change all that for me. It has intense wall-of-sound bits, but also plenty of stripped-back bits, actual quiet bits. The ‘recognizable instruments’ element here consists of the Japanese courtly form Gagaku, played by the members of Tokyo Gakuso on hichiriki, shō, ryūteki, and uchimono (percussion), plus Kara-Lis Coverdale on keys and Mariel Roberts on cello. But you still shouldn’t come here looking for a rollicking good melody: the key elements here are the texture and the dynamics. And while, okay, I obviously don’t adore this like I adore Ravedeath, it is a very pleasurable chunk of noise, especially the serene 15-minute closer Across To Anoyo. And you know what? Despite the more restrained and collaborative approach, this sounds not really Western or Eastern but very very recognizably Tim Hecker.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Modern Classical / Ambient.

Charlemagne Palestine: Strumming Music for Piano, Harpsichord & Strings Ensemble (3xCD, Sub Rosa, October 2010)

I’ve seen Charlemagne Palestine live three times. Each was a mesmerising, transformative, and unique experience. I’d never bought any recordings because I’d been slightly underwhelmed by those I’d heard. After all, how could it be the same without the ritual, the teddy bears and the bunting and the brandy, and how could it hope to capture the subtlety and strangeness of the throat-singing and the brandy-glass-playing? Then I came across this triple-CD of performances from the 70s. The first disc, and the main attraction here, is CP himself performing Strumming on a Bösendorfer piano: after a short melodic introduction, he starts hammering two notes, until subtle resonances and beats start happening somewhere inside the instrument, he adds those notes into his playing, more resonances appear, and over the course of 52 minutes the whole thing evolves and mutates while slowly building in its rhythmical intensity. You can hear that the playing is physically changing the piano, and you can easily imagine that it’s physically changing the brain of the listener. There are strange unearthly floating sounds which I’d swear are beyond the range of my normal hearing. Truly and quite literally stunning. The minimalism seems to work tolerably well on disc, too (though I’d love to go back in time and see it live).

The second CD is Betsy Freeman, under CP’s direction, doing the same thing on a harpsichord. I’ve read suggestions that this is a purer performance, because obviously the strings don’t resonate in the same way that a piano’s do, so what you are hearing is more the performer’s own work without a helping hand. It’s interesting, sure, but I actually miss the way the original is a collaboration between the performer and the instrument, and it lacks some intensity.

The third is played on strings by musicians from San Francisco Conservatory of Music. For the most part, they appear to be bowing as evenly as possible, often playing perhaps a note with its fifth and its octave. The equivalent, I guess, of the piano’s resonances is here in the fallibility of the players, as the parts shift slightly in volume or smoothness. There’s a certain beauty to that, although it’s not got the power of the wonderful sound of that big old Bösendofer.

I bought this from the Sub Rosa shop. It is part of their Unclassical series.