Tim Hecker has amassed a formidable body of work since his releasing his debut back in 2001, each album seemingly an attempt at refining and perfecting his immersive dark ambient soundscapes. Recent years have seen him deliberately attempt to try to expand his sonic palette, challenging himself on how far he can stretch his music while also retaining his signature sound. 2012’s Ravedeath, 1972 album featured (somewhat unlikely) use of pipe organ and 2016’s Love Streams incorporated the sound of an Icelandic choir. Latest album Konoyo is his most leftfield and different album for some time, having been recorded with a traditional Japanese Gagaku ensemble, Tokyo Gakuso. Tonight’s show at the Barbican witnessed the album performed in full with the assistance of the Japanese outfit, transforming it into something far more powerful and looming than on record.
Kara-Lis Coverdale has worked with Hecker in the past and opened the show with an evolving ambient prologue reminiscent of the likes of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani, alternately warm, lush and enigmatic. As her set ends, Hecker’s starts as he suddenly emerges on the other side of the stage out of the darkness. Clouds of dissonance form and buffeting electronic atmospheres fill up the Barbican Hall. The siren-like sounds of This Life then kick in, establishing a more spatial, open sound. As it progresses it becomes heavier, with brutal and cavernous moments along the way.
It’s just about possible to make out Hecker and Tokyo Gakuso amongst the plumes of fog and the mid-section of the album sees the instruments played by the Japanese ensemble – the shō, ryuteki and hichiriki – lend certain accents and sonorities to the wider sound (although sadly nothing is visible). They are carefully deployed and closely integrated into Hecker’s soundworld and together, they help build up a level of pressure that eventually begins to exert transcendental qualities. Hecker never allows the music to settle too comfortably however, the splintered electronic chards of Keyed Out introducing a greater element of chaos into the mix. Electrical currents seem to be constantly firing through the piece, creating sonic tension that is never quite allowed to dissipate. Horizons of light are beamed down on the audience to further overwhelm the senses.
The album concludes in dramatic fashion as choreographed performers are slowly revealed, as is a large pool of glistening water on the Barbican stage. A strong sense of mystery prevails. It confirms how the live environment is undoubtedly the best way to experience Hecker’s music, where the listener can achieve that extra dimension of full, first-person immersion. We leave safe in the knowledge that not many can match him when it comes to creating vast panoramas of sound of momentous scale.