Music For Writers: Tim Hecker (II)

If Dropped Pianos is Tim Hecker’s yin album,  perhaps Ravedeath, 1972 is the yang. That may be simplistic theory but it feels apt.

Managing to remain tonally sparse and minimalistic, the eleven compositions on his sixth album rise to place beyond mere musical sketchbook. While Tim Hecker’s sound stays indelibly tethered to his gorgeous sense of melody, a fetish for discordant progression and a mastery of piano, on Ravedeath, 1972 he goes for greater conceptual flair and a deeper explorations of the artist’s core themes of bleakness and sorrow. This may pin the album down as “depressing” but all one needs to listen to is the coda track, “In The Air III” to know that is far too easy. On this record, Hecker evokes a genuine sense of solitude, a far flung idea in a distracted, multi-media universe.

Picture a human alone at the piano. Imagine that human on an island. Feel that island on the edge of an oblivion. You’ve only now touched the transcendence offered on Ravedeath, 1972.

Recorded in Frikirkjan Church in Reykjavik, Iceland (while written both in Montreal, Quebec and Banff, BC) the wildly popular production location offers more than just name recognition. The funeral motif provides a tangible influence on the album’s overall feel. The opening song, “The Piano Drop” with its shivering synthesizer sequences and dreamy tempo evokes still shots of an otherworldly, treeless expanses of black sand and volcanic landscapes.

Picture a man laying under the Auroras. Touch twelve inches of white snow that is still pure. Envision his fixed gaze looking up. Feel his breath stolen away.

Hecker breaks his songs into sequences. The three parts of “In The Fog” are constructed around a laconic, ambient tone, shot through in spaces with shrill guitars which are then calmed by sublime piano melodies; on “Hatred of Music” Hecker goes a little colder with sparse key drops and a satisfyingly awkward crescendo in the midst; on the closing triptych, his “Into The Air” sequence, an elevated feeling of moving through atmosphere all but courses through the body.

Hecker’s objective going into Ravedeath, 1972 was to run a fine line between live/studio album. He wanted to seize on music that projected boldness and vulnerability in the same moment. He sought an album of anti-music. In the most curious ways, he achieved those lofty goals.

I explore Tim Hecker when I am exploring my story. If I feel the need to be swept up, to free my mind, to throw free ideas on paper then Ravedeath, 1972 in all its dichotomy is a necessary tool.

Here is a link to Ravedeath, 1972 in its entirety on YouTube.

Music For Writers: Tim Hecker

Dropped Pianos by Tim Hecker is, quite simply, a beautiful record to behold.

Filled with a haunted beauty. Isolated droplets of crystalline beauty. It is a beauty fraught with a hammer string’s tension. Delving into hyperbole, or fancy adjectives, would not do the album justice.

Hecker is a Los Angeles based musician (by way of Chile and Montreal, Canada) and he has over a dozen critically acclaimed recordings over the last decade plus to his credit. He is notably virtuosic on keys, peerless with arrangements, and 2011’s Dropped Pianos is a stirring example of that acumen.

This record is brief and minimalistic. The nine tracks weigh in at a spare thirty-five minutes in length (as a note, Dropped Pianos has a companion record, Ravedeath 1972). The songs are titled chronologically as a sequence of sketches and tend to come across at times as parts, thoughts, and bits of something else. That sense of incompletion proves worthy fuel for imagination. One can delve anywhere into Hecker’s song sketchbook and wander a few steps forward from the fade; you can just as easily reel back, anticipating what may have built to the lovely crescendo.

Sometimes simple beauty is what a writer and artist needs to advance. We all thrill in an awe inspiring view into a lush place. Toward that purpose, Tim Hecker’s record is a necessary listen.

For a copy of Tim Hecker’s record, Dropped Pianos check out your local library.

On Hecker’s Bandcamp page, you can stream all of the tracks to this album.

Music For Writers: Max Richter

24 Postcards In Full ColorThat sense of convergence is one of my favorite aspects in electro/acoustic composition. When done right, the primary elements, seemingly opposed to one another, blend organically.

German born/British Max Richter crafts a unique brand of electro/acoustic, placing him as one of the most exquisitely gifted composers in contemporary classical music. Accomplished in the post-modern, multi-media songwriting realm (delving into stage, opera and even ballet) it’s no surprise that his minimalistic sound palette has also become instrumental for use in modern cinema as well. Richter has worked with Haruki Murakami texts and utilized Tilda Swinton reading Franz Kafka, to name a few.

In Richter’s work, the convergence is threefold: electronic, acoustic music along with narrative.

Fourth in his vast discography is 2008’s 24 Postcards In Full Color, a collection of miniatures, styled as ringtones. If that delivery mechanism seems at all off-putting at first, it’s natural. Writing for ringtone hardly seems like fertile ground for creative inspiration, but Richter’s sublime instrumentation and peerless studio acumen brings an abstract concept together into one of the most haunting and evocative records in the recent neo-classical movement.

The impression throughout 24 Postcards is at once bright and fuzzy. Beginning with its melodic opener, “The Road Is A Gray Tape” the album lumbers to life, eschewing sharpness and polish for a gorgeous blur. Richter builds to a drowsy, early morning allure through piano pieces like “Lullaby From The West Coast Sleepers” and “Circles From The Rue Simon-Crubellier”. There is some urgency built into the strings of “This Is Us” but Richter controls the image rather than losing grip, spinning us through an evocative interlude instead of an episode. If one seizes on the title concept of a postcard, a moment wrangled from anonymity, a snippet of time from somewhere other than home, Richter has written the bulk of his to capture his arrivals and departures. These songs don’t say, wish you were here as much as the proclaim, I have arrived.

Or, I am going.

Richter alters instruments between piano, cello and violin yet keeps the tone constant. Everything is soft and gently produced. None of the songs are very long. “A Sudden Manhattan Of The Mind” is the longest at 2:51 and still feels like more of a postcard than a letter.

With a series of emotionally dense, short songs, ones natural impression might be that the material on 24 Postcards anticipates larger, more developed pieces; but this is not necessarily the case. At just over a minute, “When The Northern Lights: Jasper and Louie” doesn’t foretell a bigger or necessarily grander movement. Instead, it dwells in that hazy transition.

Richter’s album is about simultaneous variety and tone; this isn’t a record to listen to for flow. Delve into his composer’s sketchbook as your creative impulses are just stirring to meditation. He is a sublime guide.

Bonanza for You Tube listeners. There is a link to a full stream of 24 Postcards In Full Color. 

Music For Writers: Oneohtrix Point Never

oneohtrix-point-never-riftsAmbient artist Daniel Lopatin was unknown to me, at least until Pitchfork magazine listed his collection Riftsas one of the greatest ambient albums of all time.

Now he has become a bona fide staple.

Weighing in at a robust thirty-three tracks, highlighted by exciting, sweeping synths and clever loops, Lopatin’s early work as Oneohtrix Point Never verifies his presence as perhaps the pioneering influence in tech heavy ambient. The “voice” on this collection isn’t a replicant of nature. It isn’t human. It isn’t space, nor is it cinema. Instead, these are the busy voices of data transfers, and machines interconnected, a dark and synergistic web of automation yearning not to be free; oddly, to succumb and conform. Oneohtrix Point Never songs are filled with rippling keyboard arpeggios and bittersweet melodies that doggedly adhere to what feels like a graph paper like structure.

The three disc, deluxe version of Rifts collects a trio of LPs for the first time (they exist separately, but are hard to find and very expensive). Disc One, “Betrayed In The Octagon” is the earliest work; “Zones Without People” is the second, brilliant middle album in the chronology; then “Russian Mind” which was the last before Oneohtrix Point Never broke commercially.

The thirty-three tracks on the 2012 reissue total more than three hours. Translation. It is among the most massive single artist ambient collections available, but at the same time as it is weighty, it reveals a coherent arc. A writer setting adrift on this vast trove of music will likely find three hours too much to negotiate, but bite sized, five to ten song chunks of thematically continuous ambience are easy to carve out. I have cordoned off 35-40 minutes segments of Zones, the more new age and psychedelic influenced album that I like to use while writing speculative and science-fiction (“Format & Journey North” is a great launch) the same as on Russian Mind which is more spacious (“Time Decanted” and “Memory Vague” bookend a spectacular sequence). For writers taking Rifts into their mood creating tool box, it’s important to know, this intimidating work can be sectioned off to whatever it needs to be.

The 2012 reissue of Rifts makes Oneohtrix Point Never far more accessible than ever before. I got my CD copy at the Multnomah County library, and it’s likely available at yours for check out.

If you have trouble locating a copy to check out though, it’s available for purchase at Lopatin’s site and can be streamed in pieces at YouTube as well as Bandcamp.

Have you given Rifts by Oneohtrix Point Never a chance? If so, what do you think? Do you have a favorite album to listen to while writing? Leave me a comment and I’ll review it.

Music For Writers: John Carpenter II

john-carpenter-lost-themes-iiLast week, I reviewed John Carpenter’s ambient debut, Lost Themes. And it’s only natural that this week, I review his follow up album, Lost Themes II.

If the first volume of the Lost Themes series sets the tone for Carpenter, not just as a filmmaker, but as an artist of excess, the second volume solidifies that notion. This is Carpenter at his baroque finest, short bursts of ambient beauty laced with a bare chested sense of bravado. Bigger emotions and a wider swath of flourishes, as in “White Pulse” which is the most riveting track on either LP, or “Utopian Facade” which anchors in a pool of bliss that is a pinnacle in aspirational ambience. He twinkles bright keys and brings an air of beauty over rousing storm swells. Carpenter’s songs are not as iconic as, say, his theme to “Halloween” but they’re not intended to be. What they lack in minimalistic appeal, they make up for in a comfortable wash of sublimity.

Less than an album for writers while writing, Lost Themes II is more of an album about getting in the dramatic, creative mood. This is an album you put on as you wait for Microsoft Word to warm up, the one you slide on the CD player on your way home to your hour long novel sprint.

Here is a Bandcamp link to Lost Themes II.

Have you given this record a chance? Do you have a favorite album to listen to while writing? Leave me a comment and I’ll review it.

Music For Writers: John Carpenter

john-carpenter-lost-themesAs a filmmaker, John Carpenter works in a milieu of excess. And it is that very tendency which has helped define his body of work, carving out a bold cinematic niche for criminal deviance and horror.

As an award winning musician, and the provider of soundtrack for many of those films, Carpenter can be similarly defined. He has never been shy about reaching out for mass affect, even if in scattered moments the results can feel over the top. Carpenter’s movies (most prominently his “Halloween” series and “The Thing”, his Lovecraft influenced masterwork) are global canon to horror viewers, but curiously, his musical output has, until the last two years, gone uncollected aside from a few tough to find soundtracks.

In 2015 Carpenter’s debut album, Lost Themes was released with the help of his son, Cody. This volume gathers together the first definitive collection of Carpenter’s signature electronic compositions. The album is a treasure trove of bold, sweeping keyboards that are anything but discrete, filled with staggering pulses and drives, never drifting off into the ponderous water.

As a writer, I throw on Lost Themes while I’m breaking story. There is a constant forward momentum, as there is in Carpenter’s film plots, and his music forces the imagination to those other places. Playing at low volume is recommended as this recordings feature high production value, bold clear sounds that are engineered to be played loud. Still, tracks like “Vortex” “Obsidian”, and “Abyss” provide simmering mood music for your story brainstorming sprint.

Here is a link to John Carpenter’s Lost Themes on Bandcamp.

Have you given this record a chance? Do you have a favorite album to listen to while writing? Leave me a comment and I’ll review it.

Music For Writers: Aphex Twin

aphex-twin-%22selected-ambient-works%22Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works: Volume II is about texture. For writers, chained to desks, the album is a stirring, aurally tactile means of bringing imagination to life.

Before Richard D James, aka, Aphex Twin released Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 in 1994, atmospheric electronica was, for the most part, built on a blissful premise. It was engineered as easy listening, come down music. This album broke that trend.

James did not seek to simply ease his listener. Ambient would not be reduced to simple come down music anymore. What James, a veteran of the early acid and house electronic underground, created on his sophomore release was a record, stimulating by way of isolation.

This is a chill before calamity. It’s what the cold underbelly of dawn feels like.

James deftly organizes this collection out of a series of organic tones. Songs like “Mould” and “Grass” and “Hexigon” imbue a tactile feeling that aren’t just mimics of a real world. There is also an underlying air of mystery, “Blur” and “Tree” and “Domino” are a few of the many that prowl along, keeping the reveal oblique while provoking strong emotions. On “White Blur 2” (at 11:27 the longest track on Selected Ambience Volume 2) Aphex Twin stirs a fathomless haunting, looped synth keys with a subtle overlay of maniacal laughter that feel like a horror sound track.

James did not simply set out to craft a musical riddle with Ambient Works Volume 2. The mercurial Brit defined what one feels like when they are lost amidst the unraveling. For my money, his track “Lichen” is among the most splendidly gorgeous pieces of music ever recorded, a walk out at foggy dawn, haunted by the drowsy thoughts of what might be. This is Aphex Twin at their most evocative; further, this is ambience arriving at an early apex.

There are a few songs that I would call distracting, ones I’ll skip while writing are “White Blur” with bells too disrupting, and “Shiny Metal Rods” on the second disc which veers away from organics, into more mechanized, claustrophobic beats. Otherwise, Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 stands as a pillar of creative, imaginative immersion and a riveting tool for writers.

For anyone who likes You Tube for their music, here is a link to Aphex Twin’s Selected Works.

Here is a link to Aphex Twin’s free listening on Bandcamp.

This is a link to Aphex Twin’s site, containing many free downloads.

Have you given this record a chance? Do you have a favorite album to listen to while writing? Leave me a comment and I’ll review it.