Oneohtrix Point Never, Tim Hecker at Walker Art Center, 11/16/13
Photo by Timothy Saccenti
Tim Hecker + Oneohtrix Point Never
McGuire Theater, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin are thirty-something electronic composers working, to some extent, within a tradition established before they were born. They're heirs to minimalism and its exhilarating, irritating insistence on pattern repetition, as popularized by the likes of Philip Glass and Steve Reich.
Minimalism isn't all they do; sometimes it's not what they do at all. But in their very different performances Saturday night at the Walker, Lopatin (as Oneohtrix Point Never) and Hecker each demonstrated how elastic that tradition is--or maybe how necessary it is for a young artist who hasn't ditched that tradition entirely to distend its outer boundaries almost beyond recognition.
For a little more than a decade, the Montreal-based Hecker has adeptly sidestepped the meditative austerity into which electronic drone can subside while remaining mostly unsnookered by misguided alternatives: formless meander, willful noise, symphonic corn. His set drew from Hecker's most recent album, Virgins (Kranky), which was crafted in a two-step creative process. The composer recorded a number of woodwind and keyboard performers in Reykjavik, then digitally reworked the source material beyond recognition.
The resulting pieces suggest an undersea chamber music of sorts. The baseline of Hecker's performance was a drone neither static nor linear, so let's get those apt if lame oceanic cliches all over with at once: The music ebbed and flowed and swelled; it washed over the listener; it crested in waves. The overall effect was to feel immersed within more sound than you could possibly process or even hear.
Yet those sounds weren't wholly liquid. The set initially emitted an earthy whiff, as glottal horns evoked the snorts of rooting livestock. Among the instruments Hecker had recorded was the virginal, a smaller variant of the harpsichord that limits a performer to one note a time and has a flat percussive timbre, and its clattering patterns were strongly suggestive of Reich. There was gut-punch bass. There were sharp but often timid staticky glitches, like shorting patch cords that hadn't been erased from the final mix.
Even when a melancholy pipe-organ threatened to suggest Captain Nemo brooding beneath the waves, Hecker refused to employ the easy cues that trigger an expected emotional response, summoning the uneasy dread we expect of a horror flick without the camp relief that its visual or aural shock provides. He pulled off a similar trick, though in a far different mood, when the harmonic familiarities of a bobbing flute motif created a pastoral effect. It occurred without relying on the melodic resolutions of pop or the dramatic satisfaction of classical dynamics.
Hecker performed in the dark, enshrouded in fog, a visual null set. Lopatin, collaborating live with visual artist Nate Boyce, achieved his desired effects through deliberate overstimulation, disciplining the garish sensorium bombardment of a planetarium laser show with the formal and intellectual rigor of a modern electronic composer.
Lopatin's young enough that his earliest encounters with minimalist and experimental and ambient music must have been through those mutant utilitarian strains that traveled through mass culture's back channels -- PBS interstitials, soundtrack incidentals, Nintendo and techno and New Wave and New Age. And on the latest Oneohtrix Point Never album, R Plus 7 (Warp), Lopatin exploits the plastic unnaturalness of the digital materials he recycles for all its worth.
Boyce's presentation both complemented and complicated Lopatin's aesthetic. Images clashed, recurring with slight alterations, offering the possibility of change or forward movement but never fully delivering. Boyce eerily integrated opposites: His visuals could be both sterile and oozy, familiar and yet unreal, often showcasing imaginary mechanical devices or home furnishings that were intricately designed yet suggested no practical utility.
For the finale, Boyce alternated shots of several blocky sculptures, which seemed to dissipate further into vapor each time they reappeared, as Lopatin orchestrated clashing vocal samples, often of ethereal faerie voices with apparent Windham Hill pedigrees. You could imagine the musican relating to his memories of his parents Enya records in the way that Vampire Weekend do with their folks' Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel LPs, and his piece acknowledged the nostalgic appeal of the source material, wrenching it from its familiar context to remind us, fondly, how weird even the most mundane sounds are when they're first heard.
Personal Bias: Though I've appreciated Hecker's music for years, I didn't feel its full emotional impact until hearing it live at the sort of overwhelming volume that I'm just too polite a neighbor to experience at home.
The Crowd: A mix of your more adventurous/pretentious youngish indie listener (both performers have been repeatedly Pitchfork-approved) and older Walker live-music regulars.
Overheard In The Crowd: Much thoughtful murmuring, and at least one reference to an article by New Yorker music critic, Sasha Frere-Jones.
Random Notebook Dump: Yet another contrast: While Hecker's set was of an unbroken, undulating piece, Lopatin's played a handful of discrete numbers--though the audience didn't decide it was OK to applaud during the silences between these songs until about halfway through his set.
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