Canadian electronic and experimental composer Tim Hecker is dropping his ninth solo album, Konoyo, on September 28 through Kranky, and it comes after the label’s reissuing and remastering of his earlier Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do It Again and Radio Amor. Konoyo’s soul is rooted in Japan, where, in a temple on the outskirts of Tokyo, Hecker collaborated with members from the Gagaku Ensemble Tokyo Gakuso, gagaku being an ancient form of Japanese classical music – ‘elegant music’ – performed for many centuries at the Imperial Court. As a result, Konoyo offers an immediate change of mood.
Konoyo is a response. Concerned with negative space and a continued concern for music’s ‘increasingly banal density’, Konoyo’s timbre is one of constriction, its mood sombre, akin to a lost kingdom and a crown that’s faded from its once-burnt gold. Strings are stretched to breaking point, but they’re still able to shine with a dull radiance, are still beautiful in their crystalline gleaming and their cavernous echoes, managing to sound strangely harmonious even in ongoing anguish.
The sound is refined in its elegant, controlled falls, its growling low tones and rivers of grit; its squeals of unease and dissatisfaction are similar in tone to the inky darkness of Ravedeath, 1972. Tracks pick up extra tonal layers along the way, and they suddenly populate the music, clanking thickly with the heavy air of ceremony. On ‘Keyed Out’, the track mutates halfway in, starting off in menacing territory, segueing into a quiet stretch where nothing moves, before adding in an array of electronic sounds.
The album addresses decay – which, in the physical world, is inevitable – but it’s more to do with the decay of a crushed spirit, examining a growing dissatisfaction with music in its current state and the falling away of all things. In Konoyo, something is failing, something is struggling; burning out. And because of that, it feels radically different, at times tired and at other times angry, and thus alive. As they slow down, the notes lose some of their vitality, energy draining like a spent battery, becoming dense glitch-hieroglyphics and mirage-like squares; you have to squint in order to see them. But the sounds are still able to gleam, shining like the sharp blade of a katana in the dark, a brandished sliver of light in a black cage.
The tones seem to be running wild – multiple sources overlap, crushing others, but they never feel like they’re in competition with one another – and Hecker tempers the numerous sounds to great effect, retaining a crestfallen mood inside its tight locket despite the occasional rush-hours within the record.
In September, the regal sense of decay is given extra emphasis. Autumn, when nature relinquishes, sleeps, and dies with a bang, a flourishing display of might and majesty. Similar things happen in the darkened labyrinth of Konoyo’s temple, its reverent music dominated by a pervasive feeling of tilted discord and ambient loss. Dissolving like sodium, like acid rain pounding the street, the music glows like a halogen, offering a wink of light and nothing more; refusing to offer more. The thumping, slow-bleeding percussion on closing track ‘Across to Anoyo’ is strong at first, but even this succumbs and dissolves, eroding like a corpse in its coffin. The ennui is pervasive. Despite its restrictions, Konoyo is more than generous. Its long running time and its spectacular tonal array is something of a wonder, untameable as always, even if its mood is adamantly downcast.
Hecker will stage a series of special performances in tandem with the album’s release, featuring members of the Gagaku ensemble on sh?, ryuteki and hichiriki, accompanied by Kara-Lis Coverdale.
Oct 2 – Tokyo WWWX
Oct 6 – London Barbican
Oct 7 – Krakow Unsound
Oct 8 – Berlin Funkhaus