SOLD OUT - Tim Hecker + the Konoyo Ensemble
with special guest Kara-Lis Coverdale
10pm doors • 10:30pm show
Kara-Lis Coverdale: 10:30pm
Tim Hecker: 11:20pm
Experiential composer Tim Hecker comes to National Sawdust with his ninth official full-length album, Konoyo (“the world over here”). Largely recorded during several trips to Japan in collaboration with members of the Tokyo Gakuso ensemble, the album features Hecker’s signature manipulation of source material — keening strings are stretched into surreal, pixelated mirages; woodwinds warble and dissipate as fractal whispers of spatial haze; sparse gestures of percussion are chopped, isolated, and eroded, like disembodied signals from the afterlife. Performed live with a full ensemble, this show is a somber ceremony, suffused with profound ritual.
Few in the field of explorative ambient music have remained as questing and unclassifiable as Canadian composer Tim Hecker. Across his fifteen–year career, he has moved through shades of reflective electronic noise, experiential sound design, and modern composition with a deft and distinguished touch. Even so, the past few years have seen a minor renaissance in his discography — time seems to be fortifying his palette, rather than fossilising it.
Hecker’s newest opus, Love Streams, takes its cue from the avant-classical orchestration and extreme electronic processing of his previous full-length album, 2013’s Virgins, but shaped into more melancholic, ultraviolet hues. Its power accrues as it unfolds. Inspired by notions of 15th–century choral scores transposed to an artificial intelligence–era language of digital resonance and bright synths, the album was assembled gradually, with layers of studio–tracked keyboards, choir, and woodwinds being woven into the mix, then molded and disfigured through complex programming. The effect is similar to hearing some ancient strain of sacred music corrupted by encryption. Hecker admits to thinking about ideas like “liturgical aesthetics after Yeezus” and the “transcendental voice in the age of auto-tune” during its creation.
Opening with the somber, stained–glass reverie of “Obsidian Counterpoint”, the record immediately draws the listener into its haunted, harrowing mood. “Music Of The Air” realizes the vision that permeates Love Streams even more potently: polyphonic choral voices swim through an ether of oscillating drones and spectral textures, like a high mass beamed from an alien shortwave numbers station. As always in Hecker’s recent pieces, the balance of introspection and intensity is masterfully unpredictable. “Live Leak Instrumental” and “Castrati Stack” both seethe with a muted sense of dread, punctuated by moments of tension and dissonance, without ever fully spilling over into the cacophony lurking just beneath the surface. What you don’t hear can, in the right hands, serve to be almost as riveting as what you do.
Hecker’s decision to continue working with many of the same collaborators that he teamed with on Virgins proved an astute move — this particular corps clearly understands his methods, and performs accordingly. Kara-Lis Coverdale’s keyboard work here is, if anything, even more fractured and dazzling, simultaneously emotional and oblique. Grímur Helgason’s woodwind arrangements were a defining facet of Virgins, but his contributions to Love Streams are equally elegant and enigmatic, wisps of dissipating melody within frayed, keening tapestries. Hecker’s ability to maximize the visceral drama of potentially amorphous source material is professionally unparalleled.
Convening once again in Reykjavik — where parts of both Virgins and Ravedeath, 1972 were tracked — the Love Streams sessions took place across 2014 and 2015, bolstered by the Icelandic Choir Ensemble. Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson scored several choral accompaniments that appear here, including the closing track “Black Phase”. The presence of the voice, even when heavily processed, infuses the music with a lofty, sacramental feeling. On “Violet Monumental I”, Hecker splices their voices into a surreal smear of heavenly aspiration, while a low tone plods an elliptical, heartbreaking bassline; the contrast of elements sounds fantastical, and devastating.
The title can be interpreted any number of ways — erotic, technological, spiritual — although Hecker’s own conception is appropriately vast, calling it “a riff on the ubiquity and nihilism of streaming all forms of life.” There is certainly a sense of love in Love Streams, but also of loss, refusal, and retreat. “Voice Crack” serves as a microcosm of these multitudes: synthetic strings sparkle against mournfully minimal drops of piano before being subsumed within a knotty maelstrom of distorted metal improv, which then dissolves into fragile, levitating rainbows of choral singing. The track lasts just over three minutes, but is packed denser with risks and revelations than entire albums by other artists.
As is true of most of Hecker’s work, Love Streams is a decidedly opaque creation, offering itself as a mutable vessel of meaning. The tangible clues are few. Beyond the titles, there is also the artwork: a gauzy screengrab of a video of an 80-strong Chinese choir collapsing beneath the stage during in an event last summer. There were no casualties, fortunately, but the image of a congregation united in utopian song suddenly plummeting into the depths is richly metaphorical: no matter how real the Dream, we all feel the Fall.
A small handful of 15th–century choral works by Josquin des Prez birthed the foundations of Love Streams. The musical tradition of cyclic, sacred composition developed and thrived for centuries before eroding under the grinding impatience of modernity. Now we stream more than we love. The current reality is that music too frequently resembles a product, or white noise. Tim Hecker belongs to a select camp actively resisting this undertow, this reduction in significance. His albums are personal statements and gestures of devotion. They are attempts to elevate — even with the stage poised to collapse.
Kara-Lis Coverdale works in both acoustic and electronic media to create works that transcend reality. Driven by a patient devotion to sonic afterlife, memory, and material curiosity, Coverdale’s world-building work occupies new planes built upon a borderless understanding of electronic music rooted in the interlocking pathways of musical systems and languages. Named a unique navigator of the digital frontier with an ease and emotive sensitivity “we cannot yet comprehend (FADER) and heralded as “one of the most exciting composers in North America” (The Guardian), Coverdale’s work has been meet with consistent critical acclaim. Her most recent recorded release, Grafts (Boomkat, 2017), whilst rooted in a modal sensibility, explores the impermanence of identity signature to exhibit a highly idiosyncratic approach to ratio-based microtonality and overtone, grief, love, and the passing of time. Grafts has been described as an “arresting” “masterful work” of “uncompromisingly distinct,” “indescribable beauty.” Coverdale’s recordings are architecturally considered and often understated, but her dynamic live shows can be unpredictable, chaotic, eerie, dynamic, confrontational—symptoms that the artist is emotionally present— for which she has earned a steady reputation as a festival favourite as a highly dynamic and explorative artist; unpredictable and resistant to categorization and stasis.
Previous releases include Aftertouches (2015, Sacred Phrases), a distinct exploration of holographic sonics, container technologies, and digital ether, that explores music’s sacred histories while forging its mediated and culturally saturated frontiers. Extended harmonic resolutions of 17th century chromatic keyboard music are redolent of her approach to this part writing, voiced with hybrid keyboards, fractured samples, algorithmically rendered vocals, and VST miragery. Aftertouches was named a top album of the year by The Wire, NPR, and others. A 480 (2014, Constellation Tatsu), is a set of studies accompanied by .nfo scores sourced from the data-sourced voice to explore the sonic impermanence of identity signatures. Coverdale has collaborated with Philadelphia noise artist David Sutton (LXV) on their collaborative album Sirens (2015, Umor Rex), to explore disembodiment and fantasy in the digital age, Tim Hecker (Love Streams, Virgins), and her production credits include Marilyn Manson, How To Dress Well, Lee Bannon, and others. She has also presented an A/V collaboration with MFO (Marcel Weber). Coverdale has written scores with artist and writer Kara Crabb on several projects, including the writing of the score for Royal Jelly (a modern reworking of the Greek Tragedy Medea), and The Reproductive Life Cycle of a Flower. In 2016 and 2017, Coverdale performed over eighty shows in Europe, North America, and Australia, including performances that were “festival favourites” for Unsound, Semibreve, and Mutek. More recently, she presented new large scale works Marjamaa Laulud, a unique commission for Dance with the Estonian Vanemuine Theatre and choreographer Ruslan Stepanov, and VoxU,a pipe organ commission for Mutek Montreal (CALQ) that is centred around the collection and arrangement of the unique sonics of the Vox Humana stop in particular, the first record and instrument of vocal synthesis dating back to the 15th century. The work weaves a narrative characteristic of this period, intersecting motives of emulation, the body, and transcendence.
Kara-Lis was born in Burlington, Canada, and began studying with the Royal Conservatory of Music from age 5. Her grandparents were immigrants from Estonia. She later went on to complete with degrees in musicology and composition, for which she wrote a Masters thesis “Sound Rhetoric, and the Fallacy of Fidelity,” a seed to Coverdale’s infatuation with the mutability of the real. Coverdale has worked as organist and music director at several churches across Canada since age 13, where she has also served as choir conductor. She is recipient of a “remising young artist” award by Canadian new music composer Ann Southam, has held residencies with GRM Paris, EMS Stockholm, FUGA Zaragoza and others, and presents original performances, commissions, collaborations, and installations all over the world including The Barbican, Theatre du Chatelet, AGO, MAC Montreal, Filharmonia Krakowska, Teatro Circo, Kraftwerk, and Elbphilharmonie.