The Tim Hecker Interview
For more than 15 years now, Montreal’s Tim Hecker has been creating some of the most engaging sound landscapes on record. Over the past two years he’s dropped the monumental Ravedeath, 1972, as well as a series of sketches for the albums titled Dropped Pianos and Instrumental Tourist, a collaboration with Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin that, like all of Hecker’s music, reveals new layers, edges, and earths. Recently, Tim and I spoke on the phone about his writing process, how he builds an album, the audience, identity, and phantoms.
VICE: When you begin writing a piece of music, do you start with a specific sound, or is it more of an idea?
Tim: There’s no real set workflow, or agenda, or trajectory as a piece gets to its end state. It’s a whole range of different ways. Usually it starts with some kind of crystallized seed of something, like a melodic hook or some motif, or a chord change or something, that I take and then work on really physically, and push things, and improvise over and pummel and invert and use all the techniques I have of manipulating sound to push that little seed into something that blooms or transforms into something more substantial.
What’s an example of a seed? Like a melody on a piano, or a sample?
It could be a chord change on a piano, but it’s usually something a bit more complicated, like maybe a piano being played, put through my tape machine, and then reverberated and side-chained off another melody. Then a piece that came out of some improvisation, from like slamming something together, from trying to be as nonlinear as possible, becomes the start of something else, and you use that as a kind of entry point into a work. I see the process like when Jackson Pollock did these not as famous watercolor Japanese ink paintings where he had this giant stack of paper and it was all really thin, translucent, gauzy paper, and he would paint on the top of the stack and do a motif, and then he’d maybe dry that, and pull the next piece and there’d be the trace of the piece before and he would riff off that. And if he got down the stack it would be many, many iterations of different motifs that he responded to in each particular page that he was working on. That’s kind of a good metaphor for my own personal way of working, which is just an attempt at a kind of continual transformation.
I read an interview with you where you used the word “demolish,” saying that you like to try to demolish a sound sometimes.
It’s a bit of hyperbole because I don’t obviously destroy it. It’s more like damaged, as I often like to leave the semblance of some source, some reality of what it was before, but I think it’s an exaggeration to say that I totally destroy things. I’m a middlebrow brutalist compared to noise artists or things like that. Right now I enjoy leaving traces of original sounds. It’s more like the working way of slowly, iteratively manipulating things, dismantling them in some vaguely painterly way. Digital audio is an amazing medium to transform sound. Now younger artists are showing potential, manipulating digital audio in real elastic ways that a lot of analog fetishists would never have even thought about. It’s pretty radical, and it’s an interesting time to work on sound in many respects.