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Duck & Goose Call Club

Soundscaping at the Southern: Tim Hecker Pilots a Voyage in Ambient Music

The following is my review of Tim Hecker's concert held at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis on Sept. 18, 2010.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then one of Tim Hecker's compositions is worth a thousand images. Unlike most rock or pop concerts, Hecker's featured performance Saturday night at the Southern Theater offered a solid hour of listening. No one sang along, no one danced. As his set began, Hecker motioned the stage manager to cut the Twilight Zone light effects and to just leave the audience in complete dark. All ears were trained on the electric emissions of the speakers. And what came out of the speakers let the mind's eye take flight.

The opportunity to hear Hecker perform live was a rare treat. The Canadian ambient musician teamed up with critically acclaimed Ben Frost to bring their unique sound to the Twin Cities. While each musician had their own showcase performances, each assisted the other during the respective shows. Frost appeared, barefoot, at the beginning and end of Hecker's show to add his own incidental phrases on guitar and piano to Hecker's larger compositions. While mixing and compiling their sounds, the two musicians moved like silent wraiths among their myriad wires, synthesizers, sound boards, and computers set upon a table propped up with paint cans.

But although the two musicians worked together with ease, their approaches to ambient music could not be more different. Frost, with his mentorship under renowned musician Brian Eno, has been known to create his pieces with a tortured meticulousness, wrapped in layers of compositional theory. Hecker, on the other hand, has admitted in interviews his penchant for improvisation. The music played was thus whatever Hecker felt like putting together. By no means did this lend a sloppy quality to Hecker's work, but rather, there was a sense of no-holds-barred, open imagination that made the listening experience more magical.

Opening with the same musical themes as his most recent album, An Imaginary Country, Hecker slowly built his onstage composition with sweeping crescendos that required earplugs in order to appreciate without physical pain. In the same way a jazz band will begin a song with a simple melody, only to layer it with improvised solos and variations, Hecker built his compositions centered on a simple theme--such as a repetitive beat or rising arpeggio. And although many themes came directly from tracks in Hecker's discography ("100 Years Ago" and "Borderlands" come to mind), the execution on stage was vastly different. Hecker constantly moved from laptop to MIDI keyboard to sound board creating new sounds out of only a few electrical elements.

The sound throbbed, it groaned, it rose to levels and volumes that cannot be reached by a dinky set of headphones when listening to Hecker's work at home. The bass reverberated so strongly that it could be felt pulsing inside the body. Evoking the outer space panoramas from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey while using electric distortion more commonly found in some albums by The Klaxons or Radiohead, Hecker wove the rush of airplane engines with percussive sounds similar to a hand hitting a microphone that never failed to evoke brilliant mental pictures.

Images of waterfalls and supernovas, of vaulted cathedrals and crashing waves would flash through the mind while Hecker's chords progressed through a sea of dissonant drones. There was a moment where the electric tones ascended, and with each step the sound rang out like a bell. The ascent was slow, almost reverent, as if marching upwards toward some sort of paradise. Just as the volume and the tones were at the top of the scale, Hecker replaced the metallic, electric buzz with the exultant phrases of an organ--thus completing the heavenly image.

Although the performance lasted little more than an hour, it felt as if the music had been played outside of space and time. Hecker's style and great capacity as a musician made for a captivating experience. Not only does he make music with his sound, Hecker paints pictures with it.

I report, therefore I am a journalist...

This past week marked my actual realization as a journalist.

It just kind of hit me full force. Sitting on the bus, talking to a stranger, and that's how I introduced myself. It rolled off the tongue, and I realized it was the truth.

Not only does the job and the internship legitamize this claim, but the actual legwork too. I mean, what kind of person willingly waits for hours next to a bike rack hoping to find an interview if not a journalist? What kind of person carries their AP Stylebook with them everywhere if not a journalist? It's who I've become, somehow.

It's startling to look at the turn I've taken, at how the dream has changed in only a few years. I'm not sure what I'm after. This business is certainly more profitable than novel writing, and there are more positions than in literary translation... But I think I just latched on to something that I quickly became good at. Radio isn't easy, but it's something I can do well. I can make a name for myself. I don't want to be famous; I just want to be respected.

I can change the world. My East African Male story proved that. This is what I need to do.

But, yes, so my creative writing has suffered (especially fiction), but so it goes. There will be time to come back to that. Some day. Hopefully.

If the career starts now, there are some laws I have to lay down first. If change can come so easily, without even thinking about it, than I have to make sure there are things I won't, I can't, lose. Like swing dancing. And reading books. And cooking. And the Amigos. I can't lose these. There will always be time for these.


Somehow I've gotten here. With help, but on my own steam.

Where next?

The Problem of the "East African Male"

Bald Eagles Flock to Mississippi River

The National Park Service reports a 25% increase in eagle aeries along the Mississippi River, according to an article in The Star Tribune.

Seven new aeries have been spotted along the river between Dayton & Hastings. Ramsey County Parks officials attribute the rise in bald eagle population to the effectiveness of the 1972 Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act has improved the Mississippi River's fisheries, allowing eagle parents to provide more for their young.

Eagle aeries have been sighted closer and closer to urban areas. One is near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport, another along Interstate 694 near Fridley.

Six killed in car crash

A 16-year old driver is the only survivor of a two-car collision that killed all four passengers in her vehicle and two in another car early Sunday morning near Cambridge, Minn., reported The Star Tribune.

The survivor had her license for only three weeks, according to The Pioneer Press. Minnesota state law prohibits young drivers who have had their license for less than six months to drive unaccompanied between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., and also prohibit driving more than one passenger under the age of 20.

Police said that the vehicle driven by the survivor smelled of alcohol. The driver could face criminal charges.

Greece accepts bailout

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou formally accepted the European Union's proffered €45 billion in financial aid Friday, according to an article in The New York Times.

The announcement came after Greece's bond market took a sharp downturn, forcing Athens to accept the aid, which is equivalent to $53 billion, according to CNN.

The bailout money, EU officials said, will hopefully be dispersed as quickly as possible, but there are many critics of the disbursement. Germany, with the largest economy of the euro zone, was hesitant, but one German official said that saving Greece would be in Germany's national interest as well, since it saves the euro.

Other critics wonder at what the procedure will be for other economically failing countries like Portugal and Spain, if they should prove to default on loans also.

Obama subpoenaed in Blagojevich case

According to an article from the AP, the defense lawyers for former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich have asked a for a subpoena Thursday of President Barack Obama for Blagojevich's corruption case.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the defense lawyers say that there is some pertinent information to the case that only the president and the former governor know. This information could possibly prove the governor innocent.

The filing of the subpoena request had much "classified" information redacted, but a "computer glitch" has allowed the full redaction to be posted on the Internet.

Security officials for the president have requested that a pre-recorded video of Obama's testimony be used in the case, rather than having the president present in the courtroom.