Oneohtrix Point Never, Tim Hecker at Walker Art Center, 11/16/13

Categories: Last Night
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.

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