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Tim Hecker & Phil Niblock @ Sala

Posted by Jer / June 15, 2007

Midnight Poutine probably should have sent one of its film reviewers to Tuesday's Suoni show at Sala. There were rows of seats, dim lights, and a giant screen with projected images. All that was missing was the popcorn and an awkward teenager standing in a spotlight and making small talk about shutting off cell phones during the screening. And here I was, sent to review the surround sound.

Tim Hecker's work is listed in the Suoni program as "structured ambient". But that hardly describes what he's up to. Structured I get, but what the hell is ambient anyway? Is it low-key down-tempo beats and noises? Is it background music that people at a party talk over? Is it atmospheric, like something that seems as much a part of the environment as the oxygen, carbon, or other elements in the room?

Hecker's sound art is none of these. It's loud, layered, and lush. It's sound that goes in through your ears or any other available sensory receptor on your body. Last night, this noise was set to a video Hecker had compiled for the occasion. Hecker fiddled with knobs and mixers while shots of barren, dry, landscapes flashed on the screen. There were desolate snowscapes, from somewhere presumably north of here. Then there were dessicated deserts in Africa.

Hecker's score was significantly more wet than the visuals (sorry, I've heard techie guys describe sound as wet, so I figured this was my chance to do so). By wet I mean it's like taking a bath in static and bass. It feels like a hundred sounds are all playing at the same time, and that, if you were so inclined, you could wash yourself in all the fuzz and overtones around you. The video ends on a shot of a waterfall; a visual which, to me, looks like his sound sounds.

Phil Niblock, a 74 year-old veteran intermedia artist, was also on the bill. Niblock was performing to video from his well-known “The Movement of People Working” series. As the title suggests, the sounds and images were industrial and repetitive (and I mean that in the most descriptive way possible). Sounds of drills and other mechanical noises provided a haunting soundtrack to visuals of chains, trains, and other technological signifiers. Niblock's noises and pictures were more directly linked than Hecker's, but ultimately, this made Niblock's performance seem a bit more trite than Hecker's choices. There was less room for the mind to wander. But, since the dude is 74 and probably the godfather of a scene I know little about, I should probably let those who know more decide.

On my way home, coincidentally, a podcast I was listening to played Tim Hecker's stunning song Chimeras. In a different visual space, I realized I had spent the bulk of the show wondering whether I should take the evening as a cinematic experience or as a music gig. It was only after I stopped worrying about that futile division that I figured out that the narrative of the sounds or the visuals wasn't actually in the speakers or on the screen.




scott / June 15, 2007 at 12:49 pm
i find that last line true of so many electronic shows, too. at what point does the immersive musical experience begin and end? its the echicken and electroegg.
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