anadian electronic artist Tim Hecker has released a lot of interesting music over the past few years—both under his own name and using his pseudonym Jetone. Radio Amor, his latest, is no exception. The work was inspired by Hecker's trip to Honduras and his experiences with a particular fisherman/shrimper named Jimmy, who gave Hecker a lift along the way. The album, Hecker notes, is dedicated to "the idea of Jimmy the high-wire shrimper. Misplaced nautical charts, tradewinds, shortwave miscommunication, midnight whispers, amorxxx." Plenty of music is dedicated to one person or another, but the difference here is that Hecker's dedication isn't figurative but literal. Those charts and winds and miscommunications he mentions—things that, no doubt, make up the bulk of one's time aboard any ocean vessel—also make up the bulk of the music on this disk.
This is an album crafted out of radio static, the kind of static a fisherman must deal with on a regular basis. For a fisherman, that static must be a constant nuisance, as he/she must sift through it in order to find the human signals bleeding through. In fact, spread throughout Hecker's work are human voices, barely audible, momentarily whispering unintelligibly into the ether. So, to a certain extent, Hecker's work is shaped by the very concept of a guy like Jimmy, who goes out early in the morning to fish, all by himself, with only his shortwave radio to remind him of the rest of humanity. Most likely, Jimmy would spend his days listening to the ocean waves, the seagulls, the wind, and the creaky noises of his boat. But Hecker doesn't dwell on these sounds; he focuses on the radio, the fisherman's link to the rest of the world.
Take "Spectral," an eight-minute work that begins with the sound of radio static; out of this static emerges a faint voice, murmuring against a sheen of radio distortion. Almost as soon as it appears, the voice disappears, washed over by glittering static and a swooping, gliding series of low bass sounds (hums and whirs). These sounds stretch out, bob up and down, and crash against one another, in much the same way that a boat would stretch out across the water, bob up and down, and crash up against churning waves. It's as if Hecker had decided to create an entire world out of static, and then placed people in that world and recorded those people interacting with this new, electrical environment. If that metaphor doesn't work for you, then just imagine Fennesz's Endless Summer only with radio static replacing the sound of a guitar, and you might start to understand what Hecker is trying to do here: turn something dissonant and unlistenable into something beautiful and haunting and mysterious and, well, musical.
That's the key, of course. This is not simply noise; this is music, created and shaped and pruned and dissected into something almost operatic in scope. This kind of music isn't for everyone—heck, nothing I review at Stylus is—but, for those of you who are adventurous and eager to hear something new, and for those of you who like Fennesz, Sogar, Christopher Willits, Taylor Deupree, and William Basinski, then Hecker's Radio Amor is an essential listen.
Reviewed by: Michael Heumann
Reviewed on: 2003-12-16