[11 November 2009]
Hecker appears to be looking for critics and listeners to trip over themselves while attempting to solve the central riddle and paradox of his latest album title. Even at the distant fading horizon of the Mego-style laptop fringes, Florian Hecker has always camped out at the fringiest frills of that fringe, where his un-music experiments can be regarded as the vociferously bizarre concoctions that they are.
Maybe it would be useful to define the terms by which Hecker’s latest, Acid in the Style of David Tudor, sets course. David Tudor was a world famous avant-garde composer of abstract electronic work. So, the “style” of which Hecker speaks would appear to be any of the various aesthetic and theoretical techniques Tudor utilized through his many pieces, such as the indeterminate insect sounds populating the ambient “Rainforest” series. However, Tudor is also perhaps just as well known for his visionary playing as his original works, having debuted many works on the piano and other instruments for John Cage, La Monte Young, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Morton Feldman, and more. Hence, Tudor’s creative “style” was as much a performance technique as it was an artistic vantage.
So, that Hecker’s stroboscopic LCDs and mixing board knob twiddling resemble Tudor at his most manic and fevered, and that many of the pieces on the album’s first half sound cryptomnesically plucked straight from Tudor’s Neural Synthesis works, should come as no great shock. It’s the former part of the album title—Acid—that remains a curiosity even after several listens.
From a sonic standpoint, the word acid is most evocative of acid house, the prototypical electronic dance style that spawned the 1989 UK second summer of love and ushered in the 1990s energy flash of intensified futurism that has yet to be rivaled or even challenged in the current decade, which draws to a close in the next few months. Technically, acid was house music in the style of David Tudor. Acid house took the glitches of drum machines, the miswirings of synthesizers, distorted bleeps of test tones, and all other manner of avant-garde warps and wobbles and created functionalist architecture out of this.
Both house music and avant-garde composition employ strategy, but the latter has a historical tendency to shun the former. Dance music is utilitarian and ego-decentralized, relying on notions of collectivist “scenius” (a term coined by Brian Eno and later celebrated by Simon Reynolds) rather than the impetus of lone visionaries or subsidized research groups. As such, the relationship of the music on this album to acid house is tenuous, perhaps mistaking the occasional locked groove loops as genealogical evidence of transferred energies. But the essential paradox to the titular preoccupation is that playing acid in the style of David Tudor strips the acid-ity of the composition. The acid then loses its representational value by defunctionalizing its accessibility and daubing its theoretical applications as mere texture.
Of course, there are other meanings one could derive from the word “acid”, too, other than just a particular music genre, and those probably apply pretty well. The chain of sounds heard forms a long string of noises that are bitter, corrosive, and lysergically fractured. While the booklet accompanying the album prattles on about “ofness”, it might have been better off speaking about “offness”. These are sounds that might normally sound parasitic to the human ear, deriving power from host discomfort and observing solipsistic audial functions at the expense of listener enjoyment, particularly if one were to play the album as loud as Hecker’s press release suggests.
For a noise album, though, it’s an incredibly multivalent, fascinating, and frustrating listen, designed to detach the listener from traditional notions of musicality. It might even be called “fun” for those sick enough to find joy in its onanistic fits, as this reviewer did. It was all recorded with a Buchla modular synthesizer (invented by Morton Subotnick) and a Comdyna analog computer—1960s tools that might be said to be “in the style of” a certain composer. Control of these boards is mostly Hecker tweaking solo. There’s no heavy layering to the smorgasbord of sound, just a succession of a capella robots, badly damaged and singing in tongues. Hecker’s noises, frenzied as they are, are solitary, and Acid in the Style of David Tudor does not try to orchestrally camouflage the one-man-band. By the end of the first track, metallic whips come crashing down one after the other like a sadomasochistic torture device into which Hecker has built himself.
At times the music is so varied, it sounds like nothing more than infantilist clatter, the equivalent of a baby banging on a keyboard or exploring the range of farting noise its mouth is capable of creating. Elsewhere, the chaos finds a rhythmic base, albeit one that’s generally wonky and off-kilter, like junk sounds lacking symmetry and orientation. They awkwardly step in crooked gait until hurling themselves down a flight of stairs. There’s something delightfully misfit about the pathetic plight of these dirty and damaged bits seeking a holy synch. The 8-bit sounding noises of the second track, for instance, become so obliterated that they shine like effervescent remnants of firey Galaga spaceships that shine and sparkle in their ruination.
Six tracks on the album are called “Acid in the Style of David Tudor”, one (track 10) is called “Ten”, and three are three-minutes tracks of high-pitched repetition each called “ASA”. Each “ASA” is a minimalist challenge to keep listening, even if only for three minutes. To a certain extent, they break the tension of the unmediated madness of the other tracks by cleansing the ears, but their overall purpose, other than aggressive juxtaposition, is questionable.
Overall, the album loses steam in its second half, but, as is the case with art music, that might be the point. Still, as the audio gets more weary and the scatological tantrums smear the walls with yet more oil and bodily fluids, the canvas just begins to look muddled and brown, but the sounds start to become more effete and crud-addled too.
Acid in the Style of David Tudor, despite its referents, exists on a plane of its own and rises and crashes according to its own schizophrenic logic. Hecker shows of a recondite beauty that’s like an alien art film. It may take some serious training to appreciate it on its own terms.