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Mille Plateaux Debut from Canadian Glitch-meister

Glitch is the word, have you heard? The term “glitch” is shorthand for the use, by electronic musicians, of bits of sonic material that mimic the sounds associated with everyday technology that has ceased functioning effortlessly. The most common example of glitch in pop music is what sounds like the repetitive skipping of scratched CDs. This tenacious electronica technique — found in music by Oval, Autechre, Matmos and many others — is less a genre than it is a flavor. And in the hands of Tim Hecker, glitch is more than just an Information Age trope — it’s got move, it’s got meaning. Hecker can turn what sounds like a broken record into a background groove, and he can make those repetitions sound less like echoes and more like premonitions — less like a reflexive mechanical effect and more like a compositional salvo. On the opening track of Presents Radio Amor (Mille Plateaux, 2003), “Song of the Highwire Shrimper,” the glitchy repetition comes in the form of single notes that ping slowly in a kind of decay, or quite suddenly as if something has short-circuited and a switch is being flicked on and off with great anxiety. Hecker has managed to find in this repetition a common ground with solo piano music — not only the minimalism of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman, but the romantic etudes of a century or two earlier. His repetitions almost always have an arc, and when that arc is slow it has the elegance of a rolling object coming gently to rest. In terms of sheer hyperactivity, the album’s eighth track, “The Stair Compass,” is its most glitch-intensive — with all that quiet buzzing, it could easily accompany a documentary about termite infestation. Hecker’s trick is that his sounds, for all their furious friction, meld into something as soft as wool. The track that follows, “Azure Azure,” has the same sort of textural, almost visceral, richness, but it achieves this with a more monotonic haze.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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