I’ve had a crack of producing a few ambient tracks just like every man and his dog seems to have done these days and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really fucking difficult.
Depending on what type of ambient you listen to, whether it be the less busy drones of Chihei Hatakeyama or projects as ever-changing as this, you’ll probably realise that it’s mostly built around evolution, slight changes in texture and colour, mild glitches and switches between samples and atmosphere, the development of an encapsulating experience. And so I ask:
How do you know when to evolve?
How quickly do you introduce new elements or take things away?
Why increase the abrasiveness there?
Why at that moment is glitching necessary?
Why is that track only three minutes when it could be twenty?
That bit sounds so nice, why does it stop?
Whilst listening to Hecker, this album more so than any of this others, I ask myself these questions. I understand that his ability to construct these vast, yet correspondingly constricting collages of sonic movement, consistently evolving with noise and pulses, is second to none.
On Mirages he toys with the estranged, longing sounds of shortwave radio snippets, phonecalls, and static-drowned voices. More so than any other of his releases, he steers away from piano and instead channels pure electronic tones, twisting and chopping consuming ambience with blooming drones whilst his characteristic noise that threatens to be intensively caustic entangles. Although undeniably electronic, the aforementioned presence of these soundbites adds a layer of human personality that his other projects don’t seem to touch on. Mirages is, in whole, also a more abrasive affair, an intensity I wish he explored more.
That swallowing abrasiveness encircles “Acephale”, the swirling, hypnotic, opener that draws parallels to Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s drowning ambient noise walls whilst follower “Neither More nor Less” is simply one of Hecker’s best tracks. Haunting and twinkling, radio-broadcast samples eat away behind heavy drones and mild glitches tear up the piano accompaniment in characteristic deconstructionist Hecker style. Bass-heavy ambient rumbles echo throughout tracks such as “Celestina” and “Balkanize-You”, and unabashed noise asphyxiates tracks “Aerial Silver” and “The Truth of Accountants”. Closer “Incurably Optimistic!” thunders through multiple stages of crackling evolution in a ten-minute epic as warm drones meld with static.
Actually how does he do this? I imagine Hecker drawing timelines like we used to back in history class where he plots each change and introduction of a new sound. But then again, you can’t just notate this. Does he spend cold nights perusing obscure shortwave radio-channels?
A listen more mysterious than much of Hecker’s catalogue that leaves questions unanswered. In relation to his discography, Mirages sits at a turn which sees noise change shape and relevance in his music, from a starring aspect to an underlying texture beneath more tradition instrumentation. Maybe a reason why this album seems like the forgotten sibling of the Hecker release family.
Extremely transportational, Mirages is one of those albums that makes me make up new words to describe it, and also give up on creating anything resembling ambient music ever again, and I’m ok with that.