The Experimental Media Performing Arts Center was lit brightly against the dreary, rainy sky on Friday evening as I walked down to what was sure to be a great performance. I was excited, not only because it was one of my first experiences with a production at EMPAC, but because it was Tim Hecker. Some of you may ask, “Tim Hecker? Who is that?” Well, I asked myself the same question when I stumbled upon a poster for the event. So, like any reporter, I ventured home to do some research.
It wasn’t difficult to find any information on Hecker; websites and reviews flooded my Google search, and his better known work is readily available on iTunes and YouTube. He is described as an “explorer of the intersection of noise, dissonance, and melody” via his website biography, which immediately caught my interest, and the interest of many others according to the bustling lobby that evening. Several members of the community, the campus, and our staff attended the experience, even if to simply discover what this man was all about.
Upon entering, attendees were greeted with a bowl of vibrant orange ear plugs which, I must say, may have been necessary for the faint of heart. The lights shut down in the concert hall and a single blue light illuminated the station where Hecker stood. Guitar amplifiers, an electronic keyboard, and computer-controlled sound boards occupied the modest space on the stage, and then the show began. I watched as a casually dressed Hecker rolled up his sleeves and extended his hands toward the controls. A faint, ambient noise propelled from the speakers, from bells to piano to white noise. The sound built through a crescendo, the vibrations of the bass shaking each panel in the acoustically-sound dome. Swishing, record-skipping, and keyboard interludes made for a relaxing, yet intriguing show.
The mix of post-rock, ambient white noise, and computer-generated techno was all generated on site by Hecker using a mixer, all the while being helped by an engineer working with levels in the center of the room. It was beautiful! As a music geek throughout high school, I didn’t expect to be as impressed as I was to experience such an intense and yet peaceful show. The mixing continued for about an hour, and I felt sadness as the performance came to a close. Hecker walked off stage, the applause ended, and I sat wishing that I could hear more. Around me, students commented about the show’s “de-stressing,” “concentration of emotion,” “musical tension,” and “peace,” and I felt relief from the rainy, Career Fair filled chaos of the day.
After the show, the Music Curator for EMPAC, S. Argeo Ascani, held a quick discussion with myself and the students from the Arts and Design Housing here at RPI. He discussed the placement of the speakers, the seating, and the panels across the ceiling to control the sound. However, this is also where I discovered that everything I had just experienced was created on-site that very same afternoon. Huh? This concert was not prepared, but Hecker and his engineer, Paul, created the beauty of their music real-time for this site-specific performance. We were never going to hear that exact sound ever again. Each performance, Hecker performs variations on each piece he’s ever played in a trial-and-error, play-it-by-ear manner that is sure to give each listener a unique experience.
This was no pre-packaged show; this was an evolution of a work of art that was a sight not to be missed. Those of you who missed it, check out Hecker’s work on iTunes, including his most recent albums entitled Dropped Pianos and Ravedeath 1972. Make your way to the programs coming up at EMPAC for October, beginning with Nora Chipaumire’s dance-theater performance, Miriam, this Friday, October 5 and Saturday, October 6 at 8. Tickets are only $6 with your student ID! These are not chances to be missed.