The sounds of a traditional Japanese gagaku ensemble mutated into rich drones.
Konoyo may be his most slippery creation to date. It returns to a strategy first employed on 2013's Virgins, which drew from an ensemble of musicians. Whereas Virgins featured Bedroom Community players like Ben Frost and Valgeir Sigurðsson as well as fellow Canadian composer Kara-Lis Coverdale, Konoyo mutates the sound of a gagaku ensemble, which traditionally performs Japanese imperial court music.
Just don't expect Hecker to approximate such ceremonial sounds. Hecker twists traditional reeds into wraith-like shrieks on the disorienting opener, "This Life," before allowing them to billow and drift upwards. Bending every element at will, Hecker makes the piece feels majestic and unnerving at once, the wailing tones slowly turning peaceful, flowing along into the alarm-like chimes of "In Death Valley" and the spare, glassy drones of "Is A Rose Petal Of The Dying Crimson Light."
Ever-shifting audioscapes remain constant in Hecker's work. On Konoyo, several pieces are given plenty of time to unfurl. The plucked strings and thumped percussion of the 15-minute "Across To Anoyo" are as close as Hecker gets to the sound of gagaku, but it's soon shot through with fidgeting squalls of noise that rove about the stereo field like a bat. Negative space slowly infiltrates the piece, and each element drifts further and further apart. What began as a noisy piece becomes an ethereal dirge.
Hecker remains irreducible as a composer. At times, he brings to mind an ice sculptor, carving out staggering shapes from giant blocks of sound that feel crushingly heavy even as they seem to melt away. Some moments here echo the early '00s series Clicks & Cuts, others Arthur Russell's World Of Echo. You might also hear the elegiac rise and fall of Stars Of The Lid, an emotional Hollywood score or William Basinski's sound of decay. However, as Konoyo unspools, you may look back and realize that this all combines to sound like no one other than Hecker.