Nika Danilova (Zola Jesus) Talks Tim Hecker’s Virgins

Attempting to put words to the sonic world of Tim Hecker is a tall order. For the past 15 years he has explored an uncharted backcountry of sound...

Attempting to put words to the sonic world of Tim Hecker is a tall order. For the past 15 years he has explored an uncharted backcountry of sound, dissecting and tessellating sound in ways previously unimaginable. His music has often felt very singular, as you can sense he is operating from an all-inclusive still of sensory experience. In Virgins, sound is manipulated and filtered beyond recognition. Yet something about it still manages to feel innately organic. Even at its most digital and electronic, it maintains a pulse; just slightly irregular enough to convince you of its human source.

The first song, “Prism,” starts off wavering in pitch, oscillating in unease until the anticipation builds to a percussive wave. It progresses in hammered rhythms that bring to mind the godfathers Reich and Riley. Inundated rhythms, shokeling repetition. It feels ancient throughout, in a very primal, knowing way. Hecker has this unique talent for chipping away at a sound until it hits a universal chord. At such point it can’t even be given a binary of good or bad, as what Hecker does is wholly beyond taste — it’s about reaching inward and forcing the listener deep into a catharsis. It is music that upon listening pulls you into an autonomic trance.

I’ve always appreciated Minimalism for boiling down the core of an idea. It takes such a fine negotiation to reach the purest state of one’s intent, but in succeeding it can be heavier than anything else. In repetition, which Hecker plays with often on Virgins, one is able to understand an idea so many times over that it begins to evolve and transform, not in the sound itself, but in the perception of the sound by the listener. It takes on new shapes, telling a new story with each refrain. The power of repetition is overwhelming, and if it’s done right it can be straight-up transcendental. In the track “Virginal II” the constant percussive loop repeats again and again until it folds into itself. It is enveloped by a wave of its own skin, left only then as a shadow of its initial bone structure.

The most impressive aspect of Virgins is how it manages to find the grey area between the synthetic and the organic. Hecker’s choice of source material feels raw and very much human, but with such incessant fiddling and filtering, it becomes woven into an unrecognizable digital mesh. These days it’s so easy to listen to electronic music and instantly understand it. The seduction of quantizing and sequencing so tightly on a grid strips the soul from the music. While that has its own allure, it is refreshing to hear electronic music that is approached in a way that constantly forces the listener to work.

Virgins feels like a collection of visceral tone poems that stretch and bend into each other like a web. Colours overlap, but as it twists and turns in subtle shades it never feels static. It’s exciting to see Hecker work more boldly with rhythm, and continue to explore the metaphysical potential of sound. For an artist who has been creating consistently amazing material for over a decade, it is no fluke that this new record so victoriously hits the mark.

Nika Danilova records under the name Zola Jesus. You can follow her on Twitter here.