The room sits in almost complete darkness, with a stuffy smog of dry ice hanging across the church, obscuring your view of the stage.
Not that there’s anything to see. Hecker is invisible and obliterated. In his place is an onslaught of pulverising sound; 45 punishing minutes, which manage to be simultaneously engrossing and violently alienating.
Tim Hecker’s recorded output of experimental electronic music can often be described as ambient. On his latest record Love Streams (widely regarded as his finest work) Icelandic choirs and spacious arrangements often tip the scales towards out and out beauty.
Tonight could not be more different. There is nothing either ambient or beautiful about this set. It is a visceral, overpowering, maximalist force – his studio tendency towards nuanced arrangements wiped out in a crucible of white hot noise.
Naturally, this is not really intended as a compliment. Or at least, this is certainly a loss. Squeezing every last decibel out of the speakers, there is little in the way of dynamic and detail to be found in tonight’s performance. Any of his organic samples or melodic flourishes are completely gone; in its place a genuinely rib-cage shaking drone of buzzing bass hijacks your entire body for an hour straight. Anyone who came on the ticket of his last album is probably as baffled as they are bludgeoned.
But at times the sheer visceral power of it brings about moments of transcendence. Hecker patterns out rhythm by chopping the underlining rumble into staccato, fragmented throbs. Latch onto that, and you occasionally find a looping motif tethered to it. There is something within the swell. Close your eyes at this point, let it wash over you, smashing full force into your face, and you can find yourself falling deeper and deeper into the crest of noise he’s building, with blissful and peaceful results. Just as suddenly, however, it can snap back to indistinguishable static.
Quite why St John’s has been filled with standing tickets for this is a bit of a mystery. If we had been seated, the introspective moments of self-annihilation might have emerged more frequently. But with neither spectacle nor anything we might conceivably dream of moving around to, standing in the face of this performance – in a darkened, smoky room to boot – more often felt affronting than rewarding. Tim Hecker has never been exactly accessible, but neither has he ever been this challenging.