Not too long ago, ‘being a fan of ambient music’ would be classified at around 7.8 on the Social Dysfunction scale, just below ‘owning seven cats and two human skulls’, or ‘commenting on news websites’. But these days ambient is rougher, darker, and louder than its predecessors. If it looks to Brian Eno at all, it is the twisted Eno that makes up much of Adam Curtis’s soundtracks, rather than the one who composes lullabies for air passengers. Ambient is also, it would appear, much more popular now. At least enough that one of its main ambassadors, Tim Hecker, can quickly sell out a medium-sized venue like Jazzhouse.
Not that this is all Hecker’s doing. The evening is a double bill with an altogether more eclectic character, Tyondai Braxton. Formerly of Battles, Braxton is the cerebral experimenter to Hecker’s romanticism. The difference is as much visual as it is audible: the projections behind Braxton glitch and fragment, the everyday nightmare visions of garbled technologies; Tim Hecker is instead surrounded by rather ecclesiastical rows of pastel-coloured LEDs.
But for all their care in creating compelling visuals to reflect their music, both acts appear to inherently question the need for us as an audience to be standing like this, all facing the stage as if expecting interaction or entertainment. The intermingling tracks from Hecker’s latest LP, Love Streams, positively pour from the speakers, reverberating through bodies and rattling the fillings of teeth. You’d do as well to swim through this than absorb it standing. It is the much-discussed vocal elements of Hecker’s recent work that add a little light to what would otherwise be an unremitting textural piece, and perhaps he is aware enough of the side effects to cut things short: after a pedantically-precise 60 minutes, the lights go up, and those of us who forgot our earplugs began to regret our life choices.