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Reusing 16th century music - interview with Tim Hecker

Album cover Love Streams

"It's a similar concept in terms of limiting myself to certain keys or melodic arrangements. I just gave them different names so that they aren't obviously related. In the end this album comes down to about 3 different musical movements. I wanted to make more of a pastiche collage thing with 4 or 5 overarching musical motifs or conceptual pieces that had a bunch of sub variants which I would intersperse repeatedly in this collage/tape splice kind of way." Listening to Hecker's tracks "Music of the Air" and "Castrati Stack" back-to-back is a perfect exaple of this collage.

Engaging with archives

Tim Hecker, who has a Phd from McGill University, is obviously an educated man and his academic vocabulary interjects his relaxed delivery in a similar way that the bright melodies cut through distorted drones in his music. However, during our conversation it was hard to tell if he had a disdain for academics.

"I don't need an archivist," he states. "An archive wants and needs engagement with the world. When I was doing my Phd I was around a bunch of really rich archives and there was no one around. There was this sort of melancholy with some of the archivists who were desperate for contact or people to engage with the material that wasn't being sorted through. It felt sad to me. It's good to engage with archives in general, it's important. I spent months alone in rooms with archivists going through pipe organ historical documents. I've cut my teeth as a trained historian but I don't practice that anymore."

Archiving in the digital age

Archiving is an important part of society but in the digital age, when there is so much content being created at an astounding rate, people don't consider preserving digital files. For instance, Snapchat is the antithesis of preservation by design. But if it weren't for proper archiving and preservation works, Missa Pange Lingua could have easily been lost to the elements and neglect. Hecker, an artist who works almost exclusively in the digital realm, is well aware of the digital world's impermanence. When asked about his own preservation and archiving practices he's quick to admit that they're "shit". "There's been lots of situations where I can't access material from a year ago, let alone my early stuff. I can't figure out how it came together 'cause I don't use Q-Base anymore. If one plug-in changes I can't open a session. It's literally relying on things to stay the same way they are right now and it's really problematic. I have a pre-master of an album and that's pretty much it."

Hecker doesn't seem too bothered by this, as he questions: "What kind of visual artist keeps all the layers of their painting? I kind of work in the same way. All the colors get smeared together, printed and that's just what it is."

On the contrary, visual artists might not purposefully keep a record of all the versions of their work. But when it comes to paintings for instance, advances in x-ray and infrared investigations have not only taught us a lot about art, it's also just cool. As an example, check out this X-Ray and infrared examinations of the Gent Altarpiece, Closer to Van Eyck.

digitization, publishing and Intellectual property rights

"What's in your archive? What's special about it? Why should I care about what I can get from the internet?" asks Hecker. I couldn't answer the man at that moment but the answer is: a lot. A 2014 survey stated that only 10% of all of Europe's cultural heritage assets are digitized, which is calculated to be around 300 million objects. That's just digitized. When it comes to publishing, online institutions have a hard time due to a myriad of reasons like Intellectual Property Rights.

The nice thing about IPR of 16th century works, though, is that there isn't any. It's in the Public Domain, i.e. free. No one owns the music from Missa Pange Lingua. We easily found openly licensed scores of the work.
So here's a full, Public Domain, MIDI output of Josquin des Prez's Missa Pange Lingua. You can download it here. We want to see what these MIDI files in another artist's hands would sound like so below is an exclusive track from Hague producer and RE:VIVE alumni Mill Burray.

Love Streams has allowed for Josquin's name to be thrown around again daily conversations which is a wonderful thing for the archival world. Hecker has brought back to life something that's more or less been in existence since the 13th Century. Josquin did it in the early 1500s and now in 2016, Hecker has done it adding his name, whether he likes it or not, to strong lineage of composers.

More information

  • Love Streams is available now via 4AD