Music by VICE

Listen to Tim Hecker's Hallucinatory Remix of 'Timber,' a Percussion Piece Played on Wood

Michael Gordon's original 2009 piece tricked many listeners into thinking there were electronics, but it was just wood.

by Colin Joyce
Oct 5 2016, 2:30pm

Tim Hecker photo courtesy of the artist/Michael Gordon photo by Peter Serling

In 2009, composer Michael Gordon (of New York contemporary classical stalwarts Bang on a Can) devised a percussion piece called Timber that was to be played on a series of 2x4s. He cut them into various lengths and scattered the six players in a circle, figuring that the differences in pitches and the placement would give the "impression that the sound is traveling around and through the room"—per a writeup on Bang on a Can's website at the time. Its effects were hallucinatory, possibly even more than he intended.

According to Mike McCurdy of Mantra Percussion—who performed the recorded version of the piece—those who saw it live would often comment that their favorite part was the electronics. Only, there weren't any. "As it was performed over the years, a disclaimer was actually given in the concert program before each performance that the sounds being produced were all natural," He wrote to Stereogum last month. "And that the wood itself had such lush harmonics as to deceive the ear, as though some electronic process was being applied to the sound."

In tribute to that idea, Gordon decided to enlist a few contemporary electronics experimenters—like Oneohtrix Point Never, Fennesz, Squarepusher, and more—to rework the recordings for a new compilation called Timber Remixed, which demonstrates even further the disorienting potential of the piece when twisted and manipulated. Following the staticky and abstract Fennesz contribution, the label releasing the album, Cantaloupe Music, has shared Tim Hecker's remix today. It preserves the confounding spirit of the original, with jittery percussion parts intersecting and unwinding in a way that feels head-spinning, like a panic attack in a tangle of vines.

McCurdy said in an email that the leaden density of Hecker's work is what made him a good candidate for a remix. "Hecker's music is very often thick texturally, much like many of Michael Gordon's works and certainly parts of Timber," he wrote. "The section of Timber that Hecker chose to remix is a particularly poignant and dense moment in the piece with cascading polyrhythms of 8:7:6:5:3:2 falling into one another. After his track's intro, Hecker layers and loops all six polyrhythms in various ways to create a beautifully dense texture."

Listen here and pre-order Timber Remixed over at Michael Gordon's Bandcamp.

Tim Hecker
Michael Gordon
Mantra Percussion
bang on a can