I was driving along Washington Blvd. in West Baltimore at dusk when I first listened to Harmony in Ultraviolet. The pulse of the bass in "Dungeoneering" was perfectly synchronized with the flashing blue light of the police camera that watched over the drug dealers who worked the corners. The rose-tinted light of the setting sun shone on two hookers waiting for a passing car to stop and pick them up. It was a Moment, and no other music could have possibly fit as well as this did.
This isn't easy music. It's entirely instrumental, and it's a combination of electronic and organic sounds that come from both traditional instruments and found noisemakers. Hecker has an obvious appreciation for both pop song structures and classical theory. His arrangements are simple on the surface, but contain layers of complex harmonies, dissonant instrumentation, and subliminal rhythms. He creates an aural wall that is simultaneously impenetrable and inviting. For lack of a better comparison, Hecker's music is like finding the perfect featherbed tucked behind a maze of razor wire.
This is one of the best CDs I've heard from the consistently strong record label Kranky. They should be credited for supporting Hecker's vision, the EPFL should be credited for including this in their catalog, and most of all, Hecker should be credited for having the spark that led to Harmony in Ultraviolet's creation.
It's not music that most people will want to listen to everyday (if ever). But if you invite it in, it will wrap you in sound and create a surprising accompaniment to the most mundane events. Try it in the car, try it at home late at night, try it during dinner or sex, and try it in headphones while you're working. You can let it fade into the background if necessary, but there are adventures to be taken if you care to pay attention.
Packaging: (Altered by EPFL.)
The cover photo and the photos on the back are striking, but the original package was destroyed to fit into a jewel box. There is no booklet included with the EPFL version, but if there was one in the original release, I'd love to see it. It looks like it would offer an interesting glimpse into Hecker's mindset. Of course, sometimes with music like this, it's much better to leave the artist's vision behind and immerse yourself in your own mindset.
Listen if you like: artists on Kranky or Pehr records, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Brian Eno. Skinny Puppy fans who like the grating depths of albums like Ain't It Dead Yet but aren't addicted to the industrial rhythms might be drawn to Hecker's music.
If it were food, it'd be: a bowl of rice for a monk who is trapped in the heart of a city.