In genetics, a chimera is a living organism (it can even be a human) with two separate sets of genes, inspired by the mythological monster of Greek mythology that was part lion, part goat and part snake (the goat part’s a bit lame, but the rest surely kicked ass). Florian Hecker uses the term chimerization to describe the mental process whereby we associate voices to certain physical characteristics. Both interpretations (genetic and Hecker’s own, not so much the goat and the snake) feel particularly apt when listening to these three records.
An experimental piece of writing by Iranian writer Reza Negarestani, The Snake, the Goat and the Ladder (A board game for playing chimera), more goats and snakes, serves as the base text on all three albums, each time recited by a series of speakers in either English, German and Farsi. The voices were recorded in anechoic and sound-attenuated chambers to further blur the lines between what is heard and what is felt, before being disassembled even more thanks to Hecker’s electronic noise effects. What is most startling is how the idiosyncrasies not just of each language but each voice manage to pierce through these decidedly experimental contexts and impart themselves upon the listener.
When considering an experimental sound or music work based on the human voice, it’s hard not to think of Alvin Lucier’s seminal I am sitting in a room, and, although that is not wholly-unjustified in the case of Chimerization, there are very different considerations at play here. The anechoic and sound-dampening recording environments have a somewhat similar way of distorting or rather rearranging the inherent sound of the voices, but in this case, rather than bask in the text’s gradual reduction into noise, the interjections of Hecker’s noises and tones serve instead to focus the listener’s attention on the lines that are intelligible. Negarestani’s writing traverses a range of themes, many of them too lofty for this listener, taking in philosophy, metaphysics, game theory and religion. At times, the voices are distorted beyond recognition as being human, at other the words draw you in before Hecker shifts the perspective with a sudden burst of gristly static or pulsating rhythmic throbs. On top of this, as has been noted, at least one of the English-language speakers is not doing so in his native language, further blurring the parameters of what is being heard, and its context. It would be interesting to know if similar differences of accent are present in the German and Farsi versions.
Above all, the constant shifts in pitch or intensity of the voices reinforces rather than undermines (as could have been the case in lesser hands) Hecker’s notion of chimerization. Each voice is therefore multiplied, and the impressions one develops of the speakers’ physical appearances becomes warped, a gallery of potential interlocutors. Equally, by expanding the project to take in three different languages, Florian Hecker has produced a profoundly democratic work, one that takes in the entirety of humanity, both male and female (and again, the effects mean even gender boundaries become inchoate). You get the feeling that, with more time and money, he’d have been tempted to do a version of Chimerization in every language on the planet, like a modern day answer to Stockhausen’s Hymnen.
The use of anechoic chambers brings one final reference point into sharp focus: John Cage. Like Hecker, Cage produced music that was divorced from familiar melodic and constructive constraints, with a focus on the more everyday producers of sound. And what is more everyday than a human voice? He may not tower as impressively over the vista of experimental music as Cage, Stockhausen and Lucier do, but Chimerization is more proof, after great works like Acid In The Style of David Tudor or Sun Pandämonium, that Hecker is a worthy inheritor of their tradition(s).