The phrase “Instrumental Tourist,” the title of this collaborative album by Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), denotes a sense of control from the outside. The tourist is someone on an excursion, and to be instrumental is to be without agency, or at least with an agency framed by or angled toward a larger goal. What does it mean to be an “Instrumental Tourist” other than to be displaced yet useful?
Instrumental Tourist, then, can perhaps be seen as an allegory for the state of humanity both today and as it has always been. While humanity is always subservient to the abstract or meta — whether under religion or science/technology — the abstract largely finds its origins in cognition itself — that is, religion is birthed from stories, while technology arose from our tinkering with the rules of earth. In both cases, we are the originators of larger ideologies and mythological processes to which we submit.
The pairing of Hecker and Lopatin isn’t too surprising. They both made their names in the cold extraction of meaning and beauty from the digital, an arguably perfect pair that here counters and dances wonderfully together. For Hecker, the distillation of nature down to sine waves is necessary for empirical understanding. Nature is text, and his text is built up from oscillations. Last year’s Ravedeath 1972 summed up Hecker’s ideas: spirituality is only a name for complex notions, while beauty could be found underneath. For Lopatin, the digital is instead a constructive tool, a way of drawing out essence — the humanity of the digital. The track “Nassau” from Replica gruesomely exposed the lapping tongue, glottal stop, the sucking in of breath, all of which are decidedly human and beautiful in their extracted states.
Two approaches, one unified sense of being: If Hecker hopes to break down that which is commodified through deconstruction, then Lopatin hopes to marvel over what is left through extraction; and all of this is done from the outside, as instrumental tourists. There is a notion or sense here of leaving the body, leaving our context to observe all contexts. But if the body is to be deconstructed further than even Holly Herndon’s (via Deleuze) (de)territorialized state, then what’s left other than states of beingness?
Lopatin’s music has always leaned on notions of time and space and Hecker’s on situations. It makes sense then that the song titles are grounded in places, people, situations — “Uptown Psychedelia” being particularly striking. I’m reminded of the famous scene from Koyaanisqatsi called “The Grid,” which, like Instrumental Tourist, not only speaks to the microcosm that is consumerism and metropolitan life, but is also both mesmerizing and spiritual. If urban life is just a system, a stream of life forms as blood flowing throughout the body of the city, then this album aims to lift the listener out of the system. In this sense, Instrumental Tourist is an attempt to cleanse the listener of “urban discontinuity” and experience the world as a passenger (something that’s lost on a generation so used to being in control).