Inspired by the work of minimalists such as John Cage, Steve Reich and Brian Eno, as well as German artists Cluster and Harmonia, experimental composer William Basinski began developing his own style of tape looping towards the end of the 1970’s but didn’t actually release his first album until his archival collection ‘Shortwavemusic’ appeared in 1998. Since then the output of the Houston-born, New York-based sound sculptor has been nothing short of prolific, adding over 20 LP’s and live albums to his name over the past two decades.
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Best known for his four-volume ‘The Disintegration Tapes’, a 9/11 lament released between 2002 and 2003, finding the right words to describe the music William Basinski creates isn’t always easy. It’s certainly minimalist and experimental, and in a broad sense you could say it’s electronic, blending ambient, drone and choral sounds together with elements of musique concrète into something that’s quite melancholic but also very spiritual and deeply affecting. Thematically, much of his work has tended to focus on time and the realities of human existence. Things like morality, memory, degeneration and fear.
On his latest album, ‘A Shadow In Time’, Basinski continues his exploration of such themes over two contrasting 20-plus-minute pieces. Created from damaged and decaying fragments of tape that an old roommate’s cat has partially chewed, Basinski initially reassembled them expecting to hear very little. Instead, what he discovered would end up becoming what is arguably his finest work since ‘The Disintegration Tapes’. The first piece to be completed was ‘A Shadow In Time’, which was given its live debut early in January 2016. About a week later news arrived that David Bowie had died, which in turn inspired the second piece, ‘For David Robert Jones’.
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Commissioned by L.A. gallery Volume shortly after Bowie departed, ‘For David Robert Jones’ is one of the most mesmerisingly beautiful and haunting pieces of music you’re likely to hear all year, while also being a fitting tribute to one of the greatest artists of all time. A very mournful and eerie piece, it’s the decaying tenor sax loop that Basinski introduces alongside the main choral loop around the 6-minute mark which ties it all together. Inspired by Bowie’s use of sax on the track ‘Subterraneans’ from his first foray into ambient music on 1977’s ‘Low’, the two loops are also joined by a foreboding drone courtesy of an old Voyetra 8 synthesizer.
The Voyetra 8 plays a much bigger role on second piece ‘A Shadow In Time’ which contrasts with the Bowie eulogy to create something that’s much colder, darker and more machine-like. Opening with glassy, high-pitched notes which aren’t too dissimilar to those heard on albums like ‘Music For Airports’ by Brian Eno, the Voyetra 8’s droning gradually takes centre stage. Evolving slowly over the course of 23-minutes, there are subtle changes at various points before the droning begins to wind down around the 16-minute mark. A beautiful piano loop then comes in for the final 5-minutes as the piece closes on a warmer and more fragile note.
‘A Shadow In Time’ is available now via Temporary Residence