September 13, 2011

Review: William Basinski- The Disintegration Loops

By Lara Kinne–

When William Basinski spent the summer of 2001 transferring several 20-year-old tape loops into digital format, he didn’t expect this act of preservation to end so disconcerting. He was surprised to find that as the magnetic tape passed underneath the reader head, bits of material were stripped away, gradually cutting short the layers of echoing timbre and causing it to physically deteriorate off the reel.

The listener doesn’t initially think much of these expansive changes. But with a running time of 1:03:39, hundreds of intervals distort this gorgeous six second melody until the once pleasing drone of an orchestral fanfare in the distance begins to shed itself of harmony, and wanders further into dissonance. He allows the natural pace of time to unfold this sprawling soundscape, with its fate remaining at the consent of the material’s decay.

Suddenly it resonates an unsettling quality of dread, the original melody now lost in the void and revisited by ghostly traces of sounds not yet stripped away to their inevitable doom. The notes ring in strained harshness that rolls along to an oceanic pulse for the remaining 10:57 minutes. Stifled into silence, the noise settles to a low rumble before the loop is cut to an end.

Eerily, Basinski claims to have listened to the playbacks of these takes on the rooftop of his Brooklyn apartment the morning of September 11th, watching with friends as the twin towers collapsed.

So often we overlook these collective changes in our lives and don’t think much of when our bodies will fail someday, exhausted from the progressive degradation caused by age or illness. The mutual fate of our brief existence is an overwhelming fear that goes unnoticed by most people who strive to retain saneness and peace in their lifetime. However, The Disintegration Loops is a stark reminder of that truth: we’re all going to die. And in the pensive lull of time you may spend listening to this 4-disc set, there’s still enough room to comfortably deliberate about the world after death, and if it really sounds like this.

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Photo:Courtesy of Label 2062

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