I manged to see William Basinski last week as part of the Manchester international festival and was surprised by his personality. I would have never associated his music with his flamboyantly extroverted persona. It’s challenged me about expectations and bias towards artists based on their work and how close it resembles them. I’m not sure if I will ever find answers to the questions its raised but his performance certainly got me searching for answers.
Most of his music focuses on tape loops, short sections of music that repeat for many minutes which slightly change over time. Cascade is a piano melody that’s heavily surrounded in reverb. Although the melody stays close to its original structure slight warping causes the individual notes of the melody to drift slightly as the piece continues. Its this slight change that allows the pieces repetitive melody to stay fresh throughout.
Well this is an interesting one. Looking through my history of this series I realised I haven’t had any work by William Basinski which is both surprising (because I listen to his music a lot) and understandable (because the music is reserved and illusive).
Although considered an avant-garde composer. I would say most of his work epitomises the ambient genre. Creating an atmosphere and mood instead of a rhythm and melody. His tracks don’t grab you by the ears but linger in the background hinting at things like long forgotten memories.
The Disintegration Loops are the collection of music he’s best known for and are highlighted here. In this series William Basinski takes samples from old tape recordings and stitches them together into a short loop of around 10 seconds. He then lets them run through a tape machine and records the results. As the old tape moves through the head or the machine hundreds to thousands of times it starts to warp and disintegrate, creating new variations and textures which reminds me of the generative ideas used in Ambient music.
The loops themselves are often quite cryptic; they sound both organic and electronic and seem to hint at classical instrumentation. However as the tape destroys itself those elements become even harder to distinguish as the electronics of the tape machine distort it towards something more electronic.
Although I am a huge fan of all the Disintegration Loops series dlp1 and dlp3 are my favourites. I decided to go with dlp3 because the percussive elements of what sounds like a snare drum in the loop mix with the tapes destruction to create interesting rhythmic patterns that are more noticeable to the less trained ear.
Finally I want to say this music isn’t for everyone. Come to it with an open mind and don’t expect it to grab you straight away, Instead play it in the background whilst doing something else. I think this is when the track really shines. Your concentration will drift away from the music itself after a few minutes and it will just become part of the scenery. Occasionally the tape will change drastically and your attention is drawn back to the music briefly before you get used to the new development in the loop, accept it and let the music drift itself into the background.
As the track continues and the destruction of the tape becomes more rapid, the piece will also become more prominent within your environment. As your mind try’s to process the changes of a soundscape that it has become accustomed to over the past several minutes. When it finally comes to an end it leaves a hole in the surroundings. It has become part of your environment and that makes it an interesting piece of music that deserves to be heard.
If this style of music is new to you and your’e interested by the piece please leave a comment below or send me an email and I will give a larger collection of works for your consideration.
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