William Basinski: tapes, tape loops, delay, prepared piano

As the time passes by and William Basinski’s endowments have been universally acknowledged, it is still heartening to observe how the continuity line of his music links with such a level of internal connectedness that pieces composed at the opposite poles of a 30-year span appear as chapters of a single book, a limited press gathering previously scattered pages of a diary that every sensible human being has attempted to scribble during instances where one feels like fighting against the entire world even if the sun is shining. The magic of Basinski’s sound lies exactly in that blurred area mixing the “was/is/will be/will never be” issues of dejected remembrance and weak yearning, the latter usually related to the “unrealizable wish” category. There we get lost in a turbid sea of altered frequencies and foggy chords, sporadic rays of light signaling hypothetical paths to follow in order to improve things a bit independently from an individual’s private condition.

The long title track was created (approximately) at the end of the seventies. Scored for prepared piano and tape, it’s something that – at least initially – could surprise listeners ready to get swallowed by monumental pathos. The way in which a sequence of alien-ish fluttering sweeps and relatively consonant chordal passages develops into a genuine composition, including fascinating dynamic shifts and seemingly extraneous snippets, makes “Nocturnes” akin to sonic painting of the finest variety; we imagine fluctuating shades of deep red and violet, if only for fragments of seconds. The loops are masterfully intertwined, each element’s resonance melting in glorious harmonic suspension, but always with a strong melodic thread repeating itself over and over within the textural fabric. An artistic statement that becomes stronger upon reiterated spins, ultimately destined to become one of the Texan’s milestones.

“The Trail Of Tears” – an excerpt of which was utilized in Robert Wilson’s The Life And Death Of Marina Abramovic – instantly associates the memory with Basinski’s trademark cyclical continuance, particularly striking at the very beginning thanks to an elongated loop possessing a rare-to-find attribute of vocal mourning. This pulse, sort of a gradual joyless march now and then spotted by barely detectable percussive details, is progressively submerged by a drone in the same minor key, a solitary throbbing chord containing a wealth of instrumental veins (also comprising concealed echoes of the leitmotif) furnishing an apparently static acoustic image with soul-stirring refractions. The final ten minutes see the whole turning towards a different road: another cheerless orchestral loop, more directly connected to Basinski’s emblematic depictions of an ineluctable transitoriness. We’re left facing the potential hopelessness of a periodicity too easily taken for granted: post-earth second chances might not be given, after all.

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