WILLIAM BASINSKI + LAWRENCE ENGLISH – Selva Oscura

Temporary Residence

Think of acclaimed artists working in adjacent fields. In this case, abstract music with spellbinding features that someone from the higher spheres of journalism would label as “hypnagogic”. As the news spreads of a joint release, the obvious choice for a critic is filling his/her report with individual histories and achievements followed by a series of zany descriptions of the contents (incidentally, this is a specialty of a good number of Italian reviewers hiding ignorance under half-romantic, half-absurdist circumlocutions whose level of shallowness can’t possibly be ascertained by foreigners). When all is said and done, either the readers swallow the nonsensical wholeness without flinching, or are left alone with additional question marks.

To delineate a path of sorts let’s jot down a few remarks about Selva Oscura, dedicated to the memory of experimental filmmaker Paul Clipson. For the unaware, the name is extracted from the incipit of Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia: “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura”, the latter words translatable as “dark forest”. One might try and guess sense of uncontrollable fear, lack of distinction and/or details, anxiety of the unknown. Although no clear-cut imagery emerges from this record, the two long compositions certainly do not convey the kind of feelings typically related to an Inferno.

In fact, both “Mono No Aware” and the title track revolve around shifting superimpositions of rather defined tonalities, static chords continuously swapping positions in the aural canvas. The ensuing foggy harmony still gives the chance of bathing, perhaps through our very own humming, in the profundity of a chant appearing as ethereal as it is forlorn; a cross between cosmic and post-industrial, if you will. This is highlighted by Basinski and English’s selection and transformation of components whose percussive origin – real, or virtually enhanced – adds strata of subsonic rumble and humongous clatter to the textural evolution. In the quieter sections the sonic flow gets closer to “traditional” ambient, with the added value of a deeper-than-average knowledge of the inherent possibilities of the acoustic spectrum.

Whatever the perspective, this is a work of undeniable substance. Loops, intrinsic melodies and huge walls of reverberant noise are finely merged and camouflaged, combining visions of metamorphic (un)reality. For something conceived continents apart via exchange of digital files, that’s quite an exceptional result. On the other hand, with names like these who needs doubts?

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