I can’t believe I’m writing this. The AU Music Library now has The Disintegration Loops. So weird to write that.
It’s true: the AU Music Library now has a CD set of the complete Disintegration Loops, by Mr. William Basinski. I am beyond pleased that we get to share this incredible music with the AU community.
Most people haven’t heard of this piece – really a collection of pieces – and many won’t have too much of a reference point for something like this. But I’m not worried, as this is, despite a good story about its creation, some of the most direct music I’ve ever heard, pretending to be nothing that it is not. The sounds do not need explanation. The few times I’ve put it on here in the library, almost everyone asks what’s playing.
The story. In the early 80s, Mr. Basinski, interested in ambient sounds and ambient music and Brian Eno and somber tones, made some tape loops. He recorded simple melodic phrases from pretty inexpensive synthesizers onto short bits of magnetic tape. This was, of course, when all recording was done on tape, and Mr. Basinski was experimenting. Nothing much came of these melodies, and a young Basinski put the tapes in Tupperware boxes and stored them away.
In the summer of 2001, an older Basinski found the tapes, and started playing them on his old tape machines, listening to the sounds of his younger self. He had the idea to preserve the sounds on these loops digitally, so he hooked up the tape machine to his computer and pressed play. As he was recording them, to his horror, the metals on the tape had oxidized over the years, and hunks of the metal tape began to fall off of the plastic, leaving holes and fractures in the melodies. Whole pieces were reduced to metal filings left on the machine, completely disintegrating with the repetitious playback. All he had left were the digital recordings of these disintegrated tape loops and small piles of metal dust.
Basinski was continuing this process in late August and early September, and on September the 11th. Standing on the roof of his place in Brooklyn on that Tuesday morning, he stared at the skyline in a daze, in utter shock, just the same as the entire nation. The loops played on out loud and he could hear them from the roof. Basinski dedicated this piece to the victims of that tragedy, and the two have been linked ever since.
I think what makes this music so special for me is how evocative it is, how utterly somber, sweeping, pastoral it is in its themes, and how this music can’t really be said to go anywhere. It just decays, entropies out into fields of oblivion. Simple and grand, this music seems to foretell the decline of our nation and our civilization: the decay of values, economies, the natural world, and politics, quietly and stoically. The loops lovingly obliterate all sense of time, leaving the listener suspended in majestic a-temporality.
You really just have to put these CDs on and see how they color your breathing, you mind, your walls, and our American sunsets.
The highest recommendation.
p.s. – This interview is a great place to start if you want to read more. I met Mr. Basinski after a show of his in 2006 and he was a very kind soul.