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William Basinski - 92982

WILLIAM BASINSKI - 92982 (2062)

Conceptual sound design and experimentation are the mainstay of NYC’s William Basinski, who made his name with the tour de force that was Disintegration Loops earlier this decade. This collection of 4 tracks, is three quarters old, with 2 of the tracks being recorded in 1982, a fourth recomposed earlier this year from original source material and a shorter version of “Variations : A Movement in Chrome Primitive”.

It’s the archiving and retrieval of long-lost or sonically dust-covered recordings that seems to inspire the central aesthetic of his work, as all sounds on here seem to resonate with the image of slowly dying embers in a fire, their glow surrounded by an ambient penumbra. Simplistic minimal piano chords seep through the landscape, almost tiptoeing past the listener without any fuss. Basinski builds a picture of Brooklyn in 1982, leaving these recordings to have all and sundry in them, from fading police sirens to the eternal lo-fi hum of a heaving metropolis at night.

At an hour long, this is an intriguing sonic walk through a variety of repetitive melodic journeys, although it’s not until the 22 minute 2nd section that we’re faced with the atmospheric ambience that is hinted within. Whilst I would not deign to criticise the recording techniques of someone in 1982 who had little in the way of sophisticated equipment, to these ears the sounds do little to convey the sense of what is being offered other than the odd siren and a helicopter buzzing overhead, Coppola-style. Impressionistic music of this nature can often be interpreted very differently and personally I was at a loss as to why this might convey NYC in 1982. If there is something genuinely exciting on show here, it’s the subtle way that the abstract melodies fade and return like the gentle hiss of surf on a beach, their fidelity slowly ticking back and forth like a pendulum, giving us a clue as to his future direction as a composer.

In a recent interview Basinski admits himself that these were rudimentary recordings with little in the way of context applied to their genesis, and I’m glad to hear that he is truthful about this. However the digital treatment of these tapes seems to suck much of the life out of much of the album, and although there are varying arguments as to why we should remaster or treat old recordings, I feel that his decision to do so does rob this little slice of individual sound of some of its character. As an old recording I feel it is necessary to not really expound any further on what is essentially an anecdotal part of his artistic history.

Toby Frith



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