Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Album Retrospective: William Basinski - The Disintegration Loops I-IV

Album Rating For All Four: A+
It seems mad to me that music comprised of simple loops can become a mesmerising celebration of death; let alone that the music to do this would come into existence entirely by accident. The origin story of The Disintegration Loops is one that passed to legend and then to myth, and what must have started as fact now seems buried under romantic hyperbole. The story goes that in the process of converting his old magnetic tapes to digital format, Basinski noticed that his tapes had begun to literally fall apart. For some unknown and morbid reason he allowed it to happen and as he sat there on his roof in Brooklyn on September 10th, 2001, his tapes began to take on a life of their own. The painstakingly beautiful loops composed to echo the endearing qualities of nature began to die. While hard to notice at first, the loops slowly distort and decay until - under a sea of static silence - they draw their final breath.

Exactly why this has such a powerful effect is at first quite puzzling, but soon becomes self-evident. Truth be told, the most powerful thing about The Disintegration Loops is not the music. Instead, it’s what the music can represent to the individual. A track will start akin to a glorious celebration: with slow drum beats underlying a cacophony of swollen synthesisers; a fantastic display of optimistic escapism. Sooner or later, however, a crack - a sharp intrusion of silence - will invade what has so far been a simply tranquil experience. By repetition the crack will spread, and more will join it, until soon the picture in front of you swarms will imperfections and shatters. What is left - the death throws of beauty - offer a perverse contrast with what came before, and the character the music adopts at this point can vary tremendously. “dlp 1.1”, the hour-long epic that introduces The Disintegration Loops, conjures up images of the orchestra that continued to play as the Titanic sank. The horn-led swings are gradually smothered and, although you can still make out the original melody, the momentum and uplifting nature of the loop are slowly sapped away; leaving what can only be described as a hollow, lifeless, utterly disturbing shell. “dlp 4” degrades differently, in that most of the loop sinks under static rather quickly except for about two seconds of tape that stubbornly refuse to quieten. Eventually the whole loop is silent apart from this intense outburst; a startling display of resolution in such a desolate environment. 

Further context of this collection’s birth only does it favours. The fairytale surrounding the initial listening of the recording seems hard to believe, but infinitely fitting to all that the album has become; possibly because the event itself developed the previously recorded loops to the grandeur that they hold today. Having the crumbling World Trade Centre as a backdrop to the very first listening of your music destroying itself is not something many people can stake a claim to. Nor is it one that many would want. However, for a collection of albums so entwined with the values of death and loss, there could not be circumstances more suitable. To many, the events of that day are forever linked to the music. To me it’s just another example of how some disintegrating tape can wield equal power to fire and chaos. And I find that astounding.

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