Tuesday, March 23, 2010
William Basinski - The Disintegration Loops 1 (2001)
Many people view this album as a shameless attempt to capitalize on the tragedy of the September eleventh terrorist attacks. While I do not think this was Mr. Basinski's intention, but it's easy to see why some would feel that way. A little backstory: on 9/11/2001, Basinski was transferring some old tapes he made in the '80's to digital format. The tapes were so old however, that as he played them they literally started falling apart. Rather than attempting the impossible task of preserving the tape, he had the bright idea to play them in a loop and thus capture the decay as it happened.
Coincidentally, all this happened just as the planes were crashed into the world trade center. Basinski, a lifelong New Yorker, was deeply moved and disturbed (as were all Americans) and as he watched the towers burn, he decided to dedicate these decaying loops to the memory of the tragedy in some sort of metaphor that I confess to not fully understanding.
Cool concept, right? You bet it is. Too bad the concept is more intesting than the music. A simple, pastoral melody repeats again and again. With each repitition, small bits of sound gradually drop out and are replaced by silence, until after nearly an hour it is barely recognizable. This is actually quite similar to Alvin Lucier's "I Am Sitting In A Room" (reviewed earlier) but for some reason it's not quite as fun to listen to. I don't wish to appear overly harsh, and as a piece of ambient music, it is certainly pleasant enough, but the substance is eclipsed by the liner notes. I haven't heard the other volumes in this series, but I imagine they are quite similar.
As a piece of conceptual art, it's brilliant. As a piece of music? Less brilliant.