The world we live in as a child is filled with peace and beauty. As we are so innocent and naive, so is our surroundings. However, as we grow up, something shifts in the atmosphere. The reality of the world starts to come into focus, and it is when those innocent moments start to slowly deteriorate. What is underneath the innocence is a deadly, ominous silence. The silence of a dark world where the shadows contain the most depressing and ghastly of things. The violence, the hatred, it all comes into view so perfectly now. And we, in growing from children into adults, must learn to confront this ugly environment until the day we die.
William Basinski is an avant-garde composer of ambient music who, at the time of recording this 4 volume set known as “The Disintegration Loops”, lived in Brooklyn. All of the music in these volumes are actually composed of ambient tape loops he had recorded back in 1982, in which at times, it sounds like modern classical music, whereas other times, it is clearly synth-laden and even acoustic guitar makes it into the mix. However, this is where your usual tape loops end, and the fun begins. Back in August and September of 2001, William found these loops which he had forgotten about, and attempted to simply transfer them to his computer. However, as he recorded the pastoral loops, he found that time had taken a toll, and that slowly but surely, the tapes were physically disintegrating. In fact, they were disintegrating to the point that as it passed through the read/write head of his tape player, the ferrite in the tape detached from the plastic backing and fell off. Therefore, he decided to record in full this phenomenon. Nine tracks ranging from 10 minutes to over an hour show how each repetition of the loops are never the same. As the tapes played on, they continued to deteriorate, and in doing so, they created the most natural glitch sound that could never be reproduced by CDs nor computers. By only running the tapes through a reverb effect, you can hear clearly that over time, the tapes fall apart to leave behind only the ghost of their former self, before even the ghost starts to deteriorate, and before you know it, it leaves behind only a deadly silence.
However, as beautiful and eerie as the tracks are, nothing is more eerie as what happened when the project was finished. Allegedly, William finished the project on the morning of 9/11. Living only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center, he and his friends sat on the rooftop, listening to the deteriorating loops while watching the towers collapse (the album cover of each volume is a picture taken on that smoke-filled day of 9/11, showing the towers collapsed). Thus, the loops come full circle to unintentionally reveal the perfect soundtrack to that horrifying day. A musical representation of the destruction and death of life. A musical representation of what seemed to be the end of the world, slowing stripping away the happiest parts of life to uncover huge, gaping silences that reveal the horrifying truth: all good things must come to an end.
However, unlike many listeners and reviewers, I don’t see these volumes much as a representation of the death of life, but rather, a representation of the death of innocence and childhood (hence my thought-provoking prologue). The tracks are very peaceful and beautiful, which will leave many to reminisce on a time that was carefree and fun. However, as the tracks go on, those innocent times peel away to reveal the uninviting silences of our horrible world. And eventually, peeling away moment by moment will it actually lead to death.
Overall, though William Basinski’s “The Disintegration Loops” has already been lauded by many, it deserves all the applause. This is ambient music that deliberately shows its process of being destroyed by time itself, and in doing so, it is undeniably fascinating. Really, there’s not much more to be said other than that. It is something that you’ll have to hear for yourself, as each listener will have their own interpretations of what goes on in these tracks. Highly recommended listening.
Album: The Disintegration Loops (Vol. I-IV)
Artist: William Basinski
Released 2001-2003 by MMLXII/2062
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