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CD Feature/ William Basinski: "Shortwavemusic"

img  Tobias

An archival release may not seem like something special with a composer whose recent work has always been intensively and intimately related to the past, but this one is different. Of course, “Shortwavemusic” was already face to face with Basinski’s personal history when it was first launched as a limited edition vinyl offering by leading German label Noton in 1997 as its material dates back to the early 80s, to a different period in his career and his life (which makes it blend in seemlessly with the other albums of his still enigmatic oeuvre). On the other hand, its restricted availability had made it into something of a myth, a legend and an abstract object mentioned in side-notes of hard to find websites or as footer to dry disquisitions about progressive art. Despite its inquisitive and experimental nature, it risked becoming a museum-piece before most had even had the chance to listen to it.

So this new edition sets the record straight and the fact that Basinski has decided to take it under the wings of his own 2062 imprint implicitely assures that future disciples will be able to obtain their copy for years to come. The special importance awarded to “Shortwavemusic” is furthermore stressed by its luxurious packaging, with the trademark transparent slipcase now coming in an elegant and serene cardboard paper cover as well as by the inclusion of a fourteen minute bonus track from the same period. With the long lost now in immediate reach, I nervously opened the package and slipped the CD into my player, anxious to find out what really hid behind the rumours. As the first seconds of “Evening Scars” flooded the confinement of my small room, it was both a consoling and conversant sensation: The majestically melancholic and bittersweet (Voyetra?) synthesizer lines, the directly recognisable nostalgic and timeless sound and those idiosyncratic loops, growing louder and more quiet but never leaving, they were already part of the package. Feeling-whise, therefore, large parts of the album hold obvious similarities with the here and now, even though the set-up should suggest otherwhise: On this occasion, Basinski played his tapes in sync with manipulated radio recordings (hence of course, the project’s title), mixing the tracks live in his New York “Music Laboratories” studio. If the overall impression does differ quite a bit from the “Water Music” or “Disintegration Loops” cycles, then the reason can be found in the fact that these sometimes only four minute short scenes with their typically hypnotic melodic motivs are entangled in a constant struggle with parasitc shortwave frequencies, which just as often ends in an alien encounter as a harmonic symbiosis. Most of all, it creates a sense of unease not to be found even in the harsher or “disintegrated” passages of the more contemporary 2062-releases. Dubbing it “Dark Ambient” is still besides the point, though, as it is never night, but always the halflight these pieces are treading, relying on their inbuilt sonar to guide them past the hideous traps and holes in the ground. And with each listen, the mood appears to be more familar, even in “On a Frontier of Wires”. the epic and enigmatic 24-minute long flute fantasy at the core of this album.

Merely the aforementioned “Particle Shower” does not offer any solutions, sounding as though its creator had left the studio, with all tapes spinning in empty loops and only the radio scramble whispering ominously to a ghostly crowd. Apart from that, “Shortwavemusic” closes one of the last gaps in Basinski’s catalogue, offering neither a revolution in the way his repertoire is perceived nor any spectacular surprises but showing the ripening of his style as one of gradual development and incremental steps. And yet there is something truly exciting about this release: The fact that it manages to conjur up the same wealth of associations and thoughts, despite the veil of its myth having been lifted.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: William Basinski / 2062 Recordings
Homepage: William Baskinski at MySpace

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