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CD Feature/ William Basinski: "Variations for Piano & Tape"

img  Tobias

How many tapes may William Basinski still have lying around in his basement? And how many of them contain yet more pure and deeply touching melodies from a continuum outside of time and space? Fragile and breathy to the point of being sketches, his motives from a vast collection accumulated over many years never seem quite finished, like memories from a sea of fragments – and the well never runs dry. “variations for piano and tape” is another snapshot of the early 80s, a memory of “an idyllic artist's residency in 2003 on the beautiful Italian island of Pantelleria” and new proof that even if he never recorded a single new note, his archives would hold enough magic to last a lifetime.

As to almost every Basinski release, there is a little annecdote to this record. While he was recording the main theme, the looped tape segment “sliped along the play head” in incidental intervals, uncovering the perfect cointerpoint to this particular melodic segment. Every artists knows that patience and will are two of the most important factors in writing music, but with Basinksi they are everything: The patience to wait for the miracle to unfold and the will to push through with a singular idea until it hatches like a butterfly from its coccon. This is also why some of his melodies seem so natural and why they need neither introduction nor explanation.They were always there and always will be. This is probably more true to this work than to any of his previous, comparable releases. For even “The Garden of Brokenness” retreated into drones and silence for considerable time, before returning to the surface again. On “variations”, the main motive never ceases, never leaves. It remains present like a comforting voice, telling you that everything is alright and will go on. Ligh like a feather, it is being lifted and moved in the air by the brewing and bubbling semblances in the background, only occasionaly touching the ground for a few seconds, before floating off anew. For 44 minutes, this one melody keeps the listener’s full attention, thanks to its circular nature. Never quite concluded, it strives for completion by starting at the beginning, by allowing the head and the tail to converge. What on paper looks like a masterfully skilled exercise in repetition in truth turns out to be a single, perpetually spinning, never-ending phrase. The artwork already hints at how this music can be understood. Its cover shows the remote grotto-view of a quiet fishing village, the red and blue boats lying sleeping at the coast. When opening up the digipack, the same village is shown in close-up, revealing tiny details and changing its mood. And that is exactly how this CD works.

The magic might take little longer to unfold on “variations for piano and tape” than on previous Basinski-releases, but maybe part of that is merely down to the fact that it has a very open character: This is more like a soft embrace than a maelstrom, and despite its transitions being less smooth, it never forces itself on the listener. Which means that this could play on your stereo for ages, serving as a comfortable aural background, before your senses suddenly open up and fully discern its meaning. Let’s hope William Basinski always leaves a candle on in his basement.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: William Basinski / 2062 Recordings

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