RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Concert Report: William Basinski

img  Tobias

I enter the LOFT at a few minutes past eight and am immediately drawn in by its  sympathetic and warm ambiance. While the latter part can be attributed to the fact that someone has generously turned up the heating  (not the worst thing in the world when you’ve just walked through the freezing rain for a couple of minutes), the former has everything to do with the location and its visitors. In stark contrast with most experimental clubs, the LOFT is more of a cozy meetingplace for like-minded artists than a cultural forum – while discussions do revolve around music for most of the time, the typical academic rigour is notably and thankfully absent. Already assembled are some of the top of the crop of the German experimental scene: Christoph Heemann (of Mirror fame, who has been greatly helpful in getting the concert organised in the first place), Jochen Schwarz (of the excuisite “Die Stadt”-label) and Mirko Uhlig. Also present is Heemann’s brother Andreas Martin, a brilliant Classical Guitarist, who has played here just a short while ago himself. While the small foyer is drenched in the welcoming sound of friendly and stimulated talking, Basinski is still busy meeting final arrangements in the concert room. Comfortably I stand at the bar, waiting for things to unfold.

What a difference with the excited cries in the run-up to this event! First, I received a note by William himself, informing me of the concert. Then there was an announcement on the biggest German noise and experimental forum and flyers in all of the most important record shops and clubs in Cologne. And finally, on the day of the concert, Jochen Schwarz sent out another mail, headed “Basinski’s only appearance in Germany!”. To sum it up, there was an awful lot of excitment around this performance and what can I say but that all of it was entirely justified? You’ve got to remember: Only a few years ago, close to noone had ever heard of Basinski. Yes, he had been a member of some outfits that meant a lot to all that knew them – but few did. And his beautiful Arcadia-club remained a well-kept secret. Everything changed when David Tibet and Christoph Heemann showed an almost religious interest in his pieces and offered to release his music. It was only then that Basinski realised there might be something called “interest” out there in what he had previously treated as private and personal. Releases followed swiftly, marked by a unique and idiosyncratic style: Gentle, flowing, yet hardly moving at all – like watching that big clock tick from your grandma’s rocking chair. And then, there were the “Disintegration Loops”, of course. A four-disc collection which changed everything and which still stands as one of the most talked-about records of the past few years.

As we move into the main room (it is by now almost half past nine), I now have an excellent view of the set-up. Next to a flashy laptop resides an old tape unit, its wheels already spinning, with microphones placed at its side. Apart from that, there is merely a modest mixer – no keyboard, no sampler. The light is nicely dimmed and a beautiful composition is running in the background, greeting us as we take a seat. The organisors have hung huge red carpets on the wall and on the equipment table, which lends a nice nostalgic touch to the scenerie. Apart from that, there is only glass – this is indeed just like a winter garden on the fourth floor, with the lights of the city shining from a distance. There is a short word of welcome, then Basinski focusses on his laptop. For almost a minute, he just sits there, eyebrows raised, concentrating on what’s happening on the monitor. Then he hits play.

The ensuing sound hits us like an acoustic tidal wave. I think of a gigantic bell, being hit with a monstrous hammer, of tibetan monks chanting, of the high whir in the air just before a weather storm sets in and I think of the woman whom I have just told how romantic and tender this music was going to be. There is a cardbord box filled with CDs in front of the right hand speaker, being tossed around by the sheer force of the aural pressure. As this one single note progresses, one can discern different elements, shining through from beneath its surface. There is a strangely whipping and springing sound, shimmering harmonics and even a mysterious melody playing underneath it all. William occasionaly adjusts the controls, but most of the time he merely listens and waits for the music to happen, always ready to carefully guide it in the right direction. There is no direct movement, as the wave slowly subsides, always staying strongly present and up-front for what must surely amount to over half an hour. Then, as it has almost come to a halt, Basinski turns on the tape unit. There is an immediate switch in atmosphere. The sound of an old piano fills the air, slightly out of tune, wobbling woozily and sadly. This little melody just keeps on playing and playing, only supported by some deep bass tones. It is, in fact, the theme of his latest album and we have entered the “Garden of Brokenness”, a painful, yet delightfully pure pondering on feelings of melancholy and loss. While the stringency of this endeavour still hits us right in the face, so does its simplicity and directness – anyone can “understand” this and be moved. It could go on forever and it almost does. But then the tape stops and the music ends.

A short break is well taken at this point, to allow the music to sink in. While some sift through the wonderful albums Jochen Schwarz has brought along (almost all of Basinski’s recordings included), I get to talk to Christoph Heemann, who informs me that more music of his new project “In Camera” (with Timo van Luijk) is coming up, as well as more from William (including, maybe, even “regular” songs), even though nothing’s definite on either. He also ensures me that the long sold-out “Short Wave Music” will soon be in print again. We are then asked back in again, for a 15-minute encore, a slow lullaby, releasing us back into the night and the cold. But with glowing hearts this time.

Homepage: LOFT
Homepage: William Basinski

Picture by Jochen Schwarz (Die Stadt)

Related articles

Concert Report: Guido Schiefen & Berlin Symphonics
Live at the Berliner Philharmonie, ...
State-X New Forms Festival: Day 2
The Hague, December 15th: Sunn ...
State-X New Forms Festival: Day 1
The Hague, December 14th: Aphex ...
William Basinski: Video Collaboration & European Tour
American composer William Basinski has ...
Concert Report: Asmus Tietchens
Live at the Kulturbunker Mühlheim, ...
Concert Report: Charlemagne Palestine
Live at the Salon des ...
Into the Green
The Gruenrekorder label is presenting ...
Back to the womb
William Basinski's "Water Music"
Concert Report: Fear Falls Burning/Gaumen/Strotter Inst/Tim Hecker
Concert at the "Cuba", Münster ...
In Tile we Trust
Dicovering William Basinski
Modern Mozart
Two new ways to approach ...
Concert Report/ Aalfang mit Pferdekopf, Contagious Orgasm
Concert at the Kulturbunker. Cologne, ...
Concert Review: VNV Nation
Live performance at the Axis, ...
Cut it! Splice it!
Sonic Arts Network presents some ...

Partner sites