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In Tile we Trust

img  Tobias

Maybe the fact that so many people are unable to fulfill their heart’s desire for art that could truly touch them has everything to do with a lack of trust. I was thinking of this when standing in the half-dark of the lobby of the “Cuba Kultur” in Münster with Christoph Heemann. He had just finished his concert with Timo van Luijk as “In Camera” – a sea of glistening tones and glittering cittern- and harp-echoes, drenched in an unreal blue light and perpetually swelling and ebbing away – and Mirko Uhlig of second act Aalfang mit Pferdekopf was chatting with Timo, while organisor Till was cleaning up. We engaged in a lively, yet relaxed conversation and had already exchanged CDs, but there was a mysterious red Vinyl record that seemed to stare right at me in the corner of my eye. Only a small sticker on the plastic wrapping revelealed its content to be a certain William Basinki’s “A Red Score in Tile”, but there were no track titles or any additional information. Christoph Heemann noticed my interest and explained that this was in fact a release on his “Three Poplars” label. He didn’t tell me too much about the music – merely that he thought it to be fantastic. I could have read this as simple marketing talk. But I didn’t and bought the record. When I came home and had listened to it for the first time, I knew it had been waiting for me for all these years. While I was following this swooning piano motive and breakable bass in their journey through a timeless space, my mind turned to the obvious question: Who was William Basinski?

It quickly became apparent to me that a person is never just the sum of his biographical entries. I quickly found a couple of pages on the Internet, but none of them brought me closer to the man behind the CV. Born in Houston in 1958, Basinski went on to study jazz saxophone and composition at North Texas State University at the end of the 70s – at this point, nothing even hinted at his development as an experimental artist. In the next decade, he would regularly play the Sax at multimedia events, which are hard to trace back and become a member of the Gretchen Langheld Ensemble, which you will not find any noteworthy google-entries on. In 1989, Basinski opened arcadia, a loft for the arts. Looking at pictures from the place, a dark seductive cavern with glowing statues, a shimmering blue chandelier and an orientally arched roof, I fully understood the words of Jesse Browner: “When you reach the massive iron-strapped doorway that swings open silently onto a twilit world of bouys bobbing on the ceiling, flying horses on the stairway, and liquid electronic music as enveloping as a tropical sea, you'll know you've finally come to rest at the bottom of the world. Welcome to Arcadia. You swim through Arcadia, as if through the submerged ruins of an ancient city.” Something must have happened between his studies and the year 1979, when he sat down to write the 45 minutes of sombre, pensive sadness, without beginning or end, which were still slowly spinning on my turn table. I wondered what it was.

As it turned out, it was all about two of the most basic human bonds: Trust and friendship. Without knowing the exact details, Basinksi must have met James Elaine on some exhibition or possibly even at a party. Elaine was just starting his career as a visual artist, engaging in painting and video. “A Red Score in Tile” was the name of a painting he had just finished and William was immediately fascinated by it. As wonderful as it was, it seemed to ask for a sensous partner to make it whole: “...... something was shining in a long narrow passageway between the theatre and an adjacent building. This was where he had gone. Illumination was there and sounds. From around the corner's edge a grotesque light was trickling out, the first intimations of an ominous sunrise over a dark horizon. I dimly recognized this colored light, though not from my waking memory...” Nothing ever seemed the same again after that.

The duo would work together on various occasions, even though it would take some time until they truly collaborated. In 1988, “On a Frontier of Wires” was shown on New York’s “International Forum of Super 8.” and after a lengthy silence their creative partnership intensified with a string of joint works: “Life on Mars”, “Trailer for 1000 Films” and then, in 2003, “Melancholia” – at just 3 and a half minutes long, this is a pure and touching poem, which seems to say it all, without uttering a word: A ride through a dark tunnel of black trees against a grey sky leads to a huge, holey globe, which the camera slowly orbits, only to withdraw again. It features a haunting piano melody, once again broken and torn and played on an old, grinding instrument. Basinski had come a long way with this from his early days.

In the 80s, he started his quest with a style he would call “Shortwave music. Italian Internet Source “Sinewaves” and Piero Scaruffi would describe them as follows: “Short looped melodies played against themselves, creating feedback loops.”, as well as “processed and assembled snippets of radio broadcasts to produce atmospheres at the border between musique concrete and ambient music”. Piero Scaruffi, meanwhile, saw later works as close to “the feeling and scope of Erik Satie and Brian Eno” Even though Basinksi would in a later interview admit being “liberated” by Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports”, he dismissed any direct influence and merely claimed to be creating the music he “would want to listen to” only. For sure, these pieces caught the attention of quite a few artists, leading to the formation of “Beautifying America” (a performance act, which would last three years), even though most of them would only be released considerably later - David Tibet of Current 93 published “Variations: A Movement in Chrome Primitive” (dating back to 1980-82) on his Durtro outfit in 2002.

Then came his jazz-stints, arcadia, a retail boutique and period of production work for underground talents and “insider legends”, such as Diamanda Galas. And then of course his big breakthrough with the “Disintegration Loops” in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy – four albums full of slowly deteriorating tapes and mesmerising sound structures, which we will present in more depth on these pages.

How does it all add up – a history in jazz, short wave experiments, allusions to classical composers, ambient inspiration and jobs as a DJ and a styler? Maybe it doesn’t – maybe there is no key. Just as much as you can listen to Basinki’s music without any philosophical background and still feel deeply moved, you can understand “A Red Score in Tile” without the man’s biography. These 45 minutes go on and on seemingly without a single change, repeating themselves over and over again, but taking you ever deeper into a place you didn’t know before. Which brings me back to Christoph Heemanns initial comment that this was simply fantastic music and my buying it without asking further questions. I’d love to recommend you to do the same, but please don’t request any “objective” proof – you’re going to have to trust me on this one.

Homepage: William Basinski
Homepage: Willam Basinski's "A Red Score in Tile" at Die Stadt Music
Homepage: William Basinski and James Elaine with "Melancholia"-Video at Freewaves
Source: William Basinski Biography at Freewaves
Source: William Basinski at Scaruffi
Source: William Basinski at Sinewaves
Source: William Basinski and Richard Chartier Interview at Spekk

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