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William Basinski: "92982"

img  Tobias

In a way, William Basinski has lived out of time for over a decade.`For years, he spent day and night in the studio shaping the future. Sounds were sculpted with loving devotion. A few solipsistic Voyetra-notes were left spinning for weeks on end. Second-short segments grew into mutable environments. But  rather than actually releasing anything, Basinski would live inside them as if in ambient amniotic hibernation, patiently but expectantly waiting for the right moment to come. But it was only in the instant when he decided to delve into the past that he turned into an internationally recognised artist.

And yet, there has barely ever been a more powerful statement against the suffocating cult of Zeitgeist than his discography: Every „new“ album was essentially a step further back. Every „new“ melody was an object found underneath the dust of withered memories. There were hardly any concerts, next to no interviews, scant biographical details and whatever information one could scrape together from magazine snippets, insider gossip and internet sites ended somewhere in the 80s. The most recent press pictures showed a young man sporting flamboyant shirts – stuck between the chronological extremes of the scale, there appeared to be no place for his creativity in the present.

At a first glance, „92982“ seems to be no exception from the rule that William-Basinski-records are basically archival releases washed to the shore of now by intuition and fortune. This time, the journey takes one back to September 29th 1982 - a perhaps prosaic resolution to the the numerological riddle of the title. For an outside observer, it might seem like a night like any other. But then you close your eyes and there they are, the trio of Roger Justice, James Elaine and Basinski, in their New York-studio, each working on his own projects. Eternity is, with all likelihood, the last thing on their mind. Or perhaps it is the very first thing on their mind, but they are treating it with a relaxed spirit. Basinski is „clicking the old norelcos back and forth between channels“, improvising to the sounds of the open window. His music is trickling out onto the streets and noises are pouring into the studio: Trucks driving by, cars speeding up, pedestrians chatting, indistinct thumps in the distance. Perhaps it will all mean nothing, perhaps it will mean the world: The session of that evening will anticipate the two albums marking his grand entry onto the experimental music community almost seven years later: „variations: a movement in chrome primitive“ and „shortwave music“ - works that will, in themselves, only be precursors to an utterly distinct style that will shake up the public's perception of musical development, confront them with a radical new kind of minimalism and infuse an often clinical music with a yearning romanticism.

The work begins with a first segment of close to thirteen minutes. Much more than a mere prelude to the ensuing musical action, it acts like a stem cel for everything that's to come. All themes that will make up the musical corpus of „92982“ are present here, albeit in an embryonic state: The ghostly Piano of the third movement appears as a tender, ephemeral torso. The delayed sound effects, which will constitute the backbone of the second part, appear in seemingly random intervals. And the luminous Leitmotif of a downwards-bound major second, meanwhille, which will return at the very end, has been slowed-down and emotionally purified. In the opening bars of the album, these segments are melded together in a gently echoing, richly reverbed silken figment. Several times, the music skips from near-silence into louder passages, like a narcoleptic desperately trying to stay awake. Then it gradually returns to its Dali-esque slumber again, with each new cycle slightly different from its predecessor. The process is repeated until the music does eventually fade out completely.

It is here that the dance really begins. For the next three tracks rework the motives presented in the opening with a dream-like logic, drawing themes out into almost absurd lengths and turning sidethoughts into epic soundscapes:  A seemingly static chord sequence is streaming through a barren land of surreal noises. The city is flooded with melancholia. Some keys are struck on the piano, a melody is initiated, but always returns to its point of departure. Basinski is floating weightlessly through different stages of his work: The grandiose threedimensionality of „the river“. The solitary recursions of the „chrome variations“. The majestic womb of „El Camino Real“. The sweet transience of the „Disintegration Loops“. The echo chamber incantations of „Variations for Piano & Tape“.

If some of his full-lengths have presented a single instant stretched out to the point of infinity, he is taking it apart into its different components this time. Unlike with other albums, the mood is not immersive from the very beginning. Instead, it grows and builds over time, as each new piece complements and enhances the other. It is only after the last note has died down that the unity of the first piece returns. But when it does, it is with a triumphant completeness and wholeness, that unifies the fragmented shardes in a single moment of bliss.

In a quite similar way, Basinski has come full circle on this release. Somehow, his past, present and future appear as balanced and „tangible“ as they have perhaps never been before. Perhaps that is also why „92982“ feels so hopeful and consoling, despite its occasionally autumnal timbre. All worries are resolved by the beauty of very simple pleasures. This, perhaps, is the greatest achievement of William Basinski's music: It reminds us of how fragile we are. How short and perishable this life is. And how each moment contains all the wonders and mysteries that make it so painfully worthwhile nonetheless if we can only grasp its full meaning.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: William Basinski at MySpace
Homepage: William Basinski / mmlxii Records

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