Composer William Basinski combs four decades of his personal archives to build something new on Lamentations | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Composer William Basinski combs four decades of his personal archives to build something new on Lamentations 

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click to enlarge William Basinski in 2017

William Basinski in 2017

Danilo Pellegrinelli

William Basinski has thrown himself headlong into the kind of “productive quarantine” that seems like a myth to most of us, and the spoils are abundant. Since March, when states across the U.S. began issuing stay-at-home orders, he has unveiled a collaboration with sound artist Richard Chartier and a new project called Sparkle Division. The New York-based composer and musician is best known for the four-volume audio experiment The Disintegration Loops, which he created in summer 2001 by recording the deterioration of tape loops he’d made in the early 80s. Dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 attacks (he finished the work the day the towers fell) and released in four installments across 2002 and ’03, The Disintegration Loops made such an impact that in 2012 it was inducted into the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Since then, Basinski has continued his deep explorations of the realms of sound, and this month the concept-driven composer released Lamentations, which draws from more than four decades’ worth of tape loops and sound sketches plucked from his archives. The passage of time isn’t just a palpable part of this music—it’s an integral collaborator in its creation. “Tear Vial” thrums in an aqueous haze through nearly five minutes of slowly oscillating piano chords, and “O, My Daughter, O, My Sorrow” (a tribute to performance artist Marina Abramović) dissolves Svetlana Spajić’s interpretation of Serbian folk song “Ko Pokida Sa Grla Djerdane” to make a surreal hymn. Lamentations isn’t all serious and somber, though—the chopped-up singing that stumbles and restarts throughout “Please, This Shit Has Got to Stop” makes it sound almost whimsical. While many of Basinski’s contemporaries aim to create music that’s crystalline and timeless, he documents decay—a fizzling loop, an oxidized tape, even the dwindling nature of life. Lamentations shares its name with a book from the Old Testament, readings from which are used to mourn the ravaging of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, but the music on the album doesn’t care to answer the question of whether it’s a memorial or a reprieve from this stressful time. For Basinski, it’s possibility—not hope—that springs eternal.   v

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