The Disintegration Loops – William Basinski

 

What do you know, it’s my second ever sound-art post! This one also came onto my radar through Radiolab (one for you Podcast heads).

Right, so first up, this music is just an achingly beautiful ambient composition. To quote Pitchfork, “It’s the kind of music that makes you believe there is a Heaven, and that this is what it must sound like.” Wave upon wave of sound envelopes everything around you, dissolving space and time. Get the right soundsysem set-up and it is honestly stunning.

But there’s more. The story of these pieces is even more heart-breakingly beautiful than the music itself. In the 80s WB created a bunch of tape loops from processed snatches of music captured from an easy listening station. Fast forward to around 2000 and he is in the process of digitising his collection – but each time the tape plays it disintegrates a little more, with the decay of the tape making the music itself decay. Each tape begins with a simple repeated melody which melts away with each repetition. As the physical tape decays, so the sound decays.

So far so good right? But wait, there’s more. Shortly after he completed the work, he was playing it to some friends in his Brooklyn apartment, when 9/11 happened. At dusk he filmed the smouldering rubble of Manhattan, and set the music to it. It has become an iconic elegy. Pure devastation, and utter serenity.