The Disintegration Loops
Interview by Gianpaolo Arena for CALAMITA/À
William Basinski is a classically trained musician and composer who has been working in experimental media for over 30 years in NYC and most recently, California. Employing obsolete technology and analogue tape loops, his haunting and melancholy soundscapes explore the temporal nature of life and resound with the reverberations of memory and the mystery of time. His epic 4-disc masterwork, The Disintegration Loops received international critical acclaim and was chosen as one of the top 50 albums of 2004 by Pitchfork Media. The Temporary Residence deluxe LP box-set reissue from 2012 was awarded best re-issue of the year and a score of 10 on Pitchfork. Installations and films made in collaboration with artist-filmmaker, James Elaine have been presented in festivals and museums internationally, and his concerts are presented to sold out crowds around the world. Most recently, Basinski was chosen by Music Director, Antony Hegarty to create music for the new Robert Wilson opera, The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic which had its world premiere at the Manchester International Festival in July 2011 and toured Europe in 2012 and North America in 2013. Orchestral transcriptions of The Disintegration Loops by Maxim Moston have been performed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Queen Elizabeth Hall and La Batie Festival in Geneva, Switzerland. Basinski is currently touring the world in support of Cascade and The Deluge, his latest works which will be released in Spring 2015 on 2062/USA.
CALAMITA/À: How can art contribute to “reinventing” the viewing experience? Isn’t art supposed to be lasting and eternal?
William Basinski: I don’t know. I’m not an authority on what art is supposed to be. The viewing experience depends on the viewer.
A/À: Which is the role of beauty and the sublime in topics as war, explosions and disasters?
WB: It’s certainly not to glorify them, but to bring a human element to the inexplicable.
A/À: “Disintegration Loops” are one of your career’s important moment. This work is full of decay and introspection. How does that feel, to be so closely linked to such a tragedy (The attacks on the World Trade Center)? In which way have your obsessions and visions nourished your artistic research?
WB: I was in NY, I was an eye witness. I had a job appointment at the World Trade Center later that day, but they collapsed in front of our eyes before I left home. It was a shocking, horrible, frightening experience to see with one’s own eyes. It got worse day by day. Truly devastating.
Obsessions and visions? I follow my instincts and try to bring to life something of eternal value, something living.
A/À: In 2013 “The Disintegration Loops” has become a part of the Memorial Museum, it has been clearly situated in the context of 9/11. In your opinion is the appropriate place for that piece?
WB: Yes, I believe it is and I was truly honored and humbled to have “Disintegration Loop 1.1” selected for the permanent collection there.
A/À: So what was the idea, the starting point, of your current album “Cascade”? When does the creative process end – at the moment you hand the work over?
WB: The starting point for “Cascade” was a single lilting piano tape loop I created some 30 years ago after I cut up a recording of one of my earliest piano compositions into loops. Suddenly I had something I could work with. A few reviewers have mentioned that this loop is the same one from “92982.4”, but actually it is a similar but different loop from this same failed piece… one of my earliest attempts at composition on the piano. I found it a couple of years ago, and remembered how much I loved it. There was something about the organic, out of time rhythm and crystalline nature of it that hypnotised me. I wanted to try to capture that for the new record. It should have been easy, but it wasn’t. We agonized over it in the studio, the tape was decaying, and I still wanted that crystalline organic sound that I had in my memory. After several frustrating months, we finally, through the grace of God, found the solution, and I happy to say, I’m now thrilled with the way it turned out. I almost gave up on it.
Yes, the creative process ends when you’ve handed in the master, the artwork, the graphic design, package design, video, excerpt, and all the necessary things that go into producing a record. Then you put your head into the guillotine and hope the blade doesn’t fall!
A/À: I am convinced that the future is lost somewhere in the dumps of the non-historical past; it is in yesterday’s newspapers, in the jejeune advertisements of science-fiction movies, in the false mirror of our rejected dream. Time transforms metaphors into things, it piles them in cold storage rooms or places them in the celestial playing fields of our suburbs. I had wandered in an imaginary world which not even I could clearly imagine. That zero panorama seemed to contain ruins in reverse, that is – all the new construction that would eventually be built. Robert Smithson “The Monuments of Passaic”, 1967
You’re often drawing from your past in your own work. Do you find yourself thinking a lot about the memory and the concept of time? Is there a desire to make some kind of lucid reconnection to a specific place and time? Please comment.
WB: Well, my work has always dealt with the mysterious cycles of memory and time. As far as trying to connect with a specific place and time, no, not usually, but with the album “92982”, the title of which represents the date September 29, 1982 on which the pieces were composed and recorded in Brooklyn: with the sounds from out the windows coming in, it really does take me back to that specific place and time. Certainly like anyone, when I hear certain pieces, I am taken back to the first time I heard them, but it’s not something I set out to create when I am composing.
A/À: Lastly, what’s coming up for you over the next year, musically or otherwise?
WB: I’m working on a new drone piece that comes out of the last wisps of “Cascade”. There will be 2 concerts in Australia this summer and some European dates in the fall. It looks like I will be in Rome performing with Alter Ego in September at the contemporary art museum, so keep an eye out for that.