William Basinski at Issue Project Room, photo by Taras Mashtalir

William Basinski at Issue Project Room. (all photographs by Taras Mashtalir)

William Basinski, self-described composer of “experimental electronic ambient music,” played selections from his new CD Nocturnes at Issue Project Room’s Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain celebration recently held at its majestically renovated downtown Brooklyn location. Basinski, former luminary of Williamsburg and host of the infamous ‘90’s era club/salon Arcadia has since moved to California. Best known for his mournful haunting 4-disk opus The Disintegration Loops, he has spearheaded innovative reuses for discarded analogue tape loops and obsolete audio technologies. He also wrote the music for the Robert Wilson opera, “The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic,” which toured Europe and North American for the past two years.

A sanguine wisecracking Basinski with teased bleached blond hair a la David Lee Roth, a trim form fitting leather jacket over his otherwise naked torso, and a large silver cross dangling from his neck warned as the lights dimmed blue and smoky, “I hope you smoked some pot before you came because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.” But it was quite the opposite: smooth sailing with a tinge of narcolepsy as he opened the first set with Nocturnes, his ode to “encroaching darkness,” and concluded with Variations, played on German Uher Report Monitor tape decks.

Staring at his instruments with the ferocity of a chess player contemplating his next move, Basinski invites you to share his mono, dual, and tri-chorded investigations that stretch into never ending encores. Unlike most electronic musicians, he doesn’t assault you with sound and timbre. He’s slow, almost liminal in the sense of dusk or sunrise, nether states of transition that ordinarily last a few moments, but which he manages to tease out for an entire session.

William Basinski with the moon and the clouds, photo by Taras Mashtalir

William Basinski with the moon and the clouds.

The background visuals of a full moon and clouds curl and uncurl with just enough variation to resist boredom. Though he obviously believes in personal glamor, Basinski is highly astringent in his use of modulation, chromatics and scale. He cites John Cage, Steve Reich and Brian Eno as influences. There is, however, a palpable sense of Claude Debussy, from “L’apres Midi du Faun” or Eric Satie’s “Gymnopedie,” as if the first few bars were on a turn table slowly repeating the same refrain in what Basinski refers to as a “timeless amniotic bubble.”

Variations was a tape with just five piano notes, very fortissimo, with variations syncopating and playing back over one another. A recording on a strip of audio tape ran through cylinders with a short rumbling sound, He reordered the sound onto another tape loop, and looped over that again, resampling tapes using analogue techniques. He astutely associates sound loops with memories, comparing his aural works to conceptual loops most people experience daily as background mental chatter. Sometimes it is “bad feedback loops that need to be resolved.”  Fortunately, his compositional process liberates one’s memory into a sonic catharsis.

William Basinski performed at Issue Project Room (22 Boerum Place, Downtown Brooklyn) on October 19th.

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Ellen Pearlman

Ellen Pearlman is a writer and new media artist who lives between New York and Asia, where she is a PhD candidate at the School of Creative Media, Hong Kong City University.