Swinging Modern Sounds #21: On William Basinski

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William Basinski was born in Texas in 1958, and, after a childhood playing wind instruments, he became in the early-eighties a composer of ambient and minimalist compositions. He was most active in New York City in this period, and played in bands in addition to making process-oriented compositions in a solo setting. His best known work is the self-released four-volume composition entitled The Disintegration Loops (2002-2003), which involves the digitized preservation of tape loops so old that, during playback, they begin to auto-destruct. Basinski apparently first aestheticized this falling-apart on 9/11/2001, when he happened to be perusing his older works while the political order was being recast within view. The following constitutes a long back-and-forth with poet and critic Michael Snediker (with whom I also collaborated on two other posts, Antony and the Johnsons and The Size Queens) on the subject of Basinski’s masterwork, with, as befits a four-volume instrumental work that is almost impossible to decode, and which must be ultimately layered over with critical free association, some poetical asides, some of them of significant length. Our respective sections are unsigned. Another way of putting all of this is: here’s an attempt to prove that blog posts can, at least, attempt the heights of literary writing.

Basinski Part I

We find ourselves, like Emerson, at the brink of grieving, in a compulsion whose pathos is undermined by certainty. We are uncertain as to whether repetition superficially is machinic or deeply machinic, which is to say we don’t know whether we wish to feel deeply as we hear this ambient, gentle noise that verges on our feeling grievous without necessarily feeling so. We’re given the exeunt of inhabiting, like a lime-colored pool accoutred with flippers– this might be fun, this overfamiliarity might lead to contentedness. Or it may well make us feel worse. The austerity of music—the austerity of sound barely touching the sensitive genre-boundaries of music, per se—either lets us off the hook or sinks us. And this is why I love these disintegration loops. They are the sirens and the impossibility of sirens all at once. Their compulsiveness argues against specificity, even as the impossibility of specificity becomes their specific cautionary tale.

When we least expect it, we are in the domain of didacticism, and I hate this 1st person plural, I find myself adrift and` in the acumen of the drift, wishing I could sustain some keener sense of harbor. The cruelty and generosity of the loops involves Basinski’s malicious trust that the loop indefatigably will sustain itself, the melody-mirage of a melody, dug up decades previous, and vulnerable Michael old enough to hear in this mirage a sense of both discovery and reprieve, even as there’s nothing less reprieving than the playback of reprieve. Basinski is the musical equivalent of Richard Prince’s Marlboro Man without inspirational slogan—we are high plains drifting, and the lack of enterprise or commerce doesn’t free us into frontier so much as drop up into a space that most needs direction, ergo drops us into the form of direction without content of direction, because guidance, at very least, is on automatic pilot. This is assurance relayed as fugue, desultory collapse of message into context. And the degree to which this collapse in fact does assuage speaks to the chary, volatile virtue of Basinski’s music under duress.

Basinski Part II

If for the sake of continuity we continue to use the editorial we in order to suggest legions who are addressed by The Disintegration Loops, by the photo of the WTC on the jacket of the first volume of The Disintegration Loops, e.g., then we have to admit the circumstances under which we were made aware of The Disintegration Loops, which is a most unusual way to be made aware. In certain circumstances chance and literature have a way of mutually reinforcing a tragicomic world view. This is one such case: we were invited to two separate conferences at New York University, and we would include the year but the year is effaced with forgetting—sort of like the tape loops in Basinski’s library, exhumed, and, in the process, destroyedthe first of these conferences concerned the work of the writer Kathy Acker, and it involved our reading aloud in public a story about Erica Jong by Kathy Acker, and it also involved readings by Kathy Acker by a number of other people, including, for example, Kathleen Hanna, and Kim Gordon, and Richard Foreman. Why we were there we were not sure, though we liked Blood and Guts in High School and Great Expectations, and still do. The Erica Jong passage was heavily satirical and had to do with Erica Jong being the author of Fear of Flying, a book that Kathy Acker seemed to dislike strongly; in any event, had someone handed us a copy of The Disintegration Loops at the Kathy Acker conference, it would not have been surprising, because Basinski travels in avant-garde circles, is admired in avant-garde circles, if avant-garde still means anything, which is doubtful; in any event, the next week we were invited to a conference on liberal Christianity because we are occasionally believed to be fellow travelers, and we have to admit this conference was strange, touchy-feely, disconcerting, full of anxiety about fundamentalism, and attended by numbers of young people who almost certainly had borderline personality disorder, or worse; in fact, the conference on liberal Christianity, as we recall it, was far more transgressive, because of how much mental illness and magical thinking we encountered there, than was the Kathy Acker conference, and while Kathy Acker was noteworthy, at the conference on liberal Christianity, after we read a certain piece of short fiction with a great deal of repetition in it, a kindly listener, a young woman, came up to us and said, Here is a CD by my friend and it’s really good and it’s sort of like your reading so you might like it.

Our expectation, upon receiving a free and unsuspected CD from someone in an audience is almost always that the CD in question will not be worth excessive study; unfortunately, this is our supposition; and therefore it was likely that we did not play this CD for some weeks, and our desire to hesitate, which desire does not seem like a desire but is in fact, a desire to hesitate was made keener by the fact of the image on the cover, of a smoking WTC, having only recently been struck by the palindromic Atta and his confederates; we were hesitant, we were desiring of hesitation, desiring and hesitating, almost in the way that the loops in Basinski seem to hover before starting around again, in a way that we associate with actual loops, like the kind that were Scotch-taped together on reel-to-reel tape decks so that they would go around and around, not like the loops that are simply programmed into a Mac, but then, in fact, even though the long-ago gift-giver is already silted over by time and circumstance, we did begin to feel embarrassed (and still do) that we had not played The Disintegration Loops, we began to feel a contempt prior to investigation and a systemic mistrust of gift-givers at a conference on liberal Christianity was a little prejudicial, and so we put on the CD, The Disintegration Loops, or we put in the CD, which had been housed in one of those inexpensive plastic sleeves and which, in truth, more resemble a homemade or handmade project than a commercial proposition, and we were amazed at just how slow moving, just how precariously slow moving, just how approximately, just how infinitesimally slow moving, just how carefully, just how archeologically, just how methodically, just how dangerously, slow moving, just how grievously, just how compulsively, just how seductively slow, just how, just, just how, just, just, just how, just, just how historically slow moving is the destruction, and it is destruction, just how slow the destruction, and so let us ask again, just how slow is the destruction, just how slow is the destruction, the destruction is very slow, the disintegration is very slow, though frozen on the jacket the destruction is at once instantaneous and frozen for all of history or as long as the CD exists as a form, in the music the slowness is slow enough that it is both unmistakable as destruction and yet serves as evidence of a kind that movement is possible, slow enough that we could write this entire passage and not even get through the first track of the first volume of The Disintegration Loops, and yet fast enough to insist that in disintegration change takes place and things become other things, there is a movement, an Ovidian movement, in which what is now trembles and succumbs, in the process of transforming into what is to be.

Basinski Part III

I cried uncle, age, this something rising, swonderful, sometime persuasive sense that recalibration wouldn’t be adequate to happiness only sometimes feeling delusive, sappy shrugs of atemii not realizing there was art in striking vital point, beyond gazelles and kangaroo stippled kitsch-stain on a boomerang—where arrows land guaranteeing one’s having left a heart not only intact but oblivious to being shot with quivers. This being four-leaf clover time, we being truly committed to the aerofoil, demonstration of Finnish Birch asked to jeopardize its own velocity grip. I wasn’t finished, there was more I needed to throw, if only in pinchgrip leaving nothing behind by choice alone. I’d watched him test for belts, as we watched relief of oversight, not totally getting truth be told what I preferred and why. Four-leaf Bunny Read, elliptical clunker, we moved to orange up from yellow, puzzled even now over graduated acumen as nominally inseparable from update danger. We’re orange now, at any point might something more likely happen than before. We’re orange now, we rhyme with nothing, taking many versions of sweetboy foot to kill a wooden rectangle held before us. Plywood, plied, we would, I do, as ever in an orange zone, trying keep duresses from metaphorical implication. Organza and monthly message took exhortation by some and by others the cautionary tale it is, e.g. Goal Setting. What congealed in the nasty good-intentioned classroom, what goals we allowed open to discussion—I wasn’t talking goals, per se, a back-van of uncompelling apples, my setting as machinery of certain detective-work, e.g. we walked in and saw the set, we wondered motivations. Conventional cozen otherwise toward scarifications. I worry over deductive reasoning, clue-giving held back in the name of parental devotions. I, for certain, ambivalence-petalled, was non-parental, unhappily so. I hijacked trust and love and security or at least the sense of such things for all manner of good reason, most of which shall not hurt you, never smack you and yours bright-belted in the face, I promise best I can. What you get you’ve practiced. I’m a loving sequitur, non-smoking, minimally drinking, exemplary and reliable and vitreous in all this molecular busyness. Let’s for a while leave molecules to run their hazy errand. Let’s fund trouble then keep it under wraps. I missed colluding, we could have kept each other from authorities, including, you know, keeping, we let, then trusted others following suit. Four-leaf clover time, swonderful, so far so good. So far, so good, so in keeping with the protocol you taught me, smilingly aflounder, smarvelous, each balletic icebreak step of waying.

Basinski Part IV

We implicitly have committed to a certain pronomial relation to ourselves and each other, a first person plural in which Basinski’s loops collude monstrously, spectrally. Some artists, such as Lady Gaga, Matthew Barney, Donizetti, Andy Warhol traffic in different pronomial circles. One is made to feel a them, one is made to feel like a you, one is made to disbelieve in an I, and these loosenings and grammatical bereavements don’t always arrive with the consolation that we’re in something together. Recently I was in Nova Scotia and encountered, washed onto ice floe or simply living there, the carcasses of a seal and bear. The seal was missing its head, the bear was missing its body, the latter, all head and paws, would have made least adequate, most risible of rugs. It was a Joanna Newsom song gone horribly awry. The seal was merely unbearable. I could hardly bring myself to take its photograph (I did). Beyond its Hawthornian headlessness (cf “The Custom House”), someone or something had etched into its back an X which may or may not have had significance (cf confluence of magical thinking and mental illness at our aforementioned liberal Christianity conference?). It seemed impossible to recuperate, in terms of significance, either carcass, and the landscape nodded, gigantically, its sublime assent. Nova Scotia was beautiful and the beauty couldn’t justify itself, and in exceeding its own necessity, the beauty didn’t mitigate our loneliness, it made the loneliness all the more terrifying, because if the beauty couldn’t restructure or sweeten our relation to the place, what could (this isn’t necessarily as easy a rhetorical question as it appears). The awfulness of a beauty that leaves one on the outside describes many aesthetic encounters to which we return in spite of ourselves; and then there are aesthetic phenomena that are encompassingly lonely, or whose loneliness already feels like ours, and this feels like the shared loneliness of the disintegrations. The loops describe the residua of a world reduced to its least banal, its most banal, the broken escalator of a looted mall. This is music in a mall for zombies, which is to say this would be music for hipsters [sic] were it not that this music ensuffers its own erasure with ostensibly great humility. We are not accosted by its asceticism. More keenly and less survivable, we are absorbed into it. We aren’t asked to share, we simply do, the way its pulsation doesn’t become our psyche so much as remind us of our psyche’s shape. This inclines me to think of the loops alongside Rothko, Cornell (depending how on any given day we think of psyches). The incorporative impulse of the loops is constitutive and suggests the willful optimism of disintegration not only as Benjaminian ruin but as molecules, freed from obsolescent shapes, discovering slowly, somnolently their own dazed, demented delight in being errant. The loops are like Fred Tomaselli’s pharmaceutical mosaics, arranged and imminently entropic, one the result of the other. Take these, do these in memory of. The loops swallow us. Less like Bartleby eating ginger nuts, than Bartleby as ontological Escher, absorbing himself (he does). We first listened to Basinski years ago in Baltimore. There was construction outside our apartment building, and traffic, and our first thought was to crank up the Basinski because how could something so droningly delicate outdo the cranes and cab horns. To our wonder and delight (dementia of loosed molecules), the Basinski didn’t win out out over cranes and horns—it differently organized and aestheticized the horns and cranes. The horns and cranes became part of the loop. Suddenly we were hearing the noise outside our apartment like something we’d found at the back of our closet, dust-filmed and ongoing. The loops recall the extent to which even the immanent is lost to itself, the cold comfort of living as a first person plural, which is to say as a preterite imminently friendly collectivity.

Basinski Part V

One convention that has interested us in the articulation of the popular song by gay artists, whatever that means, is the pronomial conversion of gendered lover into oblique “you,” thus circumventing the feminization of a male lover’s name in the Proustian way, Gilberte or Albertine. Bob Mould, when he wrote for Hüsker Dü always committed himself in this way. And perhaps our first-person plural, which in The Virgin Suicides suggested a white male collective heterosexuality, here suggests a not entirely adequate collectivized or at least dyadic attempt to organize Basinski into a certain signification that is as unjust as the idea that our points of view can be organized beyond recognition, so that it is unclear which of us is talking, and maybe that is, in a way, like the materiality of tape in Basinski, and the fact that Basinski does not, did not, at the time he made the original loops, have infinite numbers of tracks available to him, not without bouncing down some of the signal, this implies that there is always a fuzz on the loops. They are always built up with a generous helping of murk and noise, and this is one thing we must agree that we love about The Disintegration Loops, that they were not perfect in the first instance, and then they were made worse by the historical fact of their destruction, and their destruction in a particular place and time. Now they exist in three different temporal planes, 1) the plane in which the loops themselves were first recorded, and let us situate this in the late seventies or early eighties, when the artist first began recording loops, 2) the time in which Basinski attempted to play the loops and digitally preserved their destruction, which we imagine was on, or just after, 9/11/2001, 3) the time and history of the moment in which we apprehend them now, and maybe these three times correspond in some way to the Lacanian formulations of imaginary, symbolic, and real, in which the initial making of the loops, in which Basinski relinquishes his training in clarinet and sax and converts to electronic music, is organized around some child-like wonder about the loop and its premonitory aspect, whereas the loops are still just loops until there is the collision of their lamentable physicality, their material, in stage two, the playing of the loops for digital preservation purposes, a symbolically engaged moment that is doomed to failure, and then there is the interpretive layer, the historical now, in which we attempt to determine what they mean, whether they exist realistically in some actual acoustic space or not.

Our hatred of much electronic music, by which we imagine ourselves to mean certain kinds of heavily programmed club music, forces us to find a new interpretive standpoint with respect to The Disintegration Loops, and we have already proposed “minimalism” as a context, and rightly so, I believe, but we have also used griefstricken as a way to qualify The Disintegration Loops, and have cast Basinski in the role of grieving observer from his rooftop in Brooklyn on 9/11/2001, but the following also holds true, that on one occasion last year it was proposed to us that we collaborate with Basinski on a text-and-music performance at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn by Suzanne Fiol, proprietor thereof, and this though we already knew that Fiol was gravely ill, because we had performed there in another setting and had seen her looking gravely ill, and we were very sad about Suzanne, as she had been very good to us, but her fixity on the matter of Basinski was strange, because we had said repeatedly that just reading something over some loops did not, to us, constitute art, as it was too easy, and though we knew Basinski slightly, we did not want to presume on his excellence and his time in order to do this thing; however, Suzanne, gravely ill, did not take note of our resistance, and therefore booked a date for us, three weeks after the discussion, and then we were forced to say that we could not contact Basinski, because he was on an island in Greece (or this is how we remember it, that he is a person who goes to an island in Greece), and there was no way to prepare for the gig, and thus we could not do the gig, though we were very flattered to be asked, and then not long after Suzanne passed away, and, from what we have heard, died after some real suffering, and try as we might, we cannot help feeling that this failure on our part hangs around our interpretation of Basinski, that we ought to have done the gig, because the space was there and there was institutional support, and now this death is in the mix, as it were, with all the other deaths, when we hear The Disintegration Loops, and this is why with volumes III and IV of The Disintegration Loops, which we only heard much later, there is a stark turn in the project, it begins to sound markedly different, and the question is, is it really different, or do we simply hear it differently? Because we have now this additional bit of grieving to do, and does Basinski’s project just naturally adhere to grief, and does he know that it adheres to grief, such that it no longer has to be about 9/11/2001, per se, but could be about any calamity and any loss, indeed perhaps the disintegration is just about grief and human life itself, disintegration in this view being central to consciousness, and the machining part of the construction is an attempt to find a housing for art, the machinery of art, that will outlast the second law of thermodynamics, but then the action of the piece is a reiteration of the bloody machinery of that very process, in which everything is brought low, and none of this is the case with electronic music, which constantly gives the lie that it can go on indefinitely, but Basinski’s minimalism is more frail—

Basinski Part VI

Whatever. It. Whatever. It. Whatever, it. Whatever, it. Whatever. Whatever. Whatever, it. Whatever, it. Whatever. It. Whatever. It. Whatever, whatever, whatever. Whatever. It. It. It. It. Whatever, it. It. It. It. Whatever, it. It, it. Whatever. It, it, whatever. It, it, whatever, whatever. Whatever! Whatever! It, it, it, it, it. It, it, it, it, it.

It was! It was! It was! It was. It was. It was. It, it, it, was, was, was. Was, was, was, was. Was, was, was, was. Was, was, was, was. It was. It was. It was. Was. It. Was. It. Was it? Was it? Was. It was. It was. Was. Whatever was it? Whatever was it? Whatever it was. Whatever it. Whatever it was. Whatever it. Whatever it was. Whatever was. Whatever was. Whatever “whatever” was. Whatever “whatever” was. Whatever it was. Whatever, whatever was. Whatever, whatever was. Was. Was. Whatever it was was. Whatever it was was. Whatever it was was.

Lost whatever. Lost what is was. Lost whatever. Lost what. Lost what? Lost whatever. Lost what? Lost it. Lost it. Lost it, whatever. Lost it, whatever. Was it lost? Was it lost? Was whatever it was. Was whatever it was. Was whatever what it was. Lost, lost, lost. Lost, lost, lost. Lost, lost, lost. Lost, lost. Lost, lost. Lost, lost, lost. Lost, lost. Lost. Whatever it lost. Whatever it lost. It lost. It lost. Lost. Lost it. It lost. It lost. Lost. Lost it. Lost, lost, lost. Lost. Whatever it lost. Whatever it lost.

Was, was lost. Was, was lost. Was lost. Was, was lost. Was, lost. Was. Lost. Was, lost. Was. Lost. What was lost was. What was lost was. What was lost, was it. What was lost, was it? What was lost was it. What was lost was it. What was lost, was it? What was lost, was what?

Whatever, what was lost was it. Whatever, what was lost was it. Whatever, what was lost. Whatever, what was lost. Whatever, what was. Whatever what was. Whatever, what was. Whatever what was was.

Whatever it was. Whatever it is. Whatever it once was. Whatever it is. Was lost. Lost. Lost. Lost. Whatever. Whatever. Whatever. Whatever. Whatever. Once.

Basinski Part VII

I recently listened to Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise (34.14), the song without words, and realized in listening to its soprano-pilgrimage of a mutant vowel that something analogous and deranged, analogously deranged, was happening for me in Basinski’s loops. The loops are choral, are fugue (state), as much as they are electronic (misnomer and inadequacy of the taxonomic, like Dickinson’s counterintuitively ruthless, perverse hope as the thing with feathers…), the obsolete technology to which this song cycle, this lieder, this pilgrimage without telos, is attached, somehow felt like a placeholder for voice, seldom listening to voiceless music have I so wished for the vocal, and what follows in no way aspires toward the lyric, in the manner of supplementing what in Basinski already is there, so much as imagining, a posteriori, an archive of words of which the loops might be a trace. The ice-cream truck arises in the spirit of archetype, which is to say what is both iconic and severely unsettling, as the technologization of the bardic, dovetail of capitalism and the troubadour. This might be one of the ways in which I imagine the loops. Were the scylla-call of the ice-cream truck more sincere, it might sound like Basinski. Not that the following does justice to either the Brockden-Brown Gothic of the ice cream, or to the differently headless horseman of Basinski’s post-apocalyptic peaceful sadness, which nonetheless remains buoyant but likewise sad: as though the buoyancy were arising not from will but muscle memory, some tenacious and unflustered amino acid. I don’t feel impelled to supply words to Vocalise, and not just because the song already is lingual. Even as I feel impelled to add to the loops, even as they are a hieroglyph of contesting austerities and extravagance. I want to add to what is missing to make the missing less, and likewise to make the missing more. That the ice cream truck died doesn’t mean it didn’t every once in a while find itself down some road.

Crepuscular, didn’t doesn’t, easy did it did it, handsome wasn’t mud-flecked and forgetful that as enigmatic signifier we didn’t know the song, tenebrous, did it count as song, our fingertips, a tongue. Easy did it, didn’t it. We wouldn’t, learning from cul de sacs posthumous as the ice cream truck, daily pile-ups, detritus of March surfacing from winter teaching November leaves a thing or two about moribund. Ditty-splintered in thought, even first lamb-shoot/foal-buds, nervoused in knee, and haunted by themselves, q.e.d. the nature of cycles. We recall fragility as lucidly as having died. Lucidity no not the word, didn’t doesn’t, no, more along the lines of intractable. No, these intractably frightened new things, too young, no, by many accounts to be scared, nubile with memories its own act of sadism of which our ice cream truck unblissfuly is aware. No, religiously, circuit of Siena, didn’t it, doesn’t it bring to mind our truck stirring leaves in passing, not ours, we calling ours only perfunctorily in what it disrupts. Doesn’t, disregard of crocus, we will see them again in good time, good time all in good and time in time, and its poster, flaking trademark, what beyond the song lures us ratty and hopeful, of novelties is peeling, comets and rockets uncurling from amber, into it, novelty never seeming so unpersuasive, starkly, stoically so. Popsicles dimly lurid, dimly effluviate with the sad smile of pedophiles, confluence of what once was young inexorably unsuccessful at returning to its last moment of slender possibility if not happiness. If not happiness, if not. If not then, didn’t it, good time gone circuiting like a siren. If then than then. And then, what will we have today, what echo round the bend, what impersonation of promise, paris burning, what will we say it promises, against logic. The truck floor ruby-viscous, chocolate-charnel, what melts and froze and melts again, invention of viscosity as solution to novelty’s implausible pathos. We don’t buy it. Didn’t we, we don’t even leave the house. The plane through blue, evil comes from me, or was it just unreachable sadness. Tonight’s special will be played by a highschool quarterback dumping the prettiest cheerleader on whose eyes he ever will fall. This is grammatically corrent, and so  the breakup, didn’t it, we sustain injuries, ghostly pony tail flagellant not only in memory, and this enough, isn’t it, whip worse than wind, whipped the whole scene, attempts at a picturesque, into white noise, we all fuzzed, I spun stories and pom poms as the truck receded. Everything sticks, except for posters fading, tin tin tin, the prices certainly from earlier decades, and the metal, such bargains, what we could melt it down to were the truck’s freezer still stocked with such cheap treasure. The freezer was its own viscous organ, cloying absence of unconscious content, the crypt bellowing I have no crypt, no bodies to speak of, and this, scarier than any alternative, the truck its own content, chiming through neighborhoods not its own. Misplaced foghorn, crepuscular parkinglot, where utility is zero. Even the truck is peeling, making up for pallor in its own lividity, hangover and indefatigably on a tear, and its music doesn’t cozen children, it scares them, it cozens ghosts, conjures terrorism in reverse, haphazardly mediated. This is a situation room, this is a headless horseman, this is a memorial Chipwich that we bought the day you died. This is too close to call, and the truck moves less quickly than the leaves it stirs, which have been dead longer than leaves November likes to call dead. They’ll return, this is part of the awfulness, we’ll return, we’ll all fall down.

Basinski Part VIII

Basinski is occasionally his own vague commentator, for example at his web site, which is thus: http://www.mmlxii.com/. And though he attempts to adhere, some of the time, to a doctrine of anti-auterurism  that is popular among electronic composers, such that he does not provide lengthy descriptions of his intentions or the contexts of his work, it is possible for example to see a photo of him with his mom and a plate of coldcuts at his MySpace page, and also some photos of him from his rather dazzling youth. It would be easy to efface the discussion of Basinski’s attractiveness, but it seems that the effacement thereof is to miss some of the way that this affects the artist’s desire to preserve decay in his work, and some chance operations. Basinski is now in his fifties and is not the young beauty he once was, he is now an older beauty, and an older beauty is a beautiful thing, for its wisdom, but also for how it preserves crags and regrets and griefs, for what it does not forget. Another aspect of Basinski, biographically speaking, that is of some interest, is his lost decade. It may not be obvious to Basinski himself that he does have a lost decade, but from the his early compositions, which date to the early eighties, to the official release of The Disintegration Loops, in 2002, there is a real gap, and there were, we believe, some releases in the late nineties, but that still leaves a significant span in which no work was being issued to the music-loving, repetition-loving populace, and one wonders, then, what was going on in those intervening years. Apparently, many of the early loops created by Basinski were still around the house, were being preserved in tape canisters or in little cassette boxes, or were just gathering dust, but what was Basinski doing? Was he going somewhere else, so that he could return to New York City? Was he playing the loops such that the playback of the loops was the performance, and the fickle need for a reproduceable playback, an actual need for an actual product, which seems especially vain in the iTunes universe of now, was something in which Basinski did not care to indulge? What can we know of the lost decade, and was it right for us to hope for an end to the lost decade?

And what to make of the fact that Basinski has recently moved to Los Angeles? That an artist quintessentially related to an archetypal New York moment, now lives in Los Angeles? In some fundamental way, we cannot accept that Basinski lives in Los Angeles, and on one occasion, in the course of an abbreviated conversation, we put it to him, and the answer had to do with the expense of New York City, and maybe this just supposes some kind of eternal return, in which Basinski, his peregrinations circular like his compositions, has to leave New York City in order to return to New York City, and this reminds us that we have as yet failed to describe the actual musical content of The Disintegration Loops, except to say that the musical content is in a process of decay, and it would be easy to described the musical content as highly synthetic, to say that this is electronic, but actually the build-up and the noise make it hard to identify, in the end, if the loops are synthetic, are originally recordings of music made by oscillator or analogue synthesizer, or what have you, because bouncing down of the tracks, and the sheering off of signal by decay of the tapes, all of these makes the sounds more ghostly than conventionally musical, and you may imagine, especially if you listen to the loops over and over again, as we certainly have, we have listened to them sometimes for weeks at a time, you may imagine under these circumstances that you are hearing cellos, trumpets, cymbals, an electric guitar being strummed, only to have the identification prove false, when, later, you become convinced that actually you are hearing a harp delicately plucked, and have we noted that volume IV of The Disintegration Loops actually sounds like the first composition from the first volume (called “1.1” on vol. I), as if the tape from that particular track has been subjected to disintegration, or destruction or decay, several times over, and though the disintegration on volume IV sounds nothing like the highly percussive (and reverb-drenched) decay of volume I, it is, we are correct to say, the same initial loop, the same initial composition, though whether, in this case, the composition is a composition before it is entrapped in the digital storage device, is up for grabs—to put it another way: until the decay, Basinski’s compositions are not, at least on The Disintegration Loops, really compositions. The decay finishes the piece. The decay reiterates the decay, which needs reiteration, because there is never anything but decay, and never anything but a reiteration of decay, and maybe decay has forgetting admixed with it somehow, so that people are constantly finding themselves in this condition in which they forget decay, even when there is evidence everywhere around them of decay, or maybe we, authors of these lines, have some reason especially to forget decay, even though we think about decay almost constantly, with the result that we, among all the many others, need to experience a reiteration of decay so as not to forget it with such abandon. Therefore, since “1.2” and even “1.3” on volume IV constitute “remixes” or perhaps repetitions of the massive suite of repetition that is “1.1” from volume I of The Disintegration Loops, it is correct, we believe, to assume that the entirety of The Disintegration Loops is itself a sort of a loop, or a recirculation of resources, or a myth of eternal return, but whether a return to composition or decay or a composition of decay, or a decay of decay, or a reiteration of decay, or the decay of a reiteration, or a reiteration of the decay of decay, we cannot say, since our perceptions are shifting even as they decay…


Rick Moody is the author of six novels, three collections of stories, a memoir, and a volume of essays, On Celestial Music. His most recent publication is Hotels of North America, a novel. With Kid Millions of Oneida, he recently released the album The Unspeakable Practices (Joyful Noise recordings). More from this author →