William Basinski

A Shadow in Time

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Composer William Basinski's 2017 album A Shadow in Time contains two pieces, one of which ("For David Robert Jones") was commissioned by Los Angeles gallery Volume shortly after the early-2016 death of David Bowie. As with The Disintegration Loops, the 9/11 elegy for which Basinski is best known, the piece was created using decrepit tape loops that seem to call out like voices or melodies from the dead. Here, the main loop sounds like it could've been a fragment of some sort of cheery recording from the early 20th century, but here it's been faded and distorted beyond recognition into something ghastly and haunting. After six minutes, it's joined by a garbled, mangled loop of Basinski's tenor saxophone playing. The two loops are suspended in a damp, cloudy ether with the help of ominous droning played on a Voyetra 8, an extremely rare and complex polyphonic synthesizer. The piece is directly inspired by "Subterraneans," the elegiac closing number from Bowie's landmark 1977 album Low, but Basinski's feels much more ghostly and removed from reality. The sounds continue to loop and flow, and while it feels like there are changes gradually being made, it's hard to tell what's being added, removed, or altered. It seems like it's sinking deeper and deeper, but at the same time it doesn't feel like it's moving an inch. There is certainly a subtle bass pulse that emerges during the second half, gradually getting louder before the loops end up withering away into nothing. "A Shadow in Time" seems more focused on the Voyetra than on tape loops, beginning with soft, feedback-like tones and gradually seeping into a more enveloping drone. The piece seems like it needs to be experienced in a huge, spacious setting in order to fully grasp everything occurring in its dense, detailed web of sound. At times, crashing or sweeping sounds are heard, and it seems like melodies are beginning to emerge, but it's never obvious. On the vinyl version, the piece ends after 17 minutes, but on the CD, it concludes with a coda of a sparse, fragile piano loop. As ever, Basinski is a master at suspending time, and the album seems to flow by faster than the clock indicates. When it does end, you wonder if you've been taken somewhere, or if you've been changed in some way. The only key to answering these questions is to dive back in.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
20:26
2
23:00
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