William Basinski - A Shadow In Time

by Sean Hewson Rating:9 Release Date:2017-01-20

With The Disintegration Loops (his piece about 9/11 and the Twin Towers) and now For David Robert Jones, a tribute to David Bowie, William Basinski could be applying for the unadvertised position of soundtracker of our darkest days. This would be fitting as the first time I heard him, when The Disintegration Loops came out, there was something reassuring about the sound of the old loops of orchestral strings. Maybe it was similar to the sounds of the womb. Maybe it was just gorgeous and sad. Since then I have acquired many of his albums and I can think of no one better equipped to heal us in these dark times of loss and lunacy.

Before the tribute to Bowie there is the title track which comes in on sustained notes, like the beginning of 60s Star Trek. Beneath this there is a murky soundworld slowly growing, enveloping us. Possibly because of the Star Trek reference, the feeling is of great spaceships moving sedately through space. But A Shadow In Time continues to build, almost like a Godspeed or Sigur Ros track, until it holds its position whilst slowly turning and moving, like a vast planet (stretching the analogy now). For David Robert Jones is based around the familiar sound of one of Basinski's old, orchestral loops. These tend to give the impression that you're listening to something whilst floating in water or slowly surfacing from sleep. The movement in the sound can hypnotise you and put you in a trance. Or you could follow the repeating and changing patterns in the same way as you can with some of Steve Reich's music. Elegiac, with fragments of melody floating, this is classic Basinski until a disintegrating saxophone line breaks in around the 6 minute mark, slightly out of sync with the timing of the under-lying piece. But this only serves to make the sound more melancholic and reminiscent of The Caretaker's excellent An Empty Bliss Beyond This World album. And, as the two loops of differing lengths go round, occasionally syncing up it is again quite like Steve Reich. All in all, a lovely and fitting tribute from one legend to another.

As with The Disintegration Loops, the Bowie tribute on A Shadow In Time will put William Basinski more in the public eye than usual. It is therefore a good time to encourage people to get into this master of the art of sound and tape manipulation and A Shadow In Time is a fine example of this art. Healing, emotional, mesmerising and calming but with apparently very little going on there is a strange magic to this album and to what Basinski does with found sounds.

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