An Hour of Watching William Basinski, Blacking Out, and Realizing that Nothing Ever Dies

In a slim-fitting, sequined black jacket, a pair of mirrored Aviators around his eyes, his blonde hair draped over his collarbones, William Basinski walks onto the small stage at National Sawdust in Williamsburg—a few hundred feet from the roof above his loft where he watched the Twin Towers fall on September 11, 2001—and picks up the microphone next to his MacBook Air. “Alright you crazy motherfuckers,” he says in a thick drawl that makes him sound like a Southern lush. His voice is at odds with everything: the careening black and white lines of the walls around him, the purple light that hangs over the room, his reputation as an avant-garde musician, and the weight of the looping compositions that his audience expects. He tells the crowd to sit down. This is going to be “some serious requiem for dead friends and heroes,” he says. “Just close your eyes, because this ain’t gonna be pretty to look at.”

A Shadow in Time, Basinski’s latest album, is cut into two distinct sections. Like every one of his albums, it is an experiment in repetition and expansion: on one side there are short samples, often decaying with each successive loop; on the other, drawn out semi-melodies, mingling with ephemeral noise. Few of Basinski’s records have shown such contrast as Shadow. Here, there are two 20-minute tracks. First is “For David Robert Jones,” a plaintive eulogy for the late David Bowie; the second, “A Shadow in Time,” is a droning, cosmic piece of orchestral minimalism. “This first one sounds like a New Orleans funeral,” he says tonight, flicking his hair back over his left shoulder. “Then we’re going to go to the stars.” The microphone thuds clumsily back onto the table.

The opening chords of “For David…” struggle through the speakers. Twenty minutes pass and he’s still standing there—the 5-second loop that sounded hopeful at first has slowly been intruded upon by crackles and sinister feedback. A semi-tonal sound interjects—here it sounds like a brutally compressed guitar, but on record it’s a saxophone. It hangs over the track like a buzzsaw bouncing above a femur.

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