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William Basinski + Richard Chartier - William Basinski + Richard Chartier

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Artist: William Basinski + Richard Chartier

Album: William Basinski + Richard Chartier

Label: Spekk

Review date: Jun. 30, 2004

Listening to William Basinski + Richard Chartier, two collaborative minimalist pieces by the same two composers, is about as stimulating as watching the sun rise, then set, and with it, your shadow grow and diminish. The two pieces work in that way – as a provocative metaphor you don’t really need to experience to appreciate. Basinski and Chartier rely heavily on minimalism as a sort of literary gesture, and while the result is deeply meditative and at times moving, an overwrought aesthetic belies their faith in the barely perceptible but vaguely beautiful evolution of a few musical elements.

Minimalism as a singular form is rightfully dead, though its influence can be heard in much of the best music being made right now. The problem is, no matter what Basinski and Chartier do, they’ll never best Terry Riley’s Descending Moonshine Dervishes (not that they shouldn’t try). Basinski’s masterful Disintegration Loops series, released last year, is a testament to the evolution of a formal language beyond redundancy. Those four records contain loops recorded in the early 1980s by Basinski. Before, on, and after September 11, 2001, Basinski was undergoing the process of transferring these loops to digital format in his Manhattan apartment. As the short orchestral loops played, the magnetic tapes physically disintegrated, leaving a stunningly beautiful metaphor – an impression of a world disappearing – that works just as well on headphones as on paper.

The low drones and occasional tape hisses on WB + RC are irrevocably majestic in the way good minimalism tends to be. Low, rumbling tones slowly give way to a gently pulsating ambient loop; the two elements pass each other, changing slightly, intersecting at various points until they are momentarily subdued by a jagged rhythmic feedback loop. Over the course of these two long compositions, tones glide over one another like tectonic plates; occasionally one will pierce the surface. This friction, coupled with the clarity and simplicity of the actual sounds, is the principle element at work and creates an atmosphere that is at once dense and light.

Glacial movement, the stretching, suspending, or dissolving of time – these characteristics are endemic to minimalist music and are very much on display in WB + RC, along with the emotive elements that grace Disintegration Loops. The power of much minimalist music, from Reich to Feldman, lies in its concentration on seemingly minute elements. The listener is drawn into a world in which the ratios of everyday life – much chaos and noise, little singularity and silence – are distilled and inverted. Seeing light as a function of your own shadow, rather than vice-versa.

By Alexander Provan

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