In as much as an experimental musician can be a celebrity in a country that values intellect and art less and less with each passing election cycle, William Basinski is a household name. More appropriately, he’s crossed over. Time has only been kind to his landmark achievement The Disintegration Loops, and that work’s unintended connections with the events of September 11, 2001 have forever sealed it in our country’s cultural touchstones of the tragedy. Chances are, if you happen to bump into an indie kid skulking around Williamsburg, they’ve at least heard of ‘the dude with the 9/11 loops’, even if they don’t usually listen to experimental music. The only name that even compares with Basinski’s level of notoriety in such circles is Stars Of The Lid, and they’ve fallen quiet the last decade, leaving an intractable hole in the genre they helped to popularize. On the other hand, Basinski has stayed rewardingly active.
It’s inevitable when an artist releases a classic work that it should come to overshadow everything else in their discography, but Basinski’s career has been a rich and rewarding one. He’s toyed with piano-by-way-of-warbly-learning-lab-tape-machine on Melancholia, dipped his toes into deeper drone territory with The River, and gone all dark noise on us with the still jaw-dropping Shortwave Music. As Basinski eases cozily into middle age, is there anything really left to say?
The short answer is, of course. A musician never really stops being a musician, even if they claim to have retired, and Basinski’s done nothing of the kind. Quite the opposite. Aurora Liminalis , Basinski’s newest release for the impeccable Line label, is his second collaboration with like-minded sound tinkerer Richard Chartier. It’s been a few years since Untitled 1 – 3, their first outing together, and while that lengthy collection of pieces was often harsh, arctic, and claustrophobic (not criticisms), Aurora Liminalis is expansive and richly warm. It’s a much more concise offering, one long track totaling forty-four minutes of carefully textured drone and sound collage, but to call it simple would be doing the music a great injustice.
The piece emerges from utter quiet to shroud your headscape in cobwebs of eerie drone, periodically tapering off into hiss, bell-like tones or softer frequencies before gradually building steam again, treating us to small slices of melody like hesitant birds darting in and out of the frame. By the time we close on a wave-like rush of static, we’re drained and exhausted, satisfied in all the good ways experimental music is supposed to make us feel. Compositions like this can only make the most mundane, everyday activities seem heroic. This is music with an aura, a real magnetic pull. It’s impossible to escape it’s insistent, softly tugging orbit.
As long as Mr. Basinski desires, he can stay at the forefront of modern American composers with the barest of effort, though clearly great care was put into this forty-plus minute odyssey of spectral, raining light. As a matter of fact, the man has a solo album intriguingly titled Nocturnes due out this summer. Aurora Liminalis, however, is a fine reminder that no matter how much (or how little) we hear from him, when it comes to Basinski, those of us clued in are always listening. (Zachary Corsa)