Penguin Cafe Orchestra // Signs of Life // E’G // 1987
Give them sunlight and the branches of inspiration will grow, but don’t forget to water their seeds.
William Basinski // A Shadow in Time // 2062 // 2017
Am I repeating myself?
What is there to say about William Basinski’s music that couldn’t easily be the tagline for an underground ambient music website…? Probably a lot, and I’m not going to be the one to say it, but I will speak on their behalf:
Firstly, repetition is inescapable—Why do we choose to run from it? Because time is imperative. The opportunity cost of every fleeting moment is a deeper experience, a more genuine involvement, a heightened presence. In the midst of always-conflicting motivational advice, we rarely find comfort in repetition. It’s too simple.
Secondly, where does the color in our lives come from? A trip to the beach here, a few grand there, but I’m left wondering if the liquid on my brush came from my palette or the moisture in the air. Oh well, they are both colorless after all.
There is this pressure that weighs down on all of us at times. Have you done enough? Have you seen enough? Have you learned enough? Have you achieved enough? So you go on vacation and spend your money, you opt for the underground bar and test their local flight, you read that more-relevant-now-than-ever book that’s gathered a layer of dust since you put it on your shelf, and decide that it’s your life yet to come that will be written in history books. As you stare out the subway, the raindrops slowly move backwards along the window as you gain speed. Your focus shifts to the skyscraper in the background, clarity fading from the raindrops and foreground. Your focus shifts again as raindrops move along your reflection in the window, like tears. Your breath fogs the window and you close your eyes for a moment of rest, but when you open them, everything is blurred. It’s the mudanity of it all, I swear! And you run from that, too. What is a long distance journey to the man who can’t sit still on the elevator? Another opportunity to run. Vision obscured, you can’t see what you’re running from, nor will you see what you’re running to. It doesn’t matter, just go! Explore the unexplored, or so that’s what they say.
Slow down, quit running and let your vision be restored. This is a battle I have been fighting for years now, but it comes and it goes. There is more to life than increasing its speed. Cue William Basinski’s A Shadow in Time, a painfully melodic trip into patience, tribute and repetition. When you’re thinking ambient music and tape loops, you won’t have to stray very far to find Basinski’s discography. After all, 2001’s The Disintegration Loops proved that even desecration lies inside of Basinski’s ingenuity, and A Shadow in Time fits snugly in the same environment. The first of two tracks, “David Robert Jones” sets a slow but steadfast course. As is frequently prominent with Basinski’s melodies, they are distant but lush—a drop of honey here and there, but your hunger is never satisfied. The ghostly intangibility of the first six minutes of tape loops will tease the senses, but make no offerings of consolation to our yearning for something more concrete. At the six minute mark, a defiled tenor sax lunges forward intermittently but is held back, an obvious allusion to the namesake’s 1977 album Low, and a tribute to his 2016 passing. The weightless, ethereal nature of the tape loops restrain the saxophone in a somber tribute to Bowie’s life. Just as a human breathes with his lungs or the Earth breathes with seasons, so the two intertwine for over 14 minutes before “deconstructing themselves into a hypnotic silence that perfectly sums up the void that Bowie left with his departure.” (RYM ~FloodLA_24, well said)
The melodies of the title track are significantly more capricious, appearing and disappearing fleetingly. Though subtle, the dynamic nature of the track is present as well with discernible changes in texture and mood. The atmosphere frequently shifts from dense and fuzzy to light and clear, seemingly over just a few moments, several times throughout the first half of its duration. At the halfway point, a thick, resounding bass cues the atmosphere to ease itself out of the foreground. It does so reluctantly, like the falling of the tide throughout the day. As the atmosphere suppresses itself, a somber piano loop introduces itself. The fluctuations in volume allow the notes to dance around and play with each other, as if one piano was turned into three. With one minute left, the atmosphere comes fully to a close and allows the piano to gently drift downward, but it too eventually dies off.
There is serenity in repetition, even if the beauty is hidden. Take time to slow down and find it. If you try to paint too beautiful of a picture, the colors of your palette will turn into one.
Am I repeating myself?
This list is [mostly] a reflection of music I’ve found to consistent over hundreds of listens, and less an outpouring of my current shifting tastes. Starting with the best: