"The Disintegration Loops I-IV"
8.5 stars /10
Music, whether in the form of raw noise or more structured composition, has one universal characteristic--it is created. Born through technological, human, or natural means, sound is assembled from different frequencies and timbres, interwoven with rhythms and production, and laid on top of silence. Even a rest, pause, "fade out," or decrescendo are intentional sorts of musical creation in which something is created from nothing. Rarely is it the case that sound appears to dissolve on its own accord--more specifically, something collapsing into nothing.
On a quiet morning in 2001, the avant-garde sound artist William Basinski inadvertently composed such a piece on the roof of his Brooklyn apartment. He had planned to spend the day converting some 20 year-old tape loops into digital recording, but as he began playing the tapes, he found that the magnetic tape began to actually disintegrate. As the loops were playing, layers of iron oxide would crumble off of the tape and the sound would become more fragmented upon the next repetition. He called each of the tracks "Dip" and these were further divided into a four-volume album under the title "The Disintegration Loops." While a few of the loops are relatively short, two of the most compelling tracks, Dip4 and Dip3, clock in at 52 and 41 minutes in duration.
The piece, most of which consists of ambient piano and string melodies, are loops from what was originally intended to be nothing more than mere concept samples. However, the loops themselves are not necessarily meant to capture the listener, rather it is their presentation and repetition that gives them their artistic value. Even with their excessive length and repetition, the loops never bore the listener; each track actually seems to grow progressively more beautiful. The listener begins to sense something epic in the mood that the sounds evoke; an appreciation that seems to sink deeper into his subconscious as the melodies steadily persist. But just as one is lulled further toward this splendor, the forces of nature begin to fragment the riffs until they eventually decompose into complete silence. As itunes writes, "it is the true sound of deconstruction, the slow and relentless death of beauty over time." As this decay commences, the listener begins to experience a unique and terrifyingly real sense of loss. There is even a reaction of fear; perhaps because the source of the disintegration is so natural, causing the phenomena to feel as though it were being controlled by something almost God-like. The music is no longer in the hands of a composer, a human being, a machine, or even luck--it is as though the sounds were meant to disappear.
Coincidentally, on the morning that Basinski was creating these loops, it was September 11th, 2001. Hours later, he and his friends would watch as the World Trade Center towers collapsed to the ground a few blocks away. They stayed and listened to these tapes preach the apocalypse throughout the day; the smoke would rise and the world seemed to fall. Basinski had unintentionally stumbled upon what would become a requiem for a tragedy. But it was also the birth of the first music of its kind-- one that could capture, at least more realistically than ever before, the experience of death through the medium of sound itself.