Monday, June 1, 2009

Playing Catch-Up, Without Sinking

Over the past few weeks I’ve been playing catch-up with a number of 2009 releases (mostly ambient, I should add). It’s actually a difficult thing to do without getting the feeling that you’re sinking. I’ve gone through quite a few albums, but there are three releases that have definitely floated to the top, and which I keep returning to.

Fans of the neo-classical sound are strongly advised to check out Hildur Guðnadóttir’s mournful yet moving ‘Without Sinking’ on the Touch label (who would like to take this opportunity to remind you that they are, in fact, not a record label). A classically trained musician who is also extremely comfortable in the experimental and electronic worlds (having collaborated with Pan Sonic, Throbbing Gristle, and BJ Nilsen), Guðnadóttir has crafted the ten tracks on the album around the rich resonant tones of her preferred instrument – the cello. The tracks show the hand of an artist that is both deft and restrained – Guðnadóttir allows single notes the space to sing sweetly, gliding solitarily before diving into deeply layered pieces. On her website she says the inspiration for this came from staring at different cloud formations during plane flights:

"My aim with this record was to create a feeling of breath with a bow on string. I wanted to create a sky and cloud-like feeling in the compositions. I wanted to have open space for single notes and let them breath, like single clouds in a clear sky. As a contrast I also wanted create denser and heavier compositions which were more thundercloud like. I like the way clouds form, how many tiny droplets can form such dense forms and then slowly evaporate into thin string-like ones."

Readers concerned that an entire album of cello compositions may be in danger of repeating itself need not worry – much like the many-shaped clouds drifting by, there’s a surprising amount of variety here. There are moments of drama, such as on “Erupting Light” with strokes that rapidly slide down the register underscored by insistent low notes that quicken the pulse; moments of gentle beauty, such as on “Aether” which introduces a zither and clarinet that hang in the air; and moments of melancholy, such as “Ascent” with its sweet yet sorrowful notes. Of course, the sound of Guðnadóttir’s cello is the thread that ties everything together, taking us deeper (higher) into her world of wintry skies, creating a listening experience that is utterly involving and moving. Highly recommended.

Andreas Tilliander’s latest album under his Mokira name, ‘Persona’, is something I keep describing to people as, “kinda like the lovechild of Vladislav Delay and William Basinski.” Although I really should think of another way to describe it, because it sounds like I’m being critical when I don’t intend to be. ‘Persona’ is an incredibly hypnotic album that combines the headfuck reverb and delay of Vlad (and I mean “headfuck” in a nice way) with the decaying loops of Basinski (particularly on the opening and closing tracks) – true, the influences are pretty clear, but that makes the album no less engaging. It reaches deeply, and I find it a nicely meditative listen.

Of course, if it’s Basinski-esque sounds you want, then you can skip straight to the man himself with his latest album of tape-loop genius, ‘92982’. The title is actually the date that Basinski recorded three of the four tracks live in his studio in Brooklyn, on September 29, 1982 (the fourth track is a newly recorded reprise of the first track). It’s absolutely astounding that the vast majority of stuff that Basinski has released in the past ten years was actually recorded in the 1980s – why did he sit on this material for so long? The boys over at Boomkat ask a particularly insightful question: You can't help but wonder why this music, recorded so long ago, is only just surfacing. Was the world not ready for WIlliam Basinski in 1982, or was WIlliam Basinski simply not ready to hand himself over to an audience at that point?

It’s a question I’d like to know the answer to. But regardless, these recordings haven’t dated a day – they sound incredibly fresh and vital (dare I say timeless?). For those looking for an entry point into the world of Basinski ‘92982’ is highly recommended, as each of the three main tracks touch on different parts of his extensive back-catalogue. The third track is an extended version of a piece that appeared on ‘Variations: A Movement In Chrome Primitive’, piano notes pinging and bouncing off each other and spiralling endlessly. The second track is an absolute triumph, recalling the faded grandeur of the monumental Disintegration Loops albums. A melancholic loop repeats for a little over 20 minutes, the tape sometimes warping, as sounds from outside the studio intrude on the recording … a gentle tapping … a peal of thunder … police sirens … helicopters …

The sound of Basinski’s world is absolutely absorbing – a world of transitory beauty, standing on the edge of decay. For those wanting to take their first step into that world, or those who are already there and wish to stay a little longer, ‘92982’ is highly recommended.


  1. hey cam, you might be find the answers to some of your questions re: basinski on this pretty decent (and recent) interview with fact magazine...

  2. Hey,

    I've wondered before why Basinki's stuff has been so long in seeing the light of day. As luck would have it, FACT magazine have an article at the moment explaining everything...

  3. I guess we're thinking the same thing at the same time then :-)

  4. Thank you so much for the link to the Basinski interview! Interesting stuff. Thank God for Carsten and Olaf first pushing Basinski to release stuff - it sounds like none of this music would've seen the light of day if they hadn't initially encouraged him ...


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