If we have learned much in the last three decades about the real value of time and memory in music, we owe it to William Basinski. An impressive and striking figure in popular music – it’s reductive to reduce him to “experimental” – of this century, an avid collector, restorer and seller of vintage cars, and someone with a life story so fascinating that he can afford to say he saw the first Madonna concert and didn’t think much of it. He was there, that’s how he remembers the thing, the moment. And he was there too, in the New York of the late 1970s and 1980s, he was part of the city that sprang from there and ended with 9/11. Fate has these things, it was in August and September 2001 that Basinski was in New York trying to save some tape loops on tape and as he was doing it, the tape was disintegrating. Thus were born the four volume “The Disintegration Loops”, on the cover of the original CDs, stills of recordings that Basinski filmed from his terrace of the 9/11 attacks, the smoke from the Twin Towers accompanied these loops that disintegrated in our ears and that forever transformed our relationship with music.
Basinski’s music – and not just ‘Loops’ – has a unique ability to call us back to memory, a cycle of restoring time to the present. What the music evokes, if you feel it, is not necessarily the memories, but the new memories we create by evoking those memories. It is thus absent of any sense of nostalgia, of an affective relationship with the past just because it is past, “a better time”. “The Disintegration Loops” opened this box, but since then, whether through the rescue of previously recorded music, or new music, the North American composer has shown a thriving discography, with several high points and without touching the mediania: perhaps because with each new Basinski album one never feels that it is more of the same, because it is not only the music itself that it is about, but what it seeks in us. The examples are many, “Silent Night” (2004), “Variations for Piano and Tape” (2006), the haunting “92982” (2009), “Nocturnes” (2013), “Cascade” (2015), “A Shadow in Time” (2017) and the most recent “The Clocktower at the Beach” (2023). The relationship with each one is different, as it is with each William Basinski concert. He has performed in Portugal several times and each show is unique, almost always part of a different cycle, of a memory of the composer that also becomes ours. All this in counter-cycle with his time, with other forms of rebusing the memory that popular culture has explored in this century – be it hypnagogic pop or hauntology -, because Basinski does not work nostalgia, the evocation of a better time. It matters the relationship with time, what is between x and y, what you feel, what changes when you feel that feeling. We always hear the world changing every time we listen to Basinski. We are transformed when we see him live. AS