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Review: William Basinski – Colchester Arts Centre – 15th June 2022

I’ll be honest, until the day before this gig I wasn’t aware of the music of William Basinski. I was recommended to this gig by local musician bÖsch, which I can be certain means it’s going to be an interesting night of music. For an ambient musician I was sort of surprised by the way he started his set, walking on stage and joking with the audience, reading from the local news, introducing us to the set. While waiting we’d been treated to his recent collaboration with Janek Schaefer, a calm, slowly decaying, piece of music – stunning in many ways – which, incidentally is the only thing I’ve heard by Basinski until now. We’re informed that was the pretty music and that, with what’s going on, he will instead be performing total annihilation.

Straight away that’s what we get – the orchestral piece that loops at the beginning is loud and abrasive yet at the same time conveys strong emotion – a sort of sad anger to the music. It’s a hauntingly beautiful sound that slowly warps and distorts. I could spend years trying to understand how William Basinski manipulates the tape loops in such a way and still be no closer to understanding it – each change is subtle, each loop introducing a new element to the soundscape. Sometimes those changes are pleasant, sometimes those changes are more of an assault on the audience.

What I found interesting was the effect the music had if I shut my eyes and let my mind wonder. Each loop conjured up a location and, with each complete loop, the location would subtly change or move. At first the music placed me on the coast, a gloomy building gradually appearing as the orchestral loop distorted and crackled. As parts of the loop break off, as static appears in the soundscape, the whole environment got darker, allowing me to explore a desolate building. I’d open my eyes and return to reality and he’d still be there, seemingly doing very little yet somehow manipulating each loop. I’d close my eyes and daydream about another location, seeing it vividly, noting each change with each loop.

By the end of his hour long set I felt exhausted but satisfied. Musically I’d struggle to explain what had happened, how we’d moved from one orchestral piece to another, glitching and crackling throughout. The defects create an almost percussive feel to the music – you can feel where you are in the music as the crackle or static pops around again and again. If you get the chance to see him perform then a) absolutely do and b) let your mind wonder, close your eyes and see where the music takes you. While quite brutal sounding at times it’s incredibly powerful music, able to portray emotion in a completely different way.

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