William Basinski

Cascade/The Deluge

William Basinski’s unfailingly beautiful musical oeuvre is so familiar that with each new album there’s always a certain trepidation that he will be retreading old ground and rehashing ideas he’s already expounded upon. What Cascade and its live incarnation The Deluge prove, is that even in such circumstances, his magic touch is very much of the Midas variety. Whilst the piano loop that he draws upon was first recorded in 1982 and appeared as recently as 2009 on 92982, the way he has embarked upon reworking it imbues it with new emotional depth and fresh energy that it feels like hearing the loop for the first time.

As ever with William Basinski, Cascade is deeply melancholic and subdued, music to embrace in the deep of a sleepless night. But it also unfurls to reveal layers of brightness that went undetected on 92982, as the increased pace of the loops blurs and breaks apart the piece’s monotonous (in the best sense of the word) repetition to reveal the deep humanity at the work’s core. The album is perfectly-titled: this is music that swirls over the listener like a waterfall, albeit the gentlest, most intoxicating waterfall one can imagine. Unlike his last album Nocturnes, Cascade feels serene, closer in tone (if not conception) to his affectionate tribute to his young family members Vivian & Ondine. The expertly-timed loops transform what would otherwise be a rather simple piano motif into a swirl of microtones that blend into one another like a tapestry. I’m reminded somewhat of cosmic minimalist Charlemagne Palestine’s work on the piano, but with the veteran’s arch humour and traces of sepulchral subtext replaced with phantoms of an altogether more welcome variety.

If resurrecting a single loop for a new album seems bold, to do so three times is positively audacious. For a live performance at Brooklyn’s Issue Project Room, Basinski took the loop from 1982 as it appeared on Cascade and filtered it through a wider bank of feedback loops of varying length, greatly broadening the vista in the process. The Charlemagne Palestine comparison feels even more apt here, as the loop’s origins on the piano is almost totally dissipated, even obliterated as it expands into an almost world-swallowing forest of increasingly extended, stretched drones and textures. At its apex, the piece becomes all-consuming in the manner of the minimalism of LaMonte Young and Marian Zazeela delivered with the maximalist approach of harsh noise wall, making The Deluge Basinski’s most formally accomplished work since the third volume of The Disintegration Loops. As it gradually dissolves into a crackling hauntological string movement that Leyland James Kirby would be envious of, it’s hard not to feel something similar towards those lucky souls present at The Issue Project Room. With The Deluge, William Basinski brings nearly 35 years of a singular vision back home to Brooklyn, but we can all revel in the results.

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