By now, the narrative surrounding the recording and ultimate release of William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops has become an integral, if little known, part of post-9/11 American musical history. Basinski, the story goes, was in the process of transferring tape loops that he had made in the 1980s to digital hard disk, when he noticed that the tapes were disintegrating during the process, irreparably altering the music as it was originally recorded and permanently capturing the sound of decaying magnetic tape. The added significance of all of this is a matter of context: Basinski was transferring these loops during August and September of 2001. As he was completing the recording sessions, the World Trade Center was attacked, and Basinski watched from his rooftop in Brooklyn, The Disintegration Loops playing in the background as the Twin Towers crumbled into ash right before his eyes
Given the uncanny drama of this timeline, it is quite difficult to separate The Disintegration Loops from 9/11, even though the original recordings were made 20 years prior to the attacks. If we want to be accurate in the way that we historicize this particular cultural artifact, then it might be necessary to prioritize the original context in which the Loops were made over the incidental context of September 11, 2001. However, such a move would be a misstep, because even though the loops were unintentionally produced in the fall of 2001, their composition—the way that they capture the process of decay—makes them, perhaps, the most significant representation of the political and cultural tensions of post-9/11 America.