William Basinski has been involved in the experimental music scene for about 40 years now, but it was his series of releases entitled The Disintegration Loops that really propelled him to the peak of the mountain. It was not just that The Disintegration Loops featured so many of the key elements of Basinski’s sonic identity: the obsession with the temporal dimension, the themes of memory and melancholic essence of life, but it was the way he approached the record. Using tapes of his earlier work, the artist displayed their gradual deterioration as they were played time after time, being passed through the tape head. And, it is this inventiveness and boundless experimentation that is always expected from him.
Basinski now returns two years after a very strong and interesting release in A Shadow in Time, partly a tribute to David Bowie, where the producer again used his tape manipulation techniques to weave together an unearthly piece. For his new record, On Time Out of Time, Basinski travels again through time, but much further than he has done before. Here, the centerpiece of his work is the recordings from the interferometers of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), which captured the sound of two massive black holes merging 1.3 billion years ago.
On Time Out of Time is a body of work that was commissioned by artists Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand (in collaboration with Jean-Marc Chomaz), and therefore there was initially a visual counterpart to this aural experience. Still, in this standalone offering, Basinski navigates these galactic themes through his trademark style. The record begins slowly, with the heavy drones creating a wind-like effect, slowly settling in the background. At the same time, a big, deep, boomy sound is echoing in the distance, providing these subtle movements with an anchor.
The more interesting moments arise when the sounds begin to cause some strange interference, arriving with a piercing characteristic that cuts fiercely through the minimal drone motif. It is in those moments that one experiences the evolution of the track, as they breathe life into the otherwise detached soundscapes. At times it feels like a bizarre wine glass sound experiment, which takes off to a completely unreal and otherworldly dimension. These themes arrive and depart, some times with intensity, while others with subtlety but always with an inherent purpose. They produce intense pressure, while at other moments they awaken a serene ambiance.
However, what is fascinating in this case is how Basinski’s approach is his ability to mutate these cosmic events and provide the recordings with a wondrous and even humane sentiment. The background of the track and its artifacts contribute to this tapestry of sounds, while the steady evolution of the soundscapes sees them take on an almost liquid form. It is a harmonious yet controlled moment that Basinski uses to build a further impressive crescendo and take his sound design over the top, allowing some feedback to leak into the work.
The final part of the record, “4(E+D)4(ER=EPR)“ sees Basinski harness all this energy towards creating an expansive moment, using soothing sounds to construct a wondrous ambiance. Even though considering this is the point of celestial doom for these black holes, and the end of the story, Basinski instead diverges into a moment of serenity. And it is exactly his ability to transform the sounds in such a way, always paying attention to the time dimension and the sentiments that arise from his work that make On Time Out of Time such an impressive listen.