The first time I ever heard anything by William Basinski was back somewhere around the turn of the century when my then new friend Andy told me about ‘The Disintegration Loops’.
Even further back, in the 1980s, Basinski constructed a series of tape loops consisting of processed snatches of music captured from an easy listening station. Jumping back to 2001 he was going through his archives and decided to digitise the old tape loops to preserve them. As he did this he realised that the tape was slowly decaying as it played. The magnetised metal coating was disappearing, and the music was decaying slightly with each pass.
The September 11th attacks occurred not long after he had digitised the loops and from the roof of his space in Brooklyn, he put a video camera on a tripod and captured the final hour of daylight on that day, pointing the camera at a smouldering lower Manhattan. The next day he played one of his newly digitised loops and listened to it while watching the footage and so ‘The Disintegration Loops’ were born. I would love a vinyl copy but it is prohibitively expensive for the 9 LP box set at around £260, if you can find one. You never know though, one of these days I may manage to get one.
‘92982’ was recorded in 1982 and eventually released in 2009 on CD via Basinski’s own 2062 label and in August of this year became available on vinyl for the first time. The album has been remastered from the original master tapes, pressed onto audiophile-quality 100% virgin black vinyl, and packaged in a die-cut sleeve. Everywhere I’ve seen this album, and on a sticker on the album itself, it says ‘featuring previously unpublished artwork and photographs from 1982’, well, no. There are no photographs in my sleeve anywhere, there’s artwork, which has been photographs for the purposes of turning it into an inner sleeve, but that doesn’t mean there is Artwork and Photographs. Perhaps something was missing from my copy.
I’ve been listening to this album through headphones via Apple Music on my phone for the last couple of days and I really liked it, however, tonight was the first opportunity since it arrived yesterday that I’ve had to put the vinyl on the turntable and listen properly. What a difference! MP3 compression does not serve this album well at all. Listening to it this evening was such a richer experience, every pop, wrinkle and crackle was audible, and it was a much fuller sound.
‘92982’ is constructed in a similar way to the aforementioned ‘The Disintegration Loops’, with only two instruments noted on the sleeve, Tape Loops and Piano. The album is named for the date it was created, in US format, which is wrong (no, really, it is), and I’m tempted to call it 29982 for the sake of correctness. If you were looking for a good entry point into the work of Basinski’s back catalogue, and who knows, you might be, then this is a good one. Where many of his releases have tracks that are an hour long these are each one side of a vinyl LP which makes them a little more accessible. It sits very much in the ‘Ambient’ category and, whilst repetitive in the extreme, when something new happens it is so much more noticeable and it is, in some ways, the replacement for what a listener would expect to hear in a normally structured song (whatever that is), such as in the second track, 92982.2 where we hear sirens and helicopters, it adds a point of interest to this 23 minute track, an urban sensibility amongst the melancholy.
What is, for me, most interesting about this album from tonight’s listening is twofold, the first is that as I drift of somewhere I find myself disappointed when the needle hits the run out and I have to turn the record over, even though I’ve been sat here for ages doing absolutely nothing but stare into space. The second is that at that point, I realise that for the majority of that time my mind has calmed and that wherever it has journeyed to, it was happy there.
This album would have been in my best of 2016 if I’d heard it before I wrote the list, I may well go back and slip it in there when nobody is looking.The whole thing is available to listen to below but it really is better on vinyl: