William Basinski

In the process of archiving and digitizing analog tape loops from work I had done in 1982, I discovered some wonderful pastoral pieces I had forgotten about, having never recorded them before. Beautiful, lush, cinematic, truly American pastoral landscapes swept before my ears and eyes. With excitement I began record-ing the first one to CD, mixing a new piece with a subtle random arpeggiated countermelody from the Voyetra. To my shock and surprise, I soon realized that the tape loop itself was disintegrating: as it played round and round, the iron oxide particles were gradually turning to dust and dropping into the tape machine, leaving bare plastic spots on the tape, and silence in these corresponding sections of the new recording. I had heard about this happening, and frankly was very afraid of this happening to me since so much of my early work was precariously near the end of its shelf life. Still, I had never actually seen it happen, yet here it was happening. The music was dying. I was recording the death of this sweeping melody. It was very emotional for me, and mystical as well. Tied up in these melodies were my youth, my paradise lost, the American pastoral landscape, all dying gently, gracefully, beautifully. Life and death were being recorded here as a whole: death as simply a part of life; a cosmic change, a transformation. When the disintegration was complete, the body was simply a little strip of clear plastic with a few clinging chords, the music had turned to dust and was scattered along the tape path in little piles and clumps. Yet the essence and memory of the life and death of this music had been saved: recorded to a new media, remembered.

William Basinski
New York, 2001


On September 11th I was on my roof in Brooklyn, less than 1 nautical mile from the World Trade Center, our beacon, our compass: that which towered so far above every other skyscraper in NYC, my nightlight. My neighbors and I witnessed the end of the world as we knew it that day. We saw those towering structures collapse before our very eyes, on a crystal clear day we saw the incomprehensible change of landscape: like a volcano disappearing behind trees, we saw this magnificent minimalist human structure disappear. We were appalled. Despite the catastrophic fires, we had no idea that these gigantic structures would collapse … cascade below the lower Manhattan skyline. But it happened. We were in shock. We sat on the roof terrace in lawn chairs and watched the fires burning all day into night with »The Disintegration Loops« playing in the background. The human scale of the catastrophe we couldn’t even comprehend at the time. That would come next, in tears and agony. This was the »end of the world« we knew was coming sooner or later, but had forgotten about … put in the back of our minds. In the next days and weeks, I watched as my friends and I disintegrated in our own personal loops of fear and terror … each one happening on its own terms, in its own language, at its own pace. A nightmare cascading out of control. A wake-up call no one wanted to answer. People’s hearts had been shattered and what cascaded down immediately was the selfishness, the arrogance, the ugliness. What remained was the heartfelt compassion, kindness, and love for each other which makes us human. An end of an era … a new beginning.