William Basinski is a well known figure within ambient music, known for his experimentation of playing looped tape melodies over each other to create melancholic soundscapes, especially on his Disintegration Loops series where the tapes he was using disintegrated during the recordings. His new album A Shadow in Time contains two longform pieces of ambient music, For David Robert Jones a tribute to the artist better known as David Bowie, the second the titular track.
On the former taped loops of ambient textures swirl round much like his earlier work in Disintegration Loops, but with more distortion and noise, and the main melody looping so frequently it sounds more immediate and brash but not so much that it no longer retains an ambient feel. Saxophone enters with a creak six minutes in, a repetitive melody that scratches away with a jarring, brash distortion. It takes a few listens to the piece to get used to but once it does the juxtaposition with the eerie ambient synth tones and the harshness of the saxophone gives the whole thing a haunting feeling that grows the longer the repetition goes on. Basinski’s taken the ambience and experimentation of Bowie’s 1977 album Low, particularly Subterraneans, and deconstructed it into a minimalist, vague trace of Bowie’s experimental meanderings, leaving a haunting, melancholic air. It seems a strange tribute at first, but once you’ve listened through it a few times it starts to make sense.
The title track is lighter, a piece of longform droning synth-ambience rather than tape manipulations, creating softer warmer textures that arrive and dissipate away slowly like smoke, reflecting the album cover, while more high pitched glassy tones stick around longer, droning away with a colder edge. The whole thing collapses in on itself towards the end into a dark, softly rumbling black hole of noise out of which a bright piano melody emerges, juxtaposing itself much like on the first track. Played loud on headphones it’s a glorious mesh of sound throughout it’s twenty three minutes length.
It might take a few listens to really dig into what Basinski’s gone for on this album, but once it’s clicked it’s marvellous. One of the more out there tributes to David Bowie, and a great piece of ambient drone.