The myth of Disintegration Loops disguises William Basinski behind layers of sobriety. In real life, Basinski is arch, charming, even goofy. The closest thing ambient has to a rock star. But Basinski will always, to many, be 'the guy who made Disintegration Loops'. Perfectly situated in an imperfect time, it has attained a legendary status. As it dominates his public image, the artist's opus dwarfs public consciousness of the rest of his work. Even his latest, which samples gravitational waves of black holes, cannot make the same dent.
But On Time Out of Time sees Basinski as effervescent, inventive and ambitious as he was in the early 2000s. Following on from 2017's A Shadow in Time, this is the latest in a string of bursts of creativity. Its concept of 'what happens when two black holes fuck' is nowhere near as flimsy as you'd expect. Basinski pulls a genuine dialogue from drones, balancing delicacy and power, warmth and hostility. These colossal, ancient conversations seem to unspool in real time, despite having taken place over a billion years before their recording by an MIT lab.
The sounds teeter between organic and inorganic. Like so much of nature, their language must be bastardised by instruments for us to hear it. It's uncanny how much Basinski humanises these celestial samples. We are voyeurs, eavesdropping on a personal conversation.
Basinski structures the piece as an explosion which falls into slow entropy. It peaks early, and spends most of its second half fading out. Our formless players collapse back into time. Loss and distance are greatly emphasised. There is something bittersweet here — like seeing an estranged friend in an old yearbook. Unless we live to see another billion years, we will never know for sure where those black holes are now.
If these black holes fucked, it's surely one of the universe's great tragedies. Once close enough to intermingle waves but, as expansion wrenches them further apart, more distant every day.
Fans should, if they haven’t already, listen to last year’s collaboration between Kevin Shields and Brian Eno. On Time Out of Time is available for streaming and purchase here.
Words by Andrew O’Keefe