William Basinski


I enter to Croww, who I know to be on label Death of Rave and for his debut, Prosthetics, highly constituted of snippets from a Slipknot sample pack. His hood is down over his cap, the hoody reads Customer. We’ve arrived to the set underway, with samples that sound like they’re from commercials seeming to flex around the word “virtue”, then wave-crashing gunshot sounds. In the record’s Boomkat blurb, it notes there are samples from Iowan public access TV, the home of Slipknot. For a US state, Iowa yields sparse results on Google images, which somehow makes it hard for me to imagine their brand of new-gen metal spawned from there. Or perhaps its sprawl of fields and farmland are the generator for harsh and (in the literal sense) horrific music, just like arable landscapes made way for the Children of the Corn. Only yesterday I saw someone note that Slipknot are playing a festival and I wonder if they will ever be denied an income.

Croww is ducked below the desk away from view. I am peering through a few heads from the back. Harsh, clipped purring noises play with a greyscale kaleidoscopic backdrop. Muted bassy scream noises contrast pitched down assonance, which feel like they could be the throat work of Corey Taylor. These are flecked with metallic splices. With so many sounds mixed together it’s hard to single them out for scrutiny, a lot of it rumbles like travelling at high speed underground although without the slick hypermodernism of something like Monolake’s Hongkong EP. It’s more like falling to earth in the vein of Gandalf the Grey with occasional attempted lacerations from demons as you fall. It is easy to envisage that the sonic world of Slipknot could be reshaped into something with this vision (if that is indeed the music we’re being played, I’m not sure). Certainly it feels like it is the patchwork of something being broken down, distorted and tacked back together.

The artificial voice of speed cameras, screenreaders, and robots to come are in the foreground for a few moments, with phrases like “I am war and peace”. Words about the earth, the world ahead and disgrace all float around and are then overtaken by a mid tempo beat with constant short pinches of a muted car horn, or possibly a synth string. The vocals are RnB/HipHop but it’s hard to be sure of what else is whirling around them. A lot of the most present sounds in the room sit at ends of the pitch spectrum, deep throbs or icy dog whistles, both of which sound as if recorded too close to a laptop microphone.

It becomes clearer that the song being wrapped around is ‘Needed Me’ by Rihanna but pitched to sound like (or covered by) a male voice.

My mate, who shall remain unnamed so as not to be embarrassed by the following reference, is a big Coneheads advocate and believes that William Basinski’s hat resembles that of a Conehead. Basinski is now in front of us, decked out in a slim puffa jacket, shades and a beanie. He addresses “ladies and gentlemen”, which feels unexpected and surely sarcastic. He tells us that Berlin is a “fucking germbomb” so I’m glad I’m not in close proximity. What we are about to listen to is “a love story about two fucking black holes” and for which we are implored to sit on the floor, though not all follow this request. The man is lit in blue and there are smatterings of dry ice. The lights in the background are blue swirls like the 🌀 emoji. There are deep circulatory thuds like a just-about audible kick drum sinking underwater. It feels quite vast and submarine. There is a nuance of flute or panpipe on top, almost monotone lines that seem to arc slightly at the end of each shoot, dovetailing slowly into one another. With it, blue rays of light now point forward, emerging from the centreback stage. I’m perched directly in the line of Basinski, towards the back. I think of the protracted Windows startup music Soundcloud playlist I used to listen to as a backdrop to unending essays about crumbly French men and occasionally insightful critical theorists. The lights transform to a paler blue, unlike the more chaotic first act this music feels like it suits one colour at a time. A friend of mine recently unveiled some technology he’d worked on that linked music and sound investigating chromesthesia and I wonder what he’d make of the conjunctions here. Judging by my own clothes, I could not suitably emblemise these singular chromatic moods as my multi primary colour palette looks endorsed by the Early Learning Centre.

Basinski’s music is quietly layering, mostly slight and synth, the occasional interjecting hiss from a dry ice machine releasing its goods which fit quite snugly. Some soft red lights now blend in, the ceiling is dancing with spectacled lights that resemble a test for colourblindness. Suddenly the reds multiply and I feel at once like this could be more cosmic than oceanic. Some of the lights lower so that Basinski is centred. My friend notes how much he has the air of Darth Vader or a Matrix character as he gradually scans the room wearing shades, such that the target of his gaze is unknown. The lights are pink and purple, I’m keen to break from taking notes as it interrupts the continuity of the slowflowing, odysseyian glimmers. Some gradual increases in volume give pulses, in lieu of a concrete beat which might feel misplaced. It is a while before an outrightly major tone emerges. This occasionally reaches an escalating peak that has the warmth and joy of something like Eno’s ‘An Ending’. It is paced out and unquick to reach anything especially. When next I check the lights are a canary yellow, probably my favourite shade. Its futuristic and galactic mood is far from the rushed blips of the PC Music cohort where the hauntological thread is strong, and where gestures towards other types of life and communication are contained in autotuned schoolgirl bubblegum. This is more traditionally in the vein of someone like Glass or Eno with skylike pointings and with no rush.

I desperately want to be distracted to turn down my pain notches, but there’s the classic catch 22 of needing to relax for pain to go down, whilst not being able to relax thanks to the pain. The crampedness of our floorlike sea huddle makes it hard to sprawl out comfortably and to slink into the experience, likewise the cold White Hotel floor is unforgiving on my temperamental joints. But for 45 minutes there was all the same a cocoon of joined up phonic and visual niceness, a pleasant retreat after an enjoyable headthrob from Croww.

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Hannah Ross

Hummer and strummer with Kurt Vile hair. Likes neo-soul, reverb, and most things put out by Beggars. Will review for money and/or free tickets + exciting new music.