By Daniel Strawhun, A&E Editor
It seems there could be no better time than the dead of winter for a new release from acclaimed experimental composer William Basinski. The ethereal melancholy that resounds throughout his work seems a perfect sonic complement to the cold, gray onslaught of January. From his famous 2002 monument to destruction and decay, “The Disintegration Loops,” to more recent projects like “The Garden of Brokenness” and “Nocturnes,” Basinski’s music embodies the repetitiveness and hibernal solitude of the winter season. “A Shadow in Time,” released January 18, is no exception.
The album is composed of two songs, both around 20 minutes in length. The first track, from which the album gets its name, begins with an airy, evolving loop of singing bowls layered over a high-pitched underwater drone that has become something of a signature for Basinski. In a 2013 interview with Alexander Vesterlund, Basinski said of his looping process, “[S]ometimes something will happen where a kind of eternal perfection happens and you can’t tell the beginning or the end. And it just seems to create a timeless, sort of amniotic bubble that you can just float in. When that happens, then [I say,] ‘Ok, this is a good one, I’m on to something here.’ So this is what I sort of look for.”
Such a bubble of timelessness is exactly what Basinski has engineered on “A Shadow of Time.” The track paradoxically feels both much longer and much shorter than its 23-minute duration. The first reminder that time is indeed passing comes to listeners at around five minutes in, with the introduction of a low, rumbling bass, adding depth to the track and intensifying its liquid, uterine embrace. An overdriven static begins to cut in and reverberate in the distance at around the 7-minute mark, and by the end of the of the track the singing bowls have faded away entirely, leaving in their place an ominous ringing that fades slowly into complete silence.
The second track on the album, “For David Robert Jones,” is an elegiac tribute to the late David Bowie, who died of liver cancer in January 2016. The track pays homage to “Blackstar” in particular, Bowie’s final project, which was released a only few days before his death. Many of the tracks on “Blackstar” feature improvisational jazz saxophone, and in “For David Robert Jones,” Basinski intentionally loops a few mangled and distorted sax notes, creating a brassy ghost that echoes eerily throughout the track. “For David Robert Jones” is a truly moving and tasteful tribute to the deceased pop icon.
“A Shadow in Time” was released through Basinski’s label 2062 and is available in vinyl, CD, or digital formats.