Album Reviews

LIFE IS PRECIOUS: Essential and Challenging Music


I swear that what I am about to tell you is absolutely true.. This really happened.A guy named William Basinski created a musical concept known as The Disintegration Loops. This was created out of several tape loops Basinski made back in the early 1980s. These loops were really important to Basinski. Something about these pieces of music had some kind of importance to them. In the beginning, he just wanted to transfer the loops from analog reel-to-reel tape to some kind of compact disc format. However, once he started the transfer, he realized something very important: the tapes were old, dusty and they were disintegrating as they played while he recorded them. He once said, “The music was dying.” But he kept recording this sort of mini documentary on the death of these loops.

The recordings were done in late August and early September of 2001. This is where the story gets to feel a little unreal and terrorizing. William Basinski lives in Brooklyn which is only about a mile from the World Trade Centers. On September 11, 2001, as he was literally completing The Disintegration Loops, he watched these towers get destroyed by the planes. He had friends over and went onto the roof of his building and played the Loops over and over, all day long, watching this trauma unfold in New York. Just imagine listening to the death of this music while this act of terrorism is occurring. Sounds unreal doesn’t it?

The music is beautiful, minimal, sad, frightening, confusing, and ultimately uplifting. What he created here is a living document: a recording of orchestrated decay. It sounds like nothing else I’ve heard, yet, it’s the simplest and most familiar music I can imagine.

Basically the sounds you hear are a repeating loop that slowly deteriorates into oblivion. The loops are simple with lush strings, synth melodies with atmospheric melodies. The melodies are pastoral works intended as representations of nature and beauty. This is ambient music, setting a mood, creating a feeling of being among a a sort of movie soundtrack.

But the ravages of time has killed these loops and the pastoral and ambience they once represented. What we hear on The Disintegration Loops are not poetic images of nature or beauty. What is striking is it somehow gives a taste of nature and beauty as they truly exist in this world. Always lasting for a short time, then slowly dying. What makes these works so memorable is not the fact that the loops are slowly disintegrating but the fact that we get to hear their deaths. In a shocking way, we experience the ugly, brutal realities of life. However, this is incredibly beautiful. Maybe even more beautiful than the original loops ever could have been.

This is really not ambient music in the traditional sense; this is not one melody played over and over to fill the background of a restaurant or part atmosphere. This is natural music: music created from the elemental forces of life. This is the sound of disorder and life as it decays and dies before our ears. When I listened to this music yesterday, I was honestly fighting a crying fit. I was facing my inevitable fate and all others because this music is so powerful and shocking. And like all living things, these sounds struggle and claw for life with their last, dying breaths. Someone once said, “Their deaths are a memorial to Basinski’s past. That he dedicates these works to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is fitting. I can think of no better tribute, no better response to a tragedy of that magnitude than a work as beautiful and as fragile as this one.”