There might not be many immediately obvious parallels to draw between producer and tape manipulator extraordinaire William Basinski and the late glam rock legend David Bowie, but on Basinki’s most recent outing, “A Shadow in Time” (released on January 20), he invites you to draw some unlikely comparisons. The album opens with the lovingly titled “For David Robert Jones”, and although titling the twenty-minute piece which takes up half of the album already seems like a sizable dedication, the nod to Bowie is more than just symbolic. “For David Robert Jones”, at first, sounds like standard Basinki affair, but as understated woodwinds begin to meld into the loops, and the passages grow more melodic, one is reminded of the work of long-time Bowie collaborator Brian Eno, most significantly, the ambient passages found on Bowie’s “Low”. Direct sonic link to Bowie’s own work or not, “For David Robert Jones”, with all its quiet mourning melancholy, makes for a powerful eulogy. Much like Basinski’s seminal work “The Disintegration Loops” approached the tragedy of 9/11, “For David Robert Jones” approaches Bowie’s death indirectly and from a respectful distance, making his ultimate statement, both musical and symbolic, all the more significant.
The second half of “A Shadow in Time” consists of the album’s title track. Although still strikingly minimal by the standard of most any other artist, for Basinski, this track is practically chaotic. The minimalist repetitions (such is Basinski’s specialty) here behave opposite as they usually do in his work; this is to say that rather than beginning at a state of relative completion and slowly fading into decay, this piece grows progressively more and more dense, eventually culminating in a soothing wall of ambient noise at around the halfway point. The track again deviates from Basinki’s norm when it subtlety but quickly shifts from this state of sustained ambient noise to increasing states of minimalism and melodicism until a distant piano floats into the mix, again evoking Brian Eno (this time his solo work, specifically his “Music for Airports” series). The piano begins contributing its own harmonious repetitions to the hypnotizing track as it begins to fade into peaceful quiet.
None of Basinski’s work is terribly inaccessibly, but “A Shadow in Time” may be the best place for a newcomer to approach his work; it is unfettered by the heavy emotional baggage intrinsic to “The Disintegration Loops’s” 9/11 connection, it is structurally likely his work most heavily conforming to ambient music convention, and its connection to the late legend David Bowie makes it at least a point of interest to the casual listener. And for a seasoned listener, “A Shadow in Time” represents yet another stellar entry in the immense and ever-rewarding catalog of a true living legend, paying subtle homage to a legend recently departed.
Purchase the album here from Temporary Residence