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William Basinski,"The Clocktower at the Beach (1979)"

Clocktower BeachWilliam Basinski recorded this music during his time living in San Francisco, when he presumably visited Clocktower Beach. Considering that Basinski once created On Time Out Of Time—music in tribute to quantum entanglement and the theories of Einstein and Rosen, and Einstein, Rosen, and Podolsky, using source recordings of the 1.3 billion year old sounds of two distant massive black holes—undoubtedly the subject matter of The Clocktower at the Beach is one of his more straightforward creations. Fair enough, it is one of his earliest drone pieces, yet his methodology is as intriguing as anything he's done, and (most important of all) the music is a memorable journey into the sadness of things. Back to "mono no aware," then.


About that methodology: it seems that Basinski recorded the night shift at a sausage factory on a battery operated portable cassette player, then made this music from that source material chiefly using a Norelco Continental four speed reel to reel tape recorder. Looping and speed tampering is all very well on paper, but thankfully Basinski's ear is such that there is not the slightest trace of anything horrible, gimmicky, nonsensical, or even dull. Broken 1950s televisions, scavenged from the streets by James Elaine, were also used, I'm unsure exactly how but presumably as another sound source.

As with any good drone, or extended ambient work, there comes a point or points where I must have stopped actively listening, because later I realize "oh that's still going on." The music can also suddenly become absolutely riveting. At least that's the kind of journey I go on. It's a bit like Lord Buckley's "Subconscious Mind" track, wherein he describes driving along in a car when suddenly a girl pops into his head who occupies his thinking to the extent that he zones out before being shocked to discover he's driven the last five miles with his mind elsewhere. Not that we've ever done that, eh? Perish the thought!

Keep in mind that I couldn't construct a coherent theory as to how and why a cheese sandwich exists, yet I feel confidently able to state that, as with much of Basinski's work, there is a sense on this album that the music compresses centuries into a few moments while simultaneously expanding those moments into a piece essentially without beginning or end; suggesting everything, explaining nothing. The album title suggests time stopped, time passing, the ebb and flow of tides, a snapshot of a place, a personal memory. The music evokes grief, decay, sadness, and an intersection of dreams and wishes. The cover art is an excellent match, too, and no wonder. Offshore 2 (2022) a piece composed of acrylic and metallic paint, graphite, razor cuts on board by James Elaine in the style of Paul Klee.

Basinski's career, well it's impossible to discuss without mentioning his landmark release The Disintegration Loops. I have only heard that all the way through once; arguably the only way to approach such a monument. Loops is the perfect example of unintended consequences arising from technology and a composer being open and able to recognize when the universe is bringing something into being without specific intent from the artist. He has recently taken a splendid tangent with the wildly different Sparkle Division, his project with Preston Wendell. Their first release disguised Basinski's presence almost entirely; but several tracks, such as "No Exit" and "Oh No You Did Not!" do seem almost to fall to pieces as they glide along and fade away, as if departing for a separate recording titled Jazz from the Entropy Lounge which exists only in another multiverse. The Clocktower at the Beach is just as enjoyable. Close in texture to the early feedback work of Eliane Radigue, it could definitely work as a soundtrack; perhaps if someone decides to make a movie of Steve Erickson's books, such as Tours of The Black Clock, Rubicon Beach, or Days Between Stations. This is a fascinating and engrossing glimpse into Basinksi's creativity. Now I want him to release a recording commemorating Denton Square.

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