Creation cannot escape destruction. Nature, be it human or science, will always see to its end. Ten years ago was a tragic reminder. In the flash of a fall morning, we learned of the bitterness of ruin and the harrow of annihilation, but ten years later, we have begun to know the magic of renewal.2001 was also the year renowned composer William Basinski discovered that some analogue tape loops he had recorded in 1982 were disintegrating. As he set out to digitize the expansive pastoral tracks of his musical juvenescence, he noticed that the reels were decomposing as they wound round and round the tape deck, giving way to spots of growing silence. Nature was creating her own fermatas.
“I was recording the death of these sweeping melodies,” writes Basinski, “…my youth, my paradise lost, the American pastoral landscape, all dying gently, gracefully, beautifully in their own way, in their own time.” Their death, however, was never complete. Instead, Basinksi granted each note a new life. In the manner of an artist, he gave the melodies’ tender and gradual death a composition of their own: The Disintegration Loops, a song of creation’s surrender to the whims of nature.
It’s only appropriate that a composition that speaks to this idea of decay and regeneration would be played on the tenth anniversary of September 11th. Basinski himself claims that he finished the project that very morning and played the loops while watching the towers fume from his Brooklyn rooftop. It’s also appropriate that the concert would be housed inside the MET, a place laden with relics of renewed ruin. The orchestra was arranged in the center of the Temple of Dendur, a 15 B.C. structure dedicated to the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris, the goddess of fertility and the god of death.
As Maxim Moston (who plays violin with Antony and the Johnsons, David Byrne, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, and more) conducted before the sandstone doorway, the union of life and death was exactly what reverberated throughout the cosmic hall. The loop, which began as a bright, bucolic melody was slowly eaten away by a growing silence. By the close of the forty-minute set, the horn, drums, and strings had been entirely eclipsed by the emptiness, giving way to the eerie ring of a blank tape, like the flat line of a monitored heartbeat.
The five minutes of silence that swallowed the room as Maxim let down his hands was a symptom of The Loops post-meditative shock. Balinski had overwhelmed every last one us. But it wasn’t the same silence that washed the streets of Manhattan and American living rooms that dark morning, but rather one of transcendence, of refuge. All at once, hundreds of us had come to learn, that while creation will always lend to destruction, destruction can give life to new forms of beauty.
Check out a recording of the entire set here (We suggest you find a quiet place and listen all the way through!).