William Basinski. A name synonymous with atmospheric, transitory, eroded tapeloops. The man behind the mythos of such amazing recordings as The Disintegration Loops, Watermusic, El Camino Real and Nocturnes among so many glacial collaborations, made some time to speak between a European tour and the Moogfest, and I found him in great spirits.
TJ Norris/Toneshift: It’s so great to catch up! I know you are touring, where are you now? What’s going on?
William Basinski: I’m home in LA after my Spring tour in Europe but heading early in the morning to Moogfest in Durham, North Carolina for the last show of the spring tour.
TN: It’s been a long time since I saw you in person, maybe it was the TBA Festival (w/Charles Atlas) or it could have been in Montreal at Mutek. I remember we were chatting backstage about Bob Wilson’s Life & Death of Marina Abramovic – any recollections of that experience?
WB: It was the experience of a lifetime. I’d never done theater before. My sister Anne and her husband David are opera singers and teachers so I got to experience something like they go through every day. It was mind blowing to be sitting with the maestro Bob Wilson, who treated me so lovely and would ask me what I thought as we watched the show develop..my work was all in the can so I was kind of like the cheerleader for the team and checking to see if people in the back of the stage and front of stage and the band in the pit and the actors could all hear what was going on. Comforting tears was involved! Serious shit!
TN: I hear ya, for me, making art is all about some level of com/passion. Speaking of collaborations, as you know I really enjoyed your latest releases (review + review). What is it like collaborating with Lawrence English – you did a few related live shows, yes?
WB: Working with Lawrence on Selva Oscura was a dream. We just hit the tennis ball back and forth a few times over the internet and anything was allowed and it just turned out so beautiful I hardly even recognize it or know what I did or what he did. But we just toured the show in Europe this spring and it was a dream.
TN: I know you were classically trained. How you see your early experiences having influenced you?
WB: Yes, the classical training comes in handy, mostly formally in composition.
TN: Location. As someone who has relocated cross-country a handful of times, I know you have had similar shifts in ‘home’ over the years. Outside of traveling the globe to tour, how critical is location or sense of place to your creative output – and in what ways does this manifest?
WB: Not so much, but having a home is very important to me and when that is threatened it makes me very nervous. I’m so blessed now to have a lovely new home in California that I “own”. As long as I can continue to pay my mortgage with all the support of my fans I’m good! St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians blessed me big time on this one!
TN: (Smiling) There seem to be fewer queer people in the world of experimental music than back in the days of punk/new wave. Does this era of social media seem relatively disproportionate in those terms to you?
WB: That’s not true at all! I know so many brilliant artists in my field who are non-binary. It’s gay day, Paris-day sweetie!
TN: Hmmm. Must be the whip of the wind of the Wild West down here that obfuscates my point of view. Were you really one of the first artists to dare break in Williamsburg? Any good memories of ye olde antique shop on Bedford?
WB: Oh god..I can’t even…so many wonderful memories of our time at Arcadia from beginning to end (20 years) and Ladybird…my transition period from producing bands to producing my own work…that’s a book in itself.
TN: Well, I would definitely read that, likely aloud! Do you have any “go-to” music that you find yourself listening to most often, whether while driving, just around the studio?
WB: If I hear Bowie’s Young Americans in the car on the freeway I crank that shit up and might have to pull over from the tears of joy….
TN: I’m a Low guy myself. In your process, in the use of decks and obsolete technology, it would seem to me to be quite a physical process, the cutting room floor and all.
WB: You work with what you know…
TN: Gotcha. Well, from years of deep listening one of the things that always rises to the top for me is hearing the way a composer acts as a true listener. With the playback involved, this seems to be particularly crucial for you as I imagine a fair amount of complex improvisation in going on in the process in a live situation. Thoughts?
WB: Definitely deep listening…every room is different. There are resonant frequencies that can ring out badly…different ones in each room depending on the architecture and the sound system, so one has a one hour sound check with the local engineer…you get to know them and try to work things out in an empty room…which sounds completely different from a room full of people and you have to judge how it’s going to go, then you go with it and work it during the show.
TN: Humans + Architecture, alas! Any spare thoughts on life + death, fate or déjà vu?
WB: I’m a nervous wreck! Are you kidding me? No.. seriously, I try to give everything. I’m in service. This is how I fight the war. By trying to change the resonant frequency and giving my fans a little minute of rest for God’s sake!
TN: (non-denominational) A-Men!
Your work has this timeless quality. How do you emotionally relate each project concept that you undertake (Vivian & Ondine, Disintegration Loops, Variations: A Movement In Chrome Primitive, etc.) to its title, however abstract?
WB: The titles come after the work or maybe an idea bubbles-up during the process, but I don’t start out with concepts and set out to ‘splain it.
TN: Has 2062 evolved into Temporary Residence Limited?
WB: TRL has been instrumental in helping me to move beyond years of DIY with the vinyl which takes expertise I don‘t have, (starting with the incredibly beautiful Disintegration Loops boxset), to everything. Jeremy Devine and his teams are amazing, have been so supportive and I’m super happy now to let them carry the weight of manufacturing, publicity and pr that I can no longer do.
TN: Keep the flow. As always my friend, it’s a real pleasure to chat and I hope we can catch up again sometime in the near future. Anything else you might be interested to share?
WB: I wanna come do a bunch of killer Ambient Church shows in Texas, my home state…we’re lookin’ into it! Thanks so much TJ!