William Basinski / Janek Schaefer: . . . Reflection Album Review

William Basinski will likely be associated with death, decline and decay for the rest of his life. His series of breakout albums were built from frayed tape loops, and most of his music sounds overwhelmed and ancient, as if bottled up from the distant past. We imagine his first long-term collaboration with Janek Schaefer, a sound collagist who works with vinyl (and a Guinness Book of Records-approved three arm turntable), would be a celebration of physical media showing their scars as they age. However, the strongest impression of . . . on reflection is that of life, fertility and greenery. It is one of the richest and most lavishly sounding works of either career, and a highlight in both catalogues.

The two musicians spent eight years plundering their undoubtedly vast archive of piano loops and assembling them into the backbone of the continuously flowing five-track record. For anyone familiar with either artist’s catalog, it’s shocking how loud the piano sounds, and we expect it will eventually be overwhelmed by the crackle of vinyl, the hiss of tape and effects. But aside from the occasional burst of dubby echo, the piano remains unblemished. The real story unfolds in the margins: field recordings of birds, machinery, vehicles, distant murmurs of crowds, children’s cries, a little creepy metallic shimmer every now and then.

If Basinski hadn’t already called an album River, that would have been an appropriate title for this one. The piano seems to cross the landscape, revealing new layers of history; it suggests a time lapse of a canyon being created or a civilization developing along the banks of a river. A ground of the The best recent ambient albums make heavy use of field recordings, often to create a sense of everyday domestic life or to reflect specific memories of the artist. . . . on reflection think on a larger scale; it looks like it’s everything.

Because we really only hear two things here, the piano and the field recordings, it’s easy at first to forget just how complex this music is. The piano loop feels stagnant at first, and it might take a few listens to notice how many different little vamps and patterns Frankenstein has been together. If you listen . . . on reflection outdoors, by letting the sounds of your own surroundings blend in with the music, you might not process or even notice anything going on in the back of the mix until you give it a focused listen in a calm location. This does not mean that there is only one “correct” way to listen to it. It works well as an “experiential filter,” as a previous review described Basinski’s music, or you can really focus on it and follow its movements as a track.

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