Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Disintegration Loops Film

I've just spent a very pleasant hour immersed in the film which accompanies music from sound-artist William Basinski's acclaimed The Disintegration Loops recordings. The film consists of a single continuous video camera shot of the Manhattan skyline on the evening of September 11th 2001. The footage was captured from the rooftop of Basinski's apartment block following the collapse of the second World Trade Center and shows huge plumes of smoke drifting across the city... In the weeks before the disaster, Basinski set to work digitizing an archive of old tape recordings he made in the early 80's, mostly bits of classical music sourced from local radio station transmissions which in turn were manipulated and looped to create new ambient soundscapes. As the years wore on, these tape recordings were packed away and forgotten about until Basinski re-discovered them in July 2001 and intrigued by these long lost works began transferring the tapes to CD. After setting up the recording of the first loop, Basinski noticed the music had become increasingly distorted and distressed, and upon inspecting the playback device noticed the magnetic tape was literally crumbling apart as it was being recorded. Basinski's initial dismay at the condition of the tapes now irrevocably beyond repair, soon gave way to delight as this unexpectedly haunted, terminally ill music began to emerge. Basinski quickly recorded the rest of the ailing tapes resulting in the four volumes of music we now know as The Disintegration Loops.

On a crisp, clear, blue skied September morning, Basinski watched from his Brooklyn rooftop, the second World Trade Center building collapse in a 47-story cascade of dust, smoke, steel and rubble. As these extraordinary events unfolded, Basinski played the disintegrated recordings from the sound system in his apartment, the deeply melancholic dying music resonating with the terrible visions unfolding before his eyes, intrinsically linking the music with the events of 9/11. The following morning Basinski recovered the video tape recording from the rooftop and cued the footage up with the first the disintegration loop piece, dlp 1.1. Running just under an hour, the video recording captures the immensity of the disaster with wave after wave of monstrous hot black clouds of concrete dust billowing out of the crash zone and across the Manhattan skyline. In a sense the film is an apocalyptic re-write of Brian Eno's Mistaken Memories of Mediaeval Manhattan, a 47min installation piece composed of footage Eno shot in and around 1980 of the Manhattan skyline with clouds, birds, and aircraft, serenely drifting across the camera's field of vision. Soundtracking the images is Basinski's music which begins with a simple pastoral melody and gradually with each successive pass of the loop makes its inexorable journey to oblivion, and as evening gives way to night, the image of Manhattan becomes like the music, more abstract and nondescript. The followings screen caps and timings are taken from the DVD of the film included in The Disintegration Loops boxset. The film is available for viewing on youtube

dlp 1.1 - 00.49

dlp 1.1 - 11.22

dlp 1.1 - 28.46

dlp 1.1 - 39.08

dlp 1.1 - 58.33


  1. Excellent Wes, that's some great context you've given there. I'm not quite in the right frame of mind this week to dive into this, but thanks for providing the links to it for reference later. I'm definitely intrigued to hear the music, I have to say. The idea of it being naturally eroded is certainly interesting, and really sounds like something I would enjoy.

    As excellently written as always, dude!

  2. Thanks John ! Well, The Disintegration Loops saga is a tale well told at this stage, but if this post has put you in mind for checking out these monumental sound works someday, I'm happy about that... One of the things I love about this music is the commitment it requires from the listener - the pieces only really work if you listen to them from start to finish and with most of the loops well over 40mins in length, moving through hundreds of repetitions before they decay to inaudibility, the music feels like a complete anachronism to the ipod shuffle generation. I've always loved long compositions - from side-long things like the track from Tortoise's Djed from Millions Now Living Will Never Die, or Throbbing Gristle's After Cease To Exist, from Second Annual Report, as well as long-form works like Brian Eno's Thursday Afternoon, or Nurse With Wound's Salt Marie Celeste - I love the idea of music taking a long time to work itself out...

    1. Well, I'd never heard of it before, so it's all new to me! You've a fairly good idea of my taste in music at this point, but one area I could do with more of an education is the more avant garde side of things... and once again, you've given me plenty to get stuck into here!I know only bits and pieces of most of the artists you've mentioned (Although I've never actually listened to Nurse With Wound, if you can believe it) so I'll be getting on this ASAP...

    2. Nurse With Wound is the proverbial acquired taste – despite being categorized more often than not as Industrial, Nurse music defies description. They've done everything from Dadaist sound sculpture, like Nurse’s 1986 album Spiral Insana to more meditative things like 1988's Soliloquy For Lilith an excellent 3-disc collection of minimal tones and drones. Investigate with caution, but do investigate...

      John, you might find this interesting - The Quietus asked Berberian Sound Studio and Katalin Varga director Peter Strickland selected his favourite records and there some good experimental music in there, and good commentary too - be sure to check it out. Nurse With Wound provided the soundtrack for Katalin Varga so Strickland knows his stuff...