- William Basinski's work is almost entirely defined by his processing of raw musical material. On his most famous work, The Disintegration Loops, magnetic tape began to come apart on the reels of a tape machine, causing its sound to distort and, little by little, disappear altogether. A loop of brass music plays over and over, echoing, disintegrating. The effect is utter melancholy.
"The Deluge" is the product of a similar process. Basinski loops a snippet of piano he recorded in the '80s, feeding the audio through a series of delays. The delicate, shifting balance of the original sound and its echoes constitutes the whole 20-minute work. The underlying piano recording is classic Basinski. Muddied and softened by low-quality tape, it never asserts a particular direction. It turns back on itself again and again, its edges blurred, gentle and woozy, like someone drunk on cheap wine. "The Deluge (The Denouement)" repeats the trick, first with a similar piano snippet, and then a grand orchestral sample. A low drone underpins it all, taking the full six minutes to overpower the orchestra before dying slowly.
The power of music such as this is entirely dependent on the context in which it's heard. Like all of Basinski's work, it lets the listener's mind wander freely while quietly nudging their mood. The Deluge seems like a late-night record, one that breezes in and out of perception while you ruminate on other thoughts.
This isn't Basinski's first time using this particular piano recording. "The Deluge" is a companion piece to Cascade, a forty-minute version of the same thing, which gets a 10-minute reprise here as the final track. The same recordings also appeared in 92982, a record from 2009. In one sense, this merely highlights the importance of process to Basinski's work; the freshness of the source material is always secondary to the treatment it receives. This simple piano could be endlessly reconfigured, becoming something new every time it passes through a set of wires and tape heads.
There's a point, however, when a signature process becomes an artist repeating their most successful experiment. The Deluge is graceful, sad and, in the right context, beautiful. It doesn't add much to Basinski's catalogue, but then again, variation doesn't seem to be the point.
A1 The Deluge
B1 The Deluge (Denouement)