- An ambient love story set in space.
- "It's a love story between two fucking black holes, creating a rift in space time with more energy than all the stars in the known universe," William Basinski told Pitchfork about his new album, On Time Out Of Time. That's also how he introduced the piece, in his characteristic Texan drawl, when I saw him perform it live this year. Basinski loves a good concept, along with a bit of theatre and camp that contradicts the seriousness of his music. (I recently saw him accept a commendation from a congresswoman wearing a glittering rhinestone vest.) This sense of drama and romance is part of what makes Basinski one of ambient music's most popular artists, imbuing the music with emotional resonance and, usually, a compelling backstory, both of which come together on On Time Out Of Time.
Basinski was introduced to a scientist working for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (or LIGO) at a party. Basinski was soon offered "recordings of gravitational waves," which captured the merger of two massive black holes. (His history with space goes back far—he lived in Florida for a spell while his father worked on a lunar module for NASA.) The story recalls the one behind Lustmord's Dark Matter, which also used NASA-sourced recordings to make dark ambient that felt colossal and empty—like what you might imagine outer space would sound like. But on On Time Out Of Time, the gravitational waves are layered and manipulated into telling Basinski's love story.
The title track attempts to tell that story through awe-inspiring but oddly tender drone. "On Time Out Of Time" feels metallic, almost cold, yet flush with feeling. Some parts sound like sampled strings, while others feel alien, beautiful and hard to place. The tones grow in intensity—a moment of union—before "On Time Out Of Time" pulls back down to a sparse closing passage that hints at loss and mourning. Where Basinski has previously focused on the processes of repetition, "On Time Out Of Time" has a clearer beginning, middle and end. It's impressionistic, but you can discern a range of feelings, from joy to sadness, through its wax and wane.
The album's other track is "4(E+D)4(ER=EPR)," a live recording from two installations, by the artists Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, that Basinski originally scored. The title nods to an equation one installation was named after—ER=EPR—which in theoretical physics refers to a proposal about "entangled" particles and wormholes. "4(E+D)4(ER=EPR)" is a distillation of its longer counterpart, compressing the title track's gradual swoons and swells into ten minutes. Though it lacks "On Time Out Of Time"'s narrative scope, it's even prettier, and highlights the romance Basinski heard in these sounds.
Though what exactly Basinski's love story entails—and what the gravitational recordings exactly consist of—is unclear, the music is evocative. It's a remarkable piece of work sourced from an unknowably powerful source. It's a 40-minute ambient opera of epic proportions. And it's a surprisingly approachable piece with an appeal far outside the experimental music community, which speaks to Basinski's ear for melody and grasp of emotion. Not many artists could turn a source as abstract as black hole recordings into music this beautiful.
01. On Time Out Of Time