William Basinski + Richard Chartier

Spekk
Released: 2004


First comes a low rumble, covering the floor and shaking your ears. Then, all at once, there's a crunching spit, which rises and then levels into a warbling hum. And with that, William Basinski and Richard Chartier's first official collaboration takes flight. It's not really the most exciting beginning for an album-even I'll concede that point. But neither Basinski nor Chartier have ever been about beginnings. No, the key to these two interesting, talented artists is time. Listen for a minute and you'll wonder what the point is; listen for an hour, and you might never want to stop.

 

After this rather simple beginning to the first of two tracks on William Basinski + Richard Chartier, things definitely pick up. That warbling hum gets progressively stronger and louder, like some bad pasta burning a hole in your intestines. Then, out of that hum comes.birds? Yes, I think it's birds, or at least imaginative imitations of bird sounds, a slowly building squawking flying closer with every oscillation. With these squawks comes a simple synth drone, which mimics the warbling hum only minus the warbling. When the birds go away, the drone stays, grows, builds, alters slightly, and loses some clarity. Noise enters the soundscape momentarily-a few static burps and crinkly stabs. Then the birds return and the drone rises in pitch. Then other drones sink in. Then echoes of the original drone bounce in and out. And and and and.

 

Well, the song's 20 minutes long, but I've only described the first nine. Take it from me-it gets weirder and better from here on in, as these various sounds mutate, transform, intermingle, and otherwise fuck with your mind. By the end, the song feels haunted with the ghosts and the echoes of dead sounds. It's brilliant, and it's only the first, shorter, work on this album.

 

The other work is unforgettable. It takes very classical synthesizer melodies and buries them in and around one another, creating something truly creepy. But this isn't a Ligeti's "Adventures" (from the end of 2001) creepy or even a Psycho, ripping the shower curtains with a knife sort of creepy. There are neither any sharp, abrupt moments of terror here, nor are there any slow buildups towards something terrifying. Instead, the creepiness glides in and around the listener slowly, carefully, like a slowly rolling fog. First it seems like nothing, but suddenly it's everywhere and you can't escape. It begins as series of very pleasant, smooth, atmospheric synth lines that bob up and down. But then more of these synth lines are added, some more piercing than the others, some choppier, some louder, and some softer. They all build on one another, wafting back and forth, until, suddenly, your ears are ringing with sounds that don't seem very happy at all, sounds that have suddenly become menacing, dangerous, and scary. And then, the scariest thing happens: the work slows down, the really loud and the really smooth sounds dissipate into the background, and what's left are high pitched wails and low rumbles. These sounds plod on for minute after minute, sometimes growing in strength, sometimes dissipating, until they, too, disappear into nothing (as if they were never there). This is a track that freaks me out every time I hear it. I love it.

 

This is an impressive work by two of the best electronic artists performing today. It's vastly different from what the two have created separately, yet it meshes their individual styles perfectly. Basinski is known for sweeping, epic ambient works that manage to take simple, repeating sounds and transform them into something grand and wonderful. Chartier, by contrast, takes a lot of little sounds and examines them in all their minute splendor. He likes to play with intensities: shifting from soft to loud, infinitesimal to exponential. On this album, these two styles-grand, sweeping melodies and fluctuating sonic experiments-are combined into something truly unique and truly memorable. This is really great stuff.

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