William Basinski @ Southbank Centre, 12/8/2012

The Disintegration Loops live? Well there was simply no way I was going to pass up this opportunity. Sadly, life being life, the odds stacked up against me and Sod’s Law did its best to prevent me from getting there on time. Last night was the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics (which I still haven’t caught up on), and naturally I was concerned about transport; actually everything went off without a hitch once I got to London, it was getting there that was a problem, given that my train was 20 minutes late. Then me being incompetent and completely overshooting the venue. In short, I arrived half an hour late in what I discovered (to my dismay) would only be an hour long performance.

Regardless, I did get to see the performance I came to watch (in whatever limited capacity), so here are some brief words.

I think what was most interesting about it was that it was being performed by an orchestra. The Loops have a very deliberate and systematic destruction, the music decays linearly and there is little to no variation in pitch or relative damage to the original melody other than downwards. An orchestra with a conductor is its own entity, governed by a man and executed by the musicians. As such, there is an inherent variability and personality to the sound that the rather impersonal original Loops will never attain. The orchestra, comprised of its more complete and sophisticated textures, conducts itself a little more carefully than the casual and tired sounds we know on the original, but also has surges of energy and “reconstruction” of the melody. The trumpets, which really formed the basis of the melody, were allowed opportunities to inject a little oomph and volume, and the decay of their loop was irregular and disjointed in comparison. The drums also were afforded similar luxuries, controlling the soft and distant beats found in the original but having a much more significant overprint live, defining the interface between one loop to the next.

Slowly but surely, the melody fragmented as more and more instrumental textures were lost; the trumpets bowing out first, followed slowly by the drums, then the violins and finally what I think were either cellos or double basses (I was far back) were left on their own, producing a thin and eroding drone that dipped in volume to almost undetectable levels before it finally came to and end and the audience were left in silence for several minutes. It’s peculiar, isn’t it, how once the music has fallen away and the room is silent that the audience themselves become the instruments; stomachs rumble, fabric rustles, coughs and sneezes pierce the air a bit more violently. The guy beside me motioned, bemused at the length of time we were made to sit in silence, but I think it was an important and contemplative silence, designed more for us to be able to digest the meaning and signficance behind the loss of the music rather than to make us suffer.

I enjoyed the human touch the orchestra offered a lot, and while it didn’t quite live up to the majesty of the original I think it was done very intelligently and sensitively. God only knows how sick of the Loops those musicians must be by now.