For an artist who has frequently dabbled in cassette tape destructions it seems Ian William Craig has hit the furthest possible limit of the sound; upon discovering that his Fostex multitrack recorder was on its way out, rather than immediately discarding it he used it for one final project that would ultimately be an overture to its demise. What we’re left with is the careful, fragile, yet deeply melancholic turnings of Zugzwang For Fostex.
From the German word meaning “a compulsion to move”, a chess scenario which one would prefer not to play, this inspirational driving force to document and mourn the unfortunately slow death of his equipment manifests in typically emotionally charged constructions. The piano is the only clear instrument here aside from Craig’s own voice, and even then it only makes a limited clear appearance, often lost in tape destruction and impenetrable clipping. Opener “Out Of Book” slips us in quickly and quietly on its tired and lonely piano strokes, fringed with a light dose of fuzz in these early and not yet overtly dying moments. As it segues effortlessly into “Parry That With More Geometry” the acoustic instrumentation is quickly lost and we become more familiar with the abstraction the record seems wont to languish in, losing us in shifting vocal textures and thrumming static over endlessly moving tape distortions. Any sense of reality tumbles away, the piece flowing forwards endlessly as though coming to a halt risks being unable to restart.
“Zwischenzug” continues the chess theme (meaning an unexpected move followed by an expected one) as we return to surprising clear piano idiosyncrasies in its early moments before the piece implodes, suddenly collapsing into stuttering and damaged passages that limp along painfully as we begin to enter the melancholic heart of the record. “Lost On Time Part 1” and “Banking On The Activity Of The Pieces” both spin haunting arias of mournful vocal coos suspended in rarified air, the former occasionally sticking in place as days tiredly smear into one another, and the latter rather clearer in its presentation but more obvious in its sadness, scarcely keeping its surprised disappointment a secret.
The decay into inevitable oblivion speeds up from hereon out, with “Material (En Prise)” truly finding itself caught in damage as piano strokes make their way impossibly through its choking and fragmentary advances, ultimately coming to a head in the jarring and destructive movements of album peak “Living On Increment”. At first it just seems windy and buzzing in its skimming waves of pulsed static washes, but it turns on the listener radically as crashing noise currents morph into towering walls of obliteration that totally consume the senses in their oppressive conclusion, the final meteoric moments of its existence. But Craig is cheeky, for the album continues on in the appropriately titled “A Hash Of The Ending” as the piano returns to view a final time in spontaneous movements of quite light and lovely expression, before finally “Lost In Time Part 2” seals the deal in bleary, post catharsis cyclings that naturally echo Basinski’s own entropic constructions.
Like some of Craig’s earlier works it’s quite heavy at times and challenging to listen to, but its plaintive constructions, clear evolution and lack of lyrical ambiguities make this a bit more emotionally/thematically straight forwards at least. Not enough people seem to be talking about this if you ask me, and I’m hoping it doesn’t go overlooked this year because as always this is a special and heart-string-tugging little number that I’m finding unfortunately all too relatable right now.