At last year’s Ecstatic Music Festival at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York City, William Basinski and Man Forever, the percussion ensemble headed by Kid Millions of Oneida, played a three-part set together. The whole performance is still available to stream on the website of the all-classical station WQXR, and it is well worth spending at least an hour of your life with. Man Forever came on stage first, performing a twenty-minute piece for which the term “drum solo” could perhaps be applied but would barely begin to do it justice.
Brian Eno and Harold Budd loom large over all piano-based ambient music, and William Basinski’s Cascade is no exception to this rule. They spring to mind as soon as the first notes slip out, and the music reaches the same core of beatific sadness. But it gets there in its own way. After all, Budd played live on Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror and The Pearl, filling metronomic piano lines with human presence, while Basinski doesn’t play a note on Cascade.
If you’re anything like me and you like either a) ambient music and/or b) process music (music made - obviously - as a result of some kind of external process) then you’ll no doubt be aware of William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops, a stellar example of both. And, while fans of The Disintegration Loops’ backstory may not find anything quite as interesting on The Deluge there is, nevertheless, plenty of classic Basinski to enjoy here, by which I mean that if you enjoy ambient piano loops you’ll be extremely well served. As I’ve suggested, there’s no big overarching concept behind the two and-a-half compositions here but there are some interesting ideas going on nonetheless.
The albums of William Basinski, America’s most-renowned quasi-ambient tape loop manipulator, are most affecting (or perhaps just most approachable) when they provide a temporally specific “in. ” It’s no wonder that The Disintegration Loops and their 9/11 narrative remain his most well-known pieces, and the wisps of 1980s Brooklyn street noise rippling the loops of 92982 tinged that album with a hyper-specific nostalgia. The temporal rifts built into pieces such as those opened the door to reams of theoretical and emotional loops, time and affect torquing around one another in bewildering ways.
William Basinski's unfailingly beautiful musical oeuvre is so familiar that with each new album there's always a certain trepidation that he will be retreading old ground and rehashing ideas he's already expounded upon. What Cascade and its live incarnation The Deluge prove, is that even in such circumstances, his magic touch is very much of the Midas variety. Whilst the piano loop that he draws upon was first recorded in 1982 and appeared as recently as 2009 on 92982, the way he has embarked upon reworking it imbues it with new emotional depth and fresh energy that it feels like hearing the loop for the first time.
The French pianist Eve Risser works with improvised ensembles of many sizes: a duo with the Japanese drummer Yuko Oshima called Donkey Monkey; a quartet called the New Songs; an 11-piece group with brass and electronics called White Desert Orchestra. But some of her strongest work happens when she plays alone. “Des Pas Sur La Neige” (“Footprints in the Snow”) (Clean Feed) is her first solo piano recording, three long pieces that remain quiet and complex, elegant but tense.