It’s impossible: no one could create a script this contrived. Yet, apparently, it happened. William Basinski’s four-disk epic, The Disintegration Loops, was created out of tape loops Basinski made back in the early 1980s. These loops held some personal significance to Basinski, a significance he only touches on in the liner notes and we can only guess at. Originally, he just wanted to transfer the loops from analog reel-to-reel tape to digital hard disk. However, once he started the transfer, he discovered something: the tapes were old and they were disintegrating as they played and as he recorded. As he notes in the liner notes, “The music was dying.” But he kept recording, documenting the death of these loops.
These recordings were made in August and September of 2001. Now, this is where the story gets impossible. William Basinski lives in Brooklyn, less than a nautical mile from the World Trade Centers. On September 11, 2001, as he was completing The Disintegration Loops, he watched these towers disintegrate. He and his friends went on the roof of his building and played the Loops over and over, all day long, watching the slow death of one New York and the slow rise of another, all the while listening to the death of one music and the creation of another. […] What’s he created here is a living document: a field recording of orchestrated decay. […]
[E]ach of the six works employs a different, repeating loop that slowly deteriorates into oblivion. […] What we hear on The Disintegration Loops are not poetic images of nature or beauty but nature and beauty as they truly exist in this world: always fleeting, slowly dying. What makes these works so memorable is not the fact that the loops are slowly disintegrating but the fact that we get to hear their deaths. In a very real way, we experience the muddled, ugly, brutal realities of life. What’s more, these muddled, ugly, brutal realities of life are, in their own way, incredibly beautiful, perhaps more beautiful than the original, pristine loops ever could have been.
[…] This is the sound of entropy, the sound of life as it decays and dies before our ears. And like all living things, these sounds struggle and claw for life with their last, dying breaths. Their deaths are a memorial to Basinski’s past. That he dedicates these works to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is fitting. I can think of no better tribute, no better response to a tragedy of that magnitude than a work as beautiful and as fragile as this one.