A Shadow In Time by William Basinski
Capturing life is hard in any medium, instrumental music particularly so. Words give us the freedom to jump forwards and backwards, to zoom in and zoom out. Music is often too tied to its inherent temporality to use the same strategies.
William Basinksi has long used techniques for getting around this. He is most well-known for creating short loops on tape, then recording them playing while exposed to air, documenting the slight changes that come with their deterioration. Each loop is one musical idea, one life, being imperceptibly changed by its environment, and changing its environment imperceptibly. Moment to moment we often struggle to acknowledge how we change, but look back far enough and ourselves become unrecognisable.
‘For David Robert Jones’ was created using this technique. The track opens with an already washed out loop, rising and falling steadily. A quarter of the way through it is joined by a looped guitar line, fragile but assertive, by the end of the piece it has become one continuous guitar solo. You can fit a narrative to the track – it begs us to! This is when Bowie’s own guitar started to publically sound. The two loops dance around each other playfully, but they are fundamentally distinct – Bowie’s private life was kept as separate as possible from his public one – but even his was just one life.
Where ‘For David’ was an investigation of the short form, track two, a ‘A Shadow in Time’, is long form. Death leaves behind our absence, a shadow of what we were. Beautiful, fuzzy, dense and disruptive, the ambient drones of A Shadow in Time powerfully capture this. The piece expands to the point of being almost unbearable, and then shrinks all way back down. Slowly a wistful piano line emerges.
A final elegy, for a friend.