Impossible Vinyl – The Disintegration Loops I – IV by William Basinski

There are so many ambient albums that could be considered Impossible Vinyl, but there is one that leaps out in particular.

“Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting” – Brian Eno (1978)

During the confusion of the first Covid lockdown, I was stood down without pay. Eventually I was put on JobKeeper and worked reduced hours from home, constantly on the phone and answering emails. I remember my now-fiance crying the first time that case numbers passed tripled digits. I’m sure everyone has stories about how helpless and precarious they felt at the time, but I’d only just come out of a dark period of my life so I decided to lean heavily on some hobbies to fill my time and calm my nerves. I started a veggie garden.

The problem was, playing podcasts off my speakers as I toiled away was usually too topical, and the normal music I listened to seemed to be overly sad or angry. A friend had long ago recommended The Dead Texan by The Dead Texan, so I listened to that and it was perfect. I started listening to Perhaps by Harold Budd, Music for Airports by Brian Eno, sunny stuff like Laraaji when I needed a pick-up, and darker stuff like Jenny Hval when I was angry at the stupid political games that were being played. I’ve been hooked on ambient music ever since, even though I’ve long since moved from that sharehouse, my green tomatoes still ripening on the vine as I did the final bond clean. 

All the albums and artists I mentioned above don’t make albums that have distinct or noticeable moments, but rather feelings that drift in and out, underpinning your thoughts and actions. If you’re busy, they’re as ignorable and yet undeniably there as the buzzing of the fridge or the constant din of the traffic. The Disintegration Loops I – IV are an enigma though; in that they are both so quick to blend into the background of your mind, and so quick to leap out again at distinct points in time.

The Disintegration Loops blend in because they’re like a mantra. The four albums are split into various parts, each sonically different but thematically the same. The loop is established, and soon it relaxes into a point of semantic satiation; a constant pattern that you no longer actively hear. Then, about twenty minutes later, you realise. The fridge has stopped buzzing, there’s a screech and then a crash and the traffic stops, and the loops have disintegrated to a point where you notice them again. The music warps and warbles, and sometimes big gaps of silence begin to emerge, small at first and then expanding and expanding like a hole in your favourite shirt. Perhaps the most startling is the track “dlp 4.4,” but I am astounded every time I listen how this auditory epiphany happens again and again and again. 

How The Disintegration Loops were made and the context around their release has been written millions of times. There’s a great Pitchfork article about them. That article was written to commemorate the remastering of the albums in 2014 and the release of a limited edition 9-disc vinyl box of all four albums collected together. The box is currently reselling for around $3100, so it’s nigh on impossible. Still, they are the perfect albums to put on if you’re reading a book, doing chores, or just pottering around the house, ignorable until the point they aren’t anymore.

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