The Disintegration of God

In their review of The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski, writes the following:

During the summer of 2001 William Basinski set about transferring a series of 20-year-old tape loops he’d had in storage to a digital file format, and was startled when this act of preservation began to devour the tapes he was saving. As they played, flakes of the magnetic material were scraped away by the reader head, wiping out portions of the music and changing the character and sound off the loops as they progressed, the recording process playing an inadvertent witness to the destruction of Basinski’s old music.

In essence, Basinksi is improvising using nothing so much as the passage of time as his instrument, and the result is…an encompassing soundworld as lulling as it is apocalyptic. A piece may begin bold, a striking, slow-motion slur of ecstatic drone, and in the first minute, you will notice no change. But as the tape winds on over the capstans, fragments are lost or dulled, and the music becomes a ghost of itself, tiny gasps of full-bodied chords groaning to life amid pits of near-silence. Some decay more quickly and violently than others, surviving barely 15 minutes before being subsumed by silence and warping, while the longest endures for well over an hour, fading into a far-off, barely perceptible glow. 

There is another, eerier chapter to the story of the Disintegration Loops – that Basinski was listening to the playbacks of his transfers as the attacks of September 11th unfolded, and that they became a sort of soundtrack to the horror that he and his friends witnessed from his rooftop in New York that day, a poignant theme for the cataclysmic editing of one of the world’s most recognizable skylines. Removed from the context of that disaster and transposed into the mundane world we live everyday, The Disintegration Loops still wield an uncanny, affirming power. It’s the kind of music that makes you believe there is a Heaven, and that this is what it must sound like.

God is dead, we are in the midst of decomposition, and we live as the decay. The world is and will be forever changed. Our voices echo off the tombs and monuments of God, a voiceless void and eternal disintegration loop.

The question, however, is what will emerge in the wake of this death, decomposition, and decay.

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  1. Abigail March 16, 2013

    Conceptually, I’m reminded of the Zen monks who create elaborate works of art, labyrinths, mosaics, etc., and then purposefully destroy them. As a reminder that nothing is permanent.

    Musically, it’s an interesting choice. The music itself is extremely repetitive. I don’t recognize the composition. (Does anyone know what the original was? Was it a minimalist composer? It doesn’t really sound like a minimalist, style-wise, but I could be wrong.) In this case, the decay added the only interesting element in an otherwise (to me) extremely blasé piece of music. Thus, if we created a metaphor from this example, what it says to me is that death is a way of escaping an intensely and boringly predictable cycle. And yet, Death, itself, while it is a great mystery, it is also boringly predictable. (You know what they say about death and taxes…) Hmmm.

    On a happier note… Mystically speaking, death and birth are the same thing. The death of anything (figurative or literal) allows room for something else to fill its place (birth, new growth, new life). Sometimes we can foresee what that replacement will be, and sometimes it’s a surprise. With the death of [the Western Christian] God, we can predict that something will take its place. What that is, and the consequences thereof, time will tell. I’m hoping, perhaps over-optimistically, that the world will become more rational, less gullible, and more willing to pursue tolerance, empathy, and equality. THere are a trillion factors that go into those wishes, though, so of course, I’m not naive enough to believe that a decrease in religious commitments automatically equals an increase in rationality, tolerance, etc. It’s just that, there might be more ROOM for those things, so to speak…

    • Abigail March 16, 2013

      I should have researched before commenting instead of after! Ha ha. OK, WIlliam Bassinski is the composer of the original music, AND the recorder of the decay that time created. I found an article that, in passing, compared this “Disintegration Loops” to Gavin Bryar’s “Sinking of the Titanic,” and I totally agree.

  2. Mahq March 17, 2013

    Listening to this reminds me of a lecturer I had at uni who was thin, with long hair, glasses, waistcoat and a scratty beard – an old hippy, basically, who enjoyed conceptual music like this. It also reminds me of a really weird loop at the end of Queen’s ‘Made In Heaven’ album which sounded like someone left the recorder on in the studio. That album came out after Freddie Mercury’s death and that particular loop had an ‘mercurial’ :) otherworldy, melancholy quality to it that made me think of death in general.

    One could see the Loops as an analogy for attempting to use outmoded and outdated ways of thinking for new situations, or trying to use adolescent ways of thinking as an adult, just as the tapes are attempted digital reproductions of old analogue recordings destroyed in the process. Or maybe even the divine essence of Christ eventually wearying his human body in terms of his message sending him to his own death, as opposed to his body just wearing out, since he was only around a short time.

    No idea about the last question.

  3. Mahq March 17, 2013

    …that should be ‘otherworldly’!

  4. Mark March 18, 2013

    How much do you want to bet the Zizek post is on the floor somewhere soaked in Guiness…?

    • Mahq March 18, 2013

      I usually drink Fosters, actually, or were you referring to Pete Rollins, him being Irish and stuff?

      • Mark March 19, 2013

        It was more a reference to St. Patrick’s day. I just think its hilarious that the post was so late the day after At Patrick’s day. Couldn’t have had anything to do w/ to much drinking…

        • Mahq March 19, 2013

          Perish the thought! Fair do’s, then 😉

  5. Barrett March 18, 2013

    A sound composes itself as a song, and the song is recorded. The recording is never the same as that first sound. Then that recording begins to wear, and a new one must be made to preserve the memory of the first sound: Just as “The Disintegration Loop” shows how time strips the song, the first sound, from the recording, so I see a particular memory of God to be stripped of what that “first sound” may have been.

    If I am an atheist and conceive of God as nonexistent, then I see the myriad memories of “God” held by various peoples around the world to be stripped recordings of something someone (or someones) once conceived as God. The recording has been passed down, and people cherish their own because it is their own, because it belongs to their family or heritage. When people see their own decay as the whole of existence—as the entire song, even equal to the first song itself—then those people simultaneously diminish the scope of their own lives and strip the legitimacy of the lives of other peoples. This seems to reflect the polarizing world in which we live today.

    Additionally, even if I entertain the possibility of a real, living God, humans still desperately cling to their own disintegrating memory of that God, and so our world still lives in decay. As long as decay is called life, those who cling to decay will never live.

    • Abigail March 18, 2013

      That’s beautiful, Barrett. :)

      • Barrett March 25, 2013

        Thanks Abigail!
        I think I needed this post to help me put it in those terms, but I have felt this way for a while.

        As a confession, though, I am one who thinks that “first sound” actually was God, and that God has since sounded off again and again (thought I don’t really have an idea for how that always sounds). So I continue to study the Bible, not as God, but because even the stripped recording bears some semblance to the original and might, in fact, help me recognize the sound if ever it appears again.

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