William Basinski at Sala Vanni Review

By Ismail Ibrahim, NYU Florence student 

You’re in a cavernous wooden house, breaking apart by it’s own sheer weight and age. There is mildew, rain leaking through the ceiling, and no furniture. You see a man, sitting at a piano glossy black grand piano. There is a hollow light, that appears to be coming from the propped up top of the piano. The man is playing the same notes over and over. It is so sublimely beautiful, that it actually makes you feel lighter, but he looks tortured. He is hunting for something, some quality in those chords that makes him feel a certain way, and he is trying to show that quality to you. He keeps playing the chords over and over, you know he’s aware that you are there but he hasn’t looked at you once.

You open your eyes and realize that you’re actually in Santa Maria del Carmine, the church where Renaissance master Masaccio painted his famous Fresco series. The chapel that you’re in is filled with theatre seats and lights, instead of an altar, and on the stage there is a man staring at a tape deck and a mixing board. You look around and the seats are filled with contemplative people with their eyes closed, and you realize they are in their own worlds, just like your wooden houses. When the show ends you ask them where they went. A frosted meadow here, a scene from a childhood lake there. interesting that magnetic tape and speakers can take people so far.

William Basinski, a critically modern composer whose 2002 album The Disintegration Loops was heralded by critics as one of the best of the decade, played a new piece titled A Shadow in Time on Saturday April 16th at Sala Vanni. A Shadow in Time is a heartbreaking composition in honor of the late great David Bowie. The composition, like most of Basinski’s tapes, revolves around 5-10 second loops of analog tapes that are very slightly changed throughout the 20 minute movements. The repetition is, in my opinion, what causes listeners to be transported when they close their eyes, and the loops are so beautiful that they don’t get stale. The final movement, a piano playing a few notes in minor scale that degrades as it loops hypnotically, evoked a sense of loss for a past that wasn’t even my own. The small, intimate, spiritual venue was ideal for the beautifully chilling music. There were no more than 200 people in the repurposed space, and the looks on the audience members’ faces spoke of a spiritual experience, the church’s intended use. Although I enjoyed the piece thoroughly, it was a bit short to justify the high ticket price, however the ability to communally share in such a beautiful experience was incredible.