Live Music + Gig Reviews

William Basinski @ Attenborough Centre For The Creative Arts, Brighton

10 March 2023

Acclaimed sound artist’s waves of repetition and decaying noise makes for a truly momentous evening

William Basinski (Photo: Jose Ramon Caamano)

William Basinski (Photo: Jose Ramon Caamano)

William Basinski, who you might call the enfant terrible of minimalist composition, does his own thing. Performing what he only half jokingly refers to as his ‘end of the world show’, as a performer and showman Basinski is the polar opposite of his music. Whereas that is built on waves of repetition, decaying noise and an untouchable mournful ethereality, Basinski is not only startlingly alive, present and cantankerously warm, he’s an irresistible social magnet, pulling audiences towards him with a softly captivating southern charm.

Decked out in metallic blazer, reflective shades, his unkempt locks gently wafting in the light, he bears an uncanny resemblance to the late Cookie Mueller, if that much loved slum goddess had decided she was going to role play in Miami as Duff McKagan, or Killer Bob from Twin Peaks if he’d escaped the woods and raided the Roberto Cavalli store instead.

Repeatedly referring to us all as his honeys and darlings, he remarks that rather than standing to perform as is his normal want, he’ll instead be joining us all in sitting, like polite ladies should. As he grapples with his tape machines, which he lovingly refers to as ’tanks’, he even wittily christens himself as The High Priestess and we laugh and eagerly await the ceremony to begin.

With our steady diet of mushy peas and our lives spent under cruel government control, Basinski warns us that it’s probably gonna be a wild evening, but something tells us he knows we have the fortitude to endure it. Sticking predominantly to tracks from 2020’s Lamentations, Basinski doesn’t need visual accompaniment. We sit rapturously together, watching his arms, briefly jerk, staccato like, in time with the first piece, before he settles down and lets the emotion envelop him and us.

Time seems to escape the auditorium like the wispy temporal exhalations from our lungs in the cold night outside. Voices operatically simmer and crumble during the profound manipulations of Please, This Shit Has Got To Stop. He tells us that one of his tanks is playing up and making glitchy sounds, but honestly it doesn’t distract, it only adds more character to the evasive sensation we are all collectively experiencing.

In lieu of an encore, we get what he refers to as “two servings of special pudding”, the first being a playback of the recent Subterraneans single by Alva Noto, on which he guested. Featuring contributions from Depeche Mode’s Martin L Gore as well as Basinski on saxophone, it’s a spirited cover of the track from David Bowie’s Low album that showcases the whole range of his prodigious musical talent. Both before and after playback, he proudly urges the crowd to purchase the release on vinyl whilst you still can.

The second serving of pudding is an even rarer treat, a run through of an alternate take of fan favourite Melancholia II, a more experimental version that has yet to be released in any format. As the track begins, Basinski for once does resemble his music as he stands, bows and makes his escape. As the crowd sit watching an unoccupied stage, listening to the sedimentary processes unfold, the room itself slowly begins to empty out, the last lingering vestige of a truly momentous evening.

• This article was amended on 14 March 2023 to replace an earlier draft.

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