The Garden of Brokenness
first heard about The Garden of Brokenness in the liner notes to Basinski’s collaboration with Richard Chartier (William Basinski + Richard Chartier), where the artists mentioned taking two works—Basinski’s Garden and another work by Chartier—and fusing them into something totally new, a truly creepy mixture of Chartier’s experimental drones and silences and Basinski’s subtle, esoteric beauty.
The Garden of Brokenness is certainly different from that other work. It’s neither creepy nor complex. In fact, this might be the simplest work Basinski has ever released. However, buried in this simplicity is a universe of fascinating aberrations, and it is the aberrations that really make this piece memorable.
The work consists of two parts that blend together over the course of fifty minutes. The first part is a tranquil piano melody that is played over and over again, in fits and starts, throughout. The second is an echoing, feedback-laden wall of noise that reflects the piano melody back on itself like a room of mirrors, turning the initial melody into a self-replicating monster at one moment (repeating itself over and over in sharper intensity) and dissolving into a gigantic chasm of noise at another moment. The work, then, is a series of waves of differing intensities crashing against the reader’s ears.
At times, the waves are utterly tranquil—the wall of noise barely penetrating the melody. At other times, the melody itself barely penetrates the noise. At still other times, the two sounds fight for bragging rights, slugging it out between our ears. And then there are times when Basinski organizes the two parts of his creation so that they remain separate from one another—the beautiful melody in the foreground, the wave of noise building and humming and breathing in the background.
Taken together, the work is a little like walking through a cave with a boom box in your hand. In smaller spaces, the boom box’s speakers dominate; in larger spaces, the reflection of the speakers dominate, bouncing off the cave walls and echoing in all directions until there are hundreds of different variations on the same sound all blurring together in a haze of noise. Since Basinski himself refers to this music as “dark” and “swampy,” I guess you could say that the cave metaphor might be an apt description of this music—provided that the cave in question is the one you float through on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride at Disneyland!
Basinski also refers to this music as “sad” and “elegiac,” and I suppose those two words are appropriate ones to use for this music, given how the end result of many of these loops is the collapse of a basic melody into a rumbling noise. However, I see more hope in this work than in, say, Basinski’s epic Disintegration Loops. There, the music falls apart, and he records the dying. Here, the music doesn’t really die; rather, it grows and expands and reverberates in the same way the sounds of nature can echo and expand across a landscape. Natural sounds die out, too, of course, but there’s no sadness in it—it’s just the temporal nature of sound. And that, I think, is what Basinski has created here, an illustration of the true beauty and frailty of sound itself, both as it exists in our world and as it exists in our imaginations.
Reviewed by: Michael Heumann
Reviewed on: 2005-12-19