Back when I started staying at home under lockdown, Robin Sloan wrote a blog post called An integration loop. In it, he tells the story of The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski:
Monitoring a radio station in New York City, the composer William Basinski hears the melody, records it. He intends to use a fragment as a loop in an avant-garde music project. The tape goes into a box. It is the 1980s.
It is decades later: the summer of 2001. Digitizing a room full of forgotten material, Basinski finds this loop again. But the tape is old; as it moves through the player, it starts to come apart, the magnetic medium peeling off its plastic backing, more and more with each repetition. Enthralled, Basinski keeps recording as the melody disintegrates before his eyes, his ears.
Standing on his rooftop in Brooklyn, Basinski watches the World Trade Center collapse. It is September 11, 2001. Suddenly, the summer’s recordings have a meaning, a purpose. He titles them The Disintegration Loops and offers them as an elegy for the dead.
I hadn’t heard this before. Listening to it, I found it incredibly moving, haunting, and strangely cathartic.
Robin included a clip in his blog post of an ensemble of computer-generated sequences made from Basinki’s source material. He called it an integration loop, pt. 1.
He also published the sheet music for the looping musical phrase:
Anyone reading the blog post was encouraged to record that phrase on any instrument (or voice) and send it to Robin. I recorded the phrase on mandolin. Jessica recorded it on a muted fiddle.
Robin then assembled all the submissions into a seven minute piece called an integration loop, pt. 2. You can hear Jessica at 3:33. I’m at 4:33.
All the submissions and the final piece are released under a public domain license.
I very much relate to Robin’s interpration of this creation:
In my imagination, each contribution is a rung in a ladder out of the pit of confusion and loss, all of us both (a) carrying the melody forward and (b) being carried by it, up towards something new, something whole.