By Jason Herring, January 24 2017 —
David Bowie passed away just over a year ago. It was a tough death for many to process — myself included — partially because in his final weeks Bowie released an album that acknowledged and tried to reconcile with his imminent death. It felt like the end of an era. A year later, ambient stalwart William Basinski has released A Shadow in Time, a two-track album that eulogizes Bowie and meditates on a difficult year.
Basinski’s art often deals in grief. His most enduring work, The Disintegration Loops, was released following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and was accompanied by videos of the New York City skyline as smoke rises from the city. Though the scope of A Shadow in Time is much smaller, it manages to evoke the same emotions of loss and profound sadness.
“For David Robert Jones” makes up the first half of A Shadow in Time. The track starts off muted, before swelling into an orchestral loop that feels almost laudatory. But as the track wears on, the symphonic loop starts to decay as static noise drones above the track’s previously optimistic atmosphere. “For David Robert Jones” finishes with a murmur, leaving a silent space for the listener to ruminate on the life of an artistic visionary and the frustrations surrounding a year characterized by hate.
But grief often gives way to hope, and hope is what Basinski inspires in the album’s second half, titled “A Shadow in Time.” Unlike most of Basinski’s work, the track’s atmosphere is comforting rather than brooding. Tapes hiss, strings swell, an occasional chime rings somewhere in the background — it’s beautiful.
Ambient music is often just something I listen to when I’m studying so that I can block out the distracting ambiance of the real world, but it can be so much more than that. In the case of Basinski’s A Shadow in Time, it’s a recognition of grief — which is a vitally important thing to have — but it’s also an affirmation that things will be okay.