William Basinski Credit: Danilo Pellegrinelli

Ambient music is often unfairly regarded as “background noise,” but in the hands of its most passionate practitioners, it can be as striking as the loudest and most confrontational music ever produced. Minimalist composer William Basinski has been mastering this realm of sound for four decades, and he’s bringing his expertise to Chicago for two performances at Pitchfork’s Midwinter fest. On Friday night, he’ll perform his seminal work The Disintegration Loops with the Chicago Philharmonic. Basinski began creating this piece—later dubbed “The Saddest Music in the World” by Vice—in September 2001. While converting material recorded in the 80s into digital files, he noticed the magnetic film on one of his tapes flaking away with each rotation, destroying earlier layers and leaving blank space along the strip. Intrigued, he repeated the process with other tapes from the set, mixing the decaying sounds with additional ambient layers. After the Twin Towers fell, Basinski and some of his friends gathered on his Brooklyn rooftop and listened to playbacks of his music while watching dusk descend over the city. He released the work in four parts throughout 2002 and 2003, and the reaction to them was so powerful that in 2012 The Disintegration Loops was inducted into the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. But even without the music’s link to such profound tragedy (and the seismic cultural and political shifts it triggered), its sweeping, haunting beauty would still be moving. Then, on Saturday night, festivalgoers can leave the troubles of earth behind for music of the extraterrestrial variety as Basinski performs a solo set showcasing his upcoming release On Time Out of Time (Temporary Residence), which consists of works originally commissioned in 2017 for a pair of art installations by Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand (part of a Berlin exhibition called “Limits of Knowing”). Including source material derived from the gravitational waves emitted by two supermassive black holes that merged together 1.3 billion years ago (captured by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO), the material is simultaneously calming and chilling, and always awe-inspiring.   v

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