I don’t know if I am the nostalgic type, but I am fascinated by how memories and memories of our memories change with time. Some details get chipped away while new, often artificial ones find their way into our memory bank, discreetly changing our understanding of the past.
The best physical manifestation of this gradual decay of memory occurs in music. I find the crackling of vinyl records, for example, very evocative. I have stayed up nights listening to the Delta blues on YouTube, not just taking in the tune or the voice but also the distortion of the recordings. They make me feel that I am communicating not just with the time and space of recordings made in the 1920s but also the historical and cultural weight of the ensuing decades.
In contemporary music, this quality of conjuring up a forgotten, decomposed past can be found in the work of artists like Burial and others associated with the hauntological aesthetic. American musician William Basinski and his four-volume album The Disintegration Loops have developed new meaning for me during this prolonged period of isolation.
The albums captured the sound of the physical disintegration of taped loops of music Basinski created in the 1980s, when he tried to digitise these tapes in 2001. The melancholy and lyricism of these albums are out there on the internet for one to understand, so I won’t add to that.
When I first heard these albums 10 years ago, I was fascinated by the technique that went into producing them. When I revisited them recently, I was not only taken in by the entombed blues of the music, but also the much-talked-about story of how Basinski made them as a memorial to 9/11. Suddenly, I felt a familiar feeling of being in conversation, this time both with a specific moment of tragedy in the past and an ongoing one in the present.
Read the other articles in the Art of Solitude series here.