Eight years in the making, “…on reflection“ brings together two avant garde masters in a hauntingly beautiful Venn diagram. William Basinski may be best known for The Disintegration Loops and other experiments with taped music, while Janek Schaefer has recast vinyl records and turntables in wildly different roles through his career. But the pair overlap on “…on reflection“ through found sound including their own finely-meshing piano playing, slowly building a calm refuge from their often daunting catalogs as well as from today’s mad world.
Schaefer and Basinski started swapping files between London and Los Angeles in 2014, and over time these were molded into a five-part suite that broadly suggests time-warp sampledelica, the accidents/incidents present in performances of John Cage’s “4:33,” and the soft keyboard abstractions of countless ambienteers like Harold Budd, to whom the album is dedicated. There’s constant interplay between melodies cracked like mosaics, drowned in echo and drone, and the sounds of everyday existence.
The middle part of this LP replaces the piano with organ and synth drones, staticky and distant like Boards of Canada. Yet the four remaining sections push “…on reflection“ to function much in the same way as Promises, last year’s stunning partnership of Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders. Basinski and Schaefer collectively come to rest on a piano figure repeated, and edited on the fly, across the entire album. Introduced as pretty in part 1, one new note gives it a dissonant scowl in part 2, and through the back 15 minutes it gets loose and ecstatic, bumping into itself as a bell chime in the wind.
Their found-sound recordings seem to represent the ambience of, well, just being—maybe a step onto dry grass, maybe a deep breath, a shuffled paper, a hand gliding across a table, the endless friction of clothing. Granted, moving from chirping birds recorded from open windows on tour, to the hum of the tour bus, and then to the honks of nearby traffic may not sound like the most soothing ingredients for atmospheric music. But both the lines of environmental chatter and the lines of piano running through “…on reflection“ feel centering and meditative.
Schaefer and Basinski suggest places with no names, no identifying features, and therefore no preconceived notions, and these days that might be quite a civil society indeed. The duo weave melody and white noise like a nest, producing something in “…on reflection“ that’s fragile yet comfortable.
Label: Temporary Residence
Adam Blyweiss is associate editor of Treble. A graphic designer and design teacher by trade, Adam has written about music since his 1990s college days and been published at MXDWN and e|i magazine. Based in Philadelphia, Adam has also DJ’d for terrestrial and streaming radio from WXPN and WKDU.