Review: William Basinski + Richard Chartier – Aurora Liminalis

As I drift ever deeper into Aurora Liminalis, I am drawn into a certain descriptive phrase used during its press release: “undulating trails of light”. Rather than use it as a launch pad from which my own mental visuals take flight, I’m traveling in reverse; the more I listen, the more prominent this definition becomes in my mind’s eye, representing the point at which Chartier and Basinski’s music ceases to feel like the sum of separate visions and starts to adopt a singular, telepathically fused identity.

While I acknowledge both musicians to have a very expansive and multi-dimensional relationship with sound, there are certain characteristics that I distinctly identify with one or the other. Years spent with Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops means that I deem his name synonymous with decay; the sound of age and the imminence of death, traveling away from a point of pristine glory toward the void, with the indicators of weathering (stuttering tones, muffled frequencies) paradoxically evoking both an intimate link to the past and the temporality of the present. Meanwhile, Chartier (via his gorgeous Grand Tonometer composition, Transparency) sculpts sound one molecule at a time – careful assemblies of frequency that hang like crystal sculptures in a vacuum, each tiny element subjected to manipulation and refinement. While it’s a gross generalisation to say so, I perceive Basinski to shed light on the looming, uncontrollable mortality of sound and Chartier to cast sound meticulously into the canvas of the infinite and abstract, untouched by the inevitability of life’s slow decline.

Aurora Liminalis is a wondrous mixture of the two. It howls as a blurred, misdirected echo; tonality present but difficult to grasp, folding over itself into impossible shapes. Sometimes it feels like a soft fire pushing up from the left and the right, lapping at the bottom of the ears as electronic warmth and crackle, partially lost to the past and emerging as a paler, less defined version of its former self. Yet there’s a haunt of manipulated shape and direction – little jets of static rise up slowly just as tectonic shudders commence a gradual retreat, while the overall structure tilts gently in and out of stereo balance. “Undulating trails of light”…a premeditated decay; a gentle tug on fate’s reins that asserts direction into the slow dimming of sound – the descent into the void is inevitable, yet Chartier and Basinski’s wonderfully co-ordinated collaboration maintains a subtle control over the manner of doing so.