At what point does deliberately executed repetition as a creative motif in a song lose its charm? Is it five minutes? What about 10 minutes? Or 15? Twenty-five minutes? Forty minutes? A few hours? Days? A month? A decade?! William Basinski, the experimental, minimalist American composer best known for his haunting Disintegration Loops series, of little looped bits of music tragically withering away upon every subsequent loop during the process of digitisation, has asked some form of that question time and again, and does so once more with Cascade, and its accompanying release, The Deluge.
Stripped off of any form of structuring or arrangement, Cascade is, well, it’s a cascading piano line — steeped in a minimalist, modern, ambient sensibility — that lasts for some 15 seconds, and the loop stretches on for 40 minutes. For 40 minutes, the melancholia develops steadily with a hypnotic quality to it where, ultimately, the mind starts playing tricks on the listener and the music begins to transform into different forms and shapes during the process of listening. And, placed as a counterpoint is The Deluge, where that same exact piano lines take an actual different identity — and not an imagined one — through a series of effects and filters Basinski adds to the original piece, adding a chance music-esque quality to the composition. The feedback rises and thaws schematically, carefully manipulating the tenor of the original piece through volume dispersals and droning sounds, creating a murky dynamic of movement within Cascade.
The interjection of a denouement, after some 25 minutes, with an involved orchestral section, comes as an odd outburst, with the change in intensity coming as some kind of a jolt back to reality from a trance-like state that music has the quality of inducing. Cascade, and by extension Basinski, and by extension the works by Steve Reich or Brian Eno or John Cage, can all seem a bit heavy-handed and pretentious and full of it. But if, as with this writer, repetition repetition works for you, Basinski’s work is a goldmine, and it’s great to nod off to.