Words HAYDEN PEDIGO
I have always joked that the best ambient music in the world comes from Texas. I mean, Stars of the Lid and William Basinski both came from this state. I always wondered if it was because of how expansive and vast Texas is. I grew up in Amarillo, which is in the center of the Texas panhandle — out in the country where everything was yellow and the sky went on forever.
I remember the first time I heard William Basinski; I was 15, doing school work at my parent’s house (I was homeschooled), and listening to Pandora on some station, maybe Harold Budd or something. “Variation III” from Variations: A Movement in Chrome Primitive (Durtro / Die Stadt, 2004) came on and I stopped everything I was doing. It was the closest feeling to time actually stopping I have maybe ever experienced.
In that moment, the sound was devastating — like nothing I had heard before. I jokingly say it’s the most accurate audio representation of what depression feels like. The loop of the piano keeps repeating like a memory you can’t let go of and with each mental repeat you start to lose the actual memory until it’s just a blur, a repeatedly xeroxed photo reduced down to washed out pixels.
As sad as the music on the record is, I can’t help but feel hope emitting from it just because of the sheer beauty. William has always been able to tap into something so human with these loops that very few people have been able to recreate. Variations isn’t just music of a landscape or place like a lot of ambient music tends to be; it is the sound of how we feel and think within those places and the memories that come afterwards. Like putting your soul under a microscope.
“Melancholy” is an overused descriptor when it comes to ambient music, but for William and this album, it feels wrong not to acknowledge how the feeling of melancholy is absolutely monolithic — like being hit with a tidal wave that you saw approaching for two hours, but you are in awe of its size and are rendered frozen. It’s almost scary writing this all out because of the reverence I have for this record and I really don’t want to do it wrong….
Hayden Pedigo’s ‘Valley of the Sun’ album — a loose tape and guitar tribute to William Basinski — is now available via Driftless Recordings. Stream it in full below, along with the rest of ‘Variations’.