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SXSW 2021

SXSW 2021 Movie Review: “Disintegration Loops” Provides In-Depth Look at One of Ambient Music’s Greatest Minds

By: Dakota Arsenault

The first film watched during the 2021 SXSW festival was the documentary Disintegration Loops directed by David Wexler and chronically the history and impact of the landmark ambient album by artist William Basinski of the same name as the films title. The doc was shot in 2020, over Zoom as interviews with Basinski, other composers, music critics and even his father help us learn about the origins of the project, his career and the lasting cultural relevance his work has had.

Disintegration Loops was made over a period of time while Basinksi was playing around with capturing sound and music and laying them on tape reels. As he continued to record music he was finding, he was noticing that the tapes were literally disintegrating, as bits of the metallic tape were falling off the plastic leaving gaps from his compositions. During this time the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, not far from where Basinski was living in New York City at the time. He looked at his music, trying to hold on to itself as it was literally decaying in front of him with his physical world as it was crumbling in the streets. His music was the music of tragedy and coping with disaster. Twenty years later the Disintegration Loops was synonymous with 9/11 and was clearly a part of the healing process.

It is fascinating to see empty streets of NYC shot during the early days of lockdowns during Covid-19 and the stories of 9/11. What was the biggest terrorist attack on US soil, with 3000 deaths became a symbol of never forgetting and allowed some very callous laws to be enacted from opportunistic war hawks and so-called patriots were then the very same lawmakers front and center as 3000 people were dying a day from a disease that could have had far fewer casualties with better leadership. 

Despite the brief running time of only forty minutes, we get an inside look at the creation of one of the greatest ambient records every made along with very in depth conversations from Basinski who’s lucidity and memory helps shape the narrative. His wit and thoughtfulness make him a perfect subject to interview, and those who knew him best and covered his work are able to heap the deserving praise on him that he doesn’t want to himself.

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