september 11

Memorials without mimesis: Abstraction and intertextuality in William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops

 

On September 11th 2001, the composer William Basinski completed The Disintegration Loops, a work documenting the slow decay of recorded tape loops he had unsuccessfully attempted to salvage. That same day he witnessed the attacks on the World Trade Centre from the roof of his Brooklyn apartment, his new composition providing the soundtrack to this experience.

This link between the work and the events of September 11 has led to The Disintegration Loops being ‘canonised’ as a major artistic response to the disaster. However, the convoluted compositional process of the work, along with its inherent abstraction, raises questions regarding to what extent The Disintegration Loops can be said to be ‘about’ the events of September 11.

With this in mind, this work will use Basinski’s music to explore fundamental questions regarding the possibility of abstract art’s potential to comment upon real socio-political events. The work will explore the possibility that The Disintegration Loops’ aesthetic constitution posits itself as a far more pertinent artistic response to September 11 than perhaps more conventional representations of reality.

Numerous formal characteristics of the composition will be examined, including the work’s intertextuality, the nature of authorial intent, and the inherent abstraction of instrumental music, to affirm just how separate from the events of September 11 the work actually is. The consequences of these characteristics, compounded by the work’s abstraction, will expose the true functions of a work that dispenses with any mimetic subject matter in favour of giving prominence to its aesthetic content. As such, the possibility will be broached that it is the shared aesthetic cultural space that links the artwork to the real, rather than any semantic content tangible within the work itself.

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