A Shadow in Time makes a beautiful funeral procession for David Bowie.
William Basinski’s catalogue is filled with eulogies. His most famous work, The Disintegration Loops, is inseparable from the tragedy of 9/11. His Watermusic series was aquatic ambiance that might have followed the Titanic down to the floor of the Atlantic. And, after a 2016 that found cultural icon after cultural icon pass away, A Shadow in Time makes a beautiful funeral procession for David Bowie.
A Shadow in Time doesn’t start with tributes to The Thin White Duke, but it does begin in a beautiful, mournful fashion. Taking cues from his 2015 album, Cascade, the title track drifts with slow currents. Though Basinski’s music is wrung from tape loops, this is one of his pieces that seems to have been made in a more traditional way. The 17-minute run time gives away any pretense of normalcy within the track, but the background of the song is made of choppy, near-guitar-like sounds that roll under the strange beams of noise that pierce the sound like rays of light. Things grow and swoon without real attention to gravity. Basinski’s ocean influence is strong here, with the song moving and swaying like a kelp forest. A rising cacophony of what sounds like an orchestra crushed under abyssal pressure comes to the forefront of this languid piece eventually, but the dam breaks and things return to even calmer waters. It works cyclically, stuttering and breaking flow to coalesce back into the opening, shimmering notes. Planet Earth or the curators of a decidedly ominous aquarium would be thrilled to have it as backing music.
Despite the title track going over a quarter of an hour, “For David Robert Jones” is undoubtedly the reason A Shadow in Time exists. It’s over 20 minutes long, which is admittedly short for Basinski, but it makes a grand and almighty ruckus. Decayed and fading horns seem to be the key piece of the background, swelling and fading over and over again. Beams of sound similar to the work on the title track show up in a more restrained fashion as the rhythm of these submerged horns takes the lead. The noise slows and dissipates as a saxophone comes into view. It sounds like its been recorded off of an old-timey radio, or broadcasted in from Mars. Though there are no direct, cheeky nods to Bowie, this is a nice touch. No taped versions of the icy landscapes on the Berlin trilogy show up, nor any disrupted piano chords from “Changes.” Instead, a lovely, buoyant but lonely saxophone conjures up Bowie’s spirit. Considering it was David Jones’ first instrument, it’s a sentimental touch.
One note of advice, A Shadow in Time is a headphones-only album. As with much of Basinski’s work, the textures and contours of his melting sound can be lost through poor speakers. Additionally, a more immersive listen reveals the strange mix of emotions on display with A Shadow in Time. Quietly mournful, yes, but with hints of playfulness lighting the proceedings. It’s fitting considering Ziggy was just as happy to bawl as he was to strut.