A good entry point to the Basinski catalog.
It’s easy to get tripped up in context with ambient music. If you put on an album called Forest that has a forest on the cover, it’ll be hard not to think of forests when you listen. It’s often more rewarding to step into an ambient album with no preconception of what to think or how to feel. You’re left to fill in the blanks yourself. William Basinski’s freshly reissued 92982, recorded in 1982 and originally released in 2009, provides this opportunity—more so than most Basinski albums, which usually bear names like Watermusic and Shortwavemusic. It’s named after the date it was made, the tracks are untitled, and the cover provides no clues. It’s a blank slate.
Most listeners probably know Basinski from The Disintegration Loops, a work for which context is everything. The Disintegration Loops was packaged as a 9/11 elegy, but the music was complete by the time the tragedy took place; it’s worth wondering whether it would garner the same acclaim or be as widely beloved were it released with as little context as 92982. If you enjoyed The Disintegration Loops but want to know whether you liked the music or just the story, 92982 is a good litmus test and a good entryway to the road beyond that album.
92982 doesn’t represent the extremes of Basinski’s work but sits comfortably in the middle of the road. It’s not noisy like Shortwavemusic, nor is it as easy to listen to as Watermusic or his most accessible album Melancholia. Its four tracks average just over 15 minutes, positively breezy by the standards of a man whose albums often consist of a single piece cut off at the one-hour mark. And it mostly works through conventional musical cues like chord changes and melodies rather than through alien sounds or mind-bending textures. It feels almost classical.
Blade Runner, one of ambient music’s aesthetic holy grails, was released only months before Basinski made these pieces. It’s not unlikely Basinski might have seen it in theaters and taken its musical sensibility to heart. “92982.4,” whose source material also appeared on 2004’s Variations: A Movement in Chrome Primitive, certainly brings to mind the lonesome tack piano that echoes throughout that film’s soundtrack. And on “92982.2”—the album’s longest, richest track—he lets sirens and choppers slip into the mix, situating the piece in a real, frightening, urban world rather than in dead space. Blade Runner or no Blade Runner, it’s hard to listen to this music and not share in its metropolitan paranoia. Could this be vaporwave being born?
This is probably a good entry point to the Basinski catalog, especially because it epitomizes so many running threads throughout his work—watery production, pervasive melancholy, a distinctly urban sensibility. But I suspect those who dig deeper after listening to this album might not go back to it often. The River is more texturally interesting, Shortwavemusic more thrillingly experimental, The Disintegration Loops more emotionally stirring. There’s not much to distinguish 92982 from its peers; it’s a great Basinski album, nothing more. But as Basinski boasts one of the richest and most enviable discographies in ambient music, that’s nothing to scoff at.