In 2004 the tape loop ambient composer William Basinski teamed up with reductionist electronic sound artist Richard Chartier on Untitled 1-3. For years it seemed as though the album was a one-off collaboration from the two stalwarts. In 2013, however, Aurora Liminalis was released, proving their work together was not quite done. This year the world was treated to Divertessement, the highest profile collaboration between the two artists yet.
To the uninitiated ear Basinski and Chartier’s respective catalogues tread the same path. However, aside from a shared penchant for expansive ambient composition, the two artists are quite different. Basinski has for nearly fifteen years now exclusively made music from analog tape loops – the exception being his short-wave experiments – exhibiting a keen ear for detecting minute changes in his looped fragments that he presents as long, uninterrupted pieces.
Chartier’s process is much harder to pin down, and, as the artist has stated himself in interviews, is not a requirement in order to gain something from the listening experience. Chartier is often labelled a reductionist for good reason, as his sound pieces are usually hyper-minimal, extremely quiet, and often develop imperceptibly to the listener over a long period of time. Generally, turning Chartier albums up louder than usual helps reveal delicate yet complex sonic worlds that once existed purely in the mind of their creator. Chartier’s music, both under his own name and the alias Pinkcourtesyphone, has for over a decade remained fascinating and ever evolving. Alongside names like Richard Garet, Asher, Jason Kahn, William Basinski, Taylor Deupree, Jim Haynes and Oren Ambarchi, Richard Chartier is one of America’s preeminent contemporary minimalist composers.
What one would expect from any successful collaboration is like clockwork between these two. Untitled and Aurora saw the meeting of Basinski’s and Chartier’s respective styles at a comfortable middle point: Basinski’s loops buried deeper in the mix and Chartier’s hushed atmospherics dialled up a notch or two. Compared to this year’s Divertessement, however, the first two efforts feel formless and all-together rudimentary. Divertessement sees the two artists hitting their collaborative stride, as multiple listens help reveal what each player brought to the floor. Ghostly tape melodies surface at the parting of noxious atmospherics, occasionally the movements dipping into near silence before emerging again as a swirling dark mass. Part II commences as what sounds like a church organ heard from a cave on some distant planet. Soon, the far off melodies rise through palpable tape hiss, giving way to restless bursts of analog noise as if from a child’s nightmare of clowns and carnivals (think a more subdued Maurizio Bianchi).
The beautiful thing about collaborations is hearing both compromise and innovation, and, in the case of Basinski and Chartier, two artists that are willing to step outside of their usual bounds to challenge themselves. On Divertessement, they’ve done just that. And if the album is any indication of the direction these two will continue to grow, we’re bound to hear more stellar work from them in the future.
Important Records, 2015