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Richard Chartier & William Basinski - Divertissement [Important Records - 2015]

Veteran composers of deep listening, avant garde and ambient music Richard Chartier and William Basinski have joined forces again for this LP, "Divertissement", their 3rd collaborative album, the series starting with "Untitled 1-3" in 2004.  I thoroughly enjoyed "Untitled 1-3", finding it a refreshing change from the style and sound palette of each artist.

A lot of William Basinki's work, such as his most famous the "Disintegration Loops" series, is based around repetition of a single tape loop, often of a piano or melodic instrument, so that a mantra-like ostinato melody is created.  His pieces, while texturally beautiful, are incredibly slow, and can be difficult for me to pay attention to.  Chartier's music is if anything more difficult, centering around minute shifts in a barely audible world of synthetic digital hums, pops and tones.  For all his ambition, his work has an always had an otherworldly charm and uncompromising audacity for me, but can be physically painful.

Neither "Untitled 1-3" nor this new record, "Divertissement", have much in common with either approach.  The music here is a breathing cloud of intuitive, emotional and human feeling melodic ambient drift.  It could be constructed from choir samples, synthesizers, bells or many other things,  but the sounds have been smoothed and blurred as to make it impossible to say.  The textures feel rough hewn and analog; though not harsh they possess a certain tape saturation.  The sound is very performative, the opposite of 'calculated computer music'.  The sound undulates with a mind of its own.

Perhaps constructed collage style by degrees, the sound is full of many subtle peaks and vallies, pockets of obscure dreamlike momentum, niches and crannies where thoughts may form.  Within the layered swells are countless details to be noticed all across the spectrum, tiny high pitched pops and chirps, whistling resonances, bassy rumblings and haunted watery drones.  During the 2nd side, distant horns or oboes can be heard far in the distance.

Like Chartier's surprisingly human and heartfelt recent project, Pinkcourtesyphone, the music on this album has a potent vulnerability and sensitivity, and feels like the product of some sleepless delusional romantic fever.  There's a sense both of passion and of distinct discomfort.  Though rarely overt with its forlorn melodic tones except for one brief moment in side B, I could compare it to the ever romantic and sensitive dark ambience of Raison D'etre, but thankfully free of the cheesy, rigid string synth sequencing he often employs.

As this music plays, the deep mystery of this world is apparent, the limitless potential for both positivity and negativity.  One feels the echoes of history and all previous generations.  In such an expansive and limitless acoustic realm, it is easier to remember one's personal cosmic significance.  This feeling brings me back to the first time I heard Lustmord's "The Place Where the Black Stars Hang", and reminds me of the expressive potential of what might be called 'dark ambient' when it is unburdened with callous misanthropy and insincere satanism.

I highly recommend this record to any fan of ambient music or the works of either artist, and even to fans of industrial, who should find a few comfortingly familiar moments, such as the distorted/degraded helicopter sounds and military fanfare buried in the latter half of side B.  Basinki and Chartier have channeled the wild energy of dreams and created a universe I once would not have believed them capable of.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Landry
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