William Basinski & Lawrence English – Selva Obscura

Selva Oscura (‘twilight forest’) is a song for those on unfamiliar paths, either through fault or through chance, dealing with the nature of losing one’s way in place and time. William Basinski and Lawrence English have known each other for over a decade, and their paths have crossed in cities ranging from Zagreb to Los Angeles. Be it through fate or another instance of chance, these encounters, as well as a shared experience of uprooting, transit, and continuous travel, brought the two together, resulting in their first collaboration.

Selva Oscura’s music is always in transit, drifting through a transient life, as all things do. This creates uncertainty, both in life and in the music, but this uncertainty is also a constant, as sure as death. In this life, nothing is certain. The stable drone is in a state of eternal unfolding, apparently smooth in its steering. This is an illusion, though. You never know how it’s going to unfold, only that it will have to surrender to the cold embrace of the unknown, passing through (and being pushed through) change and facing one reveal after another.

The two pieces, entitled ‘Mono No Aware’ and Selva Oscura’, draw the listener into the strange familiar, an unknown topography that on the surface sedately drifts but on closer inspection never completely settles. Eternal renewal is going on inside the music, but it mingles with a never-ending uncertainty and the feeling that this uncertainty is actually okay, that everything will work out.

Intentionally reductionist in order to shape a limitless world, the music has been painstakingly altered and its sighing sound waves meticulously controlled to produce just the right effect. It’s the sound of the observable universe opening up, the sound always airy and vast despite (or because of) the minimal approach, gleaming dully in a weightless atmosphere, muted but exceptionally beautiful. The lagging echoes continue on ‘Selva Oscura’, which, for the first seven minutes or so, remains uninterrupted, like a night drive on an open road. Dull clanking sounds appear to be somewhere off in the distance, unsettling the atmosphere in the same way that turbulence upsets the quiet rhythm in a dark sky, perhaps an utterance of uncertainty, a murmur of discontent.

Whatever the rhyme or reason, those louder sounds disturb the regularity and comfort, shaking up the stillness. There’s a feeling of momentum within the track, but it’s hard to tell if the drone’s simply cycling and circling or if it’s actually powering forward. The lower register resembles the thrust of an airliner, but the music seems to be out of time, unable to be dated. Lit only by a black sun, both tracks are what you’d expect: minimal and mesmerizing designs of tremendous power, a peek into the infinite.

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