The year was 2006. Bush was president and puberty was dashing me against the rocks of high school. Late one night, roaming the internet, I encountered a flash animation set to William Basinski's DLP3, from Disintegration Loops II. DLP3 is a sorrowful 42-minute ambient-drone track, featuring a ghostly 8-second loop as it gradually crumbles apart into broken static.
Unbeknownst to me, what I'd found wasn't the full version - it was a 90-second loop cut from the beginning, before most of the distortions come in. There was no arc or resolution to the track - just this endless whirlpool of melancholy without interruption. Wallowing in the depths of adolescent misery I was totally transfixed by its bottomless gloom, and it went on repeat for week after week. To borrow a phrase from an author on Jezebel describing her obsession with Law & Order: SVU, it was "like pressing on a bruise."
Halfway through this marathon listening session I recognized that this sound was fucking with my brain. Without the remaining 40 minutes of disintegration, there was no narrative or resolution. It was emotional quicksand for my teenage mind. I don't think it made my depression worse, per se, but it persuaded me that there was no such universe where I might possibly feel better than this.
At no point in this process did it occur to me that I should learn more about this artist that sonically detonated a month of my life. At the time, a lot of my music came through unknowable internet creators on Newgrounds or couldn't be sourced at all, which made investigation a fruitless affair. The track eventually faded from my life and I forgot about it entirely, just a weird footnote in a strange time of life.
Thirteen years later, I saw William Basinski's name appear in a promo for Ambient Church, and the memories came flooding back. Now versed in the basic habit of investigating artists, I dove through his discography and learned that there was a very good reason these sounds gripped me: it was created by an artist that spent his life on these rich, haunting loops. By the time I'd encountered that 90-second sample, William Basinski had spent more time crafting sound than I'd been alive. I didn't stand a chance.
Finally listening to the full version of DLP3, I discovered that it wasn't built to be the joyless tundra I'd known. The build and setup of the first few minutes are, of course, deeply melancholic - but it stays there only long enough to establish that starting place. The static slowly stretches the core loop until it's thin and threadbare, gradually distancing those intense emotions until they disappear over the horizon.
In this song I hear a bittersweet farewell, full of life's uncertainty and longing; a peaceful death at the end of a life well-lived; the ache of unrequited love; the acceptance of tragedies we cannot control.