|The arches of the Round Chapel
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2107. All Rights Reserved
(The Round Chapel, Hackney, 4 May 2107; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
William Basinski’s solo electronics performance was perfectly suited to one of East London’s most architecturally elegant and imposing venues, the Round Chapel in Hackney. Rescued from near dereliction by the Hackney Historic Buildings Trust, its restoration in the early 90s transformed this remarkable building to serve both its religious function and as a unique concert and arts venue. When built in 1871 it sparked controversy for the use of cast iron columns which, at the time, were primarily associated with the music halls – a point which Basinski would warm to, with his outgoing personality and flashes of wicked humour which belie the inwardly reflective resonances of his equally elegantly structured electronic compositions.
Having previously performed at other repurposed church venues – St Johns, Hackney and the Union Chapel – this particular concert was very much at one with its setting, as it was, in his words, ‘a sort of requiem mass for dead friends and heroes … a bit intense, like a long New Orleans funeral … foremost for David Robert Jones – why is Bowie dead and all these m*****f*****s never die?’ which elicited a round of appreciation from the packed audience. He dedicated his concert, of roughly three segued, yet distinct, movements, to his close friend and reknowned artist, Felicity Powell, who died exactly two years ago to the day.
Basinski has a mesmerising way of combining analogue and digital to process, structure and add levels of interference and subtly nuanced shifts of tone, to selected samples and phrases, often from recordings of yore. Mustering these in locked repetitions, partially obscuring them in mists of distortion he either lets them drift apart or, conversely, slowly pulls together distantly located phrasings to form strongly focused melodic statements.
Accents of feedback, a remote saxophone riff manipulated in to a call-and-response riff over the rains of a distant time, indistinct vocals from a far-off chorus – all combined to create the harmony of an underlying sadness. The second movement evoked echoes of moon landings and a re-imagining of the space of Terry Riley’s Rainbow in Curved Air, flashed with indeterminate industrial hissings. All the while, the sounds were complemented by his signature lighting accompaniment with projected beams glazing the buildings interior with coloured light.
A deep bass underpinned the concluding chord-based sequence to imbue the Round Chapel with the ambiguities of an overwhelming melancholy, nonetheless giving space to glimmers of hope and optimism.