Traumatic Ruins and the Archeology of Sound: William Basinski's The Disintegration Loops

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    This paper traces the relationship between art and atrocity, materiality and decay, and the aural possibilities of hospitality in a time of terror. There is one site in particular that seems to speak so poignantly to the complex workings of trauma, ruin, and memory, and it is the use of sound in this place that I wish to draw attention to here. The September 11 Memorial and Museum may not appear, at first, to signal the ways in which sound might usher in a new way of thinking about the philosophically complex concept of hospitality nor the promises of decay. Yet, one installation in particular manages to do just that. Located in the Museum’s Historical Exhibition, and evocative of death, mourning, and haunting, William Basinski’s sound and video installation, The Disintegration Loops, offers a fitting yet unique elegy to the loss of the towers and nearly 3,000 innocent people. Additionally, this work also carries within itself far more: layers of meaning and spectral traces that are often missed during singular visits by museum guests and that recall aspects of memory and materiality crucial to the question of what it means to live alongside others. I want to suggest that, while existing as a differentiated work in its own right, it is through its in-situ role – a ruin in a place of ruins – that The Disintegration Loops recalls one of the most complex and contradictory paradigms for thinking about loss and for mourning alongside strangers. It initiates, I argue, a philosophy of hospitality that is, defined in this context, uniquely preoccupied with ideas of strangers, belonging, home, and homelessness and an ethics concerned with “das Unheimliche” or something odd that is not quite at home yet nonetheless present in that space. In this paper I will discuss the significance of Basinski’s work to aural and material memory and explore the concepts of ruins and dust to arrive at one of hospitality’s most startling and uncanny figures, a figure of autoimmunity that is powerfully raised in Basinski’s work, making it one of the most compelling pieces of art in the Museum.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of Sonic Studies
    Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2018


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