CD review : William Basinski, “Vivian & Ondine”

Recently, I hosted a dinner party at my country estate with many of my closest cohorts and familiars. The entire affair was, of course, un-fucking-bearable, due to my deep, internalized contempt for all those in attendance. Allow me to explain.

Sitting to my immediate right was the insufferable Tacitus Landingham, a “very deep guy” with “no patience for small talk” and unrivaled bore. Indeed, the most “scintillating” conversations I’ve ever had with Tacitus consisted entirely of wordless internal monologues in which we stared through one another and nodded occasionally for extended periods whilst listening to Ravel’s Pavane for the Deceased Infanta (his choice).

Equally odious was my immediate-to-the-left, the drooling sycophant Jesse Slotzmann. Slavish and over-eager, with a too-easy laugh and pants hiked to the nipples, this abject creature is perpetually attempting to secure my favour with chit-chat and intense, sustained eye-contact. In retrospect, my decision to seat him beside me was likely in error, probably signaling some manner of sanction on my behalf toward his hapless enterprise.

Adjacent to Slotzmann, and ensconced in rude wafts of patchouli, resided Linda Vandercamp, whom I did not actually invite, but showed up anyway. A self-proclaimed “artist without a medium,” this sad individual has remarked on more than one occasion that she feels like “a character from The Lord of the Rings,” but one who “wasn’t in the movies,” and also, moreover, “wasn’t in the books.” A complete fraud — just listen to that affected lilt in her voice — she bogged down dinner proceedings by remarking after every unremarkable occurrence that said occurrence was presaged to her long beforehand “in a dream.”

Beside her sat that cautionary tale of supreme self-awareness — Kip Stone — a guy so severely “over it” that he spent most of dinner exhaling theatrically and staring (through black-rimmed frames) at his fingernails with over-rehearsed disaffection. His conversation was reduced to a single phrase — “damn” — repeated over and over, with only the shading of his ironic inflection carefully differentiated.

Still more detestable was Kip’s dinner neighbour: Tom C. Bustamante, senior coordinator of professional development for Extreme TelComm Solutions Inc., an immense man who sat heavy in his tiny chair. Heaving food into his porcine face with bloated wurst-like fingers, he regaled us, as always, with tales of “illicit” business trips spent consuming vermouth and lazily thumping into Susan Thorncroft, his regional vice-manager of sales and otherwise married mother of four.

Finally, consigned to the furthest reaches of the table, the pitiless Tim Robbins (not the well-known actor Tim Robbins), who, ever since his accident, appears to have lost control of the faculty in his brain that locates him in space-time. He remained as ever: without consequence, soundless, lightless, eyes averted, his mind a vast buzzing blank screen.

My disdain for the human beings at my dinner party was absolutely limitless. Yet to articulate that outright would have violated the social contract of “tact” upon which nearly all human interaction is predicated. Thus, my contempt sought a more subtle outlet for expression. Enter William Basinski’s new album Vivian & Ondine. Indeed, what better way to subtly rebuke your social circle than in your choice of musical accompaniment at a dinner party? Basinki’s unabashedly arty avant-garde “process music” — mostly droning tape loops — proved to be the perfect rebuke to all the fuck-ups sitting around my dinner table.

Yes, playing Vivian & Ondine over dinner was the sonic equivalent of having the phrase “Hey, check out this really challenging, impossibly smart, piece of music. Fuck you. See if you can understand it,” repeat continuously for the entire hour and a half interval. As such, my superior intellectual, aesthetic and moral social standing was asserted throughout the dinner party — but in a subtle way — and I was able to endure.

In all, highly recommended for those times when you feel completely superior to everyone and everything around you, yet can’t bring yourself to say it.

★★★★.5 out ★★★★★