William Basinski was a pioneer in electronic ambient/drone music, and although it's taken awhile for the rest of the world to catch onto what he was doing, The River is just one of several releases now being made available in order to make his work more readily known. In a time when pretty much anyone can pick up a laptop and churn out reams of music in no time at all, Basinski's methods for music construction seem almost laborious. The two long pieces on The River are composed from manipulated muzak tape loops and short-wave radio transmissions, yet they don't feel antiquated at all despite their creation date of 20 years ago.
Perhaps some of that is due to a new digital world obsessed with the recreation of analog sounds, but part of it also lies with Basinski's ability to strip things down to the basics and play off all the slight variations and nuances that he can get out of each piece. Over the course of 2 pieces (2 CDs that run just over 45 minutes each), he twists every small little wrinkle and fold out of the sounds that he's slowly tweaking, and the result is something almost timeless and hypnotic.
Although the pieces are untitled, the first disc (marked with a lone dot) focuses more on the shifting melody of the loops, while lower-end drones and fluttering static sways in the background. It sounds almost as if someone is playing a small symphony of wine glasses of various sizes by running fingers around the rim at various speeds (and are somewhat similar to different pieces that Angus Maclaurin created on his Glass Music disc over 20 years later).
The second disc of the release takes what is pretty much the source material and again slightly folds it in order to pull even more slight nuances. It's on this second release that the melodies seem to slide into the background more often, letting the short-wave chatter and static through to the front more often, but the cumilative effect of the entire disc is one of a warm, yet slighty haunting feel. As one might guess, The River is definitely a release that falls into a highly repetitive category, yet that is part of the charm of it all. The tracks that Basinski has put together simply would not work in a 5-minute format, and although they somewhat push the limits at 46-minutes each, it's music that settles in around you and creates a mood. Nice, minimal packaging on the Raster Noton label fits the release nicely. Drone-heads rejoice.