William Basinski and Lawrence English – Selva Oscura: An Album for Autumn Exploration

Written By: Joshua Reedy

There is something about the works of both William Basinski and Lawrence English that incites a lust for exploration. Basinski and English are both massive figureheads in the ambient/avant-garde music genre, neither of which are strangers to collaboration. Basinski is likely most recognized for his sprawling multi-faceted Disintegration Loops which, in a nine lp box set, runs for over 600 dollars on Discogs. Basinski has a wealth of other emotionally and mentally stimulating albums such as Melancholia, released in 2003. Lawrence English is an Australian ambient artist known best for his 2009 album A Colour for Autumn. English has worked with various artists including Fennesz, Grouper and even Xiu Xiu. English is responsible for the experimental music label Room 40, which houses various artists including some Tim Hecker releases. Basinski and English have come together to create Selva Oscura, released on October 12th, 2018.

“Selva Oscura” translates roughly to “Twilight Forest”; the album is perfect for any hiking through the woods this fall. The first collaboration between these two feels like an exploration into hollow and decaying spaces in nature: a marriage between cold man-made stone structures and the golden-brown descent of autumnal changes. The album combines sounds of isolating drones with pulses of life interspersed throughout. “Selva Oscura 1.2” feels as if you are traversing through a tunnel deep within the woods. Rhythmic Industrial clanking and movement pierces “Selva Oscura 1.2”, portraying imagery of rusted and abandoned machinery found lingering in a hidden place. Quiet signs of life shimmer through the drone on both “Selva Oscura 1.2” and “Selva Oscura 1.3” testifying to the final stand of nature before the Winter comes. The album exudes a feeling of curiosity, of being in an unfamiliar place and discovering something that has been left behind a long time ago. The album is a perfect ambient expression of Fall; it is lonely, dreary and endlessly echoing yet wonderfully beautiful. Fall, and this album itself are a tragically beautiful “Memento Mori”: A reminder that all things collapse eventually to time. Selva Oscura however, reminds us that this loss is what makes life beautiful in the first place, and that even the twisted nature of loss can be beautiful just as autumn forests drenched in twilight manage to evoke such emotion from us.

The first four tracks of the album, “Mono No Aware 1.1” through “Mono No Aware 1.4” lowers us into the forest with brighter sounds, and more frequent melodies. “Mono no aware” roughly means “an empathy for things” which relates to the melancholy feelings people often have during the transition from Fall into Winter. Selva Oscura as an album represents an empathy toward the slow falling of leaves and coldness of air. The album manages to find a level of warmth on top of the howling winds, providing mental images of being wrapped in a coat and hat to combat the stinging air. The “Mono No Aware” half of this album is certainly the brighter side, representing an initial entrance into Fall or one’s first step in an unknown collage of trees. Sounds reminiscent of a train bobbing along in the distance graces “Mono No Aware 1.3” bringing the idea of nature and machinery together. The albums feels like a testament to the duality of that which is natural and that which is created; as both fall apart just the same. Nature, however, always rebounds and even at the peak of Summer, wind will still blow through the various lifeless and forgotten metal structures that have been reclaimed and engulfed by trees and grass.

Overall Selva Oscura manages to be a beautifully comfortable reminder of our mortality, just as Fall. Hopefully, the existential comparison of natural cycles to the futility of our time on Earth does not unnerve the reader/listener; if it does, take comfort in knowing Halloween is just around the corner where artificial scares and vast amounts of candy can help us cope. Selva Oscura is great for getting comfy with a warm mug of tea, or for walking through your local forest.

Listen to this album below!

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