Culture Crossover: “When two black holes f*ck”


In our Culture Crossover series we pick up examples of projects that delightfully bridge the worlds of technology and culture. We'll be reviewing exhibitions, giving you a heads up on cultural events or talks coming up in the UK and highlighting the best techy art.

To read more instalments of the Culture Crossover series click here.

Those who came of age in the mid-noughties will probably remember the tortured crooning and swooping crashes of Muse's Supermassive Black Hole - the pallid luminescence of Matt Bellamy's face shining brighter than any star. But do black holes really sound like the breathy screeching of an indie rock kid circa-2006? They do not.

This month, renowned ambient musician William Basinski released a new album, On Time Out of Time, which features tracks sampling the sound of two black holes merging. The music was originally commissioned by conceptual artists Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, to accompany an installation piece at the 2017 Limits of Knowing exhibition at Berlin's Martin-Gropius-Bau.

Basinski is no stranger to grand, conceptual projects that play on the passage of time. One of his most famous works, The Disintegration Loops, sonically documents the disintegration of old tapes as he attempts to digitise them. The haunting result, overlaid on footage of the post 9/11 skyline captured from his Brooklyn apartment, garnered overwhelming international acclaim.

But this may be his boldest foray into the space-time continuum yet, journeying back 1.3 billion years to broadcast the sound of the cataclysmic merging of two black holes, or as he put it when presenting the work live: "When two black holes fuck".

The opening track abruptly immerses the listener into a disconcerting soundscape characterised by distant, gong-like ringing, rhythmically flecked with the patter of static and shot through with plaintive high pitched wails and eventually ominous thuds, as of an intermittent heart beat. Listen to the album here.

The sound of the black holes merging only make up a small part of the audio, Basinski says. "I didn't use all of it because some of it was really scary, and then I extrapolated with my imagination, how these waves travelled billions of years to come to earth," he told Pitchfork.

He's not the only artist to be beguiled by the inchoate calls of outer space. Other artists to sample 'space noises' collected from NASA, among other sources, include experimental industrial musician, Lustmord, on his album Dark Matter. The resulting medley suffuses low-lying, warbling vibrations with deep, rolling shimmers and high pitched bleeps to create the foreboding sense of a vast and deserted astral plane.