01. For Marx, history is a series of repetitions. The degree to which the repetition constitutes a farce or triumph is the degree to which a revolution was a failure or success.
02. For Kierkegaard, life is a series of repetitions. One day you set out on a trip, and the trip was good. A year later, you return, and the trip is not the same as it was before.
03. For Proust, memory is a series of repetitions. You hear a little phrase of music at a party, and that phrase contains the world. Over time, the world — a looping phrase — becomes a weathered relic. Suddenly, it returns, and then decays a little more.
04. Do we even need appeals to authority to tell us what we already know? That things invariably repeat? We live it every day. It is structured into our bodies, our routines, our grief, our worship, our love, etc. Art, for instance, has almost always been a study of repetition. Today is no different. Tomorrow will not be, either.
05. That every band is a repetition, for instance, is a tedious fact of music criticism. We need to find new ways to talk about what we’ve already heard. For instance, Andrew Hargreaves’ Tape Loop Orchestra has released their third (perhaps, technically, fourth) album, In A Lonely Place, and it is essentially the same as what preceded it. It is even the same length as the others: 45 minutes, the side of a tape.
06. The album itself is based upon repetitions. The title, “In a Lonely Place,” is the same as Nicholas Ray’s film, which inspired the album itself. The song titles are phrases taken from the script: “I Was Born When She Kissed Me,” and “I Died When She Left Me,” and “I Lived A Few Weeks While She Loved Me.” Ray’s film is about art mirroring life: a film about a film makers — both Bogart’s character, Dix and Ray himself — and about the disintegration of both.
07. Film, like tape, disintegrates. However, Tape Loop Orchestra’s is a presentation of decay (as in Decasia) rather than an exploitation of it (as in Basinski’s Disintegration Loops). In exploring the relationship between repetition and decay, Hargreaves talks about the eventual, temporal revelation of the fragile thing. When substance is broken down through repetition, you come closer to what is at the core of the thing itself. He continues, and I respect him for this: “There is perhaps a bigger question about the divide between good and evil but I don’t think I’m qualified to answer such things, especially with something as abstract as music.” It’s not that, as Auden said of Yeats, that the work of art is unable to act, to speak. Rather, that it was never going to do anything in the first place but live and die. The process is what In a Lonely Place is about.
08. Suffice to say, it is a gorgeous process: that is, the phrase, meticulously composed, looped, developed, and finally broken down. I’ll spare you the purple prose, but I highly recommend you listen to it. Hargreaves is a master at what he does, which is repeat himself. If you’ve heard previous work by Tape Loop Orchestra, or even his band, The Boats (whose Ballads of the Research Department was a personal favorite from 2012), you will already know that I mean this as a compliment.
09. There are two moments in Nicholas Ray’s film that bear repeating. The first is the scene in which Dix first tells Grahame’s character, Laurel, about the the phrases he can’t yet fit into his own script, the film within the film: “I was born when she kissed me, I lived a few weeks while she loved me, and I died when she left me.” The second is Ray’s stunning reversal, when, at the end of the film, Dix is fleeing Laurel’s rejection, and Laurel says, quietly, to herself, in her own script: “I lived a few weeks while you loved me.” It’s essentially a tape loop in miniature, playing, and a profound repetition.
10. No, there is no appeal to authority necessary to understand repetition or decay. Still, given the relentless persistence of the fact, isn’t it a relief that we have artists and works, like In a Lonely Place, willing to explore it with such depth and elegance?