In 1989 composer William Basinski founded Arcadia, one of the performance spaces that defined Williamsburg as an arts community. Basinski lost his lease in 2008 as the neighborhood developed around him, but Arcadia returns for one night at Issue Project Room’s November 2 gala in honor of the composer. The music and arts non-profit is raising money to move into its new space, an ornate Beaux-Art theater at 110 Livingston in Downtown Brooklyn. Basinski and Arcadia-regular Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons) will perform music from Robert Wilson’s The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic with Marina Abramovic and the Svetlana Spajic Group.
The new Issue Project Room space at 110 Livingston.
Arcadia’s story begins not far from 110 Livingston, where the construction of the MetroTech Center displaced Basinski and other artists. They then discovered, in the (at the time) desolate and industrial expanse of North Williamsburg, the derelict former headquarters of the Hecla iron works, built in 1896. After clearing out the pigeons and broken windows, Arcadia emerged as a palace of cast iron and cross-vaulted ceilings overlooking the East River, surreally elegant alongside the scrappy loft spaces in the neighborhood. A close-knit group of artists played together there, including Antony, who spent formative years at Arcadia (Basinski even played with the original Johnsons). A given night might include five or six groups, the musicians trading off between performing and working the ticket booth.
The Show room at Hecla Iron Works, 1908. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
This return to Arcadia is natural for a musician whose work recursively loops back to past periods of creativity. Since the early 1980s, Basinski has been recording evocative ambient pieces using loops on his old Norelco tape decks, though these recordings have only in the past decade received wide releases, appearing in the best-of-year and best-of-decade lists of publications as varied as Art Forum, Pitchfork, Resident Advisor, and The Wire. The celestial waves of Basinski’s celebrated Disintegration Tapes (2002-2003) resulted from digitizing crumbling tape loops in the composer’s archive. When I spoke to Basinski, he was hoping to start looking through that archive for the videos and recordings from his nights at Arcadia.