Kao 80-godišnjak, Niblock je najistaknutiji teoretičar suvremenog muzičkog minimalizma koji i stvara muziku.
Cool At Any Age.
Loft Chronicles: Phill Niblock from The Wire Magazine on Vimeo.
2CD suite of five magisterial, extended drone compositions by the deeply influential minimalist, issued in the same week as his 80th birthday** Phill Niblock writes: "These CDs include pieces made in two different ways. Traditionally (since 1968), I recorded tones played by an instrument (by an instrumentalist), arranging these single tones into mutli-layered settings, making thick textured drones, with many microtones. In the early days, I prescribed the microtones, tuning the instrumentalist, when I was using audio tape. Later, I used the software ProTools, and made the microtones as I made the pieces. FeedCorn Ear and A Cage of Stars were made this way. In 1998, Petr Kotik asked me to make a piece for orchestra, so, I began to make scores for the musicians to play from. The form of that piece, and the subsequent six scored works, were patterned after a piece in 1992-94, where the musicians were tuned by hearing tones played from a tape through headphones. These are the instructions for the scored piece on the second CD, Two Lips. The score was prepared by Bob Gilmore, from specific directions by me. TWO LIPS, aka Nameless, is conceived as two scores, A and B, to be played simultaneously, lasting 23 minutes. Each score consists of ten instrumental parts. The twenty separate parts should be distributed randomly amongst the musicians of the ensemble; the 'A group' and the 'B group' are not separated spatially." - boomkat
Phill Niblock deserves to be considered the foremost theoretician of minimalism currently composing and releasing music. As he enters his ninth decade, I can't think of another significant active composer still mining minimalism potential for single-mindedness and aesthetic absolutism with quite the same dedication. Listening to Niblock is to surrender one's perception to his, to allow focused, immutable tones to wash away all other sensations. Where many other minimalist composers have retreated into isolation, or adapted their art to commercial sensitivities, Niblock continues to centre his work on the very fundamentals of music: tone, tuning and duration. His pieces can be challengingly lengthy, but they never fail to get under the skin and induce new ways of hearing sound.
Touch Five, therefore, does not stand out dramatically from the continuum of Niblock's previous output, for Touch or other labels. The tracks are long, the changes minimal. It's as lasting and immutable as Touch Food, from 2003, or 2009's Touch Strings, and instantly familiar to accustomed listener, the kind of enduring reliability that is perhaps the hallmark of a great composer. Plus, this means every Niblock album is essentially an ideal starting point for newcomers, though they'd better be equipped with open minds.
The reason being that Niblock does not have much truck with dynamics and overt variation; this music, from opener ‘Feedcorn Ear'-onwards, is about stasis and timelessness. It's made to be listened to on headphones, and as loud as possible, for then, as with the bristling wall noise of Vomir, the inherent textures of the music - perhaps real, perhaps imagined - start to reveal themselves.
‘Feedcorn Ear' is based on relentless, unmoving string drones that aren't so much built up as juxtaposed and superimposed. In fact, if you listen to the track on headphones, you can hear the distinct tonal lines in each ear. Imagine what Touch Five would sound like in surround sound at full volume! Bliss, I think. Over thirty minutes, these immovable drones vacillate slowly on top of and around each other, each one extended and sustained until they appear to fill every inch of sonic space, like bees buzzing -admittedly beautifully- inside the listener's skull. Having seen Niblock's music performed live, I know how much dedication and attention is required on the part of the musicians, who need to hold notes in space for incredible amounts of time. On ‘Feedcorn Ear' and its 28-minute follow-up ‘A Cage of Stars', Niblock uses the most insistent, almost basic, of musicality to create compositions so dense and implacable that they appear to distort and extend time itself. To be honest, apart from Eliane Radigue's synth epics (such as La Trilogie De La Mort) or the “deep listening” of Pauline Oliveros, no-one I can think of has created music this overwhelmingly focused since The Well-Tuned Piano.
Niblock switches the dynamics somewhat on the three renditions of ‘Two Lips' that make up the second half of the album, each one performed by a different guitar group. Niblock's clever score has so much scope that each set of musicians is allowed to, if not bring their own interpretation to the fore, but at least open themselves up to divergent ranges. The result are three tracks of buzzing guitar drone that come on like slower-paced takes on Glenn Branca's guitar orchestra works, each one subtly but significantly different to the others.
I cannot say if Touch Five is Phill Niblock's best release to date, because his oeuvre is best considered as a whole, a vision even. If Touch Food was my entry point into this world, Touch Five serves as the next communiqué in what is a rich and exciting expression from composer to listener. If you haven't yet lent your ear to it, this will make a fantastic discovery. - Joseph Burnett
A very interesting strain emerges from an interpretation of Phill Niblock‘s works as essays on organization, not only of sound but of people’s relations to it. In this sense, Niblock’s association to minimalism becomes relevant, not so much in its musical division but its visual arts parallel, in which there is a marked focus on the (perceptual) experience of constituting a space and time, delineating a sculptural conception that banishes any and all determination on the part of an artistic tradition that relies ultimately on the object itself. The scale becomes larger and wider as the gaze melds the object with the place it is in, developing a multitude of relations between spectator and matter that aim for a gestalt: the wholeness that surges from looking at a structure previously unseen, the sudden realization of a fundamental rhythm.
Niblock’s music mirrors this kind of heightening of structural relations, which, because in music the ‘object’ is ephemeral at best, non-existent at worst, follow from having a particular interface in the form of sound equipment. In the first disc, by using ProTools or tapes to multi-layer tracks of a few tones played by different instrumentalists, the artist directly deploys a ‘naked process’, except different to Steve Reich’s own concept of process in the widening of the stakes to include what lies beyond it, the listener’s own gear, living room, the things that it contains, or the place through which he or she is moving. A common suggestion is to listen to his pieces at very high volumes, or in other terms, at volumes in which the sound acquires sculptural qualities, making speakers vibrate their intensity into tables and walls, modifying the surroundings enough to reconfigure the listener’s relations to them, drawn to a holistic experience that re-organizes time/space so that sound itself becomes the key to grasping structure. This is perhaps the reach of the microtonal, constantly explored by the artist, as the de-composition of a series of illusory statements (melodic, atonal, etc.) into the bare life of the purely aural. At its most detailed it makes sense of what is present before the listener, as is most easily tried out by moving around or switching things’ places just to see how this massive ‘ambience’ of drones connects it all anew.
In the second disc, “Two Lips” is rendered thrice by different guitar quartets, under specific directions to play two scores simultaneously for 23 minutes. Each score is divided into ten parts, which are then distributed randomly amongst musicians of the ensemble, in turn divided into two groups but not separated spatially. The musicians are tuned by hearing, through headphones, tones played from a tape. In a way, this tuning reduces the distance between the album and the listener, for the interface is very much the same, or at least comparable in its mechanical aspect. While in the works of composers such as Conlon Nancarrow the mechanical could be conceived as the structure itself, in Niblock’s it is the access point, the element through which a certain order comes to the fore as sheer experience of the moment. Therefore, it is possible to see how in Nancarrow’s pieces it is difficult not to perceive a near-endless atomization, one that is not blurred but highlighted by break-neck speeds; in music like “Two Lips”, perceptual separation is annulled, because even if the same tone was played faster time and again the whole would remain as such – relations shift, but the structure stands, and rearranging the musicians by score group or not becomes, in the act of producing the music and listening, almost irrelevant. This is, of course, not to say that everything remains the same, but to say that while “Two Lips” sounds completely different each time, by each of the quartets, it is still unmistakably the same piece, since what has changed is not the score, the parts, or the players themselves, but the relations between them.
This is, I think, the invitation this music makes, to listen to more than the volumes being spoken and focus on the connections they deploy to constitute a place and hour, the microtonal processes that make our living rooms our living rooms, the angles at which speakers fill an entire street but nonetheless can’t be heard at all if standing at some weird position, and the experience that plays it all out as the perception of something fundamental. This is also why I think Niblock, aged 80 this year, is more than worthy of our continuous attention, because even if other minimalists have moved on elsewhere, he’s still changing the referents of minimalism, making them seem as fresh as they ever were. Hopefully, he’ll keep droning for a long time, and hopefully, we’ll be there to listen to each and every microtone. - David Murrieta
Phill Niblock’s music asks a lot of you. First, it wants your time: most of his albums are long (the five he’s made for Touch include three 2xCDs and a 3xCD set) and so are the individual pieces (of the 47 currently in my iTunes, 28 last over 20 minutes). The music itself is also demanding, comprising held tones without percussion or anything else conventionally used to mark time. (Niblock doesn’t actually play any instruments; instead he picks notes, records musicians peforming them, then edits and layers the results into drones.) Things change and progress, but it’s slow and subtle; you might not notice unless you skip around a track. So not only do you have to commit substantial time to a Niblock piece, you have to hang in when it feels like it’s taking a lot more.
Early on, Niblock made another demand: that you listen to his music at massive volumes in large spaces that create rich overtones. This wish meant that, as critic Bill Meyer put it, “It makes no more sense to play [Niblock albums] on earbuds or little computer speakers than it would to look at a reproduction of a Rothko on your mobile phone screen.” At first, this restriction kept Niblock from making records altogether. He started composing in the early 1970’s, but didn’t release his debut album, Nothin' to Look at Just a Record, until 1982. As he explains in the liner notes (reproduced in Superior Viaduct’s reissue), he didn’t want to “relinquish control,” but acquiesced in order to “reach all of the people that I would like to have experience the music.” He also added, in bold: “PLEASE PLAY THIS RECORD LOUD.”
So why are Niblock’s drones worth this much time and effort? What makes them better than others? It seems like it’d be an easy question, since minimalist drone on the surface is pretty uncomplicated. Yet, paradoxically, the simplicity of tones and apparent lack of change makes drone tricky to analyze. With most other music, you can point to hooks or shifts or moments that give a song unique power. With drone, pretty much the most you can say is that it moves you.
For me, that’s always been true of Niblock’s music. There’s a thrust to his drones; they never float or drift, always moving forward and often at high speed. Technically, that’s an illusion, since the music doesn’t have measurable pace. But on Nothin' to Look at, both sidelong pieces sound like they’re in perpetual motion. Sometimes they roll in waves; at other points they pulse like a buried heartbeat. There’s also a sense of ascent, especially on “A Trombone Piece”, which scales a sonic wall. That’s bit of an illusion too, since Niblock pre-planned his edits before he spliced the tapes, and thus could only guess at their effects. But I imagine he feels it too when he listens to his final compositions.
Once Niblock traded his tape splicer for computer software, he began to compose while editing rather than writing the pieces beforehand. That’s how he constructed the first disc in his new album, Touch Five, which contains two tracks: “Feedcorn Ear”, played on cello by Arne Deforce, and “A Cage of Stars”, which utilizes Rhodri Davies’ harp. Both are enveloping pieces whose only overt difference from what Niblock made 30 years ago is fidelity. They’re clearer and more detailed—easier to hear and focus on—than the rougher tracks on Nothin' to Look at. But they’re just as moving.
Even more exciting is Touch Five’s second disc, which uses a newer Niblock process: scores performed by musicians rather than created from their recordings. “Two Lips” is actually two scores with 20 parts total, all “distributed randomly amongst the musicians.” So the permutations could be infinite, especially since the piece is presented three times by three different guitar quartets. It’s not hard to hear the basic differences between the Zwerm Quartet, the Dither Quartet, and the Coh Da Quartet. What’s more complex is how each lineup creates a different atmosphere. The way each version conjures feelings and images (Niblock himself is a filmmaker, sometimes making films to accompany his music) shows how multi-dimensional his compositions are.
Which ultimately is what makes Niblock’s demands not only worth it, but somewhat irrelevant. You don’t have to accept any of them to enjoy his music. I’ve spent lots of time listening to his work on earbuds or computer speakers, and jumping around tracks rather than listening to each in full. Yet I’ve never left feeling unmoved. His drones are potent because they’re adaptable–whatever time or effort you put into them, you’ll always get something back. - Marc Masters
Phill Niblock - Touch Five [2xCD]
Phill Niblock - Touch Three [3xCD, 2nd Edition]
Phill Niblock - Touch Strings [2xCD]
Phill Niblock - Touch Food [2xCD]
Phill Niblock - Touch Works [CD]
Phill Niblock Bundle [6xCD Bundle]
Reviews of all of Phill Niblock's releases can be read here.