Phill Niblock - Touch Five

DCD Album - Jewel Case - 5 tracks

Track listing:

CD One

1. FeedCorn Ear (featuring Arne Deforce)
2. A Cage of Stars (featuring Rhodri Davies)

CD Two
1. Two Lips (featuring Zwerm Guitar Quartet)
2. Two Lips (featuring Dither Guitar Quartet)
3. Two Lips (featuring Coh Da Quitar Quartet)

In October 2013 Phill Niblock will be 80...

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."

Reviews:

Dusted (USA):

Phill Niblock is not a “just say no” kind of guy, and this double CD is the latest manifestation of his current determination to have things both ways, methodologically speaking. Broadly speaking, he makes one kind of music. Niblock matches sustained pitches, often made with a single instrument, that cohere into long drones. The pitches themselves change very little, but when played with sufficient volume their juxtaposition generates overtones that change constantly.

Don’t play this music on little bitty computer speakers or headphones; for best effect, crank it up until it caroms off the walls.

Since 1968, Niblock has assembled pieces using sounds sourced from one musician and manipulated using any means at hand. Early on, he calculated which tones would elicit the microtones he desired ahead of time, and told the player exactly to play in order to get them; once he got hold of ProTools, he used the program to draw microtones out of the mix post-recording. Either way, his music has teased mesmerizing tonal activity from a surface of apparent sameness. But since 1998, Niblock has also composed music that, while similar in dynamic and sound, has been performed in real time by ensembles of musicians who play along to a tape that they hear on headphones. Touch Five includes one CD of each.

The first CD includes two pieces for a single string player. “Feedcorn Ear” exploits the beauteous tone of Arne Deforce’s cello as it was captured by one of Marcus Schmickler’s Brauner microphones. Niblock had Deforce stick to the C string, but used the captured resonances of all four. Stretched out over half an hour, this drone is woody in texture yet quite light, like a slowed-down film of the sun cresting a mountain at dawn. If ProTools induced radioactivity, this music would ring your Geiger counter off the hook, yet it feels very acoustic; you know that it was made from wood and air.

“A Cage Of Stars” was made for Rhodri Davies’ electric harp, which tends not to sound much like a harp most of the time. It comprises both bowed and e-bowed pitches, and unlike older Niblock pieces where he snipped out attacks and decays, you can hear the beginnings and endings of bow strokes on a string as well as the flag-like billowing of overtones. There is one high pitch that seems to float above the others like the aurora borealis on a slow night, perceptible but faint.

Disc two comprises three performances of “Two Lips,” each realized by a different guitar quartet. Without getting too detailed about it, Niblock has each group play two parts, which either devolve from or resolve into one held note, ten times. The 40 accumulated tracks constitute the finished piece. While each performance is realized using the same score and instruments played in essentially one way (sound one note with an e-bow, and make your shift to the next microtone without sliding into it), and the players are given limited latitude to interpret the material (a musician who played another Niblock piece once explained to me that he got to play one note, but he was free to play it any way he liked), the differences between the three version are instantly noticeable. The Zwerm Quartet’s version is the most homogenous, its colors bonded together like a well-polished piece of wood’s. The Dither Quartet’s edition is rawer and brighter, its colors splaying out like harsh sunlight split by a prism. And the Coh Da Quartet’s version is less lustrous but heavier. Played back to back, they’ll stymie your sense of time.

A dabbler or skeptic could fairly ask how necessary this album is. Its music is quite similar to that on other Niblock recordings, and given the requirements of time, setting, and resources that it places upon a listener, it’s not going to get as much mileage as some played-to-death single. But that’s not what Niblock’s music is about. It’s there to sink into, be absorbed by, and become one with. Since minute changes are the very stuff of its existence, the relatively small dissimilarities between pieces still enrich the total body of work. [Bill Meyer]

The Quietus (UK):

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.

Brainwashed (USA):

Phill Niblock is an artist that, despite his penchant of expansive, subtle and nuanced recordings, always seems to make every release an epic one. His fifth album for the label (hence the title) is yet again another double disc one that holds only five compositions. Although it takes a conceptually similar approach to those albums, namely Niblock's use of layered instrument drones with microtonal adjustments to pitch, it still has a different feel when placed alongside his other releases.

The first disc is comprised of two compositions for classical stringed instruments. "FeedCorn Ear" (for cello) is unsurprisingly made up of long, bowed notes that seem to stretch into eternity with Niblock's post-production consisting of a very light touch, but one that emphasizes the hidden microtones and natural audio variations. Arne Deforce's playing deserves recognition as well, as his steady hand enhances the purity of sound that Niblock deconstructs. The different layers rise and fall, twisting and turning like braided wires of pure sound into a massive sonic expanse. Toward the end of its 30 minute duration, only the slightest traces of cello remains and instead is simply a cloud of delicate tones and sound. In total it is a lighter work compared to Deforce's performances on "Poure" and "Harm" two cello compositions on previous Niblock releases.

The second piece, "A Cage of Stars," is for electric harp and performed by Rhodri Davies with both a traditional bow and an e-bow. Leading off with a bit of sparkling noise, it soon settles into a sustained wall of microscopically shifting tones that build atop one another. Towards its conclusion there is a much more significant emphasis on the lower end of the spectrum, which again ends it in a different place than it began. Even though it is just a single performance, the layering and tweaking to the final results in a composition that sounds as if it were performed by an entire orchestra.

Disc Two consists of three different performances of the 23 minute composition "Two Lips" by three different guitar quartets. Each player performed the score ten times in a single session with the faintest of tonal variations. The first, performed by Zwerm, is surprisingly inorganic sounding at first blush due to a heavy use of effects, but eventually takes on a more traditional electric guitar sound. The fuzzy leading tones trade off with each other with each player shifting from lower to high register drones being produced.

The second performance, by the Dither guitar quartet, begins with a more intense approach, with organ like wavering sustains cutting through the tonal mass sharply. Towards its conclusion the liberal use of flange and chorus effects imbues it with a distinct feel, getting a bit more psychedelic in the process. The final performance, by the Coh Da quartet (Ad Hoc, featuring Robert Poss and Susan Stenger) comes across as even more abstracted from guitar, with each player producing passages resembling organ and harmonium drones than traditional electric guitar.

Phill Niblock's work is often challenging, and Touch Five is no exception. It requires a focused and dedicated ear to absorb the slow changes and evolution in these long compositions. For those with the time and the patience though, his work rewards like no other in its purity and hidden complexity. [Creaig Dunton]

Pitchfork (USA):

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]

Chain DLK (USA):

One of the living legends of the early minimalist generation and universally recognized as one of the authentic master of drone music, 80-years old Phill Niblock keeps on feeding his musical hobbyhorse, the develoment of a music whose sole engine is the gradual sedimentaton, juxtaposition and layering of microtonal dilutions from instruments in very slow motion, where the real instrument is tape recorder and other computer-aided, electronic or digital devices, which makes this refining easier, and this is the approach Phill followed to build the two long-lasting pieces of the first cd: "Feedcorn Ear" - the title is the anagram of Belgian-Dutch cellist Arne Deforce, which provided the instrumental inputs, even if the final result could let you think about a flugelhorn slotted in some pulmonary alveolus of a giant - is the last and maybe the most otherworldly and somewhat celestial part of a trilogy that Phill begun to mould in his Experimental Intermedia studios in New York after the recording in Piethopraxis - the studios owned by Marcus Schmickler in Cologne - where he used a Brauner microphone, while the unrecognisable departure point of the following "Cage Of Stars" - a drone suite commissioned by Rebecca Shatwell and the AV Festival 12, an International Festival of Art, Technology, Music and Film and premiered on the 3rd of March 2012 at the Sage, Gateshead - were the clear-cut pitches on an e-bowed harp by Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies, who got aided by an oscilloscope visualization in Max MSP software which gave him the possibility to check if he was drifting sharp or flat while bowing. Both of this long-lasting suites are really mesmerizing and will render the impression of movement inside a static but slowly changing cloud, which will probably cause a temporary tinnitus for the minutes which will follow their listening. The second cd includes three different version of "Two Lips" for guitar quartets, whose score has been based on a graded sequence of microtonal steps - 10 divisions of the equal-tempered semitone (100 cents) - where a couple of guitars imperceptibly descends, ten cents a time, from a G tone to a F diesis, while the other two guitarist rises from a G diesis tone to an A. In spite of the conciseness of its score, the three different performers (NY-based electric guitar quartet Dither - Taylor Levine, David Linaburg, Joshua lopes and James Moore -, Belgian/Dutch quartet Zwerm - Kobe Van Cauwenberghe, Matthias Koole, Toon Callier and guest guitar player Guy De Bievre - and Coh Da Quartet, made up by Niblock veterans David First, Seth Josel, Robert Poss and Susan Stenger) achieve quite different outcomes. Intended for masterly eardrums.

Spin (USA):

The master of microtone gets a little sentimental on us. He calls the 30-minute (and multi-tracked) solo-cello drone "FeedCorn Ear" "celestial," but it's also cuddly and inviting and warm, like watching sunlight through an open curtain; 28-minute B-side "A Cage of Stars" is basically its "Winter Version." The second disc is three takes on the 23-minute "Two Lips," one performed by Dither (a blazing guitar group, though you won't be able to tell here), and all boasting zone-out/drone-out penetrating sine-on-sine madness vibes like three camera angles on a swarm of bees.

Exclaim (Canada):

The best sound from an evening at the symphony often occurs early on, as the ensemble tunes up. The mass of musicians focused upon a single A-natural at roughly 440 hertz can be a lush sonic experience, with the chorusing of detuned instruments finding their place within the overall sound.

This is the sonic space of Phill Niblock, the materials that form his aesthetic of drones stretched out along superimposed microtones and the psychoacoustic phenomena of a gradually shifting harmonic field. The Touch label's fifth addition to their series featuring large-scale compositions by the octogenarian composer proves to be an excellent opportunity to hear the details contained within these works of staggering beauty and stasis.

The first disc of Touch Five consists of "FeedCorn Ear" and "A Cage of Stars," two pieces that feature the subtle digital manipulations of recorded acoustic instruments to form a rich drone. These works shimmer with the rich timbral nuances of their source materials. They sound orchestral in scope while retaining their singular fixation on that "tuning up" sound. The extended duration allows the ears to luxuriate within the beauty of harmony as a co-existence of slowly drifting frequencies.

The second disc offers up three different interpretations of "Two Lips" as performed by three different guitar quartets. The orchestral intent of this composition comes across even if the timbral quality of electric guitars introduces a strained brittleness not found on the first disc. Ears are drawn to the gradual processes at work as harmonic elements slowly rise and fall, stretching the concept of harmonic progression to a logical breaking point. [Devin Hurd]

Touching Extremes (Italy):

There’s only one Phill Niblock.

Touch Five has been the house’s exclusive – and ongoing – restorative soundtrack over the last days. The unfortunates who can’t chase him during his constant trips across the globe are somehow relieved by the man’s preference for issuing works in double (as in this case) or triple-CD sets, normally following a few years of stillness in terms of material releases. True, a domestic session will never summon forth the excruciating sonic supremacy of a live act; nonetheless, methods exist for making the most of a secluded practice, thus concretizing the explanation offered by the liners in reference to the hypothetical aspiration of instrumentalists facing Niblock’s vision: “the musicians should sense being part of an intonational cloud of sound”.

A superb wording to convey what the certified Niblockian devotee already knows. These relentlessly shifting stratifications of tones – which may appear stagnant to someone unable to identify the inherent rhythms of a life’s cycle – supervise the relocation of a ready and willing person into the land of primary beingness, beyond any other type of “meditation”. The much desired nonappearance of regular thinking processes, the instantaneous acquisition of a rational position where everything “is what it is” (to quote the very composer’s austere depiction of his own creations). Nothing else is needed, and yet we’re completely “there”, minus any cheap-incense silliness.

The first disc is the one that perhaps gives this writer the highest percentage of individual connection as far as indispensable “harmonic gratification” is concerned, where “harmony” is translatable as “feeling quiet-minded and, at the same time, stirred by certain changes inside the piece’s structure”. Both “Feedcorn Ear” (the anagram of Arne Deforce’s name) and “A Cage Of Stars” (featuring Rhodri Davies bowing and eBowing the harp’s strings) belong to the “classic” section of Niblock’s annals. Places where what starts with, say, a cluster in the high register of the aural continuum is subjected to a process of dimensional extension, as the lower regions get involved and an exemplary cathedral of drones is gradually built in a mix of tonal dissolution and “inner fortitude’s rehab”.

The second disc contains three different renditions of a composition named “Two Lips”, one per guitar quartet. A pair of scores are performed simultaneously, and include twenty instrumental parts randomly distributed among the players. This system produces a flux of infinitesimal microtonal repositioning (obligatorily without the utilization of glissando, indicated as “antithetical” to Niblock’s idiom). The edition’s booklet explains the techno-physical principles rather clearly, and we are not going to parrot them here. The outcome is increasingly imposing and “blissfully intimidating” with each new spin, massive mantras disclosing ghosts of muted male choirs oscillating between neighboring pitches. The occasional jangling partials of single strings are caught as a gently ringing gradation in a limitless aura of resounding aliveness. Our spot in the “universe of right now” appears decisively demarcated as the mundane matters of the surrounding world remain shut out of this indiscernible sphere of untainted vibration.

Honest: I could breathe my final breath surrounded by this awe-inspiring music. But since this might not happen soon, I’ll be content with finding myself bathing in such a glorious nature of acoustic significance after the bureaucratic impediments of corporeal continuation have been taken care of. [Massimo Ricci]


VITAL (Netherlands):

This year Phill Niblock will be 80 or perhaps already is. That wasn't the reason that I recently played all of the CDs I have from him. I am simply playing all the CDs I have in general, to see what I would like to keep and what can go. I must have never looked properly at the covers as I never noticed the repeated instruction to play the music so loud that your neighbors two miles down the road can still hear it. It's not how I enjoy his music, but I decided all of his works were 'keepers'. Here we have a double CD, with two different kind of works. The two pieces on the first CD are 'traditional' Niblock pieces, in which he record tones played by an instrument ('by an instrumentalist'), and the arranges these tones 'into multi-layered settings, making thick textured drones, with many microtones'. He has done this with guitars, cello, hurdy gurdy for instance. The other CD has three pieces which are actually scored and played by a number of musicians. They play the piece in small variations and record thus ten versions in a day which are then mixed together. These pieces are essentially the same, but played by three different ensembles of guitar players. The first disc here has a piece for cello and a piece for harp, the latter played by Rhodri Davies. Both approaches are excellent. The differences between the pieces on the second disc are small, and perhaps also small with the music we find on the first disc, but that is of course the whole esthetic nature of the music of Phill Niblock. His music is very much drone based, thick, immensely layered and one that works really well for me. I spoiled the review by stating that everything I already have from him is a 'keeper' and this new work is no different. It's again a great majestical sound of swarming massed drones, and Niblock once again shows us, he's the true master of this trade. His music is never static, but always seems to be on the move, with minor changes going on all the time. It's all highl [FDW]

SWQW (France):

"No harmony. No melody. No rhythm. No bullshit." (Phill Niblock)

C’est un peu cela, la musique de Phill Niblock. Quelque chose qui s’approcherait du linéaire, aplanirait lentement les mouvements de ses textures sonores. Rythme tassé, ingurgité dans une masse compacte. "Please play this record LOUD" préconisait-il sur l’un de ses précédents albums. Jouées à haut volume (et dans de bonnes conditions, cela va sans dire), les longues pistes du compositeur américain ne laissent en effet place à rien d’autre que l’omniprésence physique et acharnée du son. Pas d’échappatoire, simplement l’écoute, l’envahissement. Le reste importe peu, ou n’importe plus.

Toujours la même, et en permanence renouvelée. L’œuvre de Phill Niblock, personnage culte de la musique d’avant-garde américaine et grande figure du drone, fascine et impressionne. Depuis plus de cinquante ans, il bâtit un immense ouvrage empruntant à la fois à la musique, au cinéma ou encore à la photographie. The Movement of People Working, cette série de films de plus de 25 heures réalisée sur de nombreuses années, accordait ainsi la répétition du geste à celle du flux sonore de ses compositions.

Depuis toutes ces années, Phill Nibock applique inlassablement la même méthode : il enregistre des notes jouées par des instruments acoustiques (ce qui l’a amené, notamment, à collaborer avec de nombreux musiciens tels que Rafael Toral ou Thurston Moore), puis multiplie les couches, organise et modifie les hauteurs en jouant sur les micro-intervalles (cet intervalle plus petit qu’un demi-ton). Et ce qu’il faisait à ses débuts sur bandes magnétiques, il le fait aujourd’hui à l’aide de la technologie informatique.

Touch Five est un double album marquant sa cinquième apparition chez Touch. Il vient ainsi rejoindre des albums majestueux tels que Touch Strings ou Touch Three. Sur le premier disque, deux pistes, de presque trente minutes chacune. On y retrouve Arne Deforce au violoncelle (présent par ailleurs sur d’autres travaux de l’américain), puis Rhodri Davies à la harpe électrique. Le second volet, quant à lui, offre trois versions de Two Lips, morceau conçu comme deux partitions jouées simultanément et elles-mêmes sous-divisées en différentes parties instrumentales, à partir de trois quatuors de guitare.

On pénètre sur cet album comme dans une logique où les segments sonores s’étirent, se répètent, s’enchâssent en se réitérant, appuyant leur propre insistance sur un mécanisme gagné par l’immensité. Dans une lancinance presque maritime, Touch Five tend à modifier la perception du temps, et donne à voir dans le poids démesuré de ses couches et de ses textures des étendues de lumière et de silence noir. Avec sa façon de créer des drones à la densité exceptionnelle (ce sont parfois 40 pistes qui donnent forme au morceau entier), de vouloir fixer le temps dans une vibration de l’infini, Phill Niblock continue, à désormais quatre-vingt ans, d’ouvrir sa musique sur une dimension supplémentaire, lui donnant une présence proche de la démesure. [Aurélie S.]

Campus Radio (France):

I’ve begun with Phil Niblock, american composer that is active for a long time now, but it took a while for him to be known and recognized on the so-called minimalist, ambient music scene and other similar adjectives. He created his own genre and above all his own style beyond those terms often hackneyed and gradually losing their meanings. At the beginning he produced some experimental films and by using his compositional method for visuals based on long shots, without any effects, comments and editing he started to compose contemplatives musical pieces, fixed at first sight but in a state of movement in fact. He uses microtones that create a state where we’re between two precise pitch that our ears know well but not really, it makes a particular sensation between, tonality, dissonance and atonality. Moreover, it creates beats when several sound sources share almost the same pitch that varies inside those microtones. Here is where the movements come from and the listening is renewing itself when a musical situation seems fixed. On “Touch Five” released on the label Touch, Phil Niblock uses cello, electric harp and electric guitar quartets to achieve his vision. I’ve aired one version of the piece “Two Lips” interpreted by the Cod Dah Guitar Quartet, when we listen to it we don’t know if we’re listening to electric guitars anymore, Phli Niblock is used to cut the attack of his sound sources, making us more lost that we are but for the good of it.

Then, as it was the show of long pieces I’ve talked about the collaboration between KK Null, Israel Martinez and Lumen Lab. The first one is a well known musician from the experimental electronic japanese scene and on the international scale too. The two others are brothers and mexican and known for the first one for is deep field recordings productions and the last one for his electronic music activities. A nice proof of musical diversity that predict a result beyond our expectations. They have exchanged isolated sounds and some fragments of compositions to achieve what we’re hearing on this release on Aago records. At first, on “Incognita” that I’ve aired an extract from and on “Terra” a limited release. What is coming out from these pieces are the inherent qualities that are inside these musicians in this project. The parts from KK Null are powerful and semi-rhythmic and drives the entity, Israel Martinez shows how well he can managed to integrate his treated field recordings and Lumen Lab set the atmosphere with his deep drones. The three of them creates something really original and unique and I must say I’ve not listened to a so well crafted work like this before. They succeed in mixing in a good way their respective identity without interfering with each other, on the contrary they complete each other perfectly. It’s where we see the strength of musical collaborations that often lead to novelty and originality. Unity makes strength and even more in music, especially when you know how to surround yourself with talented people.

I’ve finessed with Orphax, a dutch artist on the dutch label Moving Furniture. This album has a dutch tittle too “De tragedie van een liedjesschrijver zoned wooden” translated in “The tragedy of a song writer without words”, it carries well what Orphax wants to convey through his music and this intention behind it. The pieces on this album were written during a long period, the same that was disrupting for the dutch musician. He wrote those pieces to evoke this part of his life but without words. Orphax started by composing ambient tracks adding gradually drone elements then seeking a kind of minimalism and a lo-fi esthetic. His main goal is to create a psychedelic mind influencing atmosphere. It’s true that like every long pieces put us on a kind of similar state and we’re strucked by the music and this is the case with Orphax, we feel the detailed work on each sound that we try to isolate and revisiting them in their context in the subtlest parts, the ones that I prefer in his music. There are some textured pads that are richer and richer. We feel the feedback works behind all of this or the sounds used have this wild and unpredictable quality at least. His music without words succeeds in transposing the emotions he went through in the past, everything is tortured, deep and damaged. For me, he has successfully met the challenge.

Nowamuzyka (Poland):

To nie jest muzyczne obmacywanie się, lecz pięć konkretnych uszczypnięć od Philla Niblocka.

2 października Phill Niblock, jeden z najważniejszych żyjących awangardowych kompozytorów, świętował swoje 80. urodziny. Pierwszą jego miłością był film i fotografia. Pod koniec lat 50. zamieszkał w Nowym Jorku, gdzie też głównie zajmował się kręceniem filmów dokumentalnych i robieniem zdjęć dla muzyków jazzowych (słynny jego obraz z 1966 r. pt. „Sun Ra – Magic Sun”). Komponowaniem muzyki zajął się dosyć późno, bo dopiero w 1968 r. powstały jego pierwsze prace, a co ciekawe Niblock nie posiada wykształcenia muzycznego, tworząc wyraźnie kierował się intuicją, która nadawała określony tor jego muzyce. Eksperymentował z taśmami, łącząc je z dźwiękami wydobywanymi z tradycyjnych instrumentów. Od końca lat 90. umiłował sobie nowe technologie komputerowe (zwłaszcza oprogramowanie Pro Tools). Niblock to również kluczowa postać katalogu brytyjskiej wytwórni Touch, gdyż od 13 lat wydaje w tej oficynie swoje płyty.

Tegoroczne wydawnictwo „Touch Five” zawiera dwie płyty kompaktowe. Kompozycja „FeedCorn Ear” została rozpisana na elektronikę i wiolonczelę belgijskiego muzyka Arne Deforce. Prawie półgodzinne nagranie powstało w 2012 r. m.in. w studiu Marcusa Schmicklera w Kolonii, gdzie istotną rolę odegrały mikrofony, znajdujące się w tym studiu, następnie Niblock pracował u siebie w Nowym Jorku w Experimental Intermedia, a zakończył pracę będąc w Londynie. „FeedCorn Ear” stanowi również trzecią i ostatnią część tzw. wiolonczelowej trylogii. Dwie poprzednie części można odnaleźć na płytach („Touch Three”, 2006 i „Touch Strings”, 2009), które miały w sobie sporo dusznego klimatu. Z kolei utwór „FeedCorn Ear” jest zrealizowany w innej tonacji, brzmi bardziej przestrzennie, i jest w nim więcej dźwiękowego światła. Co nie zmienia faktu, że spotykamy się z dronową, powolną lawiną, w której mikrotonalne przesunięcia są niezwykle frapujące.

Nagranie „A Cage of Stars” pochodzi również z 2012 r., ale powstało w związku z setną rocznicą urodzin Johna Cage’a, a swoją premierę miało podczas AV Festival. Tutaj mamy elektronikę i elektryczną harfę Rhodri’ego Daviesa. Pierwsza prezentacja tego utworu miała miejsce w Newcastle w towarzystwie oscyloskopowych wizualizacji, uzyskanych dzięki oprogramowaniu Max MSP. Ważną rolę w „A Cage of Stars” odgrywa użycie smyczka e-bow przez Daviesa. Niekiedy mam wrażenie, że nawarstwiające się mikrotonalne struktury i harmonie są generowane przez syntezator. Kompozycje „FeedCorn Ear” i „A Cage of Stars” trafnie podsumowują to, co zdarzyło się w ostatnich latach w muzyce drone. Szczególnie da się to odczuć, patrząc na twórczość amerykańskich i europejskich kompozytorów średniego pokolenia wywodzących się z tzw. minimalizmu.

Na drugim krążku mamy trzy długie nagrania o tym samym tytule, czyli „Two Lips”, ale zagrane przez trzy różne gitarowe kwartety. Kompozycje zarejestrowano w 2011 r. i każda z nich trwa dwadzieścia trzy minuty. Pierwszy utwór został wykonany przez belgijski zespół Zwern i ciężko jest przyznać, że dźwięki wydobywają się z gitar. Bliżej tej kompozycji jest do muzyki generowanej, opierającej się o brzmienie syntezatora modularnego. Bardzo podobnie podszedł do sprawy nowojorski kwartet Dither w kolejnym utworze. Nieco inaczej zinterpretował ten fragment trzeci kwartet gitarowy z USA Coh Da (od tyłu czytane Ad Hoc). Utrzymali swoją płaszczyznę dźwięku na innych rejestrach, bardziej niskich i najbardziej mnie zachwycili swoją wersją.

„Touch Five” to ponad dwie godziny eksperymentów na najwyższym poziomie, choć jedynie przyczepiłbym się do długości trwania kompozycji. Niektóre fragmenty można by skrócić o te kilka minut. Zdecydowanie trzeba posłuchać pierwszej płyty, gdzie mamy dwa długie nagrania („FeedCorn Ear” i „A Cage of Stars”), które zrobiły na mnie największe wrażenie, a w drugiej kolejności amerykański zespół Coh Da. Trzy podstawowe składniki tego wydawnictwa to: kreatywny minimalizm, przestrzenne brzmienie dające się interpretować na wiele sposobów i Phill Niblock w świetnej formie kompozytorskiej.

Już dzisiaj będzie można zobaczyć na żywo Philla Niblocka w Krakowie, podczas festiwalu Audio Art. Kilka dni temu pisaliśmy na łamach Nowej Muzyki o tym wydarzeniu. [Łukasz Komła]

Sphere (France):

Je me rappelle encore la première fois que j'ai écouté Phill Niblock : à l'époque je recherchais des disques avec de la vielle à roue, et j'étais alors tombé sur un des volumes édités par Touch déjà, un disque qui m'avait bouleversé : Touch Works : For hurdy gurdy & voice (avec des samples de Jim O'Rourke à la vielle et de Thomas Bruckner à la voix). Mais parler de la musique de Niblock au-delà du choc émotif qu'il suscite est plutôt difficile je trouve, tant sa musique se joue sur peu. Je pense que tous les lecteurs de ce blog connaissent ce compositeur reconnu pour ses clusters microtonaux et minimalistes. Et se rendent compte que la description de la musique ne suffit pas à décrire l'expérience suscitée par l'écoute.

Touch Five est un bon exemple de ce cas. Tandis que le premier disque regroupe une pièce pour violoncelle avec Arne Deforce et une pièce pour harpe électrique avec Rhodri Davies, le second regroupe trois fois la même pièce jouée par trois quartets de guitare différents. Chacune des compositions n'adoptent pas les mêmes méthodes, et l'intrumentation varie : pourtant, la musique ne semble pas évoluer, mais elle est quand même toujours différente selon les interprètes et les réalisations, et on ne la ressent jamais de la même manière.

Tout est affaire de différence et de répétition d'un côté. Phill Niblock fait peut-être toujours la même chose, mais il le fait très bien en tout cas. Toutes les méthodes sont bonnes ainsi pour composer ces magnifiques clusters minimalistes qui explorent le son d'une corde, d'un instrument ou d'un orchestre de la même manière. Sur les deux premières pièces par exemple, Phill Niblock utilise ProTools pour mettre en avant le spectre microtonal dégagé par les deux instruments (le violoncelle puis la harpe). A partir d'une note fondamentale, Phill Niblock construit tout un nuage sonore, une texture dense, massive et hors du commun. Comme le disent les notes, la première pièce, Feedcorn Ear, possède un caractère très lumineux et ouvert, le violoncelle brille de lui-même et s'ouvre de manière presque fantastique à l'expérience de l'écoute. Quant à A Cage of Stars, c'est Rhodri Davies lui-même qui brille de précision et de finesse, tandis que le nuage est ici plus resserré et contrit, il dégage moins de lumière mais est tout aussi intense et envoutant.

Puis vient le second disque, assez monumental à vrai dire puisqu'il s'agit d'une seule pièce de 23 minutes, Two Lips, jouée trois de suite par trois formations différentes : le Zwerm Guitar Quartet (Kobe van Cauwenberghe, Matthias Koole, Toon Callier et Guy de Bièvre), le Dither Guitar Quartet (Taylor Levine, David Linaburg, Joshua Lopes, James Moore) et enfin le Coh Da Guitar Quartet (David First, Seth Josel, Robert Poss et Susan Stenger). Trois versions d'une partition composée de deux parties, l'une allant d'un sol à un fa dièse, et l'autre d'un sol dièse à un la, sans utiliser de glissando, et sans que la changement de tonalité s'entende non plus. Les musiciens utilisent comme d'habitude des micro-intervales très précis, et nous font naviguer d'une territoire sonore à un autre sans que l'on remarque la progression. On n'est ni dans la dissonance, ni dans la consonance, mais dans un nuage sonore pur, qui évolue de manière organique et progressive, par des frottements imperceptibles. En ce sens, la troisième version est certainement la plus réussie. Les écarts sont très proches, les frottements minimaux, sans compter que c'est la version la plus grave et la plus austère. Grave dans la tessiture, mais aussi dans l'ambiance, proche du statique, tout en évoluant de manière insensible.

Phill Niblock, fidèle à lui-même, offre ici trois pièces lumineuses, basées sur le nuage sonore qui progresse par microtonalité. C'est puissant, dense, massif, impressionnant, précis, voluptueux et sensible, très virtuose et méticuleux : bref j'adore. [Julien Héraud]

Le Son du Grisli (France):

Dans la lumière d’une lampe d'architecte, on imagine Phill Niblock penché sur ses travaux sonores. Là par exemple il retouche un enregistrement d’Arne Deforce (violoncelle) ou de Rhodri Davies (harpe). Un peu plus tard, il réécoute les interprétations d’une de ses pièces, Two Lips, par trois groupes différents de quatre guitaristes. Si j’ai pris ces exemples, c’est que je n'ai même pas eu à les inventer, et qu'ils se succèdent sur les deux CD de Touch Five.

Sur le premier, en multipliant les pistes et en altérant le timbre des instruments, Niblock transforme le violoncelle puis la harpe pour qu’ils tissent des drones de toutes sortes qui interfèrent tout en conservant une impression d’unité. Or, en se rapprochant du monochrome, on aperçoit les pixels et, une fois plongés dedans, on ne peut qu’applaudir l’envergure de ces nouvelles compositions.

Sur l'autre CD, le minimalisme de Two Lips est passé trois fois à la moulinette à dix-huit cordes. Par deux fois le résultat est anxiogène, ce qui n’empêche les groupes Zwer (Kobe Van Cauwenberghe, Matthias Koole, Toon Callier & Guy de Bièvre) et Dither (Taylor Levine, David Linaburg, Joshua Lopes & James Moore) de nous faire grand plaisir. Mais le meilleur est pour la fin : Coh Da (David First, Seth Josel, Robert Poss & Susan Stenger), moins radical, remue des couches branlantes à vous en faire perdre l’équilibre. Les cordes de guitares frétillent et derrière, y’a comme un truc qui remue : c’est la surprise qui vous attend! [Pierre Cécile]



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Phill Niblock - Touch Five


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Track 1:  FeedCorn Ear (excerpt)






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