Phill Niblock - Touch Food


Track listing:


1. Sea Jelly Yellow
2. Sweet Potato
3. Yam Almost May


1-4. Pan Fried 70

This CD was one of the albums of the year in The Wire (UK), 2003

Phill says "The pieces on this CD were made for and with the musicians Reinhold Friedl (piano), Ulrich Krieger (baritone saxophone), Carol Robinson (clarinets) and Kasper T. Toeplitz (electric bass). We recorded the instrument samples at CCMIX in Paris in April 2001. Two of the pieces were completed by the end of the residency of one month, and we recorded some passes of the musicians playing with the multitrack (in Protools) recording. Those were the clarinet and electric bass pieces. I made a few versions of the piano piece at CCMIX, and a test for the saxophone piece. That piece was completed in my studio in New York in March 2002, using 24 tracks in Protools. I had created an awkward situation, four pieces of 25 minutes, but a CD would only hold three. So I decided to make a 75 minute version of the piano piece. I became a little tired at 70 minutes, and since I am 70 this year, I stopped at that. I changed the structure of that piece every 15 minutes, so we have made a new program number at each 15 minutes."

From Gerard Pape, of CCMIX, Paris:

Phill Niblock: Timbre as Space in Suspended Time

In the music of Phill Niblock, we are confronted with the aural equivalent of trompe-l'oeil. Apparently static clouds of harmonically dense material turn out to be not so static as they appear. What's more, one has the distinct impression that the music is changing spatially over time . How is all of this possible ? The key is in Niblock's use of time. In his music, the experience of time is as very slow and continuous. There are no disruptive, discontinuous musical events to disrupt the flow of time. Time is suspended. Niblock's music gives the impression of having always been and continuing to be. Yet, this is not the idea of Being as stasis. Each time one feels tha Niblock's music isn't changing, one realizes that it is never the same, an yet, always the same.

Being and Becoming as one. Moving Immobility.

This is a music that breathes slowly and deeply. It changes its spatial form slowly, as a person who is in deep meditation changes the form of his body ever so slowly as he peacefully expands and contracts the walls of his chest cavity with each new cycle of inspiration/expiration.

For more information about Mr. Niblock, go to His previous Touch release is TOUCH WORKS FOR HURDY GURDY AND VOICE [Touch # TO:49, 2000]

Phill Niblock is a sixty-something New York based minimalist composer and multi-media musician and director of Experimental Intermedia, a foundation born in the flames of 1968's barricade hopping. He has been a maverick presence on the fringes of the avant garde ever since. In the history books Niblock is the forgotten Minimalist. That's as maybe: no one ever said the history books were infallible anyway. His influence has had more impact on younger composers such as Susan Stenger, Lois V Vierk, David First, and Glenn Branca. He's even worked with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo on "Guitar two, for four" which is actually for five guitarists. This is Minimalism in the classic sense of the word, if that makes sense. Niblock constructs big 24-track digitally-processed monolithic microtonal drones. The result is sound without melody or rhythm. Movement is slow, geologically slow. Changes are almost imperceptible, and his music has a tendency of creeping up on you. The vocal pieces are like some of Ligeti's choral works, but a little more phased. And this isn't choral work. "A Y U (as yet untitled)" is sampled from just one voice, the baritone Thomas Buckner. The results are pitch shifted and processed intense drones, one live and one studio edited. Unlike Ligeti, this isn't just for voice or hurdy gurdy. Like Stockhausen's electronic pieces, Musique Concrete, or even Fripp and Eno's No Pussyfooting, the role of the producer/composer in "Hurdy Hurry" and "A Y U" is just as important as the role of the performer. He says: "What I am doing with my music is to produce something without rhythm or melody, by using many microtones that cause movements very, very slowly." The stills in the booklet are from slides taken in China, while Niblock was making films which are painstaking studies of manual labour, giving a poetic dignity to sheer gruelling slog of fishermen at work, rice-planters, log-splitters, water-hole dredgers and other back-breaking toilers. Since 1968 Phill has also put on over 1000 concerts in his loft space, including Ryoji Ikeda, Zbigniew Karkowski and Jim O'Rourke.

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"In the mid 1960s, I was riding a two stroke, Yamaha motorcycle up a long mountain slope in the Carolinas, stuck behind a diesel engine truck. Both of our throttles were very open, overcoming the force of gravity. Soon, the revolutions of our respective engines came to a nearly harmonic coincidence, but not quite. The strong physical presence of the beats resulting from the two engines running at slightly different frequencies put me in such a trance that I nearly rode off the side of the mountain." (Phill Niblock)

So, Niblock's involvement with the drone is certainly one of an existential dimension, but there is also the fact that he was born a Libra 70 years ago under a constellation which leaves people to wander their entire lives looking for a certain kind of balance. With his music Niblock has found such a balance, or perhaps a state where organized sound floats and stands still at the same time.I was first introduced to many of the pieces on 'Touch Food' when I had the opportunity to witness one of his live performances at Glasgow's Instal Festival in 2002. The music was loud, the screenings large and bright; time seemed to stand still. We, the audience, found ourselves lost in a simple and pure unit of hypnotizing beauty. It was certainly one of the greatest performances I've ever experienced. Niblock's second release on Touch the double CD comprises three compositions for solo baritone sax, electric bass and clarinets; and a 70 minute piece for piano. Each piece follows his trademark method of having instrumentalists play long, held, pure tones or - in case of the piano piece - almost static movements which he layers track by track by track to create a long, slowly crawling tonal band that allows the frequencies to melt into each other to form a frozen momentum of eternal sound. 'Yam, almost May' for electric bass is an outstanding piece. Based on material performed by the French composer and software instrument designer Kasper T. Toeplitz, it has a hovering quality, like a shuttle into warmth. Meanwhile 'Pan Fried 70' features composer and pianist Reinhold Friedl playing the strings of a grand piano by working on them with another loose string, representing the other side of the sonic and emotional spectrum with its clangings and screeches of tortured metal. The effect of this long piece is breathtaking. 'Touch Food' is, in short, an exceptional collection of works by one of the outstanding composers of our time.

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Phill Niblock - Touch Food

MP3 sample

Track 1:  Sea Jelly Yellow

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