TO:59 – Phill Niblock “Touch Food”

DCD – 8 tracks

Track list:

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

1. Pan Fried 70, Part 1
2. Pan Fried 70, Part 2
3. Pan Fried 70, Part 3
4. Pan Fried 70, Part 4
5. Pan Fried 70, Part 5


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

%Array (UK):

“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.

Stylus (USA):

As a recent transplant to the Midwest, there’s a few things to which I’m still struggling to adapt, chief among them the noise — or lack of it. See, the last place I called home was a dirty corner of Brooklyn, where the ambient noise of sirens, multi-story parking lots, and street clatter meant that every walk through the neighborhood brought a new, distinct, and distinctly loud sonic experience that would trounce any musique concrete piece you’d care to throw at it. In contrast, my beautiful new riverside apartment is all restful, quiet, and calm — to my New York-trained ears, disturbingly so.At least, that’s what I thought until a recent evening smoke on the porch introduced me to one of the most ear-pleasingly alien sound sensations I’ve ever experienced — the Tornado Warning System Drill. I knew something was up when the minute-long alarm kicked in, but I could never have anticipated the corruscated drone that followed. A two-note sustained chord suddenly rang clear before slipping gradually and gracefully from harmony to discordance, then slowly building a stunning acoustic depth from the natural reverberation of the urban outdoors. It sounded like an ethereal distant cousin to Tony Conrad’s tinny and abrasive “Four Violins,” spacious and contemplative instead of harsh and invasive. In short, it sounded stunning, and when the drill abruptly finished twenty minutes later, I felt vaguely numb, as if awoken too early from a particularly pleasant slumber, or perhaps just plain kicked in the chest.Since that unexpected late night concerto, I’ve found myself craving something to replicate the experience, and the only thing I’ve discovered that does the trick is Phill Niblock’s newest double CD work, “Touch Food,” a two-hour long collection of processed recordings of clarinet, saxophone and electric bass. Which is perhaps not too surprising: after all, the now seventy year old composer has made a long and productive career delving into the musical possibilities of the timeless continuum. Though his reluctance to release his work in recorded format in favor of live performance has made him less of a household name than the likes of LaMonte Young and Terry Riley, Niblock is perhaps the most interesting of the American minimalist composers because of his staunch commitment to craftmanship (that, plus he never succumbed to the bid-for-popularity bug that resulted in so much cheeseball Philip Glass bunk). Like the sonic equivalent of a Rothko painting, Niblock’s work (given its first comprehensive overview in the compilation CD A Young Person’s Guide to Phill Niblock (Blast First)) focuses intently on microscopic, almost undetectable shifts of density and tone within an immersive whole. It’s an aesthetic that truly unfolds with the kind of undivided attention that opens up the subliminal motion churning beneath the surface.It’s also an aesthetic that benefits from Niblock’s own instructions (from the liner notes of G2, 44 +/ X2 (Moikai)) to “play very loud. If the neighbors don’t complain before the piece ends, it’s probably not loud enough. The ones that live a mile down the road, that is” Niblock isn’t joking: “Touch Food” sounds good loud but better LOUDER, particularly in the case of the cascading tonalities of the first CD. The opening track “Sea Jelly Yellow,” which draws from source recordings of Ulrich Krieger on baritone saxophone, begins inauspiciously enough with the same note repeated on left and right speakers, but gradually Niblock introduces a lower octave, then the tones begin to quaver a little, then a discordant note slides sneakily into the mix, until soon the piece has built into a quivering mass of molten energy that, yes, could quite easily irritate your neighbors. “Sweet Potato”, constructed from Carol Robinson’s bass clarinet, basset horn, and E-flat clarinet, achieves a similar but sweeter weight, plying sustained harmonics that swell into moments of almost melodramatic grandeur before seceding into hushed reverence. Played quiet, it’s hard to appreciate the masterful subtlety with which Niblock manipulates the component parts, but play it REALLY FUCKING LOUD and the whole achieves an engrossing, restless resonance that’s overwhelming, and overwhelmingly beautiful.Of course, the cynical listener may criticize Niblock’s work for sounding the same, and on a superficial level they’d be right: play a thirty second excerpt of any Niblock piece back-to-back and you’d be hard pressed to name the track from which it came. But Niblock’s pieces aren’t built for instant gratification: God really does lie in the details. The third track of the first disc, “Yam Almost May,” built from Kasper T. Toeplitz’s electric bass, demonstrates the kind of differences that open up to deep listening, building not over the course of twenty minutes but instead in a series of thirty second cycles, rotating in slow crescendos of high and low harmonics that begin to run out of phase to devastating effect. The second CD, composed of one long track, “Pan Fried 70,” divided (seemingly arbitrarily) into five movements, is more strikingly dissimilar, built from samples of Reinhold Friedly bowing a piano string with nylon. The metallic texture that results is stern and commanding, a million miles from the soft flutter of the wind instruments of the first disc, but Niblock’s manipulations range in tone from more contemplative passages to all out sturm-und-drang, all with the tightly controlled confidence of the master technician.Make no mistake: “Touch Food” is a demanding chunk of sound, and one that repels the kind of hyperspeed channel-surfing mentality that results in all those Kid606 and Donna Summer records. But with patience, the meticulously arranged drones of these two discs unfold into things of wonder. For those who thought Kevin Drumm’s Sheer Hellish Miasma could use an orchestral makeover — or for those who won’t be able to make it to the next Tornado Warning Drill — Phill Niblock will fit the bill quite nicely. [Nick Phillips]

%Array (UK):

Two things come to my mind while listening to Phill Niblocks’ music – Firstly his own discription of his initial expierience with the drone: »In the mid 1960’s, I was riding a two stroke, Yamaha motorcycle up a long mountain slope in the Carolinas, stuck behind a diesel engined 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.«. So, his involvement with the drone is certainly one of an existential dimension. Then there is the fact that he was born a libra almost 70 falls ago, the star concellation which leaves people wander around their entire life looking for a certain kind balance. With his music Niblock found such a balance or merely a state where organized sound floats and stands still at the same time.
Phill Niblock is a photogropher, film maker and composer of minimal music, three passions which have him traveling the world. He is also the director of Experimental Intermedia, an organisation found in the late 60s to provide a solid platform for intermedia arts with its highly frequented homebase in his downtown New York loft as well as a dependance in Gent, Belgium. In his own performances Niblock plays back his compositions from CD, sometimes with additional live appearances by instrumentalists, in combination with multiple screenings of extracts from his series “Movement of People Working”, an archive he is building up since the early 70s by filming in the most unpretentious way people around the world doing work like roasting coffeebeans, blacksmithing, prepearing food. I was introduced to some of the pieces on ‘Touch Food’ when I finally had the chance to visit one of Phills’ live performances during last years Instal festival in Glasgow. The music was loud (he instist on having his music played back as loud as possible), the screenings large and bright, time seemed to stand still. We, the audience found ourselfs lost in a simple and pure unit of hypnotizing beauty. It was certainly one of the greatest performances i’ve ever expierienced.

‘Touch Food’, his second release on the Touch label holds three compositions for solo baritone sax, electric bass, clarinets on one CD while a 70 (the number of the beast) minutes piece for piano fills up a second. Each piece follows Niblocks’ method of having instrumentalists play long held pure tones or – in case of the piano piece, almost static movements which Niblock layers track by track by track to a long, slowly crawling tonal band that allows the frequencies to melt with each other to form a frozen momentum of eternal sound.

»Yam, Almost May« for electric bass is an outstanding piece for me. The composition is based on material performed by french composer and designer of software instruments Karspar T. Toeplitz at the CCMIX in Paris and like »Four Full Flutes« it has this hoovering quality, like a shuttle into warmth. (Please note – because things happen track 2 and 3 have been swapped on the CD master for disc 1, so where the track listing states the clarinet piece is playing, you’ll hear electric bass and vice versa). The before mentioned »Pan Fried« crafted of basic material performed by Berlin based composer and pianist Reinhold Friedel playing the strings of a grand piano by working on them with another loose string represents the other side of the sonic and emotional spectum with its clangings and screechs of tortured metal. The effect of this long piece is breathtaking to say the least, after it is over you probably wont know were you’ve been during the last hour.

‘Touch Food’ is an exceptional collection of works by one of the outstanding composers of our time. [Stephan Mathieu]

Touching Extremes (web):

For those unfortunate ones who still haven’t approached the music of Phill Niblock, this could be the perfect entrance door as “Touch food”, a double CD set, represents a nice selection of facets of the Indiana composer’s vision, all the while adding new perspectives and several fresh perceptions of his (by now famous) wall of droning soundscapes. The first disc begins with maybe the best piece of this collection, namely “Sea jelly yellow” where the masterful Ulrich Krieger’s baritone sax is the basic source. The power of this music is actively working on every single brain cell, producing a mixture of hypnosis and ear(th)quake depending on the level you listen to it. Even if centered around pretty low frequencies, the track shows a multitude of changing aural colours and it’s surely one of Niblock’s overall tops. “Yam almost May”, built upon Kasper T.Toeplitz’s electric bass vibration, sounds apparently a little softer than usual ; the bass is matter of factly played with the e-Bow resonating device. Nevertheless, it trades the force of the previous track with an accurate analysis of instrumental nuances, its beauty and complexity appearing under the surface and manifesting themselves through repeated playing. “Sweet potato”, born from Carol Robinson’s clarinets and basset horn, transforms the basic material in something unrecognizably near to a harmonium-cum-string section, with the usual ever-so-subtly shifting, long droning sea; Phill advises to lower the volume just a little during listening, in order to fully reproduce the track’s character. The real news comes from the second disc, completely filled with Reinhold Friedl’s piano string bowing in the continuum of “Pan Fried 70”. The Bösendorfer is the best resounding acoustic piano you can put your hands on; its large cathedral-like reverb helps Niblock establishing a moving, growing undercurrent springing to more powerful emanations in the middle-to-final parts; the composer recommends to take care of our woofers for the “enormous” bass mass charging out of the piece. Imagine a high-density fusion between Stephen Scott’s bowed piano pieces and the final chord of Beatles’ “A day in the life” strummed by Glenn Branca’s ensemble on the very same strings – only melted, stretched and bathed in more rumbling lows to drone your own self into a real-time oblivion. A definitive affirmation, so full of meaning yet. [Massimo Ricci]

The Wire (UK):

Phill Niblock is perhaps the least known exponent of the minimalist tradition. A relative lack of recorded output had denied him the attention of the likes of La Monte Young and Steve Reich, although a British concert in 1994 arranged by Blast First did boost his profile on these shores. He is arguably the most minimal of the minimalists – he makes Terry Riley sound like Mike Oldfield in comparison. Niblock requires the listener to re-evaluate their relocation with music in space and time. At first acquaintance with Touch Food, a double CD collection, each piece seems to consist of his holding a single, albeit multilayered note or chord which ‘goes’ nowhere. It merely hovers for anything up to 20 minutes like some gigantic UFO overhead, before dying away. Once you get inside this music rather thasn observe it with bemusement, the effect is rapturous and – well, maximal.

Niblock achieves his effects through multitracking of live and processed tracks and sampling, all based on original performances on acoustic instruments. He creates an aural illusion of continuity, like the perpetual gush of a waterfall, for instance. In reality, his ingenious layering methods mean that all kinds of infinitesimal but crucial structural and sonic shifts are taking place on a cumulative basis. The naming of the pieces is arbitrary, based on puns on the names of the players or the note they’re played in. “Sea Jelly Yellow”, based around Ulrich Krieger’s baritone saxophone, is the most dense and seemingly unchanging of these pieces, a formidable challenge for the novice. “Sweet Potato”, featuring Carol Robinson on bass clarinet, basset horn and Eb clarinet is marginally looser, the variations more tangible, the wavering bass throbs like a solemn chorus of foghorns, or male sirens. “Yam Almost May”, featuring Kasper Toeplitz on electric bass, lists and lurches like a looped extract from Gavin Bryar’s The Sinking of the Titanic. Press the CD fast-forward button, however, and like one of those time-delay shots of flowers opening and closing, you’ll get a surprising sense of its musical edition.
Most awesome of all is “Pan-Fried 70”, initially intended as a 75 minute piano piece but, because the composer is 70 this year and “became a little tired after 70 minutes”, it stops there. Divided up into five segments, it is performed with a single nylon string tied to a single piano string, “Stroked with Roisin fingers”. And yet, once processed, its multiple sonic effects, both real and the result of what you might call a trompe l’oreille, are immense, swarming the entire sky like a heavenly host. Niblock recommends you play his music loud, which always seems like cheating to me, but this truly benefits from being cranked up. It’s like the end of the world. [David Stubbs]

VITAL (Netherlands):

Cinematic textures build in the drone of “Sea Jelly Yellow”. Phill Niblock’s minimalst tapestry is continually woven and on this two disc recording we experience the full-on essence of a septegenarian in his prime. This dramatic place is filled with pure ambience and ambiguity, making it a difficult listen for untrained ears. At once striking and dense, Niblock employs the superb baritone sax work by collaborator Ulrich Krieger. The younger German has added his own aboriginal styled slant in the work, organic and free. As “Sweet Potato” introduces itself with a quiet elongated entrance, a fervor is built with collaborator Carol Robinson. Robinson’s tools include clarinets and a bass horn. Here the listener experiences dusk by way of listening, watching, waiting. The music here slows time and looks at the world with a scrutinizing, macro approach. Toying with our consciousness of delayed realism, altering our need for precision and clear linear thinking, this cleans our system of any excess, leaving us hovering. With collaborator Kasper T. Toeplitz on electric bass, “Yam almost May” begins. More of a sound sculptor than your average musician, Toeplitz is a young French player who has already been around the block and back, with many wonderful recordings to his credit. The track sounds like a travelogue, and quite contained, unlike something that probably has some elements of improvisation. The microsound pods have been broken and the drone inside is spilling and spreading everywhere. When shuffling to disc two “Pan Fried 70” is a seventy minute long collection in five movements. Here Niblock includes Reinhold Friedl’s piano work which adds an even deeper, physical elements to the overall sonic mix. The piece plays on levels, like steps, large, wide steps. Dreamy and rapturous, this is also chilling after a while. The emotional impact of the sounds is really quite bizarre. I am sure I am supposed to dread or materialize something when listening to this disc. What comes to life is fleeting industry, corregated manpower, less of the human hand, the human touch in all we do. There is some type of comment embedded that is open discussion for our world in chaos, a world of communication, at war. The overall work’s correlation to food, beyond the lovely packaging images of villages and people cooking in China, is totally foreign to me. [TJN] (USA):

Most music is only understood within a specific cultural context. Rarely is a song respected or admired without a clear understanding of its place on the dialogical timeline, whether it’s due to the genre they fall under or the “scene” in which they arose. For example, could an album like Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot be as respected and admired without knowing the story behind it, or if it came out in the late 70s, or if it was written by KKK members? And on a separate, albeit similar note, most of these forms of popular music conform to both verse-chorus-verse structures and teleological principles (e.g. tension & release, arcs, buildups, climaxes, etc)– delayed gratification, one might say. But what if there was music that didn’t rely solely on context and the teleological principle? What if there was music made purely for the sake of sound, and only that? This is where Phill Niblock and his latest album, Touch Food, come in. Niblock is known for his digitally-processed microtonal drones, monolithic music that features little-to-no variation, experienced “in the moment,” and not in sections and parts. His lengthy pieces usually revolve around one pitch, and throughout their fleeting existences, Niblock lets the music suspend itself in time. He doesn’t create waves of crescendos, dramatic buildups, or cathartic releases; instead, he lets the pieces unfold subtly and modestly, taking the listener essentially nowhere. And that’s the point. This is not music to drive to, to laugh to, to cry to. This is music in its purest form; there’s no bullshit teasing or playing with emotions. Without major or minor notes (he often abstains from using the third), the semiotics of the music is ambiguous at best. They’re neither sad nor happy, dreamy nor scary. The music is so “deadpan,” you don’t really know what to feel after each song. The great thing is, you’re not expected to feel anything. However, the mood to fill your body with one endless drone is not often craved. You have to literally force yourself to listen to it. It’s like choosing whether you want to feel the music in the usual abstract sense (semiotics, emotions, representation), or in a physical sense. Try playing this album at volume ten and close your eyes. It’ll seep into your skin and flood your nervous system, drenching your body in rich and colorful tones. And because of its insistent droning, you feel empty and hollow when the music ends. Not in a nostalgic sense, where you miss the music or wish something were in its place, but an actual feeling of emptiness. You’ll feel as if you’re missing a vital constituent of your soul. And I ask you: when was the last time a rock album did that to you? This is music for listeners who want a challenge, who want something totally different, who want activity instead of passivity. The music doesn’t tell you what to think, or how to think, or what to feel. It’s yours for the taking, and you should make the best of the opportunity. Try listening to first track “Sea Jelly Yellow.” If you feel upset afterward because it failed to “move” you or provide some sort of stimulation, you’ve already missed the point.

Matiere Brut (France):

Après Touch works, for hurdy gurdy and voice, le vieux maître est de retour sur le label londonien Touch avec cette fois un album comprenant deux disques, au nom évocateur de Touch Food. Le tout comprend quatre pièces musicales, chacune ayant été construites autour de samples d’instruments : saxophone bariton sur le morceau Sea Jelly Yellow (interprété par Ulrich Krieger), clarinette et cor sur Sweet Potato (interprété par Carol Robinson), basse électrique sur Yam almost May (interprété par Kasper T. Toeplitz) et enfin piano sur Pan fried 70 (interprété par Reinhold Friedl). Phill Niblock avait au départ construit quatre morceaux de 25 minutes chacun mais comme le tout ne pouvait tenir sur un seul disque, il décida de retravailler la pièce comportant du piano pour finalement la faire durer 70 minutes, en changeant la structure toutes les 15 minutes. Encore une fois, le New-Yorkais arrive à nous faire pénétrer un monde minimaliste où tout est suspendu aux infinis drones microtonaux sur lesquels le temps n’a aucune prise. Dès les premières mesures, le monde environnant semble ralentir ; on se laisse peu à peu glisser dans une sorte de profonde léthargie au fur et à mesure que les sons se superposent et s’entremêlent, créant de subtils variations et résonances.

All About Jazz (Italy):

Ho avuto la fortuna di passare qualche giornata [meglio dire serata] in compagnia di quel simpatico signore che corrisponde al nome di Phill Niblock, settant’anni nel 2003, ironico e bonario, geniale e spiazzante, uno dei grandi musicisti – misconosciuto e fondamentale – dei nostri tempi. Avendolo conosciuto personalmente e avendo potuto assistere alla presentazione di alcuni suoi lavori dal vivo [un paio dei quali sono presenti in questo doppio CD], posso tranquillamente consigliare di non farsi sfuggire per nulla al mondo la possibilità di fruire la sua musica con la giusta spazializzazione, dal momento che è una delle esperienze più emozionanti che possa capitarvi. Attivo sin dalla metà degli anni ’60 con performance multimediali – anzi, come dice lui, “intermediali” – Phill Niblock fa sostanzialmente la stessa musica da sempre: sbrigativamente accostato ai minimalisti [da cui però lo separano alcune fondamentali differenze di estetica], il compositore lavora sugli intervalli e sulle frequenze di tono, registrando uno strumento e poi riprocessandone il suono in un ulteriore accostamento tra strumento acustico e il suo doppio elettronico che crea dei lenti sfasamenti che si perdono nell’infinito. Quello che si ascolta è quindi un drone, abitualmente bassissimo di frequenza, ma che deve essere suonato a volumi altissimi [come prescrive sempre con attenzione lo stesso compositore], un drone che muta lentamente e nel quale si perde il senso stesso dello strumento per scoprire un incredibile caleidoscopio di microtoni. Si tratta di un’esperienza conturbante, un gigantesco “om” che ruota con la pigrizia di una nebulosa lontana, un tuffo nelle particelle più intime dell’aria, un trasfigurarsi tra spazio e ascolto, tra strumento e elettronica che, come si può intuire, il cd non può restituire nella sua interezza [a meno di non possedere un impianto e un ambiente idonei… ma poveri vicini di casa!] Nei due dischi che vanno sotto il nome di Touch Food – corredati da uno splendido libretto con le fotografie scattate dallo stesso Niblock in Cina e che ritraggono la quotidianità del lavoro manuale e alimentare – troviamo quattro composizioni: nel primo CD “Sea Jelly Yellow” vede protagonista il sax baritono di Ulrich Krieger, “Sweet Potato” il clarinetto basso e il corno di bassetto di Carol Robinson, “Yam Almost May” il basso elettrico di Kasper Toeplitz. Come detto, il procedimento è sempre quello, l’esito risulta più monolitico in “Sea Jelly Yellow”, mentre “Sweet Potato” sembra quasi indugiare con dolcezza, dondolarsi, e il brano con il basso elettrico disegna delle linee parallele e strettissime che sembrano perdersi nello spazio. Il secondo CD è interamente dedicato a “Pan Fried 70” [il 70 si riferisce sia al minutaggio inizialmente programmato che all’età del compositore], con protagonista assoluto il pianoforte di Reinhold Friedl: il suono è ottenuto mediante lo sfregamento di un filo di nylon attorno a una corda del pianoforte e l’effetto è celestiale, a tratti lascia atterriti [specie dal vivo] come se si stesse materializzando una sorta di apocalisse sonora! Cercando di riassumere: Phill Niblock è un grande compositore e dal vivo è imperdibile, gli appassionati non perderanno questo doppio CD, ma anche chi non lo conosce – e non potesse agevolmente sperimentare la dimensione live – troverà un importante spaccato della sua produzione più recente… la filosofia è quella del “naufragar m’è dolce in questo mare!”

Valutazione: * * * *

Per saperne di più su Phill Niblock:

and other foreign language reviews can be found here

Blow Up (Italy):

Prendete la copertina di “Touch Food”, e davvero un must di per se. Un libretto che contiene una nutrita serie di immagini ricavate da diapositive scattate da Phill Niblock in Cina molti anni fa, immagini sulla dignita del lavoro umano e manuale. Ma detta cosi sembra un’ovvieta. E’ la sensibilita per l’immagine piu autentica invece, anzi per quelle immagini di vita vissuta che spesso accompagnano anche i suoi concerti, a farne un piccolo capolavoro di umanita. E la musica e sempre quella di Niblock che sembra non cambiare mai, proprio come il quotidiano, ma proprio per questo sempre vera, intensa, insostituibile. Tecnicamente e sempre il movimento di microtonalita che si evolvono lentamente, e come sempre il volume richiesto per l’ascolto e sostenuto. In Sea Jelly Yellow il suono fluisce per mano del sax baritono di Ulrich Krieger, in Sweet Potato e il clarinetto basso e il corno basso di Carol Robinson. In Yam Almost May tutto e incentrato sul basso elettrico di Kasper T.Toeplitz. Ma il piu sorprendente e il secondo cd dove Pan Fried per il solo piano di Reinhold Friedl pur suddivisa in 5 parti, ne copre la durata per tutti i 70 minuti. “Sarebbero stati 80 in origine suddivisi in quattro parti da 25 minuti ciascuna, ma tenendo conto del supporto limitato del cd e del fatto che a 70 minuti ero un po’ stanco e poi che compio 70 anni quest’anno! ho cosi deciso di stoppare il pezzo un po’ prima”, afferma col solito humor Phill Niblock. In ogni caso mai un piano prima d’ora mi e parso suonare cosi potente e droning! (8) [Gino Dal Soler]

Ambient Trance (USA):

Phil Niblock constructs massively churning harmonic oceans. Each track sourced from a single instrument, Touch Food emits the kind of drones that even people who don’t get drones should be able to understand… In Sea Jelly Yellow, Ulrich Krieger’s baritone saxophone is drawn out into fantastically loooong phrases alive with subtle activities. “Short” track Sweet Potato (24:10) unfurls on multileveled horn drones from Carol Robinson’s bass clarinet, basset horn and Eb clarinet; stratified currents ripple, sometimes throbbing with intense lows. Constructed of Kaspar T. Toeplitz’ electric bass, Yam Almost May writhes hypnotically, often in higher registers than I expected; the tonal layers shift and course with buzzing energies, sounding rather like a slow-motion accordion wheeze. Like a living/breathing entity of vast droning, the sole track of CD two, Pan Fried 70 (70:13) is deep, dense and actually rather fascinating… even if there’s not much ostensibly “going on”, you’re swallowed into its everchanging tapestry, born from “a single nylon string tied to a single piano string. The string was stroked with rosined fingers, with either the third pedal held down, or the open pedal”… incredible! In the track’s third stretch, the flows seem to emit mirage-like contours, then gradually fade back, only to rise again in nearly-black growls, boiling down to greyer currents as the piece continues its glacial evolution. Touch Food’s tonestreams are so utterly continual, they leave a tangible void when they fade away… 70-year-old Phil Niblock has composed some strangely compelling aural plains. [A]

Brainwashed (USA):

Some might call Niblock single minded, in that he always approaches composition in pretty much the same way. Take a living drone then double it, treble it, increase overlayed density until new harmonic overtones appear. What is nice is that he seems to be able to up the ante with each release. This is his most mind-altering selection of droners yet, and its actually pretty difficult to listen to the whole thing without zoning out into the void completely. Over two CDs there are four different instrumental approaches foregrounded, and it’s the different textures of each instrument that characterize each of Niblock’s compositions. Even so, he seems to have more light and shade and ebb and flow here than in some of his earlier more static tracks. Perhaps the stand out track is “Yam Almost May” with bowed and e-bowed bass drones played by Kaspar T. Toeplitz, sampled and superimposed by Niblock. This builds up ever expanding and enlarging swathes of harmonic density, sounding more like a deep wind instrument than a bass guitar. The first disc also features heavy baritone sax C tone drones on “Sea Jelly Yellow” and similarly opaque clarinet, bass clarinet and basset horn lockdown. The second disc is a four-part skullfuck that takes the dear old piano to corners it rarely visits courtesy of a nylon string tied to a single piano string and is seventy minutes long mostly because Niblock is seventy this year. The sound it makes is more like Glenn Branca’s symphonic guitar army than a regular piano, and I keep expecting those massive drums to come rolling over the horizon. Of course the drums never come, leaving the massed ecstatic bass tones to boom on in eternal foreplay. The booklet includes photos of Asians growing and making food and some thoughts on Niblock’s drones from Gerard Pape, who makes a case for shape shifting ‘timbre as space in suspended time.’ Featured saxophonist Ulrich Krieger also comments on some differing technicalities of pieces he’s performed in collaboration with Niblock, and guitar droner Rafael Toral raises some interesting ideas about the emotional impact of various Niblock tracks. I find Niblock’s music really useful for blocking out everything when I want to rest and there’s a lot of noise going on. It also seems to annoy the hell out of trendy fuckwits, ‘that’s-not-music’ ignoramuses and attention seekers with low attention spans. The blocks seep by so slowly that change is almost imperceptible until some new overtone brings on a seismic shift. His images of people working might be apt in respect of monotony, but on another level, if you were to actually chop wood and lug boxes into boats with Niblock on full blast you’d probably zonk out and fall in the river or accidentally cut off your poor little hand. Lord let Phill fuck your mind completely! [Graeme Rowland]

Bad Alchemy (Germany):

Gewaltiges Brainfood serviert erneut auf Touch der Extrem-Minimalist und Drone-Kardinal PHILL NIBLOCK mit seinem Touch Food (TO:59, 2xCD). Vier Kompositionen vibrieren nacheinander durch den Raum: ‘Sea Jelly Yellow’ für Baritonsaxophon (Ulrich Krieger), ‘Sweet Potato’ für Klarinetten (Carol Robinson), ‘Yam almost May’ für gestrichenen Electric Bass (Kaspar T. Toeplitz) und ‘Pan Fried 70’ für Nylonfaden und Bösendorfersaite (Reinhold Friedl). Summende Mikrotöne verbreiten sich in Zeitlupe mit einem massiven Duft, so schwer wie ein Monolith. Niblock, der heuer 70 wird, gehört mit Tony Conrad und Charlemagne Palestine zu den erst spät entdeckten Urminimalisten, die konsequent an der von Wagner visionierten Umwandlung von Zeit in Raum, in zeitlose ewige Gegenwart arbeiten. Im Gegensatz zu den populär gewordenen Repetitiven, konzentriert sich Niblock auf Mikrointervalle. Wie Scelsi scheint er zu versuchen, in das Innere des einen gewaltigen Tones einzudringen, um mitzuschwingen im Nachhall des Urknalls, der mit der Ausbreitung des Universums identisch ist. Es gibt nur den einen Ton, der aber enthält in komprimierter Dichte, in >bewegter Unbewegtheittimbral alchemytimbre as space in suspended time<.

Baltimore City Paper (USA):

Lots of art requires patience, but none more so than the music and films of Phill Niblock. His small but heavy body of work is the ultimate still life, at least for anyone who thinks the phrase “like watching grass grow” is more a compliment than a jab. Niblock may be the purest minimalist in music history; compared to his massive drones, the work of more famous practitioners like Steve Reich and Philip Glass sounds hyperactive. Niblock’s basic method is simple: Record a musician playing a single note for a long period of time, then edit, pitch shift, and layer the recording until it’s denser than the hardest diamond. The resulting music pulses and surges, but extremely slowly, almost subliminally. Its motionless progress is an intoxicating paradox: Listen to each piece straight through and it seems never to change, yet jump around within a track and the differences are stunning. Touch Food, Niblock’s second release for the adventurous Touch label, is, appropriately, more of the same. Disc 1 holds three 25-minute marathons utilizing saxophone, clarinet, and bass. The most mesmerizing is “Sweet Potato,” a molten stream of wind-tunnel sound, carved from Carol Robinson’s clarinet drones. Disc 2 is a 70-minute piece titled “Pan Fried 70,” the result of Niblock’s exhaustive layering of Reinhold Friedl’s bowing of a single piano string. Niblock originally built four 25-minute pieces out of Friedl’s drone but reduced it to single CD length, partially because, as he says on his Web site, he “became a little tired at 70 minutes, and since I am 70 this year, I stopped at that.” Split into five segments, the piece is an endurance test at any age, but it’s also fascinating, with cold metallic waves that slowly pile up into a mountain of pure sound. Niblock’s films are as monolithic as his music. While his most famous may be 1968’s The Magic Sun, a hypnotic portrait of the Sun Ra Arkestra, most of his movies feature repetitive, seemingly uneventful footage of people doing their jobs around the globe. The Movement of People Working DVD collects six such films from the ’70s and ’80s, which patiently document laborers in Mexico, Peru, Hong Kong, and Hungary. The soundtrack is more long Niblock drones from the same period, featuring cello, bassoon, and trombone. The obvious pun of these films–the work of drones accompanied by the sound of drones–gradually gets subverted, as the faceless labor takes on a diverse individuality when buried under the evolving, reverent music. Each worker solemnly bent over his task seems less an artisan than an artist, with the slight variations in the repeated motions slowly revealed, until nothing seems to happen twice. And what might seem on paper like boring activity looks on Niblock’s peculiar brand of celluloid like a majestically rich, infinitely noble pursuit. In the end, it’s such inversion of listener and viewer expectations that may be Niblock’s greatest achievement. His ability to create art that’s simple on the surface but mind-burningly complex just inches below, has yet to wane. [Marc Masters]

Repellant (USA):

Washing one’s face is never quite washing one’s face, though it often seems it; just as walking to the corner is never quite walking to the corner but always so very many things.

Waiting for the train is never quite waiting for the train, but it is often boring.
This collection of four multi-tonal drone collages from veteran composer and multi-media artist Phil Niblock is never quite a collection of drone pieces, nor is it boring. Instead, Touch Food provides four monoliths of opaque sonic trickery. Niblock’s music is one of expanse. Essentially, it is nothing, static, a panorama beyond visible fields of vision and regardless of time. Corporeally, Niblock’s compositions are a music of cycles; time scales concurrent and phased, living; dead, and undead sound – the aural expression of re-contextualizing the space-time continuum. Fundamentally, these pieces are the materials of music: sound and time. Niblock’s minimalist works suspend multiple tones in solid layers building a dense fog of sound over significant expanses of time. The result is empirically everything and nothing at once. Due to the nature of the baritone saxophone sampled for its creation, “Sea Jelly Yellow” has a certain basal, primal feel – a perpetual vibration and inherent ring. The overtones generated through the collage process provide the illusion of orchestration. You feel the piece develop from the gut. Despite the primary stasis, and singularity of tone, a ghost of a theme plays out; although, its very existence remains so ephemeral it is debatable. It all depends on how you accept faith. As the piece develops, it slowly builds in volume while amazingly maintaining density. From its inception, it seems Niblock has expanded the tones to critical mass, building tremendous chrome clouds varying only in luminosity. As the saxophone swells, morphing in manner seemingly unheard or unrecognized until now; a steady calm presides as the primary impulse. Experiencing the piece for a moment, or in its entirety provides a singularly hallucinatory effect, preying upon physical sensation to produce a spiritual and metaphysical epiphany, “Sweet Potato”, composed for three clarinets, seems above the plain of walking life in contrast to “Sea Jelly Yellow”. This is a music of the field, the winds just above the valley, a music of nowhere. Unlike the staunch and often gritty work of contemporaries such as Lamonte Young and Tony Conrad, Niblock’s recorded output, here constructed using 24-track digital tools and other very modern methods during a residency at the CCMIX in Paris, manages a powerful purity. Method and the composer’s deft manipulation of tone and micro-tonal phasing, however, dwarf the role of technology. Prior to CD and other digital processes provided the access to achieve and reproduce the magnificence of his compositions, Niblock had eschewed recording. Niblock’s Proponents argue his music loses an essential presence when experienced as recorded vs. location specific performance. However, that argument presents only one truth. By recording these works and making that sound mobile, Niblock allows the listener endless opportunity to experiment with perception in any spatial location. The warm, full, enveloping, baths of processed tone expose the full power of the instruments voiced. “Pan Fried”, a 70 minute drone culled from a piano played by Reinhold Friedl, reduces the innumerable possibilities of the piano to a single, mesmerizing, drone. Played loud, as the liner notes demand, the piece shatters all human notions, razing all prior understanding of sound. It exists without peers and truly defies verbal exploration or description while teaching the most abstract, yet tangible lesson in physics. The sounds seem to shift spatially, rather than sonically, in units approaching infinity in the minute sense. The resulting composite exhibits a complexity rivaling only distant space and the sub-atomic despite its highly polished obsidian façade. Packaged with illuminating liner notes and Niblock’s rich photography, Touch Food finally provides a concrete document testifying to the prowess, craftsmanship, and acumen of a much neglected actor in the strange saga of modern culture. [Ben Baumes]

Hawai (Chile):

A veces da un poco de algo parecido al miedo cuando se enfrenta a compositores y obras un tanto más grandes. Quizás deba llamarlo respeto. Es el caso de este trabajo, un disco que no es muy propio de esta época sino más bien uno cuya fecha podría ser perfectamente de hace cuatro décadas atrás, una época plagada de grandes obras que redefinieron la música moderna, que trajeron otras ideas musicales y que incluso serían retomadas por la cultura pop. Pero no es así, estamos en 2011, o más precisamente, en 2003, y estamos ante un artista ubicado en las estanterías en las que habitualmente no ponemos atención cuando vamos a una disquería, si es que acaso lo encontramos. Phill Niblock es uno de los grandes olvidados del minimalismo. Nacido en 1933 en Anderson, Indiana, es un cineasta, videoartista y, lo que nos interesa, compositor sin educación musical formal, que, motivado por la gran actividad artística que se daba en Nueva York en los sesenta, crea sus primeras obras –la primera data de 1968–. A comienzos solo con cintas, y hoy, ya mas avanzada la tecnología, con computador y programas.

“Touch Food” es la segunda de sus entregas para el sello londinense, un disco doble, extenso e inagotable. Grabado mayormente en el CCMIX (Center for the Composition of Music Iannis Xenakis) en París, luego completado en su estudio de Nueva York, reúne cuatro piezas, tres en el primero, dos en el segundo, donde transita libremente por aquello llamado drone, el movimiento quieto. Para entender un poco lo que él hace, es bueno detenerse y escucharlo: “A mediados de los sesenta estaba conduciendo una motocicleta Yamaha con un motor de dos tiempos en las laderas de un montaña en Carolina, detenido detrás de un camión a petróleo. Ambos aceleradores estaban encendidos, aguantando la fuerza de gravedad. Pronto, las revoluciones de nuestros respectivos motores llegaron a una coincidencia casi armónica, pero no del todo. La fuerte presencia física de los ritmos resultantes de los dos motores corriendo a frecuencias ligeramente diferentes me puso en un trance en que casi rodé por la montaña”. Ese hecho tan común, como escuchar el sonido de dos maquinas, produjo tal impacto en Phill que lo inspiró a buscar la música allí donde no tanto tiempo atrás no la había. El CD incluye “Sea Jelly Yellow”, con Ulrico Krieger en el saxo barítono, “Sweet Potato” con Carol Robinson en clarinete, y “Yam Almost May” con Kasper Toeplitz en bajo eléctrico. Todas las piezas fueron hechas para y con lo músicos, y, como indica la tradición, muy pocas notas, contadas con una sola mano, con solo dos dedos. Recuerden, aunque suene reiterativo, que esto no es más sino menos. Cada una de ellas se prolonga por más de veinte minutos, momento en un gran masa de ruido se apodera del espacio. Si uno lo escucha, preferentemente a gran volumen, en una habitación vacía el espacio comienza a llenarse de zumbidos eternos.

Originalmente serían cuatro tracks de 25 minutos, pero como el CD no aguanta tanto, optó por dos, y el segundo sería una pieza de 75 minutos que se quedaron en menos –“Me sentí cansado a los setenta minutos, y desde que tengo setenta años, me detuve ahí”–. Fragmentado en cinco partes, “Pan Fried 70” es una larga obra, con Reinhold Friedl al piano, y con cambios en la estructura cada quince minutos, las cuerdas resuenan como si algo grande estuviera por suceder. El ruido furioso del piano parece desbordarse, como si ese tiempo y ese espacio no fueran suficientes, demasiado pequeños para caber en su universo sin límites. No hemos perdido dos horas de la vida, no hemos “perdido” dentro de dos horas.

Actualmente Phill Niblock va para los ochenta años, y sigue produciendo música. El 2009 apareció “Touch Strings” (Touch) y el 2010 “Sound Delta” (Touch) dentro de la serie TouchRadio, lo que confirma su vigencia a su ya avanzada edad. “Touch Food” es una muestra, solo una, en la que uno se puede fácilmente desvanecer. Una enorme obra de minimalismo interminable, música física donde sentirse perdido y dejarse caer por la montaña.