Phill Niblock "Touch Three"

Dream (USA):

The Sound Projector (UK):

Chicago Reader Year End List (USA):

Niblock’s vast expanses of sound are like seascapes, both unchanging and endlessly variable. On this three-CD set, the latest document of the septuagenarian’s extraordinary late-career creative burst, massed guitars sound like bowed telephone lines and gorgeous layers of saxophones move as slowly as the day’s last rays of sunlight fading from the underside of a bank of clouds.

Dusted Year End List 2006 (USA):

Phill Niblock’s Touch Three was not only his heftiest release yet (three discs) but contained some of the master minimalist’s most engaging work yet. The variety of sources results in a far more diverse collection of drones than one might expect, even from Niblock. Digesting all three discs in succession is a mighty task, but I found this music in the stereo almost constantly when it came out, and Touch Three seems to have finally caught the ears of casual listeners, hopefully bringing Niblock in from the fringes of wider minimalist appeal. For my money, there’s not a better dronesmith working today, in terms of concept or final product, and Touch Three is exhibit A as to why.

Dusted (USA):

Phill Niblock’s music is a bit like the ocean, always the same and always changing. On the face of things, not much happens. Eight of Touch Three’s nine pieces were created by taking computer recordings of single tones on an individual instrument, editing out the breathing spaces and initial attacks, which he then assembles into 20-minute-long multi-tracked expanses. The only variation in the material comes from the minimal differences in how a musician plays the same note and some subtle ProTools pitch-shifting. But just like the sea rewards your gaze with endless patterns and variations, the microtones that arise from those tiny differences create fields rich with activity. Tones clash and multiply, creating aural effects analogous to heat lightning and mirages. Or you could think of a color field painting in which the tiny differences between brush strokes and gradual changes in the ambient light enable you to lose yourself in a monolithic block of red or black. Niblock’s music shimmers, flashes and shines. Hear it the way it’s supposed to be heard, played very loudly through many speakers in a space that interacts with the sounds, and it evokes a state of mental calm; play it less loudly on your home stereo and it still strikes a deep emotional chord.

If you acquire a taste for this stuff, it’s hard to get enough, and the septuagenarian composer has obliged his audience with a late-career burst of activity. This triple CD is his sixth since the start of the decade, but also the fourth to be marred by an avoidable production error. Two of the tracks on disc one are reversed; the true running order, according to a note on Niblock’s website, is “Sethwork,” “Lucid Sea,” and “Harm.” That minor annoyance aside, Touch Three is magnificent. “Sethwork” is an excellent introduction to Niblock’s method. He gradually introduces Seth Josel’s e-bowed acoustic guitar notes until they coalesce in a complex chord that sounds more like a church organ rumbling over a quartet of bowed psalteries. Tiny hums and rumbles rise in and out of a surface streaked by rippling whistles and whines. At first, the appearance and disappearance of Lucia Mense’s individual recorder tracks on “Lucid Sea” is easier to mark, but in short order a deep turbine-like swell of overtones starts resonating with your diaphragm. Niblock’s music capitalizes on a trick of physics - sound two notes in close proximity and their interaction creates a third - but there is nothing tricky about the full-body buzz that it produces.

And so the album goes, giving trumpet, strings and saxophones their due. “Sax Mix” ends the album like a big slice of double fudge cake after a rich dinner. Niblock mixed three existing saxophone pieces together, and the effect is like being caught inside one orchestral chord, or maybe sitting underneath massed squadrons of propeller-driven airplanes; the sound’s cumulative density is overwhelming and deliciously too, too much. When can I have some more? [Bill Meyer]

Baltimore CITY Newspaper (USA):

Like the gradual ascent of his compositions, Phill Niblock’s releases for England’s Touch label have slowly gotten bigger and bigger. Touch Three, which follows 2001’s hourlong Touch Works and 2003’s two-hour Touch Food, offers nine 20-minute pieces stretched across three bulging discs. Because Niblock’s method is so consistent—he almost always records single notes played by individual musicians, then layers the results into massive walls of sound—and the results are so solid, it’s tempting to say that one Niblock release is enough. For anyone uninterested in finding minute details and nearly imperceptible changes inside monolithic drones, one may actually be too many.

But for those whose appetites are whet by that description, the music of this 72-year-old master keeps delivering surprises. Whether he’s turning Julia Eckhardt’s viola into a horror film score on “Valence,” morphing the test-tone shrillness of Martin Zrost’s soprano sax into soothing waves on “Zrost,” or filtering Lucia Mense’s recorders through darkened moods on “Lucid Sea,” Niblock repeatedly defies both expectation and logic. Touch Three’s biggest curve ball is “Parker’s Altered Mood, aka, Owed to Bird.” Here, saxophonist Ulrich Kreiger plays a glacially paced version of Charlie Parker’s “Mood” six times, and Niblock piles those iterations into a chiming symphony of microtones. Such novel ideas suggest Niblock has enough tricks left in his bag to fill whatever kind of multi-CD follow-ups Touch inevitably has planned. [Marc Masters]

Paris Transatlantic (web):

This triple CD set starts right where 2003's Touch Food left off, adding another chapter to the recorded history of dronemeister Niblock, the guru of outrageous auricular membrane excitation. Static minimalism has never sounded so full of movement. Disc one opens with Seth Josel's eBowed acoustic guitars, and on Sethwork the tiny acoustic imperfections deriving from adjacent resonating strings are perceptible in the harmonic cloud generated by the superimposition of tones typical of the composer's method. The second track – contrary to what's erroneously printed on the CD itself – is Lucid Sea, featuring the alien wooden flute-like sounds of Lucia Mense's recorders, a gradual oceanic drift from octave consonance towards serious microtonal vibrational skull massage. The powerful low frequencies of Arne Deforce's cello on Harm trigger the kind of irregular oscillation of acoustic beats which is clearly perceptible even at volume levels lower than Niblock recommends. It's simply sublime, a celestial bagpipe weeping for a dying forest, another milestone in this man's oeuvre. For Parker's Altered Mood, aka, Owed To Bird, which opens the second CD, the composer asked German saxophonist Ulrich Krieger to choose a Charlie Parker theme to build the piece on, and the resulting take on "Mood" (six superimposed recordings of the first thirteen notes of the theme) is Touch Three's most luminous and meditative offering: think Jon Gibson and Dickie Landry's lines in Glass' Music With Changing Parts played into the wind, all slippery quarter tones and phantom harmonics. When you hear music like this, a different light shines on reality. Another saxophonist, Austrian Martin Zrost, lends his name to Zrost, in which the interference patterns of his soprano, though perhaps a little easier on the ears than some of the other pieces on offer here, still leave you feeling like you're standing on the quayside waving goodbye to your loved ones as they sail off to battle, warships blasting their horns as they pull away from the shore. Impressive stuff, and it needs all the space of a large room to be fully appreciated, especially after 16 minutes or so, when those giant helicopters zoom in. Franz Hautzinger plays trumpet on Not Yet Titled, which starts out with a "normal" intervallic layering of tones until something happens halfway through, an enormous swarm of bees invade the living room to dispel whatever false sense of security you've been lulled into, aided and abetted by a squadron of Lambrettas and an orchestra of didjeridoos (both non-existent, of course). Valence, featuring Julia Eckhardt's viola, begins the third disc by returning to the principles of spectral staticity that always seem to correspond perfectly to Niblock's choice of string instruments. Its complex mosaic of contiguous tones forms a background for intense reflection, a harmonic utopia whose ever so slightly different voices can be singled out even in the ebb and flow of timbres. It falls once more to Krieger to bring proceedings to a close with two further pieces. Alto Tune, like several other Niblock works, begins in consonance before shifting into slow mutations of the imagination (I hear looped segments of a Christmas carol sung by indefinable children's voices), while Sax Mix, whose mathematical complexity is worthy of Benoit Mandelbrot, is performed on alto, tenor and baritone saxes, meshing old and new materials (it's a 75-track mix of three existing sax pieces, Ten Auras, Sea Jelly Yellow and Alto Tune itself) into a single harmonic monster whose distance from conventional reed music is directly proportional to the mesmerizing effect it produces. Complexity leads to freedom from every useless aspect of sound organization. No bullshit indeed. [Massimo Ricci]

Gaz-Eta (USA):

The liner notes to Phill Niblock's latest grand oeuvre start off like this. "These nine pieces were made from March 2003 to January 2005. They were all made (except "Sax Mix") by recording a single instrument with a single microphone. The recordings were direct to the computer/hard disk, most of them using my Powerbook G4, Protools, an M-box and an external firewire drive. The resulting mono sound files were edited to remove breathing spaces, leaving the natural decay of the tone, and the attack of the subsequent iteration of the same tone. Each note was represented by several repetitions, perhaps ten for each tone, of about 15 seconds duration each. Each piece uses a few tones. A simple chord, perhaps. Additional microtonal intervals were produced in Protools using pitch shift. The pieces were assembled in multitracks, usually either 24 or 32 tracks. The recording environment varied from a simple apartment in Berlin (Ulrich Krieger's) to a very large hall used for symphony orchestra performances and recordings, with a sizable audience space (Deutschland Radio, Cologne). The recordings were generally done quite closely miked. One hears only the sound of the instrument. There is no electronic manipulation in the recording, the editing of the tones, or in the mix. The only changes to the recorded tones are the pitch shifts to create microtones. The microtones are doing the work." Over the course of almost 2 1/2 hour span, 70 year old Niblock reclaims his position as one minimalist composer the world has long overlooked. Not only are the pieces on this 3 CD set enrapturing, they're also ideal in drilling a near perfect tone into your brain. Persistently stubborn in his approach, Niblock approached each piece as a newborn. Each one is different in its appearance and each one has something entirely new to offer. "Sethwork" for instance is a longish tone-world [all pieces are in the realm of the 20 minute mark] that features Seth Josel on acoustic unamplified guitars that are played with an e-bow. Throughout the piece's 22 minute length, a single tone is initiated that is gently drawn out to its natural conclusion. So it goes through "Lucid Sea", where recorders are utilized by Lucia Mense. Caressing, still atmosphere once again emerges and is kept boiling at low heat. In fact, nothing on the project indicates any sort of explosion or upheaval in mood. Named after the player, "Zrost" features soprano saxophonist Martin Zrost who just bought a new soprano, which Niblock decided to record. Once again, smoothed out tones are prevalent and atmosphere is thick as a fog. One of the stand-out pieces is "Not Yet Titled", featuring the talents of the quarter-tone trumpeter Franz Hautzinger. A microphone was placed inside of the bell of the trumpet and "outside" sources - sounds of birds and planes - were left as is. Though there is a distinct trumpet sound that comes through, overall the piece feels more like a cheap synth solo. This is the beauty of the whole enterprise - making individual instruments either retain their own sense of identity or making this identity nonexistent. Oddly enough, Niblock reconciles the two well. As on "Valence", where Julia Eckhardt's instrument resembles an alp horn rather than the viola that she's actually playing. At the end of this enormous opus, I was left with my jaw hanging from my mouth. Rarely have I heard something that stunned me so quickly and affected me to such an extent. More demanding than "Touch Works for Hurdy Gurdy and Voice" this is an album that demands absolute concentration and a firm, patient ear. Firmly positioned in the here and now of contemporary music, Niblock's "Touch Three" is a new paradigm by which future minimal works will be judged. [Tom Sekowski]

Allmusic (USA):

Although his name should be uttered in the same breath with such pioneers as Riley, Young, Reich, and Glass (aka The Four Horsemen of the Minimalists), Phill Niblock has been largely overlooked by the history books as a pioneer of the minimalist sound that emerged in the late '60s. Thankfully, strides have been made in recent years to correct this situation, and leading the way has been U.K. imprint Touch. This ambitious three-disc set was recorded from 2003-2005. The compositions were recorded direct to disc using one solo instrument and a single microphone, and then edited to remove the breathing spaces, leaving only the pure tone from the musician and its resonance. The drones were then mildly manipulated using digital editing to produce small microtones of sound, resulting in changes that unfold at a painfully slow pace. Like some of Niblock's earlier works, there's very little here in terms of rhythm or melody, and the traces of either that do exist are the result of extremely minute changes that creep up if passive listening is employed. Not exactly adventurous listening for those needing constant stimulation, but in an age of immediate access and instant gratification, it's nice to hear something that makes patience an ally. [Rob Theakston]


Brainwashed (USA):

Tom Johnson summed up Niblock with “No melodies, no harmonies, no rhythm, no bullshit” and Touch Three lives up to this great statement. On all three discs there is contempt for anything resembling traditional music yet it is nonetheless entirely musical. It’s hard to describe but that’s what I’m here for. Each track hovers around the 20 minute mark and all have one thing in common: they feel like something huge is going to break but they never deliver. Instead the music is like eating a piece of chocolate very slowly, allowing it to melt without chewing it. In the end it is far more satisfying and rewarding than the easy hit.

Each piece is composed of several recordings of a single instrument edited together to create a constant roar. The pieces utilising stringed instruments like “Harm” and “Valence” are the easiest to get into. This is probably because I’m used to hearing cellos, violas and guitars looped into drones. “Sethwork” adds an unusual twist in acoustic guitar playing with the utilisation of an ebow, a device more commonly associated with the electric guitar. On an acoustic guitar it lacks its distinctive tone and takes on a more resonant quality. It is not just the sound of the sustained notes that are used: the sounds of the ebow hitting off the vibrating strings give a creaking effect that is unsettling.

One instrument which I never thought I’d hear used to create a powerful, droning force is the recorder. This instrument brings back memories of learning how to play nursery rhymes in primary school. This clashes with the recorders on “Lucid Sea” which are as far away from those nursery rhymes as possible. Here they are layered to form a hulking mass, far denser than I expected. The recorders sound more like a pipe organ. I’m always impressed by pieces like this that make me re-evaluate my feelings about certain instruments, especially ones that I normally dislike.

The pieces incorporating saxophones are tougher to digest. “Alto Tune” at first seems thinner than the other pieces on Touch Three. It still holds the distinctive Niblock uncompromising fullness but it takes time to get going. As more and more layers are introduced, the piece becomes gentler even though it is louder. The different tones add up to what sounds like an accordion orchestra. The other two saxophone pieces, “Zrost” and “Sax Mix,” are both slow burners (relatively speaking, Niblock seems to measure time in eras, not minutes) but build up to give similar results to “Alto Tune.” “Sax Mix” in particular sounds impressive as Ulrich Krieger plays alto, tenor and baritone sax which provides a wider palette for Niblock to use.

Three discs of drones could easily end up being unnecessary and tedious but this album is a monument to what a great drone should be. Niblock has constructed solid and richly textured slabs of sound that get better with volume. Turning up the volume knob reveals more of the fine detail of music, the little effects that are the result of the sound waves interacting in the room. Touch Three is a very strong release and shows that Niblock is still far from past it. [John Kealy]

Foxy Digitalis (USA):

Similar to Duchamp's Fountain, this effort from minimalist composer Phil Niblock is a fine emblem of today's hyper-reality. The two are akin insofar as they both halt all possible representation, and imply a fierce counter-transference of the object onto itself. As such, everything in "Touch Three" is fully realized, and the resulting sounds are not so much the play of a form as they are the realization of a programme. Niblock achieves this movement by taking a single instrument and a single microphone to create and capture a sole tone, which is then multiplied by several representations that attack and extend the piece. After being recorded directly to computer, the subsequent mono sound files undergo editing procedures that remove any blemishes or gaps, leaving a pure, simple tone to unwind at a pace that hovers around the horizon of perception.

Not surprisingly, these full-bodied, ominous drones, which are devoid of any shadow whatsoever, weigh rather heavily on the listener, nearly to the point of being unbearable. Over three discs, so many miniscule sonic events proliferate like algae, and these unadorned compositions quickly push into an audacious expansion that is altogether startling. Couple this with the already despondent timbres of many of the pieces, and it begins to become apparent that this album will be a surprisingly emotional, at times exhausting, experience. From the first disc, ¨Harm¨¨, which utilizes Arne Deforce's cello, is a pressing example of this matter. High, reedy chords are lifted from Deforce's cello and layered over each other, creating rich smears of sound that are disrupted only by a faint pattering of microtones. As the piece ages, while never entirely separating themselves from their ancestors, the tones seem to ascend into sharper, higher stratospheres, further crystalizing the weary mood of before.

For other works, the trumpet of Franz Hautzinger, along with the alto, tenor, and baritone saxophone of Ulrich Kreiger are made the center of attention. Each sketches similarly dreary, all-encompassing clouds of sound that succeed in purging anyone who passes through their wake of any and all prior moods, thoughts, and wishes. Indeed, asides from being an apt reflection of the postmodern condition, the gift of "Touch Three" is its ability to act as something of a cleanser - wiping away one's memory, and swiftly throwing one into a ready-made world that is foreign yet strangely familiar. [Max Schaefer]

The Wire (UK):

[text:There's and almost heroic consistency to Phill Niblock's work. Since the late 60s - Niblock has recently turned 70 - he's worked with live instrumentalists, multitracking simple tones and drones tuned either aurally or visually to sinewaves and the playing back the results at very high volumes which greatly enhance the field of overtones. This latest set is the product of nearly two years' work, all but one of the pieces involving a single instrument, recorded, repeated, pitch shifted and then played back in a variety of recording environments, ranging from saxophonist Ulrich Krieger's flat in Berlin to the main auditorium of Deutschland Radio in Cologne. Close miking also picks up extra levels of harmonic and timbral detail.
Krieger is the principal collaborator. His main piece is Parker's Altered Mood, AKA, Owed to Bird which takes six repetitions of the 13 note theme to Charlie Parker's "Parker's Mood", played with a duration of 15 seconds for each note, but repeated fractionally out of tune one with the other and then superimposed, creating a net of microtones. Sax Mix involves three different horns with the characteristic impunity of Adolphe Sax's invention generating both the surface texture and the substance of the work. Elsewhere, Niblock has trumpeter Franz Hautzinger create low tones and higher, more idiomatic tones against a background of birdsong and aircraft noise. For the wonderful Not Yet Titled, engineer Melvyn Poore places the mic inside the bell of Hautzinger's horn.
There are only a couple of string pieces, though Seth Josel's E-bowed guitar tones on Sethwork probably also qualify. The opening track Harm is recorded straight to hard drive from Arne Deforce's cello. Here, right at the start of the record, it's worth establishing that every sound heard is that of the original instrument, with no manipulation in recording or editing, just pitch shifts to create the microtones that, as Niblock puts it, "do the work". Julia Eckhardt produces the viola tones for Valence, one of the richest and most evocative pieces in the collection.
Niblock's brand of sound art continues to deepen and intensify. These three discs seem to crunch musical time into slow gyres and loops that turns on its head the usual cliche about getting "inside" the tone. Here, the tone is inside us, richly evocative but absolutely abstract, static but alive with movement, generating clouds of sound that obey none of the familiar rules.

Blow Up (Italy):

Revue et Corrigé (France):

SentireAscoltare (Italy):

Se, a margine di un discorso tra il serio ed il faceto, mi si chiedesse di indicare un referente mondano per la musica che Pitagora credeva emessa dalle sfere celesti, non avrei grosse difficoltà nel fare il nome di Phill Niblock. Touch Three è un altro monumento di musica assoluta e purissima, o meglio il monumento, dato che si compone di ben nove composizioni scritte tra il marzo del 2003 e il settembre del 2005, ripartite in tre diversi cd.

Il principio della scrittura di Phill Niblock resta inalterato: la sua è una ricerca ostinata e incessante sulla purezza dei singoli toni estrapolati da un singolo strumento per volta e reiterati con un gradualismo che – a differenza di Steve Reich e del minimalismo di scuola – si fa quasi impercettibile. Monoliti di suono statico, ma al contempo dotato di un intrinseco cromatismo svelato dal progressivo accumulo di strati sonori uguali, eppure diversi. Phasing dilatato sino all’inafferrabile in un processo dialettico che restituisce quei monoliti nella loro infrangibile purezza, ma arricchiti di articolazioni interne da scorgere con infinita pazienza. Minimalismo? Va bene, se il termine aiuta a rischiarare più di quanto fatto sinora la materia di cui si sta parlando, ma se Reich è 256 Colours di Gerhard Richter, allora Niblock è Night Sea di Agnes Martin.

Gli strumenti utilizzati da Niblock per le nove composizioni sono chitarra (Sethwork), sassofono (Parker’s Altered Mood, Zrost, Alto Tune e Sax Mix), tromba (Not Yet Titled), violoncello (Harm), viola (Valence) e recorders (Lucid Sea). Il modus operandi quello di una volta: il suono di ogni singolo strumento viene registrato con un unico microfono e riversato direttamente su disco tramite un’interfaccia protools. E’ solo in questo momento che interviene il compositore, la sua inesausta ricerca d’infinito: il suono che ne risulta è lontano eoni dalla fonte materica da cui è stato emesso. E’ il suono puro cui aspiravano i teorici della musique concrète, o forse è il suono delle sfere celesti. (8.0/10) [Vincenzo Santarcangelo]

Phill Niblock "Touch Food" reviews

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 (The Nertherlands):

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 (net):

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 (German):

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 Unbewegtheit<, in schillernder Monochromie ein volles Spektrum von vibrierenden 'Tönungen', die Niblock, ähnlich wie die klangzentrierten französischen Spektralisten (Gérard Grisey, Tristan Murail), akribisch in ihrem Nuancenreichtum hörbar werden lässt und dabei synästhetisch ein differenziertes Spektrum an Emotionen evoziert. Gerard Pape beschrieb den Effekt dieser >timbral alchemy< sehr schön als >timbre 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]

Phill Niblock "Touch Works, for Hurdy Gurdy and Voice" reviews

Touching Extremes (web):

An excellent record - as usual - by the REAL father of the minimal structure. Forget La Monte Young or Philip Glass – the recent stuff, of course - and grab "Touch Works" (..and also all the rest of Phill's CDs...) if you want to be charmed and hypnotized. The first piece is a superimposition of hurdy gurdies - courtesy of Jim O'Rourke - that leaves you breathless at the end. The rest is Tom Buckner and his baritone voice in all possible strokes, put together for your head to wonder "where am I?" (I gave its first try while walking to work and I almost lost my path - I mean it). You'll be enormously satisfied when the record is over, you'll play it again and again. Quintessential sound physics. [Massimo Ricci]

Copious singularity

Sometimes you may wonder whether the music of composer and Experimental Intermedia director Phill Niblock ever changes. Yes, each piece consists of continual shifts within clusters of tones, intensified in performance by the acoustics of the space. Musicians and listeners can even create shifts by changing their position in the space. And, yes, he does use different instruments to build his pieces on. And the exact treatment they get differs for every piece. But the principle behind the process does not seem to have changed throughout the years. Niblock records samples of musicians producing tones at exact pitches, tuned only microtones apart. Intervals of 2 and 3 Hz are no exception. These samples he puts together in long strings and multiple layers of sound. Differences between individual compositions must arise from the procedure followed, and from the characteristics of the basic material. Niblock's first CD used recordings of flutes, his second (both are on XI Records) had one piece for quintupled string quartet, and one for quartet, flutes, and assorted synthesized instruments. His latest, Touch Works, has one composition for hurdy gurdy, played by Jim O'Rourke, and two for Thomas Buckner's voice. The sources are about as singular as you can get - Niblock has significantly scaled down in comparison with his second release, and yet the overall sound is far richer than what you'll find on these earlier albums. This, I think, must be due mainly to the timbral complexity of the source material. The hurdy gurdy, a string instrument in which a resined wheel functions as a bow, has of itself a vigorous steely sound, which can get more edge with some extra pressure exerted on the crank. The human voice has a wide palette of timbres, and if anyone is expert at picking and choosing shades and hues from that array, it's Tom Buckner. He even takes a step beyond that, condensing timbres to their partials. Niblock has extended the scope of the musicians further with a pitch shifter, adding lines that run one or two octaves below the originals. In conjunction these lines start a fierce and lively series of interactions. As always there is a ground base and its octaves, and tones close to them - tones of very diverse character. The piece for hurdy gurdy makes clear how different this music is from Niblock's earlier work. Out of ominously dark pedal notes shimmering chords irradiate, painting bright sparkling edges on the grinding core. This paves the way for the As Yet Untitled pieces that feature Tom Buckner. The voice, in the middle register, is immediately recognizable as his. But deep down there is a steady roar. His voice hovers above it, multiplied to an almost monotone swarm. Almost, because there are individuals just up and down from that, making the unison come alive in shivering brilliance. The glassy whistles of his overtone singing take swift steps upwards, to remain on one level for some moments before ascending further, or diffracting into glorious chords, underpinned by the growling roar. Buckner's first piece hardly prepares you for what follows - adding his voice in live improvisation to Niblock's construction. It is the same music, but a totally new take on it, as if an old world is shone on by a new sun. There is a lushness, an undeniable sensuousness, an organic wildness to this music, which is a departure from the controlled austerity of Niblock's XI albums. At some points the music sounds as if he has managed to match Tibetan monks with an angelic choir, although admittedly the entire mass of sound might just as well be some huge machine, with myriads of mysteries going on inside, such as helicopters chopping away at Doppler's. After the first impact you might wish to wander deeper into this wilderness, have a more precise view of what is moving there. The detail is amazing - choruses, swarms and clusters can virtually be followed to their single constituents. Each on its own seems motionless, but in their various combinations they create complex ever shifting relationships. And, mind you, this description is based on listening over headphones. When I tried it on my speakers the entire room was replete with sound bouncing off walls and furniture, forming temporary nodes on different spots, and driving my neighbours to foaming madness. Phill Niblock's music has changed, but it does remain true to itself. Being at once open and dense Touch Works is evidence of the vitality of his minimalism - if that term is at all appropriate here. [Ren? van Peer]

The Sound Projector [UK]:

Niblock is an American Minimalist of no small significance, yet also one with fairly low visibility - the record racks aren't exactly over-flowing with his back catalogue, and perhaps this isn't a bad thing in an age where we think we can 'own' anything and everything, simply by paying the asking price for it. And by that I mean that some things are so important they shouldn't and cannot be offered for sale in the first place. The same 'problem' of availability afflicted Charlemagne Palestine for a while (although, obviously, he is currently enjoying a renaissance as regards his discography!), but with him it was due to personal misfortunes and the kind of inertia that can set back even the greatest minds. Phill Niblock, by contrast, has deliberately chosen to limit the number of releases, since what he prefers is live performances of his work. Specifically, what he prefers is a high-quality live playback of his tape-works (for most of his works are composed direct onto multi-track tape) under controlled conditions - the optimum situation being inside his own large loft apartment space in New York. Niblock knows a thing or two about playback, how in the live environment the presence of an audience will change the sound; and he understands only too well the limitations of home stereo. Even the best and most expensive systems, for him, don't offer the fidelity, the right frequencies, or simply the sheer loud volume that his work demands. On the other hand, his home equipment boasts four speakers, scads of low-end, high-end and reliable response. If you're fortunate enough, you'll be invited to his home for a small private gathering and enjoy the full-on blast of one of his loud and long tape-work drones. How elitist is that? He is aware that it's equally important to get the work out to people, so he doesn't deny the possibility of releasing CDs for home consumption. Incidentally, his same reservations about equipment apply to most PA systems available throughout concert halls in the Western world - the only one that recently met his high standards was in a Cathedral in Eindhoven - so don't feel too bad if you're a frequenter of the Naim Audio website. The three long pieces here originated in a Niblock concert at Merkin Hall, New York, from 1999. He composed two new works for the occasion, one using a hurdy-gurdy and the other using the human voice. It is these tape works you will hear, plus a live version of the voice piece (called 'AYU', ie 'As Yet Untitled'). The hurdy-gurdy piece was built out of samples of Jim O'Rourke playing that hand-cracked instrument, and the voice piece comes from the estimable baritone throat-singing of Thomas Bruckner. I'm not at home, and I'm playing these now on my sister's small portable CD player and yet with the volume up loud they still sound great to me. One advantage here and now is the bare floorboards and the slight resonances I'm getting from bouncing the sound against a blank wall. For home use, I recommend using as high a volume as you can get without distortion, and perhaps even turning your speakers against the wall (surprisingly effective) for added bounce. In this excellent release, you get a packaged booklet with a sleeve note from Niblock, an interview with him from Tape Op magazine by Steve Silverstein, and a very good introduction to the man's work by Kyle Gann which appeared in Village Voice. This should help you situate Niblock's achievements within an apt framework; Gann sees him as an overlooked minimalist, and compares him favourably to La Monte Young, detailing the differences in their approaches (Niblock goes for a subtly-changing drone, and deals in exact frequencies, unlike Young who is noted for his insistence on an unchanging fundamental pitch, and tunings in Just Intonation). Niblock trained as a film-maker - he produced a high-contrast film of the Sun Ra Arkestra in the 1960s - and may have more affinities with conceptual and visual art than most musicians. He's had an influence on younger New Yorkers, among them Glenn Branca and Susan Stenger (of Band of Susans); the latter, as Paul Smith's partner, undoubtedly helped to influence the release of the double CD A Young Person's Guide to Phill Niblock on Blast First. A superb record which has immediately joined Yoshi Wada, Dumitrescu, Ligeti, Riley, et many others in my personal canon of magnificent deep drone-works. This amazingly profound and stirring music which can't fail to get into your bones immediately and affect you deeply. [Ed Pinsent]

The Wire, UK:

"The forgotten minimalist" is how Kyle Gann's sleevenote describes 67 year old Phill Niblock. His music is largely unavailable on disc, and no recordings by him figured in Brian Duguid's Early Minimalism Primer in The Wire 206. And he's certainly neglected in the history books - neither Keith Potter's recent 'Four Musical Minimalists', nor Michael Nyman's classic 'Experimental Music', so much as mention him. Among the Big Four minimalists, he has closest affinities with the drone-based approach of La Monte Young, two years his junior. But he's more listenable than Young, and it could be that history's getting things wrong. Young may have been the ideas man, but Niblock's the superior musical creator, as this compelling album bears out. Niblock trained as a film maker and always uses a visual component in his productions, which we're obviously deprived of here. 'Hurdy Hurry' features samples of hurdy-gurdy playing by Jim O'Rourke. The harmonies gradually stabilise into a root-position chord then move back to instability - a very slow-mo version of 'running the changes' over nearly 20 minutes. The sound is massive, like a church organ at full power. Gann comments that the changes in the drones are almost imperceptibly slow, but compared to Young, you can hear them subtly but very perceptibly unfolding their frequencies. There are two versions of 'AYU' - 'As Yet Untitled' - featuring the throat-singing of Tom Buckner, a classically trained baritone who became involved in free Improv in the 60s, then worked ina trio with Roscoe Mitchell and Gerald Oshita. On the first 'AYU', Niblock creates a drone piece from samples of his singing. On the second, Buckner returned to the recording studio and, listening with headphones, three times recorded a line in and out of tune with his source version. Four channels of pitch shift were added, and the effect is like achoir of throat-singers. As on 'Hurdy Hurry' there's a continuous, unbroken stream of sound, but with quivering, buzzing overtones. The effect of the interference patterns is hypnotic, even relaxing. This is a quite superb release. [Andy Hamlton]

All Music Guide, USA:

Sound artist/composer Phil Niblock does not record often. His music is best heard in live settings with adequate amplification. Only listeners with high-quality stereo systems and comprehensive neighbors will be able to fully experience NiblockÕs slow-evolving microtonal pieces. Nevertheless, unless you live in New York City, a CD is your best chance to hear the manÕs work at all. Touch Works, for Hurdy Gurdy and Voice presents two piece (one in two versions) created in October 1999. ÒHurdy HurryÓ (15 minutes) uses samples of a hurdy gurdy played by Jim OÕRourke. The whiny tones are duplicated and pitch shifted. The composer brings them closer, takes them apart, all very slowly. From the apparently static piece arise subtle modifications as one is invited to leave the macroscopic world to study microscopic details. Of course, thatÕs the case for all drone-based minimalist microtonal music, but NiblockÕs long-standing mastery has rarely been equaled. ÒAYUÓ (aka ÒAs Yet UntitledÓ) features samples of baritone Thomas Buckner (who commissioned the piece). His soft throat singing is sampled over 24 tracks. Only pitch shifts (up to two octaves) >were used as treatments. The resulting piece has some qualities of Tibetan meditative chants. The listener often gets the illusion that the voice(s) turns into a cello or even a hurdy gurdy (blame that on the previous piece). For ÒAYU, Live,Ó Buckner went back into the studio and sang over the previous version while four channels of pitch shift were added. He repeated >the exercise twice, thus adding 15 more tracks. The second version is better, richer and somehow more entertaining than the first. [Fran?ois Couture]

Like other significant early minimalists, Phill Niblock has been consistently overshadowed by the Big Three of Glass, Reich, and Riley. There are some practical reasons for this: Niblock's massive drone works, with exact attention to pitch, were never intended to be condensed into tidy CDs. Niblock's work must be heard in very specific environments --- played back through multiple high-end speakers at a near-deafening volume.
Still, Niblock's music has trickled out in generally accessible formats over the years. Several years ago, while unearthing every esoteric slice of early minimalism I could find, I stumbled upon the vinyl-only Niblock for Celli/Celli Plays Niblock (India Navigation, 1984). My home-audio equipment wasn't even close to being up to Niblock's snuff, and the street-sound ambience bleeding into my rickety apartment probably didn't help much either. Still, it was a transcendent experience. Niblock's drone music was the first to punch me right in the nose and re-orient my ears to silence.
The latest advancements in digital audio, from both production and playback standpoints, haven't made it any more acceptable to play Niblock's work on the living-room hi-fi. But they have made it easier for Niblock to construct his massive pieces. He assembled Touch Works in two weeks, despite having his concept down for the better part of a year.
Touch Works is probably as close as you'll come to the full Niblock experience on CD. A hurdy gurdy piece, constructed from recordings of Jim O'Rourke's playing, is softly monolithic and very earthy. But the gems here are the two recordings of "As Yet Untitled" for Thomas Buckner's baritone voice. The AYU recordings (one for 24 tracks of voice, the other for 39) are full of the aural hallucinations that make this kind of minimalism so magical. Somehow, with no deliberate ornamentation, "AYU" slowly reveals what sounds like a phalanx of melodic bagpipes, a choir of cellos.
If you choose to investigate the work of this remarkable composer do yourself a favor: toss aside the headphones and play it back on the best possible stereo equipment you can find. Position yourself squarely between your speakers and as far away from distractions as possible. And don't turn the stereo off until the CD stops. [Chad Oliveiri]

Tandem News [Canada]:

I first heard the experimental music of Phill Niblock behind an interview with Brian Eno (on the From Brussels With Love compilation, 1979). That piece, "A Third Trombone," featured a trombone playing the two parts of a third chord with all the breath pauses edited out. That put your earÕs focus on the harmonics active between the two notes of the chord. Without rhythm or melody you begin to hear subtle microtonal changes in pitch, which take on a movement and life of their own (harmonic beating). Since the 1960s, Niblock has written, performed and hosted such drone music at his foundationÕs New York loft space, Experimental Intermedia, often in conjunction with slides and film (his first creative discipline). This new CD features two such works commissioned as part of Merkin HallÕs Interpretations series in October 1999. "Hurdy Hurry" is played by Jim OÕRourke on hurdy gurdy (a mechanical stringed instrument in which the sound is produced by a resined wheel turned by a crank, and pitched by keys) and "AYU" is a multitracked voice piece sung in the style of Tuvan/Tibetan throat singing by Thomas Buckner. Niblock now uses computer sound mixing software, allowing for even richer, multilayered acoustic phenomenon than his previous recordings. [Chris Ywomey]

Phill Niblock is a drone specialist. Everything he composes pursues the same drone idea but he varies the textures drastically by utilising different musical instruments. His pieces are supremely mind altering, and this release on the continually engaging and intriguing Touch art label is the most hallucinogenic dense and intense recording I've heard from him, or anyone else for that matter. The CD opens with 'Hurdy Hurry', a stunning hurdy gurdy piece constructed from samples of Jim O'Rourke's playing, recorded in New York at Robert Poss' studio (Band of Susans). This medieval stringed instrument played by cranking a resined wheel seems tailor made for droning, and O'Rourke has been known to drone on himself a bit in ages past. This makes his own early droneworks 'Remove The Need' and 'Disengage' seem like mere practice, but that practice has certainly paid off handsomely. At a cursory listen 'Hurdy Hurry' might seem like fifteen of continuous drone, but Niblock weaves together held tones with exact mathematical relationships to each other, and there is a constant slow evolution and almost imperceptibly gradual increase in mass as the piece unfurls. It continues with two different versions of what could be Niblock's masterwork, a vocal piece 'AYU'. The letters A, Y and U are hummed by baritone Thomas Buckner and arranged into a continually shifting corridor of sampled sound twenty four voices thick. The second version adds a live throat singing performance from Buckner, pitch shifted one and two octaves down and multiplied fifteen times over. Imagine massed temples of Buddhist monks humming universal nirvana alphabet keys condensed by a sampler into the digital cyberlanes. Niblock is described as 'the forgotten minimalist' in the extensive and illuminating sleevenotes, which include an interview discussing his sound reproduction techniques. After hearing this, it's all the others that'll be more likely to slip from memory. [Graeme Rowland, Brainwashed]

The first time I heard music by Phill Niblock was, I think, in 1980 or 1981. I bought a cassette 'From Brussels With Love' and there was an interview with Brian Eno while in the background there was playing 'Nothing To Look At' LP by Phill Niblock. I heard the entire interview without trying to pay much attention to Eno's babbling, but trying to concentrate on the music. My interest was aroused at that time for minimal music, and I vaguely picked up the name Niblock somewhere. Years later I got the original LP. Niblock's output has been quite small and underrated, at least that's why I think. He isn't as known as the famous minimalist twins, as obscure as the guru, or digging the archives as others. If Niblock gives us something it's new work. This new CD has three recent works. In the past, Niblock used multi-track equipment to layer pieces of say a flute, or a cello. By cutting out the attack, one contious soundstream emerged. At first hearing maybe static, but at close hearing constantely moving. Especially when played loud, music fills your room and by moving through your space, frequencies change. Much a like Alvin Lucier, but using traditional instruments. The days of analogue multi-track and tape splicing are gone, as Niblock uses Pro-Tools and samples now. The first piece is made with gurdy hurdy samples played by Jim O'Rourke. These are then layered over 24 Pro-Tool tracks, some changes in octaves and a beautiful tapestry unfolds. The other two pieces are like twins. The first uses a vocal samples in pretty much the same fashion and has a quasi religous tone to it. In the third piece, this is repeated but added is singing in real time (and spread over an additional 15 tracks). I think Niblock has succesfully adapted new recording techniques to arrive at what he is good at. His own unique minimal drone music, free of melody and rhythm. Unlike many other Touch releases, this comes with a highly interesting booklet in which Niblock tells us about the ins and outs of his recording technique. Great release!!! [Frans de Waard, VITAL]

A bold new work of computer-enhanced minimalism. Utilizing samples of Jim O'Rourke playing the hurdy-gurdy and vocal samples and live throat singing from Thomas Buckner, Niblock has constructed three lengthy and remarkable pieces of drone and overtones that spiral into layers of ever-increasing richness and complexity. [Other Music, NYC]

re:mote induction [UK]:

Touch Works is a 3 track release by Phil Niblock on Touch composed using hurdy gurdy and voice. The first track is Hurdy Hurry which at 15 minutes is the shortest, the other two tracks are AYU and AYU Live. AYU standing for "as yet untitled", which I guess is ambiguous enough to suggest they could be different tracks - however I think they are two versions of the same piece. Given that, AYU takes up a fair slab of this release at 40 minutes. Regardless I have tended to listen to this album in one sitting and with that it starts to come across as one long piece. The sound becomes a long drone, which mixes the tones of both "instruments" giving the piece its texture. In the right mood this a strong drone release, which should appeal to those into that style. Otherwise it is too constant, with not enough variation to challenge the listener or maintain interest. Touch Works is meditative at best, repetitive at worst.

Sound artist/composer Phil Niblock does not record often. His music is best heard in live settings with adequate amplification. Only listeners with high-quality stereo systems and comprehensive neighbors will be able to fully experience Niblock's slow-evolving microtonal pieces. Nevertheless, unless you live in New York City, a CD is your best chance to hear the man's work at all. Touch Works: For Hurdy Gurdy and Voice presents two pieces (one in two versions) created in October 1999. "Hurdy Hurry" (15 minutes) uses samples of a hurdy gurdy played by Jim O'Rourke. The whiny tones are duplicated and pitch shifted. The composer brings them closer, takes them apart, all very slowly. From the apparently static piece arise subtle modifications as one is invited to leave the macroscopic world to study microscopic details. Of course, that's the case for all drone-based minimalist microtonal music, but Niblock's long-standing mastery has rarely been equaled. "AYU" (aka "As Yet Untitled") features samples of baritone Thomas Buckner (who commissioned the piece). His soft throat singing is sampled over 24 tracks. Only pitch shifts (up to two octaves) were used as treatments. The resulting piece has some qualities of Tibetan meditative chants. The listener often gets the illusion that the voice(s) turns into a cello or even a hurdy gurdy (blame that on the previous piece). For "AYU, Live," Buckner went back into the studio and sang over the previous version while four channels of pitch shift were added. He repeated the exercise twice, thus adding 15 more tracks. The second version is better, richer, and somehow more entertaining than the first. [Francois Couture]

FREQ Music E-Zine

More than most, Phill Niblock's music celebrates sound as a physical force. He constructs his pieces by first recording musicians playing a handful of sustained pitches, then using whatever multi-track technology is at hand (this record was done with Protools on a Mac) to arrange them into slowly evolving, closely woven walls of sound. "Touch Works'" three compositions are among the 67 year old composer's best to date. One, "Hurdy Hurry," was assembled from a few brief samples of Jim O'Rourke playing the hurdy gurdy, a crank-operated medieval string instrument. They were brief out of necessity. Prior to the recording, O'Rourke had loaned out his instrument. When he retrieved it, a chunk missing from the instrument's wheel. Niblock used a pitch shifter to boost some of the tones up an octave or two, but otherwise he didn't alter them. Over the course of fifteen minutes they build from one bright drone punctuated by the squeaking ghost of that broken wheel into a massive, swelling buzz that just begs to be played at sternum vibrating volume. To complete Niblock's music you should do just that; at high volume the closely packed pitches generate masses of overtones that change according to the size and shape of the room in which they're heard, rendering each piece infinitely variable. The other two tracks are versions of "A Y U" ("As Yet Untitled"), which is constructed from layers of throat singing provided by vocalist Thomas Buckner. On the>first, which is all Niblock's work, relatively low notes punch through strata of higher sustained pitches. The second combines Niblock's version with three takes of Buckner singing along, each time putting his voice >through the pitch-shifter to simultaneously generate five discreet signals. The effect is as enveloping and undeniable as a Himalayan white-out, and every time I play it I feel like I'm on the roof of the world. [Bill Meyer, Sound to noise 23, USA]