TO:79 - Phill Niblock "Touch Strings"

2xCD Album

Artwork: Jon Wozencroft
Photography: Phill Niblock

Track listing:

CDOne - 59:03 (6 tracks)
1-6: Stosspeng (59 minutes)
Susan Stenger and Robert Poss, guitars and bass guitars

CDTwo - 69:28 (6 tracks)
1: Poure (23:30)
Arne Deforce, cello
2-6: One Large Rose (45:55 minutes)
The Nelly Boyd Ensemble, Hamburg - Robert Engelbrecht, cello;
Jan Feddersen, piano strummed with nylon strings; Peter Imig, violin; Jens Roehm, acoustic bass guitar strummed with nylon strings or e-bow


Reviews

New York Times (USA):

The New York minimalist composer Phill Niblock had his start in photography, and sometimes listening to his music is basically like looking at a complicated black-and-white image, with endless variations of gray. In “Stosspeng,” a great hourlong piece on his new double CD, “Touch Strings”, he’s recorded two muted electric-guitar drone notes, played by Robert Poss and Susan Stenger, formerly of Band of Susans. Mr. Poss holds down an E, Ms. Stenger an F sharp, and they both veer into F; they create swells with volume pedals and make tiny pitch adjustments with their tuning pegs. That’s it. Things do happen in a foreground sense: certain tones take the lead, rising and subsiding. But if you’ve really got your head in the piece — it could be the third time you hear it on an average sound system, or the first time on a good sound system like the one at Mr. Niblock’s Experimental Intermedia loft in Chinatown, where he played the piece last Monday for his annual solstice celebration — you will hear what’s happening deep inside the sound, through the evolving throb and friction of overtones. It’s great listening.

The Wire (UK):

Phill Niblock's music imposes certain non-negotiable demands, and if you listen to it without meeting them, you're just wasting your time. Time is, in fact, the first requirement: his concerts last up to six hours and this double CD runs over two. The others are adequate space and gear. Without a sound system capable of substantial volume and a room that enables the sound to bounce around enough to generate some overtones, the 76 year old American minimalist's recordings are incomplete. It makes no more sense to play them on earbuds or little computer speakers than it would to look at a reproduction of a Rothko on your mobile phone screen.

In the first have of this decade, he seemed to be asking for yet another thing: deep pockets. Between 2001-06 he issued or reissued seven CDs and DVDs, many of them multi-disc sets. But Touch Strings is his first release for three years, and while it does not depart from the unchanging essentials of Niblock's work, its three pieces justify their addition to his oeuvre by selecting a different approach to their respective two or three sustained pitches. Robert Poss and Susan Stenger make successive passes at Stosspeng's E. F sharp and F using electric and bass guitars, each recorded simultaneously, then assembled by Niblock using ProTools. Longer and sparer than his earlier guitar piece Guitar Too, For Four, it enfolds the listener in throbbing strands of sound to create an effect somewhat like a single unending yet endlessly changing organ chord, or maybe cradled by a giant squid. The shorter and more emphatic Poure, played by cellist Arne Dforce, reacts against the distortion Niblock has encountered using ProTools's pitchshifting function by returning to an earlier way of working.The cellist recorded 32 tracks of two notes (A and D) whilst adjusting his tuning by watching an oscilloscope. The piece's rapidly proliferating microtonal clashes have an almost vertiginous effect, as though the sound was simultaneously slowing down and speeding up while your face is mashed against the windscreen. One Large Rose adventures even further into both real-time and collaborative performance.

The third is a rarer experiment into real-time performance featuring the four members of The Nelly Boyd Ensemble, a New Music outfit from Hamburg, Germany. They recorded the score three times, making amendments on the second two takes that generate an exceptionally rich field of microtones when all three are superimposed. The acoustic sources - strummed nylon piano strings, cello, violin and acoustic bass guitar - yield a textured, woody resonance with a passing similarity to Tony Conrad's music. But the quivering overtones are marvellously smooth and pure; it's as though an occult creature with birch bark skin laid eggs of perfectly smooth stainless steel. [Bill Meyer]

Brainwashed (USA):

Spread across two discs, the three compositions here were all conceived and recorded between 2007 and 2008, realized with a slew of different players. "Stosspeng," which comprises the entirely of the first disc, features Band of Susans founders Susan Stenger and Robert Poss working together on both guitar and ebow’d bass. Each were recorded in a specific channel and limited to specific pitch groups, Poss with E, Stenger with F#, and both shared F. The result is, unsurprisingly, a slow drift of guitar tone that is far more sparse or subtle than most guitar based minimalist compositions.

The piece continues to be a serpentine composition between Stenger’s higher register tones and Poss’ lower frequency approach. The two become locked a constant struggle between the lighter and darker tones, pushing the sound between ambient, spacey shimmers and more sinister, rumbling swells. The composition premiered at a show that also featured KTL and Throbbing Gristle, so the mood is fitting to be among those artists, though the sound is far more pure and meditative than would be expected from the aforementioned artists.

Disc two opens with "Poure," the 23 minute piece for cello (played by Arne Deforce). Rather than a single session, the track is the total of 32 different layers of playing, all in the notes of A and D, but of varying octaves, and just slightly off on tuning. With only subtle adjustments via Protools, a world of instrumentation can be heard just from the harmonics produced from the layering of tracks. Sounds of trumpets, bagpipes, and church organ all appear from the strings of the cello.

The final piece, "One Large Rose," expands the instrumental repertoire to include piano, violin, and acoustic bass guitar, to weave a more complex and multifaceted, yet consistently minimalist composition. The performers of this track, the Nelly Boyd Ensemble, played 4 takes of 46 minutes each, the results of which were layered together, but otherwise unedited.

Again, more sounds than are actually present can be heard in this wall of drone, resembling didgeridoo and other strings that as a whole feels similar to "Poure," but with a heavier sonic palette. The most obvious addition is the lower register piano, but the piece overall has a more sinister quality to it, introducing dark, gutteral passages and bassy flatulent sounds to the otherwise gliding strings. As "Stosspeng" recalled a struggle between light and dark, "One Large Rose" is a contrast between chaos and order, oscillating between drifts of sound that are relatively peaceful, and hellish choruses of unadulterated noise.

Touch Strings is an excellent example for anyone who thinks "drone" is simply repetition. While conceptually there are intentional limitations put both on the performers and the composition, the interplay of the instruments produces sounds that rival the most complex pieces out there.

bagatellen.com (Italy):

Following 2006’s monumental 3-CD set Touch Three, amid the uppermost pinnacles in Phill Niblock’s career, the latest bulletin by the Indiana dronemeister - who forces the aficionados to settle for just a double helping this time - is completely dedicated to string instruments, both electric and acoustic. The release was repeatedly postponed, generating the sort of anticipation that precedes almost every major artistic statement. There’s no doubt that Niblock’s recordings weigh heavily on the sonic movements of our era and Touch Strings is certainly no exception, especially in virtue of how opposite sensations are strikingly counterbalanced from the very beginning – “rationally brooding” versus “disquietingly awesome” distinguish the discs. A curiosity: the peculiar mini-damnation typifying the minimalist maverick’s Touch label outings continues. While the last two releases presented an incorrect title sequence, this one shuffles bits and pieces of the liners due to a pagination mistake. One starts reading about a composition and ends somewhere else, or a thought is truncated halfway through.

Disc one is taken up entirely by the 59-minute “Stosspeng”, the name a combination of Susan Stenger and Robert Poss, early associates who commissioned the work, which is scored for electric guitars enhanced with a sustainer and e-Bowed bass. The structure of the piece is reasonably straightforward – conspicuous stereo separation, a restricted range (E, F, F#), direct recording from the pickups (no amplifiers or microphones involved), and the muted quality of the derived pitches. These often result in a tight-lipped humming of sorts, bringing concentration informed by a subliminally comforting throb (typical, for instance, of the bulk of Eliane Radigue’s oeuvre). However, Niblock’s comes with a measure of conflict. In sections where overlapping overtones design noticeable patterns, they occasionally transform a somewhat unquiet murmur into subterranean inhospitality (principally unfolding in the medium-to-low frequency regions).

Interestingly, throughout the live rendition the guitarists make sure to minutely adjust the pitch and alter the mood “from calm and relatively consonant to thin and delicate to wildly dissonant and colossal” (to quote Stenger’s words). This is an example of Niblock’s trademark regulated emancipation – a representation may be modified to some extent, but the massive impact of the original notion is always there. “Stosspeng” definitely belongs to the realm of his better intuitions, privileging composure to dissension in extremely convincing fashion.

The second CD is opened by “Poure”, written for Arne Deforce’s cello. He’s already a protagonist in Touch Three’s “Harm”, among this composer’s most spectacular episodes ever. Here, Niblock returns to the method of calibrated sine tones (to which the musician tunes) and an oscilloscope alimented both by sine and microphone tones. Starting from the notes A and D he proceeded to choose pitches that were either slightly flat or sharp in relation to the fundamentals, until he amassed about 32 tracks of material. The result consists of 23 minutes and 30 seconds of disquieting suspension, encompassing indeterminate tonal centres, jarring “in your face” contrasts of upper partials, and an atypically pervasive sense of menace during the thickest superimpositions. A diverse study of space and, perhaps, the listener’s reaction to difficulty – needless to say, the brain generates virtual counterpoints of its own by the dozen – “Poure” is also a surprising shift towards areas of accumulated pulses, which establish anxiety rather than placidity in spite of being attenuated by customarily magnificent resonant mass.

“One Large Rose” closes the program in style by interconnecting old and new traits and contiguous areas of research. A revision of an earlier score for triple orchestra, “Three Orchids,” it was taped by Hamburg’s Nelly Boyd Ensemble, a collective specializing in “American classical avant-garde,” which in the past performed works by Cage, Feldman, Lucier, Riley, Stockhausen and Tenney. The instrumentation features cello (Robert Engelbrecht), piano strummed with nylon strings (Jan Feddersen), violin (Peter Imig), and acoustic bass strummed with nylon strings or e-Bow (Jens Roehm).

The players are allowed to tackle one of ten existing parts, each translation sounding differently depending on its relationship to the alternative. Niblock recorded four takes and layered the ensuing twenty tracks, superimposing altered microtonal contents in accordance to the execution of a selected part. The mathematical complexity of the concept is nothing for this group, which – in another variation on a notorious Niblockian canon of extreme post-production – played the item in real time, 46 minutes without editing. This is a remarkable achievement for such a physically difficult act. The overall result is sublime, a paradigmatic collision between a heightened state of awareness and the distress caused by uncompromising dissonance. The piano’s gaping snarl is frequently heard at the forefront, affirming its ascendancy in full harmonic rumbling, vaguely echoing a former milestone, “Pan Fried 70” (Touch Food, 2003). The immense jangle originating from these layers recalls a huge didgeridoo-tamboura hybrid, yet signifying Indian mantras or aboriginal reverberations lie quite far away.

To gain an accurate idea of what happens, the enquiring reviewer did the unthinkable – thrice, no less – by listening to the track via headphones (anathema!). While the power of gargantuan vibration is obviously lost in excluding the speakers, and despite persistently buzzing membranes once the session ends, it is uniquely fascinating to enjoy the music as it is being lived and breathed. The attack and decay of the notes, mentally visualizing the effort applied by the performers in a precise moment, all make “One Large Rose” the most visceral Niblock music on record to date – and also one of the most humanistic. [Massimo Ricci]

ambientblog (blog):

Though he's not the only one working in this musical area (think of Eliane Radigue, her 'Trilogie de la Mort' especially, or Alvin Lucier with his 'Music on a Long Thin Wire'), I can hardly think of anyone creating drones more 'minimal' than Phill Niblock does.

Phill Niblock (born 1933) has a vast catalogue of compositions exploring the essence of sound by asking the listener to zoom in almost indefinitely and forget about time. To the casual passer-by, the music may sound like it's only one endless chord and if you don't have the right mindset you'll probably get extremely bored soon. But if you let the sound grab you, you'll hear the subtle nuances and interplay of the interacting waveforms.

As Bob Gilmore puts it in the lines notes: "Niblock's materials create a web of subtle pitch distinctions that appears static but which in fact undergoes constant changes. The patterns created in air by the beating an phasing of near-unison tones are like wet paint with one colour streaking into another; tiny striations appear and disappear, like figures in mist.'

Touch Strings is Niblock's fourth release on the Touch label. As the title suggest, the compositions on this double CD use string sounds as basic sound material. The three different compositions have quite a different approach but fit together on this album very well.

On 'Stosspeng' the layered sounds of sustainer guitars and bass quitar with e-bows produce a calm fluctuating sound. The name comes from its performers: Susan Stenger and Robert Poss. Arne Deforce's cello playing is layered 32 times in 'Poure', which makes the piece quite 'agressive' sounding when played loud (at some points the sound even reminded me of the sound of bagpipes). 'One Large Rose' concludes the album, and is in fact a few realtime recordings of the same piece superimposed on each other. This results in a massively immersive sound created by The Nelly Boyd Ensemble. Of these three compositions, 'Stosspeng' is my personal favourite because of its softness, but I noticed that the experience of all three works can change dramatically if you listen to them on different volumes.

This music is definitely not meant for the casual listener. And a restless mind won't help too. But if you give it the time and space to develop, you'll discover wondrous results.

At 76, Phill Niblock may very well be viewed as avant-garde's answer to Sunn O)))...

Dusted (USA):

hill Niblock’s last album, Touch Three was a mammoth, three-disc endeavor. To the rabid fan, it was a satisfying portion of Niblock signature sound, in a duration more closely resembling his live performances. But the prospect of digesting all three discs in succession is overwhelming, thereby lessening their cumulative effect. There’s no question that Touch Three is excellent, exhibiting a diversity of sound (relatively, of course) sometimes missing in Niblock’s discography, and some of the best work of the septuagenarian’s career. As a larger album, Touch Three felt more like a curated collection of Niblock’s recent work more than a singular statement.

Niblock’s most recent release is Touch Strings, a two-disc affair featuring, as the name implies, music performed wholly on stringed instruments. The use of strings is a nice unifier, even if the three pieces included have distinctly different sounds. Even those casually familiar with Niblock’s work know what to expect: the assimilation of interweaving drones and hidden tones, creating a music that is both expansive and infinitely detailed, easy to "get" yet often challenging to truly hear.

"Stosspeng," which constitutes the first disc, is vintage Niblock, melding electric guitar and bass into a smooth and unhurried behemoth. The piece has few rough edges, with the Niblock-modified tones intermingling and overtaking one another in slow, gentle waves. The hard panning of the track injects a separation not always present in Niblock’s work, and at times Susan Stenger and Robert Poss pull apart in terms of pitch, leaving the ingredients of Niblock’s microtonal aural illusions easier to distinguish than they might usually be. "Stosspeng," though, likely won’t be a revelation to the seasoned Niblock listener; it’s deceptively simple (built often on only two or three pitches), more so than most of Niblock’s compositions, but the final product follows a familiar trajectory within the Niblock oeuvre.

The simplicity of "Stosspeng" is contrasted starkly by the second disc’s "Poure." Featuring Arne Deforce on cello, "Poure" layers bowed strings into a dense hive of musical activity. Niblock analyzed Deforce’s playing with an oscilloscope during recording, collecting the slight shifts in pitch that he might otherwise have created digitally. The single tones, as they are laid upon one another, create a blanket of striated sound. If "Stosspeng" is a mass of intermittently bubbled obsidian, "Poure" is a tunnel of banded sandstone, built of straight lines rather than rounded edges. Tonally, the cello creates a chorus of hums and buzzes, lending gristle to the edges of the music’s layers.

A sinewy grit also appears in "One Large Rose," which, contrary to how Niblock often works, was recorded by the four-piece Nelly Boyd Ensemble, live and in unison. Performed on cello, strummed piano, violin and acoustic bass guitar, the piece glows with a particular feeling of life, breathing in a manner more organic and human than many of Niblock’s constructions. The four instruments combine to create a sound seemingly bigger than its parts, a testament to how much Niblock can cull from a specific set of sounds, no matter how small. The ensemble members, in fact, note how surprised they were to hear the rough mixes, remarking that "One Large Rose" sounded markedly different while they were playing it. There’s more of a momentum to the piece than its predecessors, and as different combinations of instruments come to the fore, one begins to hear currents in the liquid tone of the composition, propelling the listener on a steady, insistent course. It can be a claustrophobic and confining listening experience.

Touch Strings is a survey of Niblock’s approach, in terms of both the generation and amalgamation of the music’s individual voices. With their genesis in strings as a unifying factor, the album explores Niblock’s meticulous composition from three different angles, and proves to be another great addition to the artist’s discography. Niblock may not be a young man, but he’s in no danger of backsliding. His work over the last few albums has been some of the best of his career. [Adam Strohm]

VITAL (Netherlands):

Age doesn't seem to bother Phill Niblock. The older he gets the more active he seems, seemingly constant on the road to play concerts and recording new music. This is already his fourth release on Touch, another double CD. Perhaps with someone else I would moan that a double CD is too much, but in my world there can never be 'too much Niblock' music - not that he is that actively involved with releasing music, so perhaps this 'steady stream' is just perfect. And just perfect is what we can say about the music. Three pieces here: 'Stosspeng', 'Poure' and 'One Large Rose', between twenty-three and fifty nine minutes in duration. For me Niblock is simply the best composer of minimal music. He works from the serious background in minimal music, writing scores and such like, but works closely with the musicians when it comes to finishing the piece. 'Poure' for instance was created with the cellist Arne Deforce, who plays a all A and D notes, from several octaves on his cello, along with an oscillator and from that he crafts a archetypical Niblock piece of music. Majestic, densely layered, endless sustaining piece of music. 'One Large Rose' is an ensemble piece for cello, piano strummed with nylon strings, violin and acoustic bass guitar strummed with nylon strings or e-bow. Here the piece is scored, in ten parts, but what Niblock did, is he had the four players play the piece four times and then put these four recordings on the computer and then did a mix of it. 'Stosspeng' is played by Susan Stenger and Robert Poss for two guitars and two bass guitars, all of which are again overlaid ('superimposed') in the process of mixing. Three different angles to the same process that brings out some wonderfully long sustaining music of 'One Large Rose' is perhaps the most 'live' sounding piece, with some nice shifts along with it. Three great pieces of music. I now, I am biased here and much of what I normally use to review music - originality for one, a new direction for the composer - is not applied here. The one and only reason is because I am biased here. Great beauty! [FdW]

Le Son du Grisli (France):

Après les instruments à vent (sur le monumental Touch Three, Touch Music, 2006), Phill Niblock investit les cordes afin de bâtir trois nouvelles cathédrales sonores, au matériau de base et au procédé de composition différents. Stosspeng est élaboré à partir de l'accumulation d'échantillons de pulsations des guitare et guitare basse de Susan Stenger et Robert Poss. Poure résulte de l'assemblage de plusieurs couches de violoncelle joué par Arne Deforce et One Large Rose du mixage de quatre pistes correspondant à autant d'enregistrements du Nelly Boyd Ensemble de Hambourg.

Comme d'habitude, les monolithes sonores construits par Niblock ne révèlent toutes leurs subtilités qu'à un très fort volume. C'est ainsi que cette musique communiquant un sens de l'espace sans nul autre pareil exerce le mieux sa force de fascination. Les strates, aux progressions graduelles, enveloppent peu à peu l'auditeur, confronté à un monde de textures aux richesses quasi infinies. La durée des pièces (une heure pour Stosspeng) est essentielle pour imposer à l'auditeur la concentration nécessaire lui permettant de s'immerger dans un univers dont le seul principe serait le son, éternel et absolu.

Other Music (USA):

At work now for over four decades, minimalist composer Phill Niblock hardly needs an introduction, as a solid cornerstone of modern composition who has over the years crafted a series of compositions that show a gradual evolution to his unstudied and yet still principled approach. Ever exploring the complex interactions of layered, long-form tones and drones, Niblock has maintained a particularly fruitful relationship with the Touch label since the dawn of the new century, one that has resulted in three increasingly immersive and staggering collections of his work. Touch Strings represents the man's fourth collection for the label, and while it doesn't necessarily add any new wrinkles to Niblock's oeuvre, it continues his peerless succession of beautiful and subtly detailed releases.

As one would probably guess from the title, Touch Strings collects a series of compositions all written for stringed instruments. While this presents an obvious ideological theme, Niblock manages to explore distinctly different terrain throughout the two hours of music presented here. "Stosspeng," which takes up the whole of disc one, traffics in neatly understated guitar and bass, conjuring a gently undulating (and mildly menacing) sea of sound that's surprisingly delicate. "Poure," which opens the second disc, stands in stark contrast. Crafted from sweeping cello lines, this one aims for a more distinct cacophony, developing into a billowing din of hums that threatens to overtake the listener. Best of all, however, is "One Large Rose," a live quartet performance that eschews Niblock's normal production approach in favor of the immediacy of four players in a room. Their presence gives the piece a remarkable depth and vitality, as they amass tones that energetically bring Niblock's latest series of works to a graceful conclusion. [MC]

Chorro de luz (Spain):

Puntualmente llegan a nosotros las novedades del sello inglés Touch, una casa no siempre certera, muy marcada por la modernidad del aquí y ahora que tan pronto publica un anodino disco ambient de Biosphere que nos ofrece suculentos menús electroacústicos a base de monográficos de Chris Watson, Robert Hampson, Mika Vainio o Phill Niblock, de quien llevan editados cinco álbumes. A él pertenece la novedad que origina estas líneas, el doble cedé Touch Strings, que sale al mercado en una presentación mucho más atenta en notas y reflexiones que las habitualmente exiguas ediciones en cartón a las que Touch tiene acostumbrados a los esforzados seguidores de la música nueva.

Vaya por delante la afirmación de que con Niblock (Indiana, EEUU, 1933) estamos ante uno de los creadores más radicales y excesivos del panorama de la música contemporánea. Adscrito a la escuela minimalista, su música, hecha a base de extensos drones (sonidos sostenidos con imperceptibles variaciones armónicas) que permanecen prácticamente estáticos, entronca más con la tradición repetitiva de Alvin Lucier y Charlemagne Palestine que con el mínimal avant la lettre de Steve Reich o Philip Glass. Recientemente en la página de debate en español Clasiforo surgió una intensa y crispada charla sobre la calidad y valía compositiva de Niblock, discusión estéril por otra parte en cuanto que ante una propuesta sonora como la suya no caben varas de medir académicas. Su liga está en la de los creadores adscritos al arte sonoro, por más que en ocasiones, como demuestra su ejemplar grabación para el sello Mode, Disseminate Ostrava, recurra a formaciones instrumentales clásicas en mayor o menor medida.

En un relativamente corto espacio de tiempo he podido disfrutar de dos 'sesiones Niblock' en vivo. Primero en el loft Experimental Intermedia que posee en Nueva York, donde el mismo compositor sumergió, en marzo de 2007, a una veintena de personas en una sesión de minimalismo extremo en la mejor tradición del experimentalismo norteamericano. Y en marzo 2009, el violonchelista de Champ d'Action, Arne Deforce, presentó en el Teatro Central de Sevilla la pieza Poure, en lo que supuso uno de los momentos musicales de mayor intensidad y concentración de los que el Ciclo de Música Contemporánea de la Junta de Andalucía lleva brindados en su década de historia.

Justamente es Poure la pieza que inaugura el segundo cedé de este Touch Strings, un claro ejemplo de esa 'continuidad discontinua' con la que aborda un material, de partida, de enorme pobreza sonora (en evidente respuesta al título de la obra). Deforce ejecuta un único acorde que durante 23 minutos se repite sin descanso mientras que de forma paralela va incrementando una reverberación electrónica que acaba por convertir el sonido acústico en una especie de asfixiante nube sónica que desaparece tal cual surgió. Esa premisa de intemporalidad, ese ir en contra de la cualidad medible de la música, no es ninguna novedad en el panorama de la creación de vanguardia (ahí están Morton Feldman, LaMonte Young o Francisco López) pero, sin entrar en otras consideraciones, nadie hasta Niblock ha logrado, partiendo del ámbito instrumental, llegar a cotas tan extremadas de despojamiento y de no-elaboración del sonido.


“Mi educación musical se limita a unas esporádicas clases de piano que me pagó mi padre y que abandoné por desidia. Durante mi juventud fui un simple espectador en el Nueva York de principios de los sesenta. Para mí, el punto de inflexión se produjo durante un concierto del compositor Morton Feldman, al que acudí casi por casualidad. Me impactó cómo un simple tono musical se podía alargar en el tiempo de esa manera. Era algo simple, pero también muy nuevo. En ese instante supe que yo también quería probar. Así se produjo mi encuentro con el minimalismo”. Son palabras de Niblock en una entrevista en castellano publicada por la revista del madrileño Círculo de Bellas Artes, Minerva. Y así, de repente, de una manera absolutamente artesanal ha continuado el compositor, no sólo divulgando en su propia sala de conciertos las nuevas tendencias de la vanguardia USA, también elaborando sus propias composiciones.

Otro ejemplo de su proceder, siempre muy apegado a intérpretes concretos capaces de salir a defender con gran voluntad estos artefactos sonoros, es la obra que ocupa todo el primer cedé de este nuevo álbum publicado por Touch. Su título es Stosspeng, y está dedicada e interpretada por Susan Stenger y Robert Poss a la guitarra y al bajo respectivamente. Oída al máximo volumen posible (recomendación que siempre hace el autor sobre su música), la experiencia de la escucha deviene en un viaje hacia el trance motivado por la audición atenta de los desfases que se producen de manera casi imperceptible por la repetición de dos acordes. De este modo la noción de dúo instrumental queda también inmediatamente volatilizada en favor de un sonido aparentemente -la sensación de inseguridad ante lo que oímos es continua- monolítico, pétreo, en el que no caben ni desarrollos ni evoluciones de ningún calibre.

Si Stosspeng supone un peldaño especialmente importante en el catálogo de Niblock, una pieza como One Large Rose no puede presumir de un resultado tímbrico tan denso y a la par refinado. En ella interviene el colectivo de improvisadores Nelly Boyd Ensemble de Hamburgo (integrado por violonchelo, violín, piano y guitarra, ambos instrumentos intervenidos por cuerdas de nylon). El resultado, de una mayor inmediatez si se quiere, sacrifica la noción de profundidad en pos de una presentación sonora más directa y agreste, con una sonoridad instrumental acuciada aunque lógicamente transformada por la manipulación a la que el compositor somete el material. La pieza fue escrita a partir de una partitura previa para tres orquestas, Three Orchids. En la nueva versión reduce el formato y dobla la duración (hasta alcanzar los 46 minutos). El resultado global de este doble cedé, Touch Strings, debe degustarse, como toda la obra de Niblock, en escuchas concretas, audiciones que acabarán por revelarnos la importancia y el impacto que creaciones mayores como Stosspeng o Poure tienen en los oídos de hasta el más avezado paladín de la vanguardia.

Ae (Germany):

Pan Sonic's Soloaushängemitglied Mika Vainio erschafft mit »Black Telephone Of Matter« ein weiteres Folgewerk voller obskurer Frequenzverstellungen und distortiongetränkter Mikrokonkretion. Interessant ist die Umsetzung, die gewaltige Klangsprache, die bei Vainio von Release zu Release reift wie ein gut gelagerter Château-Lafite oder sein offensichtlicher Hang zu Stille und geschmackvollem Cutup.

»Silencés Traverses De Mondes Et De Anges« ist ein solches Spitzenwerk, zusammengesetzt aus zermalmten Orchesterspuren und hochpassinfiltrierten Konkretspitzen, welche sich ähnlich einem klinisch herausgeschälten Oberton fast schwere- und mühelos in die Hörfaser nisten. Die letzten Minuten in trügerische Stille getaucht, läutet »Silencés Traverses De Mondes Et De Anges« eine John Duncan gewidmete Hommage ein, versehen mit fernen Radiointerferenzströmungen und knarrigen Rauschanteilen auf der gesamten Stereoskala.

Es ist nicht die brachiale Kompromisslosigkeit, sondern eher die Subtilität, die Vainio ausmacht. Pan Sonics rhythmisches Derivativ ist nichts im Vergleich zu Vainios fein aufbereiteter Musikmaterie. Auch historische Betrachtungen wie in »Swedenborgia« kommen zu Wort, klingen wie eine schlecht rauschende Aufnahme der »Homotopy To Marie« von Nurse With Wound, eingehüllt in stereoskopische Klangabnahmen alter Schallbecken. »Aíneen Musta Puhelin/Black Telephone Of Matter« klingt weder wie Kunst noch wie Krempel sondern einfach wie eine artifiziell unterstützte Abbildung unserer feinverdrahteten Welt, hörbargemacht auf einer 12"CD. Groß. 5/5

Armchair Dancefloor (UK):

Hiroshi Sugimoto's cinema project involves the photographer shooting a whole movie in a single frame of film, which results in the film so pictured resembling a block of white light. In a similar way, the 45 minutes of 'One Large Rose', the most striking of the the three compositions here, seems to remodel the sound of an entire orchestra into a single, solid smear of sound. It's an intensely powerful and tense piece of music, one in a sequence of work that, for NYC-based composer Phill Niblock, stretches back to the late-1960s. What's all the more remarkable about 'One Large Rose' is that it was recorded live by Hamburg's Nelly Boyd Ensemble.

On the first disc, 'Stosspeng' offers a near-hour of microtonal drift generated by a guitar and an e-bowed bass. Both its slide towards dissonance and the sheer presence of the sound make this much more aggressive and engaging than much of what passes for drones: there's no chance of putting this on and forgetting all about it. And if you do, well, you're clearly a person of gravely unseated reason who's capable of terrible, terrible things. [Chris Power]

030 (Germany):

The Complete Hoot (USA):

ADA (France):

Dans la vaste famille des musiques électroniques, se trouve l'ambient qui voisine avec l'électro-minimale d'un côté et le field-recording de l'autres A l'intersection de ces styles et sous-styles, souvent de plus en plus difficiles à manier (tant les influences des artistes actuels sont de plus en plus diverses), se trouve le drone. Il n'est pas question ici de ce micro-avion autonome bourré de nouvelles technologies inventé à des fins militaro-policière mais d'un travail sonore qui repose sur le long déploiement d'un « bourdonnement » qui de prime abord pourrait sembler fort monotone mais qui renferme une vie harmonique riche et organique. Sans le savoir, vous en entendez par exemple souvent dans les bandes sons des films à suspens où les drones foisonnent dés qu'il est question de créer une tension psychologique forte chez le spectateur.

C'est, dans les années 70, le compositeur La Monte Young qui se pencha dans les tous premiers sur cette matière brute du drone et en révéla toute les richesses hypnotiques dans un contexte purement musical. Depuis, de nombreux compositeurs ont suivi ses traces et parmi eux, le new-yorkais Phill Niblock est sans conteste l'un des plus rigoureux et talentueux. Pourtant souvent oublié dans les livres traitant de la musique minimaliste expérimentale, Phill Niblock a pourtant exercé une influence déterminante chez des musiciens tels que Susan Stenger, Lois V Vierk, David First, Glenn Branca ou encore Lee Ranaldo et Thurston Moore de Sonic Youth.

C'est ici sur la base d'enregistrements d'instruments à corde que Niblock a conçu ce double album monolithique et captivant dans lequel il construit un édifice sonore envoûtant avec une maitrise parfaite, comme à son habitude, des variations microtonales et du jeu des harmoniques qui se déploient lentement en une sorte de fractalisation kaléidoscopique.
Pour l'auditeur impatient, le travail de Phill Niblock peut sembler ennuyeux et arides mais pour celui qui plus patient saura plonger au c¦ur de la matière sonore, le ravissement sera immanquablement au rendez-vous, avec une intensité sans cesse crescendo.

A écouter forts Très fort !

Dark Entries (Belgium):

We zullen deze recensie al beginnen met te verkondigen dat deze 2CD geen quotering mee krijgt. De klank en het concept van dit werk is zo specifiek dat je ofwel voor bent ofwel tegen. Wie fijne oortjes heeft, zal misschien wel van het werk van Phill Niblock kunnen houden. Wie met het gehoorstelsel van Jan Modaal zit opgescheept zal hier waarschijnlijk niet veel aan hebben...

'Touch Strings' is reeds het vierde werk van Niblock voor het onvolprezen Touch Music. Op deze 2CD staan welgeteld 3 werkstukken van een behoorlijke lengte. Elk stuk draait rond een basisdrone of -noot, waarbij de muzikanten telkens tergend langzaam op zoek gaan naar de boven- en ondertonen. Dit geeft een zekere subtiele gelaagdheid aan de muziek, die echter enkel te onderscheiden is door de gelukkigen met een verfijnd gehoor. Natuurlijk zal iedereen wel enige verschillen horen, maar mits een zekere gevoeligheid horen de meesten niet meer dan een meditatieve akoestische drone. Laten we zeker niet vergeten dat dit ook een krachttoer vereist van de muzikanten, die gedurende de hele duur van een stuk uiterst geconcentreerd moeten blijven op de boven- en ondertonen. De drie stukken onderling vergelijken is meer dan interessant, onder andere door het feit dat ze respectievelijk gespeeld ziijn door een duo gitaristen(met Susan Stenger), een solist op de cello en een strijkerskwartet (ook de snaren van de piano worden bestreken). De gelaagdheid van het duo en de solist wordt een handje geholpen door het Protools-programma, zodat enkel bij het kwartet alles in één keer werd opgenomen. Dat verschil merk je ook: het stuk, 'One Large Rose', klinkt warmer...

Persoonlijk kan ik er wel van genieten, 's avonds als het rustig genoeg is en ik de tijd ervoor kan nemen. Ik kan me echter voorstellen dat de muziek een ander op de zenuwen werkt. Geen quotering dus... [Jan Denolet]

de:bug (Germany):

Blow Up (Italy):

Allmusic.com (USA):

As its title implies, Touch Strings culls works for or involving string instruments. This two-CD set fits squarely in Phill Niblock's œuvre: fans will not be surprised (or disappointed), and detractors will not be changing their minds. There are at least two ways to experience Niblock's music. One is to stick to the surface and find in his lengthy drones ("Stosspeng" is a full hour long) a calm, static, introspective music that can provide the ultimate background for meditation. The other is to turn up the volume and immerse yourself in it (no headphones though, never with Niblock) to explore his near-infinte world of incremental changes engineered through the use of quasi-unisons obtained from multiple octaves and multi-tracking near identical notes, and the flapping effects they produce. His soundworld is in constant flux — a slow, hypnotic movement that happens as much within the listener as between the loudspeakers. Disc one is entirely devoted to "Stosspeng." Here, Niblock is using drone samples from Susan Stenger (guitar) and Robert Poss (bass) to build a very quiet and delicate one-hour piece ranking among his most enjoyable to simply listen to. Disc two features to shorter pieces: "Poure" (24 minutes) and "One Large Rose" (46 minutes). "Poure" is built from multi-tracked samples provided by cellist Arne Deforce. Here we have less flapping and more grating, as tones are separated enough to be clearly perceived as out of tune. The piece remains sedate and majestic, but its texture is unnerving and disquieting, awaiting a resolution that will never happen. "One Large Rose" takes a different path to reach a similar goal: The Nelly Boyd Ensemble (cello, piano strummed with nylon strings, violin, acoustic bass guitar strummed with nylon strings or e-bow) is heard performing a 45-minute score of microtones four times, each take having been recorded throughout, and each time the musicians playing a different set of microtones. Whereas the other tracks feature a lot of post-recording work (altering tones, layering, etc.), here Niblock limited his interventions to lining up the takes and mixing them to stereo. The piece starts rather angelic and very gradually builds up to a gritty form of atonality. Touch Strings is not what you would call an exciting listen, but Niblock's approach remains relevant, and there is an endearing clarity and simplicity to his artistic concepts.

Gonzo Circus (Belgium):

Meer dan tien jaar heb ik er over gedaan om het werk van de Amerikaanse minimalistische componist naar waarde te kunnen schatten. Vier jaar heeft het geduurd eer ik een cd volledig kon uitzitten en van de negen concerten die ik van de man zag heb ik vijf keer voortijdig de zaal verlaten. Ik was niet alleen. Toen ik hem daar ooit over aansprak, was het enige wat hij loste een monkellachje. Niblock heeft een patent op monkellachen en op langgerekte drones. Zesenzeventig jaar is hij ondertussen – we delen onze verjaardag, een fait divers dat me op een vreemde manier rustig maakt – maar zijn tourschema is nog steeds moordend. Drie jaar na het monumentale ‘Touch Three’ brengt Phill Niblock nieuw werk uit. Volledig binnen de verwachtingen krijgen we ook nu een collectie van uitgepuurde drones. Size matters. Eigen aan pioniers is de noodzaak om de dingen te verklaren. In de hoesnota’s geven Bob Gilmore, Susan Stenger, Nelly Boyd Ensemble, Phill Niblock en Arne Deforche breedvoerig tekst en uitleg bij ‘Touch Strings’. De aantrekkingskracht van Niblock zijn werk blijft ook nu, na jaren van luisteren en zoeken, moeilijk te verklaren. Toch blijft deze pionier voor mij persoonlijk nog steeds één van de meest belangrijke en aantrekkelijkste figuren – een wegberijder buiten categorie – binnen de hedendaagse muziek. [pds]

Ear Labs (Netherlands):

RATED: 9 / 10
reviewed by Sietse van Erve

An impressive collection of three classical drone pieces composed for stringed instruments.

Not unexpected the album by the American composer contains music specially written for stringed instruments. Three different pieces, presented in distinct parts, fill this double cd with over 2 hours of music. Stosspeng, which consists of 6 parts, fills the first disc and is a piece for guitars and bass guitars played by the musicians Susan Stenger and Robert Poss. Disc two contains the pieces Poure, written for Arne Deforce on cello, and One Large Rose, consisting of 5 parts written for The Nelly Boyd Ensemble with the musicians Robert Engelbrecht on cello, Jan Feddersen on piano, Peter Imig on violin and Jens Roehm on acoustic bass guitar.

Stosspeng
The piece Stosspeng is approximately one hour long, cut up in 6 parts of 10 minutes.
With this being for guitar and bass guitar Niblock choose the work with an interval of tones lying really close to each other. Only the 3 half tones E, F and F# are used. With these notes all music in this piece is created.
As you could expect Niblock wouldn't just let them play normal notes, but instead these are stretched fully sustained notes.
With the different instruments several recordings were made in different octaves. With these initial recordings Niblock went in to the studio and created the hour long piece in pro tools.

In the hour long you do not hear just one long stretched sound, but rather you hear the different layers play with each other. Phasing patterns appear in the piece creating overtones and micro sounds you wouldn't expect. While with superficial listening you wouldn't notice but throughout this whole piece there seems to be no repetition in the created harmonies.

Stosspeng is a strong piece showing very well how with minimal means a massive musical piece can be created.

Poure
Poure is created in a completely different way. For this piece Niblock wrote for cello, also playing long sustained notes, but now following a sine wave on an oscilloscope. As ground tones A and D were used, but while these are very clear notes the oscilloscope was set just a little aside from this, making the cellist Arne Deforce playing a-tonal sounds. In this way a total of 32 tracks were recorded and layered in Protools.

The result is a massive piece of dissonant tones flowing in and out each other creating small overtones and microtonality. The result is one massive drone piece from acoustic sounds. While the sounds on its own might not be really impressive, this as a whole piece of dissonance is dragging you in like a whirlwind.
Another great piece, which due to the used tones is hard to get into. But the diehards know how to appreciate this.

One Large Rose
Again a composition taking things from another perspective. For One Large Rose Niblock took a composition called Three Orchids, which is originally for three orchestras, as a starting point. While the original composition was only 23 minutes he doubled it by giving all notes twice the length. Because of this not only the notes do change, but also the interval between the different tonalities change. The different notes come closer in the pitch.

The piece was divided into four parts, each for each musician. Though instead of doing just one recording the piece has been recorded four times. Each time a musician played another part. From these session 20 tracks were recorded (the piano always got two tracks). All 20 tracks are layered over each other starting from the exact same point. The only "technique" used on the recordings is giving using different tracks for the stereo channels.
The result we get from this is a strange unearthly piece. At some points the sounds work very harmonic, while at others a blurry dissonant cloud is heard. Specially the softer parts come out more clean and sound very lovely, while when things get louder the things become hard to get a grip on.
Not that it sounds awful, 'cause that is not the case, but strange it is.

As a whole Touch Strings is a good album. An album of pure drone music in the classical form. It fits in very well with the other music done by Phill Niblock and as such isn't really surprising. But while not being anything new sounding the techniques are interesting and the result is one to be happy with. And this last one is what counts the most in my book.

A good album, nothing more and nothing less. Go grab it.

Paris Transatlantic (Web):

Bill Meyer puts it very nicely in the December issue of The Wire: "It makes no more sense to play [Phill Niblock's music] on earbuds or little computer speakers than it would to look at a reproduction of a Rothko on your mobile phone screen." Allow me to replace that "Rothko" with "the Pyramids of Egypt" - Niblock's compositions are the sonic equivalent of those ancient wonders, huge, imposing structures that appear structurally straightforward when viewed from a great distance (i.e. played at wimpy musique d'ameublement volume level - dumb idea) but which on close inspection (i.e. as loud as you dare, moving around your listening space while you listen - great idea, but invite your neighbours to join you first) reveal a wealth of surface irregularities, angles, corners, nooks and crannies. And, once you venture inside, you'll find mysterious dark recesses and, if you're lucky, hidden treasure. I stuck my head in a corner of the living room I hadn't dusted for about a year and half and found a $20 bill! The three pieces on this fourth Niblock outing on Touch - Stosspeng (for Susan Stenger and Robert Poss's guitars), Poure (for Arne Deforce's cello) and One Large Rose (for the Nelly Boyd Ensemble of Hamburg, here consisting of violin, cello, ebowed bass guitar and bowed piano) continue to the follow the straight line that Niblock drew back in 1974 with 3 to 7 - 196, but, as PT's own Bob Gilmore (bless him) notes in the booklet, are different in conception, the latter being adapted from an extant orchestral work, Three Orchids, and consisting of four superimposed 46-minute live recordings. "An extraordinary achievement by the musicians," indeed. There is very little else to say, really: describing how a Niblock piece sounds is as daft as describing a pyramid. [DW]

GoMag (Spain):

RifRaf (France):

Rumor (Italy):

Bad Alchemy (Germany):

Electronique (Italy):

Al quarto album per la leggendaria "Touch" Phill Niblock, sperimentatore convinto classe '33, ci regala un lungometraggio diviso in due cd che rappresenta in questo finale scintillante di 2009, quanto di più vicino all'isolazionismo sonoro potessimo immaginare.
La sua è un'investigazione minuziosa sul suono di chitarra e basso, onde distese, lasciate ad asciugare e poi setacciate fino a rinvenirne la più piccola variazione sonora. Cinque segmenti da 10 minuti esatti più un finale da nove che scorrono lenti, rilassanti e dolci come l'ipnosi.

Sono percorsi da affrontare in solitaria, lasciando la mente libera di insinuarsi nelle sottilissime pieghe di questo flusso sonoro comunque denso di materia. Musica da ascoltare rigorosamente in cuffia, a volume sostenuto per poterne cogliere l'essenza addentrandosi negli antri più bui. Siamo oltre la musica d'ambiente, siamo in un territorio per pochi e selezionati, per menti che non si fermano di fronte ad un muro ma provano a passarci attraverso.

Nel secondo cd Niblock fa salire i toni partendo dal suono di un violoncello per aggiungerci man mano estratti di chitarra e piano. I brani, grazie ad un processo nel quale Niblock aggiunge strati su strati, raggiungono livelli di intensità quasi orchestrale, è tensione ipnotica pura, isolamento dal corpo e dallo spazio stesso, un'intercapedine che ci proietta in un mondo parallelo tutto da esplorare.

Nel book che accompagna il lavoro sono descritti in maniera minuziosa i processi di registrazione dei vari strumenti, un modo per poter capire al meglio un processo produttivo di dimensioni enormi, un disco che incorona Niblock come uno degli sperimentatori più importanti ancora in vita. [liquid]

de:bug (Germany):

Phill Niblock ist der Altmeister des Drone. Von den Minimalisten hat sich keiner so konsequent dem großen Brumm verschrieben wie er. Bei ihm gibt es weder Melodien noch komplexe Rhythmusverschachtelungen, seine Stücke umrunden hartnäckig einzelne Töne, die er mit winzigen Frequenzverschiebungen zum Leben erweckt. Auf seinem vierten Album für Touch präsentiert er passend zum Titel Musik mit Saiteninstrumenten. „Stosspeng“, das die komplette erste CD füllt, ist ein Stück für Bass und Gitarre, was der Kernbesetzung von Sunn 0))) entspricht. Zwar gibt es bei Niblock keine Verzerrer und kein Black-Metal-Gekrächze, dafür steckt in seinen instabil bohrenden Liegetönen umso mehr Verstörungspotential. Wohlfühlmusik hat er nicht im Angebot. Das gilt auch für CD 2 mit Streichermusik. Besonders beeindruckend das 45-minütige „One Large Rose“: Niblock arbeitet nicht wie sonst mit Protools, um die Aufnahmen der Instrumente zu arrangieren, sondern die Musiker haben über die gesamte Länge alles live eingespielt, bei den minimalen Tondifferenzen keine Kleinigkeit. Musik, die mit ihrer gnadenlosen Unbeirrbarkeit die Synapsen neu verkabelt. [tcb]

Konkret (Germany):

Skug (Austria):

Hair Entertainment (USA):

Touch Strings' is Phill Niblock's fourth release for the Touch label and even considering the vastness of his body of work, this is one of the most comprehensive documents of his extreme approach to reductive composition to have been realized. Sufficient to warrant a double-cd release format, this engrossing album features 3 works focussed on vast harmonic tapestries produced with electric guitars, basses and cellos. As always with Niblock the focus remains on the beating of the interference tones that sprawl across the frequency ranges, recalling works by artists such as Alvin Lucier or the Romanian spectral composers like Radulescu or Dumitrescu. The pieces are far from easy, and to fully appreciate and digest the incomparable stasis of the work, it demands a full and uninterrupted listening mode. For those of you with more challenged attention spans, the 46-minute 'One Large Rose' offers a much denser arrangement yielding a powerfully direct orchestral drone that (excuse the painfully obvious metaphor) ebbs and flows on a tectonic scale. The piece took the Nelly Boyd Ensemble four takes to achieve the final version, further testament to the focussed and intense concentration at work beneath the lethargic, quivering exterior of the sound masses. With the drone scene churning out endless releases of feeble pitched-down orchestral loopage, its something of a master-class to listen to one of the defining works of one of the genres wise old heads. No cheap tricks, no lazy processing, just beautifully recorded, texturally vibrant drones. Genius. [Simon Harris]

D-Side (France):

Rumor (Italy):

Onda Rock (Italy):

L'ossessione, tutta LaMonte Young-iana e Tony Conrad-iana, del veterano newyorkese Phil Niblock di creare un suono (e forse "il" suono) eterno con un minimalismo di continuum ad libitum e addizioni tonali, subtonali e atonali, ha trovato un importante sfogo nella saga "Touch", un nome che Niblock ha preso in prestito dall'importante label che nell'ultimo decennio ha prodotto le sue registrazioni.

Dal 2003 a oggi sono così sfilati "Touch Food", dedicata ai cibi (vedi tracklist), e "Touch Three", dedicata al numero 3 (terza uscita per la suddetta etichetta, 3 cd, 3 brani per cd, 3 strumenti per brano, e così via). I suoi sono così concept immaginifici, che quasi giochicchiano con l'idea stessa di concept.

"Touch Strings" non fa eccezione, in primis nella concezione al solito colossale dei suoi lavori (due cd e tre amplissimi brani, per un totale di quasi 130 minuti di musica), ma anche per quel concept che, in questo caso, sta tutto negli "strings", gli archi, o anche meglio nelle "corde".

Pure vibrazioni e pure oscillazioni sono alla base di "Stosspeng" (59 minuti), tanto esoterica quanto asfissiante, polifonica e ricorrente, e di "One Large Rose" (45 minuti, il brano con l'uso più dinamico delle sue note stroboscopiche), mentre la "breve" "Poure" (23 minuti) sovramplifica le capacità tibetane degli archi veri e propri.

Come in un canzoniere agli sgoccioli, anche il Niblock degli "strings" spreme le ultime capacità acustiche tanto dalle sue competenze di compositore-scienziato pazzo quanto dalla strumentazione, totalmente orientata alla ricerca per il gusto della ricerca. Non è, esattamente, un raschiare il fondo del barile, ma un muliebre horror vacui con cui esorcizza il fattore più scomodo: la sterilità. Ha un fattore inedito, e sta nel partizionare le sue esplorazioni in sezioni dal minutaggio per lo più identico; forse è un nuovo messaggio subliminale di fiducia nel mezzo-cd nell'era degli iPod sempre più capienti, eppure è una bella contraddizione, specie per un teorico dell'ascolto eterno (o ininterrotto). E, soprattutto, il risultato finale non muta. [Michele Saran]

Gonzo Circus (Belgium):

foxydigitalis (USA):

Phill Niblock is one of the unsung heroes of the avant garde. Influencing artists like Glenn Branca, and working with the likes of Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, Niblock has had his hands deep within the experimental scene since the late sixties. His latest album, "Touch Strings" sees him continuing to mine the territories of expansive drones and minimalism.

The two discs of "Touch Strings" are composed of three huge drone explorations. The first disc is inhabited entirely by the hour-long piece "Stosspeng." This composition for guitar and bass is performed by Susan Stenger and Robert Poss. The notes of their instruments are stretched out for what seems like infinity, eventually returning to overlap. These shifts are subtle, but no less entrancing, pulling at the listener like a tractor beam. Before you know it, an hour has passed and you're late for whatever social engagement you were supposed to uphold.

The second disc features two pieces. The first piece, "Poure" features the cello of Arne Deforce. The same minimal drone approach is again featured. The sounds of the cello extend and hang, quickly stacking upon itself to form a piece that feels even bigger than its predecessor despite being composed by a single instrument. Niblock and Deforce's sustained string maelstrom eventually becomes so intense that it recalls the hellfire drone of Campbell Kneale.

And then comes the closing piece, "One Large Rose." Everything you've been hearing in the last eighty minutes was mere preparation for this. The Nelly Boyd Ensemble provides cello, piano, violin, and acoustic bass. They play off of a score for forty-six minutes-- recorded acoustically-- with four recordings of forty-six minutes each superimposed. That's a whole lot of sound, and this piece is every bit as fierce as its description indicates.

The rewards of "Touch Strings" do not come immediately. It will challenge you. Like any other sprawling works of minimalism and drone, the beauty is in the details, and the details only become apparent once you succumb to its hypnotic grace. This is essential listening. 8/10 [Robert Oberlander]

Machina (Poland):

Sound of Music (Sweden):

New York-bon Phill Niblocks intresse för musiken visade sig först i form av fotografier av ledande jazzartister. Tiden var sextiotal och framför Niblocks kamera fanns kända jazznamn som Duke Ellington och Sun Ra, men även avantgardeartister som John Cage och Yoko Ono. Snart lade dock Niblock kameran på hyllan och började komponera egen musik istället. Touch Strings är det fjärde albumet på brittiska Touch. Det är ett maffigt dubbelalbum med cirka 130 minuters musik, uppdelad på tre olika sviter: Stosspeng I-VI, Poure och One Large Rose I-V.

Tillvägagångssättet är samma för de tre sviterna, och känns samtidigt igen från tidigare Niblock-alster. Han spelar in akustiska toner i sin dator, bearbetar dem i Protools för att rensa bort oönskade biljud och rummet. Därefter lägger han lager på lager av mikrotoner i sina kompositioner. Allt handlar om reduktion och långsamma, mycket långsamma förändringar. Niblocks musik har av andra liknats med havet. Men det måste ha varit en ovanligt lugn dag med bleke.

Niblocks musik är nästintill statisk. Vilket gör att den är både lugnande och frustrerande på samma gång. Jag såg uruppförandet av Stosspeng I-VI på Donaufestivalen i Krems, Österrike, för tre år sen. De korniga filmerna från sextiotalet som Niblock hade grävt fram och loopat, liksom gitarristerna Susan Stenger och Robert Poss, erbjöd en visuell hållpunkt. Utan dem - på cd - finns det inte mycket att orientera sig efter.

För den som söker meditativ avkoppling och som inte behöver någon progression är det här den perfekta musiken. Jag känner dock att intresset svalnar efter en stund. Kanske hade det blivit bättre av ett kortare format?

Etherreal (France):

Phill Niblock est une figure culte des musiques d'avant-garde, spécialiste, maître du drone. Économiste de formation, photographe et cinéaste dans les années 60, c'est en 1968 qu'il se lance dans la musique, s'inspirant de Morton Feldman et s'amusant à empiler les couches sonores alors sur bandes magnétiques. Une pratique facilité par l'arrivée de l'outil informatique pour une musique devenue technologique, se complexifiant au fil de l'augmentation de la puissance de calcul des machines. A 76 ans Phill Niblock sort sont 4ème album chez Touch en 10 ans, délaissant les cuivres au profit des cordes comme suggéré par le titre.

Touch Strings est un double album. Sur le premier CD, on trouve Stosspeng, une pièce de 59mn découpée avec précision en 5 pistes de 10' et 9' pour la dernière. Ce sont ici guitares et guitares basses qui ont été convoquées, confiées à Susan Stenger et Robert Poss qui n'en sont pas à leur coup d'essai avec Niblock. On retrouve ici tout ce qui fait la magie de cette musique : des nappes graves (drones), lancinantes, d'apparence immobiles mais en réalité en mouvement perpétuel et lent. Les couches se superposent, s'accumulent, oscillent et s'emmêlent, de nouvelles composantes apparaissant sans cesse. Si l'artiste conseille une écoute à niveau sonore élevé afin d'en percevoir toutes les subtilités, la densité des nappes et leurs multiples niveaux suffisent déjà à envelopper l'auditeur, le faire baigner dans une mer de vagues sonores, allant et venant sans cesse.

Le deuxième CD se compose de deux parties. Pour ouvre ce second volet avec Arne Deforce au violoncelle, pour un son qui nous apparaît nettement plus électronique. Cet aspect quasi clinique est peut-être du à un retour au source, reprenant sa méthode d'enregistrement des années 70s avec oscilloscope afin de contrôler la stabilité d'une sonorité qui sera ensuite déclinée sur tout un panel de tonalités et assemblée en multiples couches. Une linéarité indéniable, presque stressante.

La dernière pièce, One Large Rose, est nettement plus riche puisque c'est ici le Nelly Boyd Ensemble de Hambourg qui fournit la matière sonore à base de violoncelle, piano, violon et guitare basse. On retrouve ici l'esprit de Stosspeng mais dans un style plus nerveux et stressant. Les ronronnements apaisants ont laissé la placé aux vols de mouches et moustiques, le violon se fait grinçant sur une pièce aux fréquentes variations d'intensités et aux subtiles assemblages de strates.

Envoutant, hypnotique, mais aussi monstrueux de part sa teinte et sa taille, ce Touch Strings est à déguster avec un peu de retenue si l'on ne veut pas saturer. Les amateurs d'ambient se délecteront à l'écoute du CD1 quitte à laisser un peu tomber le deuxième volet qui séduira quand à lui les fans de minimalisme contemporain. 7/8 [Fabrice Allard]

Popmatters (USA):

This double CD from minimalist composer Phill Niblock presents three pieces recorded between 2007 and 2008 that focus on the microtonal exploration of various stringed instruments playing closely related pitches, which are then mixed together to form extended drones. “Stosspeng”, the longest piece at one hour, consists of two guitarists (former Band of Susans members Susan Stenger and Robert Poss) playing the tones E, F, and F# in various combinations and octaves; the source material is then edited and combined in ProTools by Niblock. The 23-minute “Poure” is constructed from cellist Arne Deforce playing the notes A and D in various octaves, reworked again in ProTools. “One Large Rose”, for cello, piano strings, violin, and acoustic bass guitar, is performed by the Nelly Boyd Ensemble from a score by Niblock in four 46-minute takes, which are then superimposed.

The result in each case is an emphasis on microtonal difference and the fascinating subtleties of layered sound. Superimposing various takes serves to reorient notions of difference; there is a flattening out of the source material, but any potential homogenization is countered by the myriad differences which come to light in the focused listening that this music demands. Like a Rothko painting, there are both differences between the patches of sound, and less obvious differences within the patches themselves. The music can be calm one minute and violently dissonant the next, but it is impossible to locate quite where the change took place.

As Stenger points out in her liner note, Niblock’s music only works via sustained listening, for musicians and audience alike. Listeners become aware of gradual shifts in the ambience of these pieces, which constantly vary according to the volume they are played at, the position from which they are heard, the nature of any accompanying activities (though really this music demands that you do nothing else but listen), and the amount of additional ambient noise in the listening environment. It is not that such factors are not relevant to other types of music, but Niblock’s drones refine our awareness of the spatio-temporal aspects of listening. As in recent work by the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, and the forthcoming book from musician and critic David Toop, listening is a process of becoming, a gradual awareness of the resonance of the world. There is a moment of incredible clarity, of a recognition of deep listening, that comes not only during the process of this music’s unfolding and refolding, but perhaps above all at its culmination, when the bliss of silence suddenly reappears, only to be filled with the noise of the world “outside”.

Musique Machine (UK):

‘Touch Strings’ a two disc cd set that brings together over two hours worth of Phill Niblock’s distinctive & often sonical vast take on the drone genre. This great collection shows once more why he’s one of the most respected & celebrated practitioners' of the drone form.

As the albums title suggests all the pieces here are made utilizing only stringed instruments; but don’t expect rich & lush Hollywood or classical string dwells here. Niblock’s sonic world is a lot less straight forward and approachable than simply pleasing harmonic or dramatic string dwells, his pieces cleverly & intelligently shift, or grow in a seemingly quite organic and goose bump inducing manner. But don’t expect quick hits or sudden shifts in the drone maps of the tracks as Niblock's sonic world is often very slow moving, thoughtful & never in let rush to impress you with flashy or contrived mood setting. You have to give it time and patience to get under your skin, but trust me when it does there is nothing quite like Niblock’s work

Opening up the set and taking up the whole of the first disc is ‘Stosspeng’ which is a vast fifty nine minute piece that offers up a slow ice berg shifting selection of tone maps and penetrating, thick yet slightly malevolent drone matter. The tracks sonically realized with the use of two guitars & a bass guitar, which Niblock manipulates into a seemingly slow breathing mass of tone that drifts from being brooding, to more than a little edgy & hypnotic, on to lush & vast . It gives one the sonic equivalent of looking down a endless black satin lined corridor which is slightly and slowly contracting in & out at it’s edges, and it just seems to stretchers on & on further than the eye can strain to see.

Onto disc two which opens up with the twenty three minutes of ‘Poure’ which utilizes the sustained & humming tone wonderful of the cello which Niblock manipulates into quite an active & tone shifting track of drone matter, which to start with rather brought to my mind the slow raise of the sun morning over mist shimmered plain- as with each turn of tone the track seems to get brighter, more pressing & engulfing in it's bright ringing drone rise. Though as the pieces goes on much darker & more sinister tonalities appearing too as well,as if the suns picking out scattered & fly buzzed animal carcass, & human body parts as it lights up the plains vast expanse.

Then to finishing off the set and the last disc we have ‘One Large Flower’ which concentrates on slowly opening layers and depths of the drone. With the nearly forty five minute piece utilizing the most instruments here to create it’s vast canvas of drone with the use of piano strummed with nylon strings, violin and acoustic bass strummed with nylon strings or e-bow. This is certainly the most active & shifting of the three pieces here having at times a more drift & morphing feel to it’s drone trail than the other tracks. Again like ‘Poure’ this track nicely mixers lighter and darker tonalities well, but this track is less easily defined whether it’s dark and brooding or light & lush; it sits somewhere in-between and I think is more defined by personal mood.

The two disc set is finished off with twelve page booklet which sees this set and tracks discussed and commented one by Niblock himself, along with musicians who took part in the creation of the tracks which nicely tops off this highly enjoyable, though at times challenging and time consuming collection of drone works by one of the masters of the form.

Scala Tympani (France):

Maintenant inlassablement le même cap, le compositeur new-yorkais poursuit sa quête majestueuse de l'absolu musical, avec une sérénité qui, sans doute plus que jamais, éblouit.

Il faut reconnaître que, depuis les années 1970, Phill Niblock s'est attaché à explorer le drone avec un tel acharnement qu'il en est graduellement devenu l'un des plus hauts dignitaires. Si l'intéressé lui-même dénierait probablement une telle position, un simple regard vers ses récents monuments discographiques impose naturellement le respect. Nul doute que Niblock et le label Touch, qui édite l'essentiel de ses ¦uvres depuis une décennie, ont un goût pour les échelles temporelles de grande ampleur : un premier disque paru en 2000, un double en 2003, un triple en 2006, et maintenant un double à nouveau en 2009. Une périodicité dont la précision se niche jusque dans les références de catalogue : TO:49 puis TO:59, puis TO:69 et à présent TO:79.

Le principe général de composition reste inchangé : des sources instrumentales sont enregistrées puis (dé)multipliées, filtrées, enchevêtrées à l'aide d'outils informatiques jusqu'à devenir de gigantesques masses sonores dont la densité prend racine dans les qualités texturales des instruments de départ. Si la « recette » a déjà fait ses preuves, sa mise en ¦uvre avec d'infinies variations n'en révèle pas moins de nouvelles nuances. Touch Strings, logiquement dédié aux instruments à cordes, en est l'illustration parfaite avec trois pièces qui, pour la plupart, revisitent des instrumentations avec lesquelles Niblock a déjà travaillé.

« Stosspeng » est une commande de Susan Stenger et Robert Poss, réunis comme au bon vieux temps de Band of Susans. A l'aide de guitares et basses électriques, les deux musiciens produisent uniquement les notes mi, fa et fa# dans différents octaves. Des tonalités très légèrement décalées par rapport à ces hauteurs ont ensuite été sélectionnées à l'aide du système Pro Tools et superposées pour se fondre, pendant près d'une heure, en une longue dérive ondoyante. Le résultat est beaucoup plus convaincant que celui donné à entendre sur G2,44+/x2 sur lequel on retrouvait déjà Stenger et Poss.

La pièce suivante, « Poure », ouvre le second disque et est « interprétée » par le violoncelliste belge Arne Deforce qui parait tout autant à son aise avec l'univers de Niblock qu'avec le répertoire de Scelsi et Feldman. Après « Harm » (parue en 2006 sur Touch Three), Deforce est à nouveau le protagoniste solo d'une pièce dont les sonorités s'aventurent parfois sur les terres de Tony Conrad ou de James Tenney. Cette fois, c'est le musicien lui-même qui est responsable des glissements de tonalités en accordant son instrument en temps réel sur une onde sinus calibrée. Celle-ci lui est rendue visible par un oscilloscope qui est également alimenté par le signal capté par le micro : le motif qui en résulte est stable si les tonalités de l'onde et du violoncelle sont rigoureusement identiques ou bien tourne dans un sens ou dans l'autre selon la nature du décalage. Constamment en recherche d'un point d'équilibre, des strates s'accumulent progressivement en une puissante nuée d'intonations qui compte parmi les réalisations les plus abrasives du compositeur.

De « Three Orchids », composition pour trois orchestres, Niblock en a fait ici « One Large Rose » pour le Nelly Boyd Ensemble qui conclut de splendide manière ce recueil. Une seule des trois partitions a été gardée et altérée pour allonger sa durée au-delà des 45 minutes. Cette version a été jouée un grand nombre de fois pendant deux jours dans une église de Hambourg par Peter Imig (violon), Robert Engelbrecht (violoncelle), Jens Röhm (guitare basse acoustique) et Jan Feddersen (piano frotté sur les cordes). De ces sessions, quatre enregistrements ont été assemblés pour construire un colossal édifice sonore où des circonvolutions résonnantes se déploient à l'infini et des sempiternels vrombissements meurent et renaissent à chaque instant.

Fidèle à la pensée d'Héraclite, Niblock ne saurait se baigner deux fois dans le même fleuve. De fait, même si son abord peut sembler austère à certains, sa musique n'a jamais montré autant de mouvements et de reflets. On scrutera donc l'horizon 2012 pour voir si la fin d'un calendrier maya marquera le point final d'une ¦uvre grandiose (on attend la référence TO:89 au tournant) ou, au contraire, ouvrira une nouvelle ère de compositions. Du haut de ses 76 ans, Phill Niblock peut légitimement prétendre à l'éternité et, en tout cas, n'a certainement pas finit de bourdonner. [jcg]

Signal to Noise (USA):

NZfm (Germany):

Muzik der Zeit (Germany):

Die Metapher eines Ozeans scheint auf Phil Niblocks Musik in zweifacher Weise zu passen: handelt es sich doch, erstens, um ein scheinbar dimensionsloses, Raum- und Zeitgrenzen sprengendes Tosen, das aber wie das Meeresrauschen keineswegs gleichförmig, sondern in einem ständigen Wandel begriffen ist. Dabei überschneiden sich, zweitens, lange Dünungen, mittlere und kurze Wellen, schaukeln sich hoch oder neutralisieren sich in einem endlosen Spiel, das zu einem meditativen Hörerlebnis einlädt. Diese Musik, die nur bei hoher Lautstärke ihre volle Wirkung entfaltet, füllt mit ihrem Volumen den Raum, nivelliert aber zugleich die traditionelle Rollenverteilung zwischen dem Komponisten, ausführenden Musikern und Zuhörern, auch wenn sich hinter jedem der drei auf der Doppel-CD versammelten Stücke sehr präzise, unterschiedliche Versuchsanordnungen verbergen.

Stosspeng setzt Aufnahmen der Töne E, F und Fis, gespielt auf elek trischer Gitarre und Bassgitarre von Susan Stenger und Robert Poss, zu einem massiven Klangwall von 59 Minuten Dauer zusammen. Kaum zu glauben, dass bei Poure – der Titel verschmilzt die englischen Vokabeln für «arm», «gießen» und «rein» – das Violoncello von Arne Deforce die einzige Klangquelle bildet: Kontrolliert über Oszilloskop bilden mikrotonale Abweichungen von den Tönen A und D auf mehreren Oktaven das einzige Klangmaterial. One Large Rose wiederum besteht aus der Überlagerung von vier 46-minütigen Aufzeichnungen des Hamburger Nelly-Boyd-Ensembles, jeweils von allen vier Musikern live eingespielt in der Christianskirche der Hansestadt auf den Instrumenten Violine und Cello sowie akustische Bassgitarre und Klavier, letztere beide mit Nylonsaiten bearbeitet.
Doch so exakt die Prozedur festgelegt ist, das Ergebnis ist auch vom Komponisten nicht in seiner Gesamtheit vorhersehbar. Der Klang füllt den Raum oder bringt den Raum zum Erklingen – der lange Nachhall des Kirchenraums ist sicher nicht zufällig gewählt. Er dringt nicht nur ins Ohr, sondern ist körperlich spürbar, vom Komponisten programmiert, vom Interpreten gesteuert, aber doch mehr, als was sich in Notation und Spielanweisungen festhalten oder durch das Instrumentalspiel beeinflussen lässt: ein unaufhörliches Spiel an- und abschwellender Klänge und Frequenzen, in die Komponist, Interpreten und Zu hörer gleichermaßen hineinhorchen. Damit entzieht sich die Musik letztlich auch der Beurteilung. Beschreiben lässt sich nur entweder die technische Prozedur ihrer Entstehung oder aber das subjektive Erlebnis. Hier bietet das Booklet, aus der Sicht des Komponisten, der Interpreten und des Toningenieurs unverkrampft einen gelungenen Einstieg. Alles Weitere bleibt dem Hörer überlassen.
[Dietrich Heißenbüttel]

igloo (USA):

Where Eleh’s Location Momentum explores low frequency oscillation, Phill Niblock’s Touch Strings is a conceptual album that experiments with the minutia of sound, both sharing a common objective; to examine and explore the physical emotions and responses sound can generate within the listener. The sleeve notes go into great detail about the recordings including the background to them, the musicians, the concept and technical details of how they were recorded. It makes fascinating reading even for those not technically gifted in the art of music making.

Spread across two discs, Touch Strings consists of three separate recordings based on guitar, cello and a string ensemble. The first, “Stosspeng,” is an hour-long piece that uses the left and right channels to deliver two sustained chords played by different guitarists which Niblock then adjusted the pitch for. The result is a hypnotic piece based on a deep prolonged tonal drone that gently shifts and oscillates over time. Probably not to everyone’s taste but the low drone has a certain soothing quality despite its dark undertones. The 23 and a half minutes of “Poure” utilises a similar concept but with different notes and with cello as the source, tuned to specific sine tones and fed through an oscillator. The output from this experiment is similar to “Stosspeng” but with a crisper tone and pitch, the drone produced being edgier and portraying more tension. As the layers build and the notes become denser the drone becomes organ-like, as if vibrating like an orchestra of accordions all playing sustained notes at the same time. The final musical piece in the trio is “One Large Rose” which is an elongated extract from a shorter piece entitled ‘Three Orchids.” Each of the four musicians were recorded in one 46 minute take playing a single string based instrument to produce microtones, subtly changing elements of the composition with each recording to create new microtones. Each musician was recorded four times and each of the four recordings (the piano was recorded with two microphones) was then synchronised into the single unaltered 20 track piece that appears on Touch Strings as “One Large Rose.” The result is similar in style to “Poure” in that there is an ever-present drone of combined string tones but with the ever-changing, almost metallic buzz of bow on strings. The various layers of sound combine to produce a rich consistent tone but also interact and slowly mutate, sometimes ebbing and flowing, to form layers that continually shift and mutate throughout.





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