Phill Niblock – TOUCH THREE


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.


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