Review of G2,44+ / x2 by Phill Niblock, Moikai Records, 2002
“I am interested in these different perceptions of what is happening.”
One of the satisfactions of my personal records collection. G4 is a record released in limited edition (only three thousand copies) and bought after a slow and patient intelligence work on internet.
Phill Niblock, New Yorker, octogenarian, belongs to the historical current of American minimalism. In reality Niblock has always divided his poetry between the activity of film-maker (don’t forget his Sun Ra film, The Magic Sun) and his musical activity, earning over the years the solid and unassailable title of “King of the drones”. The first minimalism in fact is basically divided into two major categories: the music affected by the attention to the “pulsation” (Steve Reich, Philip Glass) and those dedicated to the drones (Terry Riley and LaMonte Young) and Niblock definitely belongs to this second category but, unlike Riley and Young, however, his aesthetics is detached from the absence of any mystical and oriental component. Niblock doesn’t look to the east, Niblock looks towards the noise, towards the noise that rises from the streets of a Manhattan that in those years looks more and more like the Batman’s Gotham City, towards a community of artists that refuses any academic form and puts on same plan Yoko Ono, Fluxus, Julliard School and Bernstein.
Plus Niblock loves electric guitars! This is demonstrated with this CD entirely dedicated to them and which includes two different editions of his piece “Guitar too, for four”, the first performed by Raphael Toral, electrical engineer and Portuguese electric guitarist of whom I have already spoken on my blog ( https://neuguitars.com/2019/01/07/rafael-toral-wave-field-moneyland-records-mr-0595-portugal-1995-on-neuguitars-blog/ ), and the second played by the sonic youth composed by Alan Litch, Lee Ranaldo … etc.
The result are two long drones resulting from the use of electric guitars connected to the ebow, slow music, very slow to listen to or at low volume or with the speakers fired to the maximum. In both cases the results are a stratified sound mass, layers of sound that change very slowly as slow motion on a fixed camera, so slow to make the works of Goffrey Regio look like the filming of Formula One! His drones suggest a non-temporal experience. They define a continuity in which the listener gradually stops trying to focus his attention on some typical musical aspects (harmonic movements, chord changes, rhythmic alterations) to open up to a wider experience, where sounds are simply transformed into boundaries. or containers in which something else happens. The mechanisms linked to the attack and the release of a note are two of the aspects that define his works more clearly, yet in each of these tracks, Niblock places us directly in the medium of sound. We listen to the sounds generated by electric guitars, but somehow we don’t really listen to the instruments as themselves, just as we don’t really see an elephant if all that is visible is a stain of its skin. A new sound is introduced after a while, as if it were generated by the other previous sounds. Regardless of the instruments used in his compositions, Niblock doesn’t change his compositional structures. In every aspect of his work, Niblock directs his attention to the listening experience in itself. Consequently, the listener must make personal choices about how to focus his attention on the range of sound stimuli he receives. This is not ambient, not easy listening, careful listening is required in order to capture all the nuances hidden within a sonic aurora borealis, a dense gaseous mass that moves with almost imperceptible variations. Uncanny!