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

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.