Music for Cello by Phill Niblock


Phill Niblock | Music for Cello
Important Records (CD)

This record sets together three works for cello that Phill Niblock composed between 1974 and 1981, all of them performed by the cellist David Gibson. It is very interesting to investigate backwards in Niblock’s works to find traces of the gestation of drone music as a genre and draw a portrait not only of the artist but of the whole heritage he left behind. In his very long compositional activity he helped shape a new way to make music, taking over from composers such as Morton Feldman and establishing a tradition that gathered many artists, musicians and enthusiasts, each with their specificity.

The three pieces are long form compositions in which it is also possible to track out a certain degree of evolution of Niblock’s aesthetics, both in the capability of dealing with longer forms and with the exploitation of timbre.


In this sense the first piece [“3 to 7 – 196] is the rawest and roughest of the three. This is also the first composition in which he works with precise tuning, pitches chosen with hertz and the aid of an oscilloscope. It appears quite direct, making heavy use of beating and not trying to research any sort of mellowness, being instead edgy and noisy. The second composition [Descent Plus] is, in a sense, more a process piece. The cellist descends the range of an octave in a certain time span. Done with four cellos and constant re-tuning of the instrument. The instrumentation used to measure the procedure dives into a realm timbre variations, microtonality and psychoacoustic phenomenon.

The third composition [Summing II] is much more mellow and gentle, with a combination of strings and the use of a eight track tape. Niblock is able to create a loud realm of ever-changing, immersive soothing saturation. The whole process generates the effect of slow evolving variations done with additive synthesis, without renouncing to the richness and imperfection of the acoustic instrumentation. The three compositions on this record give a good impression of the author’s good blend between his instinctive and sensorial approach and his method. Niblock sounds out the acoustic feature of the instruments and their bodies in relation with each other, he goes where the sound goes and captures it where it gets interesting, thus creating stable moving pictures, then developing a procedure to make it work.

The pieces presented here might sound a bit outdated nowadays, due to the past 40 years of development in the field of drone music, and therefore need to be imagined in their original context, where they can shine for what they are: futuristic mass of deep sound knowledge and expertise and a solid expression of the inner self of one of the most interesting composers in the late 1900s.

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