Preview: Phill Niblock @ London Cafe Oto, 17/02/11

If Phill Niblock is ever posed the question of what his music sounds like, his stock response is “minimal microtonal drones”. Listening to his music you realize that technically, this three-word description actually covers it. Niblock’s music is as simplistic and raw as you might expect of a man who had no compositional experience up until the age of 35 – timbre and harmony are the only components that matter, with musical structure shunned to the background or occasionally disregarded entirely.

But to really listen to Niblock’s music – to sit down and be absolutely consumed – unearths an experience that transcends objective or accurate linguistic description. It’s about 20 minutes into a piece such as “One Large Rose” from Touch Strings that you fully become immersed within the inescapable limbo – any progress the track makes is masked by the measured pace at which it occurs, and the resulting stasis brings all life and extraneous thought to a standstill. It’s incredible to think that Niblock’s sonic universe, hyper-focused in its delivery yet endlessly expansive in its listener interpretation, was only discovered by the man himself upon reaching his mid 30s.

Attendees to performances at larger venues (churches, halls) are encouraged to move around and experience the music from various proximities and angles – the listener has a degree of control over the music in this environment, breaking it from its suffocating stasis and transforming it into something malleable. His upcoming performance at Café Oto will be different. The room is small enough so that Phill’s drones should swamp the room and encircle it, leaving the listener entirely at mercy to the resulting transfixion. I look forward to that a lot.

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