chair (solo)


FLUID RADIO (UK)

The sea, the sea.
The sea, these clouds, and this mountain.
This piano does something to time.

This whole album smudges time, draws out moments into long blurs of colour. Seven piano pieces by Simon James Phillips that stretch gesture and repetition into a landscape – not an imaginary one, but a potential one; a space for contemplation, sure, but a sense of possibility.

These pieces are not minimal, not maximal – there are nods to Reich and Palestine of course, but also to his work with Chris Abrahams in Pedal, and the uncertain note decays of John Tilbury – the spaces that ring through posture are a particular testament to these last two; these are thoughtful, playful studies – despite the rising tides of overtones and layers, Phillips never lets his playing be overwhelmed by pure texture; the sea always draws back to fluttering patterns. This cyclical pattern is one of the reasons Chair works so well as a repeated listening experience.

These pieces are cumulative, additive. Alone they carefully conjure shifting tones, swells, valleys and peaks of sound – but together as an album, the effect is to further stretch, tease out, our sense of time passing (or nor passing). The kind of album that takes over whole days.

Highlights? It seems slightly perverse to single anything out, so well balanced is the whole set, but the way the rolling, almost romantic opening to poul builds, with simple figures rising to the top around five minutes in, is so warm and detailed that you almost forget there aren’t hidden oscillators or organs buried in the guts of the piano.

This detail points to the care with which Phillips and engineer Mattef Kuhlmey have recorded this set – a church location, careful multiple microphone placements – and yet the swirling clusters and hidden tones means this is never a dry exercise, but a confident, open, beautiful record.

Buy on vinyl, but buy digital too, and leave on repeat.

Highly recommended!


LISA THATCHER (Australia)

When Simon James Phillips fills the cathedral ceilings with his sonorous repetitions, the act of creation forces the sound to live, as a changing formulating thing, obeying certain laws of mathematics and phenomenology, and at the same time building on itself, a musical repetition being equally as transformed as the space it encounters, as defined by its surrounding silences as it is by its creators intention – more so in fact. If, as Deluze suggests, creation is a sustained and active force, it is only because of an eternal return, each repetition harkening to its originator, only to find it already gone, and so each repetition starts a fresh almost as if it were building a solid field of sound, sound having the remarkable quality of being able to change into what it is and isn’t, informed and linked by memory, and yet a wild and new thing with each renewed noise. In this way, Simon James Phillips repeats sounds from time itself, each repetition not just an affirmation that time exists, but a forging into a new landscape that wouldn’t be if it weren’t for that note, repeatedly building upon its own memory of what has already past, but thrives fresh in what is being created new.

However, Chair is constrained by its own laws, which are bound in the instrument, the room that holds the instrument and the fact of recording. All these things have a beginning and an end and are not perfect loops of endless time, able to free themselves from the definitions of start and finish. Simon James Phillips examines possibilities around this by building each sound as its own mini loop, its perfect existence realised in its journey around the room prior to and after we hear it in whatever form it is by that time. What form do sound waves take after we have heard them? The listener becomes part of a process rather than a sacred holder of a satisfied end, the loop existing outside of our capacity to measure forming its own fields of sound and silence.

For the development of this field, Simon James Phillips chose to situate his piano in the Grunewald Church in Berlin, using instrument and environment as a cohesive whole contribution to this creation of the field of sound, via the instruments and environments natural ability to sustain, and where he can “draw out the natural harmonic saturation of his subjects.” (liner notes) Of the recording, Philips’ notes “My sound engineer Mattef Kuhlmey used numerous microphones, placed in various positions around the church in order to capture not only the sound of the piano, but also how this sound behaved in such a richly resonant environment.” To achieve the lofty ambitions of the project, Phillips constructs seven pieces of pure piano worship to fill a room wanting to be filled. Many influences in minimalist music are recognisable in different tracks, including Charlemagne Palestine, La Monte Young and the Erik Satie furniture music concepts – although the music sounds to this listener that Phillips plays with the concepts of furniture music in Chair, bringing a cerebral backdrop not to a Cagean fore but to a world of its own particular to time and space. (But I might be misunderstanding this, I’ll hasten to add)

The works of Chair vary from just under four minutes, ’9er on off switch’ through to the extraordinarily beautiful eleven and a half minutes of ‘Set Ikon Set Remit’ with shorter works having a more poignant relationship with their own silence and longer works set on a headier world build that rumbles and storms its way through sound image. Each of the seven tracks is a stand alone reflection of its own beauty, each work openly recognising itself as a field upon which time is transformed through the use of its own endless possibility.

Chair is a deeply beautiful listening experience, that all lovers of minimalist music will appreciate, solo piano listeners will love, and the furniture music aficionado might find asks some interesting new questions.


WEED TEMPLE (Poland)

At first glance, the cover of Chair, an album by Australian contemporary classical pianist Simon James Phillips, appears to be completely white. But that’s just an illusion: after some further inspection, there appears to be a photograph of a chair on the cover. Cropped, barely recognizable (and God forbid if you have your white balance set high on your screen/monitor, then it becomes invisible), but the chair is there. It’s cleverly corresponding with the music on the album - it’s made with a piano, just an ordinary piano, but there are times it becomes an ambient mass of sound with no recognizable source.

Simon James Phillips’ album can be considered a sort of a “concept” album revolving around the idea of chairs - whether it’s just ordinary chairs you can meet in every public place you go to, or the chairs at your home, which often you yourself have chosen. One doesn’t usually pay much, if any, attention to chair. They’re just there, and they serve one simple purpose - to be sat on, to provide support and comfort to the body. The music on Chair is a bit like the chairs themselves - it’s importance and beauty can be easily overlooked, but once some attention and thought is lended to the album, it suddenly becomes an interesting, entrhralling concept. Phillips purposefully designs his sounds to be as ambient-like as possible to blend with the background, but without posing the risk of becoming mere “backgrond music”. Just like chairs, which simply are there, but once a simple thought appears - “what would happen if all chairs suddenly disappeared?” - it becomes an important and interesting problem.

Conceptual mumbo-jumbo aside, the music on the album is lush and powerful without ever getting too much “in your face”. It relishes in slowly growing clusters of notes being played with differing power, from barely audible single notes to a gigantic wall of sound over a course of many minutes. If you enjoyed Clusters by Super Minerals (still probably my favorite Super Minerals and Stunned Records release after 5 years), The Well Tuned Piano by La Monte Young or Strumming Music by Charlemagne Palestine, then Chair will be right up your alley. It achieves some of the most powerful emotional response from the listener with the minimal means - hence the name of the movement “minimalism”. The slow, delicate tracks, like “Posture”, “9er On Off Switch” or “Moth to Taper” stand against the much more powerful and massive compositions such as opening ascender “Set Ikon Set Remit” or my absolute favorite on the album, “Poul”, which is the musical transcript of a downpour on a summer day.

Chair is a must have for all fans of “furniture music”, as Erik Satie prophesized the coming of the ambient music back in 1917. It’s a music to be listened to while sitting in your favorite chair and to be focused on with distractions reduced to a minimum. Then the album’s full potential can be fully realized. It’s not the easiest, most accessible listening, but once it clicks, you may not want to leave the chair in the next few days.

CYCLIC DEFROST (Australia)

Listening to Chair by Berlin-based pianist Simon James Phillips, it is interesting to note that he collaborates with Chris Abrahams of The Necks. The duo perform together as Pedal, a word with links to the ‘Chair’ of this album’s title, and emphasises, the physical link from body to instrument at work when performing music. There’s a similarity too between Phillips and Abrahams’s playing, a fondness for melodic repetition particularly, but Phillips is far closer to Charlemagne Palestine in most other respects.

The physicality of sound production, not just from human to instrument but from instrument to resonance in space, is what most strongly unites Phillips and Palestine. Like the teddy-coveting dronester, Phillips plays with repetition, sustain and the reverberation of the recording space to create rich and blurred walls of sound. So dense is much of Chair that I’d guessed at multitracking, but it turns out the result comes from sound engineer Mattef Kuhlmey’s use of numerous microphones, placed around the “richly resonant environment” of Berlin’s Grunewald Church.

Chair‘s seven pieces tend for either busy density or cautious spaciousness, the former like Palestine, the latter recalling exploratory Spectralists like Tristan Murail or Helmut Lachenmann. These slower pieces are the more interesting, if not as exciting, offering patient examinations of various sonic effects within approachable, repeated patterns. ’9er On Off Switch’lurches forward, all breathy and open, before suddenly withdrawing, like explosions in reverse. ‘Posture’ plods, methodically, like a retentive drunk. ‘Set Ikon Set Remit’ and ‘Poul’ meanwhile erupt like geysers, the sustain pedal held throughout (12 minutes each), particulars bleeding into luminous sludge. Kuhlmey captures both the murk and the clarity with precision, making for another highly recommended Room 40 release.

AMBIENT BLOG (Holland)

Speaking of Nils Frahm, I remember a concert opening with Nils (in "Said and Done") hammering a single note constantly, up to the point you'd think he would not be able to hold out for very long, only to start exploring a melody from there, whilst keeping up hammering the single note.

This effect of pulse playing is taken to even further extremes on Simon James Phillips' "Chair ". The interplay of notes and their acoustic reflections has a remarkable, almost physical effect which definitely is not for the weak-hearted, although there's also calm to be found amidst the apparent chaos.
"It's an album of clustered piano works, where notes compound and flutter in a spiraling flow of attack and decay. Using the natural sustain of both his chosen instrument and the recording environment - the Grunewald Church in Berlin - Phillips’ playing draws out the natural harmonic saturation of his subjects. [...] Part pulse, part harmony, Phillip’s playing taps into the finest minimalist traditions whilst not dwelling on repetition. Manipulating the pacing of his playing, Phillips creates an unsettled sense of time."

ROCKERILLA (Italy)

La Chiesa Grunewald a Berlino deve avere un’acustica incredibile. Prima di Chair già Dustin O’ Halloran l’aveva scelta per registrarci un suo disco. Con l'aiuto del fidato ingegnere del suono Mattef Kuhlmey l'australiano Simon James Phillips (già nei Pedal e nel progetto The Swifter con BJ Nilsen e Andrea Belfi) ha posizionato numerosi microfoni nella Chiesa per poter registrare non solo il suono del suo
pianoforte ma anche quello dei lunghissimi riverberi dell’ambiente. Partendo da un approccio minimalista Simon tira fuori suoni incredibili dal suo pianoforte, mettendone in mostra pregi e limiti,
grazie ad un arcobaleno di armonici e a risonanze inaudite. CONSIGLIATO

CHAIN D.L.K.

A sonic research about the connection between an instrument and its resonance in the surrounding space could appear not so original or even sectorial and the incipit of each track of this album by Berlin-based composer Simon James Phillips - one leg of Pedal with Chris Abrahams of The Necks and of the tripod project The Swifter with Andrea and BJ Nilsen as well as performer of The Berlin Splitter Orchestra -, which starts by crystal-clear set of piano strokes could be deceptive before those keys pass through the pronged set of microphones by sound engineer Mattef Kuhlumey who placed them in many places of the place where they recorded this album, the Grunewald Church in Berlin. Afterwards piano sound and the contrails of frequencies it spreads begin to dilate, expand, shatter and overfill the sonic sphere in a prismatic way, listeners got pleasantly entangled in its beautiful and almost tactile weave while the above-mentioned contrails seems to leave emotional sediments and open listener's mind wide on its comfortable confinement by means of tonal clusters and floating sonic particles. The illusory simplicity of each track together with the evoked naivete' of each track got refracted by the intriguing strategies that Phillips follow to warp time and single tones, which are maybe listenable both on tracks closer to the idea of minimalism like "9er On/Off Switch" or "The Voice Imitator" and on those ones where piano sounds like overflowing from the recording environment, whose barriers paradoxically pull for the projected infinite into listener's mind while he/she is sitting on a a chair. That's how it goes sometimes!

Tome to the Weather Machine (USA)

We had the chance to premiere Simon James Phillips video for “Set Ikon Set Remit” which was a high watermark for the Tome this year. The rest of the album is a truly breathtaking and overwhelming series of solo piano pieces. Using only the natural sustain (read: no pedals) of the piano and Gruenwald Church in Berlin where this was recorded, Chair sounds almost impossible in the context of its minimalist approach to making massive sounds.

(CHAIR was number three on Tome to the Weather Machine's top 20 album's of 2013)

Sonic Masala (Australia)

Another week, another Room40 release it seems. This time we have Berlin-based Simon James Phillips and his clustered, cloistered piano compositions, Chair. Imagine tearing into the finely calibrated strings within a piano with blunter instruments - fingers, fists, teeth - a visceral quality, yet still imbuing everything with the subtle finesse that such a musical receptacle requires. Chair somehow feels like that, like a living pulse, a raw yet still graceful extension of one's slowly escalating heartbeat as emotions - whether they are love, hate, sorrow, frustration, joy, depression - coalesce to a seemingly insurmountable height, before tempering again. It's an art piece, an ambient breath of life, and an instinctual emotive suite of sound. Very recommended.

Monsieur Délire (France)

En musique expérimentale, les idées les plus simples sont souvent les meilleures. Sur Chair, Simon James Phillips (une moitié de Pedal, un tiers de The Swifter) joue du piano dans une vieille église. Plusieurs micros disposés dans des endroits stratégiques captent l’instrument et les résonances des lieux. Au fil de sept morceaux, Phillips déploie diverses stratégies pour faire ressortir le réverbération naturelle des lieux: il sature l’espace de grappes bien serrées; il y va d’une mélodie simple et très espacée; il alterne les contrastes entre force et douceur, activité et repos. C’est convaincant, réussi, et parfois vraiment beau. Paru sur vinyle

In experimental music, the best ideas are often the simpler ones. On Chair, Simon James Phillips (one half of Pedal, one third of The Swifter) plays the piano in an old church. Several strategically-placed microphones capture the instrument and the resonances of the “venue”. Through seven pieces, Phillips uses various strategies to make us feel the natural reverberation of the place: he satures space with tight clusters; he plays a simple, silence-filled melody; he switches between strength and quietness, activity and rest. Convincing, successful, and occasionally downright beautiful. Released on LP.

4zzz (Australia)

This Berlin based composer and performer makes music with a solo piano and here does so taking advantage of the various acoustic properties of the church he recorded in. Sometimes sparse, but often full of richly expansive echoes, as you might expect. Has some of the characteristics of minimalism, without being restricted by them, Chair is an expansive release that is often quite beautiful. (Chris Cobcroft)


 

BLAGE 3

TOME TO THE WEATHER MACHINE (US), Ryan H:

For: The Necks, Lamonte Young, Simon Bainton
Byline: Phillips' five hour long improv marathon compressed to two of the best hours of ensemble-driven work by this wickedly talented composer.

Two years ago I reviewed Simon James Phillips excellent solo-piano record Chair on Room40. In it, while describing Phillip's gorgeously hyper-kinetic piano playing, full of melodies seemingly happening all at once, droning reverberations from crashing and collapsing soundwaves, I assumed that this sound was somehow produced using a manual delay pedal (or any pedal at all). Phillips kindly responded to me that, in fact, there was no outside manipulation of his instrument at all. That all the drones and huge, cavernous tones were in fact a natural interplay between the instrument, acoustics and strategic placement of microphones in the Grunewald Chapel in Berlin. All of the incidental sounds, the reverberations and twin/triple tones was part of the natural way sound reverberates and bounces off of stone settings. That blew me away.

Phillips returns, this time as part of a marathon-length double CD that takes the fruit of a five-hour long all-improv performance recorded in 2011 and compresses it into a 2 hour opus for piano, percussion, electronics (featuring BJ Nilsen!), guitar, double bass and trumpet. The result is a slow-building, ever ascending journey held down by Phillips' mandible dexterity and endurance. Phillips' piano playing sounds hard to maintain for 20 minutes, let-alone 5 hours. Phillips' plays busy, major chord cluster notes that fill up all available airspace with clashing and replicating tones that completely submerge the listener in an avalanche of sound. With a full band, Phillips guides each performer into delivering, or at least buying into this aesthetic. What starts with solo piano on Disc One and solo piano over and under the sustained tones of Nilsen's electronics on Disc Two, ends by breaking into a crescendo on each disc on max-power.

After graciously and gracefully constructing darting piano lines that continuously tumble after each other like waterfalls, Nilsen's electronics and William Dafeldecker's droning double bass, elegiac trumpet lines from Liz Albee, swoops of guitar drone and the frantic, pulverizing drums from Tony Buck come in with full-force when the track reaches its logical breaking point. After holding tension for close to 40 minutes on Disc 2, the restrained, everything-on cacophony is a welcome daybreak rainstorm that scratches every itch and fulfills every promise of this incredible ensemble. In between peaks and valleys we get to savor on the brilliant acoustic-electronic interplay that blurs the line between electronic manipulation and the piano's sonic capabilities.

This record is brilliant in every way. I, by my naturally Type-A, competitive personality am drawn to feats of endurance/strength. When I run for long distances I sometimes get a major dopamine dump to my central nervous system called a runner's high. That level of transcendence is I am sure what five hours of sitting through/actively listening to this performance would have produced. But for now, we have an artifact. A "Best Of" compilation that seamlessly tracks the trajectory of one of, in my opinion, best composers around today. Do yourself a favor and be cornered by this, alone, for two hours. You can do it.

MERCHANTS OF AIR, Serge:

Some artists prefer the term 'sound art' above 'music'. Their creations are usually elaborate pieces of ambient or noise which remain pretty far away from what most people would describe as music. Rhythms, melody and song structures are very different, if they're present to begin with. Often these artists work with an installation rather than with musicians or instruments and their concerts are 'performances'. This is an enourmous world where anything is possible and allowed.
Simon James Phillips is a classically trained composer, born in Australia but currently residing in Berlin (Germany). His work usually constists of improvisation sessions around the exploration of time, place and perception. For this work, he put together an ensemble of musicians and placed them in the center of a large dance studio. The whole set lasted for five hours and the audience was welcome to come and go at will. Afterwards, Phillips editted the whole to create this almost magical album.
The musicians on this album are not the least. Tony Buck (drums and percussion), Werner Dafeldecker (double bass), BJ Nilsen (electronics), Liz Allbee (trumpet), Arthur Rother (guitar) and Simon James Phillips (piano) performed in this piece. The result are two CD's filled with organic ambient, created with both analog equipment and electronics. As usual the music drives on a number of soundscapes where other elements seem free to come and go, just like the audience was when they recorded this work. These pieces continuously change, like a very, very slow version of free jazz.
This work reminds me of people like Aidan Baker and his Hypnodrone Ensemble or Fear Falls Burning on his 'Frenzy Of The Absolute' album, although there's little to no uptempo krautrock or pounding drums on Blage 3. The resemblance lays in the perfect cooperation between these talented and experienced musicians. You can almost feel the chemistry and the magic in this music. Highly recommended for every experimental ambient and improvisation fan, that's for sure.

ROCKERILLA (Italy), Roberto Mandolini:

L’edizione in doppio compact disc è solo un assaggio del concerto organizzato da Simon James Phillips (Pedal, The Swifter) in uno studio di Berlino durato ben cinque ore. Una vera installazione sonora con il pubblico ignaro dell’evento che entrava e usciva dalla sala, mentre Phillips con altri cinque musicisti residenti a Berlino — Tony Buck (batteria e percussioni), Werner Dafeldecker (contrabbasso), BJ Nilsen (elettronica), Liz Allbee (tromba) e Arthur Rother (chitarre) — improvvisavano stratificando matasse di suono in drone maestosi. Oltre alle due ore scarse dell’edizione in CD è disponibile una registrazione più lunga dell’evento solo in DL.

VITAL WEEKLEY, Frans de Waard:

Always on the careful side, but the name Simon James Phillips popped up once before in Vital Weekly, when we reviewed the LP by The Swifter in Vital Weekly 868. That was a trio with him on piano, Andre Belfi on drums and BJ Nilsen on electronics. The latter is still part of this new work by Phillips, who seems now the leader of a bigger ensemble, which also includes Tony Buck on drums, Werner Dafeldecker (double bass), Liz Allbee (trumpet) and Arthur Rother (guitar). This double CD is the result of a five-hour long improvisation session in a large dance studio. They began with playing before the audience arrived, which was free to come and go. Much like the LP by The Swifter I am here reminded of the new jazz from Australia (well, by now, perhaps not so new any more, but it still smells great). Spacious improvisations with lots of room, no doubt because of the big space this was recorded in (and with a microphone set-up in the middle capturing both the proceedings as well as the space this was recorded in). Most of the time it's all wide apart but in the second half of the second disc it is also more menacing and closed off. This was quite some amount of music, I thought, one hundred minutes, but then I read one could get more of this on the download side of this release, and maybe one should not be reviewing this, but rather undergoing this as a lengthy sound experience. (FdW)

DALSTON SOUND (UK), Tim Owen:

Here’s one for fans of first-rate, long-form electro-acoustic improvisation, a recording that sits somewhere on a drift continuum between The Necks and MIMEO.

Blage 3 (Mikroton) is the part result of an installation and performance piece curated by pianist/composer Simon James Phillips: a double CD presenting two long extracts from an uninterrupted five hour improvisation.

Playing alongside Philips are two colleagues from Berlin’s Splitter Orchestra, trumpeter Liz Allbee and double bassist Werner Dafeldecker, BJ Nilsen on electronics, guitarist Arthur Rother, and The Necks’ Tony Buck on percussion.

Both The Necks and Dafeldecker’s group Polwechsel provide useful and apposite touchstones for this music as all three projects focus on slowly unfolding structures, albeit with varying degrees of subtlety and implacable intent.

The performance took place in the centre of a large dance studio, with an audience, who had no idea how long it would last, admitted only once the work had begun, and free to come and go. Philips then edited two long excerpts from the full five hours of improvisation, each with its own character. Any audible evidence of the audience has been carefully excised.

The first hour-long excerpt begins with a warm, hazy strumming of processed piano and combined harmonics, turning on a diminuendo through which more lyrically arpeggiated pianism emerges in counterpoint to individuated electronic drones and an ominous underlying rumble of percussion and bowed bass. Through overlapping movements, those bass reverberations operate in counterpoint to queasy, high-frequency tones until both fade, yielding again to Philips’ pianism.

Fluctuations in the balance of power between inputs produce a tension between the music’s lulling and discomposing aspects. It holds the ear.

Philips’ playing, rippling over collaged drones, has a hypnotic mellifluousness that’s reminiscent at times of Charlemagne Palestine’s ‘strumming music’ but twenty two minutes in, and Tony Buck’s rainforest shakers and vibrating snare drum herald a darkening of mood, with Rother’s guitar abstractly dark-hued against bowed contrabass and harmonious grains and pulses of electronic texture. As always, the piano seems to draw the music onward, exerting a calming influence, but as electronic textures fade away Buck’s percussion becomes dominant, establishing a restive tension between pulse and abstraction.

Allbee’s trumpet is now clearly audible for the first time, binding the music with strenuous sustains, shaping melody, but sounding clarion only when Rother chimes in with a simple guitar motif. Still, there’s an inevitable slip back into abstraction, with Allbee heard only in occasional clucks and smears amid a constellation of electro-acoustic microsound, all bolstered by washes of cymbal and irregular contact static. From here, there’s a slow but sure wending of convergences to a subtly-drawn conclusion.

This is restless music, characterised by a constant tension between the acoustic, purely electronic and/or electro-acoustic facets of an always-recombinant ensemble sound. The second, 43-minute long excerpt is more tightly structured.

It begins with what sounds like interior field recordings of external weather, concomitantly creaky foley sounds, and a long, mellifluous and increasingly hypnotic piano solo, under which Buck slowly develops a rolling, rhythmic tattoo. Phillips’ rapid, looping note series recall Lubomyr Melnyk’s ‘continuous music’, but it’s Buck’s percussion that continues as pianism gives way to ambient harmonics.

Buck turns to peripheral percussion to emphasise texture over pulse, then patterns cymbals over thickening drones—BJ Nilsen meanwhile summoning long threads of muzzy but penetrating audio and a thin skein of tanpura-llke sound—before again breaking into rolling tympanic thunder. But then there’s a turning of the tides, and those processes are reversed, with Nilsen’s drones again predominant, reverberating loudly while Buck whips up a surf of cymbals, but all drawing ineluctably back to stillness and silence.

ONDAROCK (Italy), Matteo Meda:

Per la performance di cinque ore ininterrotte di cui questo “Blage 3” non è altro che un surrogato in forma “breve” di doppio cd per due ore scarse di musica, Simon James Phillips ha sostanzialmente radunato un supergruppo. L'amico (e compagno di merende negli Swifter) BJ Nilsen alla postazione elettronica, il mostro sacro e fuoriclasse dei Necks Tony Buck a dettare il ritmo alla batteria e alle percussioni, il veterano Werner Dafeldecker al contrabbasso, il regista occulto dell'underground berlinese Arthur Rother alla chitarra e Liz Allbee alla tromba dall'altra Berlino, quella americana (e meno nota). Non una formazione che si riunisce per un'occasione qualsiasi, insomma.

Ed effettivamente basta quanto già accennato a rendere evidenti le peculiarità del progetto in questione. Cinque ore ininterrotte di un sostanziale raga quartomondista improvvisato, che tende un filo fra la “storica” Germania, il Nord Europa e le vastità d'oltreoceano. “Blage 3” è una sorta di sinfonia trasversale, che cerca e trova una fuga dai limiti dello spazio e del tempo, che lega le scorribande post-fusion dei (già citati) Necks, le contorsioni post-(post-rock) dei Radian e le meditazioni extra-sensoriali di Mike Cooper in un unicum dalle mille identità. Un viaggio, di sicuro, ma guai a cercare un'origine, una destinazione, un mezzo di trasporto o un fotogramma dalla strada.

Il primo cd parte dunque con un'ouverture che sembra dilatare all'inverosimile un passaggio dall'ultimo Tim Hecker: una sorta di sacralità sembra farsi tangibile man mano che il pianoforte prende il sopravvento, ma assieme ai suoi tasti è l'intero paesaggio a variare in maniera irrefrenabile e continua. Un rallentamento apparente, piroette di tastiera e i droni della chitarra mischiati e reiterati come Oren Ambarchi insegna, un rivolo noise all'orizzonte ogni secondo più opprimente. Poi, al minuto dieci, un altro cambio di scena: l'angoscia che entra di colpo, si mostra e si nasconde in un crescendo prima accennato, poi materializzatosi nell'unisono di chitarra, tastiere e pianoforte.

Sbuca l'ombra di LaMonte Young, subito sotterrata dai colpi del contrabbasso. È una sorta di caleidoscopio che continua a girare modificando costantemente il soundworld e i suoi equilibri: i dieci minuti centrali sono interamente dedicati a un'evasione al pianoforte sporcata di rumore, dalla mezz'ora in su una progressione tribale di un Tony Buck in super-spolvero strappa la palma di epos della suite avvicinando i sentieri più free di Charlemagne Palestine.
Gli ultimi due segmenti corrispondono rispettivamente a un quarto d'ora di isolazionismo elettroacustico e penetranti litanie atonali affidate alla tromba di Allbee e a un finale “romantico” fra distensioni armoniche e melodie in libertà ad opera del pianoforte di Phillips.

Decisamente più compatta ma ugualmente stimolante e trascinante, l'altra odissea raccolta sul secondo cd vede il pianoforte e la batteria impossessarsi del ruolo di protagonisti assoluti, a parziale discapito della straordinaria coralità precedente. I primi venti minuti sconfinano un territorio a cavallo tra il totalismo e il mantra, con il medesimo giro di accordi ripetuto a velocità fino all'ascesa del ritmo. Dalla metà della suite in poi è proprio quest'ultimo a dettare legge, tramite i ritmi spezzati e tumultuosi di Tony Buck, in preda ora alle accelerazioni più cruente ora a rientri nel ciclo meditativo, fino al calo di tensione degli ultimi minuti che sfuma lentamente nel silenzio.

È un amalgama di colori, suoni, idee, evocazioni, percezioni sensoriali che guidano verso dimensioni squisitamente extra-sensoriali, immaginarie, impossibili. Se l'ultimo Necks poteva rappresentare l'ipotesi di una fusion del futuro, qui siamo di fronte alla coappartenenza tra presente, passato e possibile destino della psichedelia in senso ampio, liberata dalle precostruzioni che oggi la affliggono e la costringono all'eterno ritorno dei suoi cliché, rock o Lsd che siano.
Semplicemente oltre.

DIE TAGESZEITUNG (Germany), Tim Caspar Boehme:

Der australische Pianist und Wahlberliner Simon James Phillips hingegen ist öfter im Konzert zu hören, ebenso seine Mitstreiter auf dem Album "Blage 3": Mit BJ Nilsen an der Elektronik, der Trompeterin Liz Allbee, dem Schlagzeuger Tony Buck, Werner Dafeldecker am Bass und dem Gitarristen Arthur Rother stellte er eine Gruppe von in Berlin ansässigen Improv-Größen zusammen, die fünf Stunden ohne Unterbrechung frei spielten. Knapp zwei Stunden dieser sehr ausgeschlafenen Studie in Zeit- und Raumerleben sind auf dem Album gelandet, eine längere Version gibt es als Download. Musik zur Versenkung - oder als unbewusster Stimulus.

JAZZ'N'MORE (Germany), Christof Thurnherr:

Die Klangkunst steht auf den ersten Blick bereits wesensimmanent in einer besonderen Beziehung zur Zeit. Denn sie ist eine jener Künste, deren Inhalt sich scheinbar zwingend zwischen einem Anfang und einem Ende entfaltet und deren Vermittlung deshalb immer von der zeitlichen Dimension geprägt ist. Dass diese temporale Determination aufgebrochen werden kann, zeigen zwei sehr unterschiedliche neue Werke.
Etwas kürzer und überschaubarer, aber nicht weniger durchdringend sind die Stücke, die während einer Installation zum Thema Zeit unter der Leitung von Simon James Phillips entstanden. Die Formation aus sechs ausgewählten Musikern platzierte sich in einem Aufführungsraum, in welchen das Publikum erst nach Beginn der Aufführung eingelassen wurde. Die effektive Dauer der Aufführung blieb den Zuhörern somit verborgen und so wurde jeder sich selbst überlassen, das Gehörte in den Kontext seiner eigenen Zeiterfahrung einzureihen. Durch die zusätzliche Integration konkreter Aussengeräusche und künstlicher Dehnungstechniken verliert die Musik Phillips’ auch die offensichtlichen Bezüge zu einer eigenen Zeitlichkeit und bietet sich damit an als Ausgang aus der gewohnten wahrgenommenen zeitlichen Perzeption.

RIFRAF (France), Fabrice Vanoverberg:

C’est de l’art ou du bruit? Est-ce du génie ou de la pédanterie? Si nous n’avons pas la réponse à ces deux questions, qui valent pour ‘Blage 3’ de SIMON JAMES PHILLIPS (Mikroton Recordings) comme pour bien d’autres disques où l’électronique et l’acoustique interviennent, nous demeurons circonspects face à la démarche du musicien australien. Enregistrée dans le cadre d’une installation/performance à Berlin où cinq heures durant, un ensemble de six improvisateurs jouait face à un public libre d’aller et de venir (le tout condensé en 1h30 sur un double CD), l’affaire passe particulièrement mal la rampe purement sonore, atrophiée de son aspect visuel et scénique. Mais si ça se trouve, c’est juste nous qui sommes totalement à côté de la plaque.

GONZO CIRCUS (Holland), Arjan van Sorge:

"Blage 3" bestaat uit twee cd's van een vijf uur durende, ononderbroken performance uit 2011, als onderdeel van een project van Tanz Im August en Kerstin Schroth. Spin in het web waarbij alle draden samenkomen is Simon James Phillips, een Australische pianist en componist die graag samenwerkt met anderen, in allerlei samenstellingen en variaties. Dit keer met wat mensen uit de jazzhoek, zoals de in Nederland niet onbekende drummer en percussionist Tony Buck, die in uiteenlopende bands speelt of speelde zoals the Necks en Peril. Maar zet jazz verder uit je hooft, daarvoor houdt Simon James Phillips de bandgenoten te goed in de hand, en leidt hij ze verder op het pad van geimproviseerde soundscapes, zenuewslopende ambient en spannende, film noirachtige golfbewegingen. Er wordt veel gevraagrd van de muzikanten (vooral van de drummer), die de spanningsboog urenlang strak gespanne houden. Het album is uiteraard een ingekorte versie van de registratie, maar dan nog.

WHISPERIN & HOLLERIN (Ireland), Christopher Nosnibor:

‘Blage 3’ began life as an extended installation and performance piece curated by Philips. A one-off improvisation spanning five hours without interruption, it was a piece preoccupied with exploring time, perception and place while the six musicians played in the centre of a large dance studio, while the audience came and went. This release spans two discs, but necessarily is an abridged representation of the performance.
The quality of the gatefold card sleeve and overall presentation is exceptional; it looks and feels like an art package, although it would perhaps benefit from a booklet or some liner notes to provide a sense of context (I cribbed my info from the very informative press sheet).
Musically, the experience is immersive, and the recording quality is faultless, allowing the full range of tones and textures to breathe and resonate. Transitioning effortlessly and at times, unexpectedly, from tranquil to tense, there’s atmosphere, mood and drama spread with great consideration across the course of the two hour running time

BLOW UP (Italy), Massimiliano Busti:

Blage 3 e una performance curata da Simon James Phillips (piano) con la collaborazione di Tony Buck (batteria), Werner Dafeldecker (contrabasso), BJ Nilsen (electronics), Liz Allbee (tromba) e Arthur Rother (chitarra), che si sviluppa per un tempo imprecisato (in media attorno alle cinque ore) come una sorta di tour de force sonoro forse piu assimilabile ad un'idea di meditazionen trascendente che d'improvvisazionen collettiva. Il pubblico vieno ammesso all'evento solo quando i musicisti hanno gia iniziato a suonare, ma non conoscendo l'effettiva durata dell'esibizione, ciascuno e libero di abbondonare la sala e tornare al suo interno tutte le volte che vuole, in un rapporto di continua disconnessione con i musicisti volto ad alletare il senso comune della percezione. Questo doppio cd contiene solo un estratto dell'intera performance (una versione piu estesa e in ogni caso disponibile grazie al download), in cui il suono si dipana lentamente attraverso una serie di graduali variazioni che ricordano i meccanismi compositivi dei Necks, assumendo quindi una forma assimilabilie ai canoni tradizionali del linguaggio improvvisativo contemporaneo, piu convenzionale rispetto ai tempi iperdilatati della dimensione live.

SONIC SEDUCER (Germany), Sascha Bertoncin:

Simon James Phillips beschäftigt sich in seinen künstlerischen Arbeiten immer wieder mit den Themen Zeit, Wahrnehmung und Ort. So auch im Rahmen von "Blage 3", das als Installation seinen Anfang in einem Tanzstudio nahm. Ein Ensemble von sechs Musikern — u.a. BJ Nilsen an der Elektronik — führte vor nicht eingeweihtem Publikum eine fünfstündige Improvisation auf. Für die CD-Version hat Phillips das Material gekürzt, der Effekt des scheinbar endlosen Auftritts lässt sich im Rahmen eines Tonträgers leider nicht konservieren. Dennoch macht die Veröffentlichung Sinn, denn "Blage 3" weist natürlich nicht nur konzeptionelle, sondern auch musikalische Qualitäten auf: ein ständing sprudelnder Quell von Klavier und Elektronik, dessen Strom immer wieder von Gitarre, Bass, Trompete und Schlagwerk gekreuzt wird. Dazu gesellt sich ein akustisches Flimmern, nervös und kurz vor der Eruption. Viel zu schade, um es bei einer einmaligen Installation zu belassen.

SKUG (Germany), Curt Cuisine:

Es ist alles eine Frage der richtigen Dimension, oder? Wenn man ein Kuppelfresko auf eine Briefmarke presst, bleibt nicht mehr als der Wiedererkennungswert übrig. Auch in der Musik ist das mitunter so. Es gibt Musik, die muss atmen, muss sich entfalten, die braucht Zeit, um zu ihrer Wirkung zu kommen. Unter diesem Vorsatz hat sich ein Berliner Ensemble, kuratiert vom Pianisten Simon James Phillips, in ein Tanzstudio begeben und eine fünfstündige, unterbrechungslose Improvisation eingespielt. Fünf Stunden am Stück, das ist schon alleine in der Konzeption ein starkes Stück, aber auch eine heikle Sache. Kann das überhaupt funktionieren? Selbst dann, wenn dafür so kompetente Leute wie Werner Dafeldecker (Kontrabass), Tony Buck (Drums), BJ Nilsen (Elektronik), Liz Albee (Trompete) oder Arthur Rother (Gitarre) am Werk sind? Es kann. Und es kann nicht. Die gesamte fünfstündige Improvisation gibt es als Download, auf CD werden zwei Auszüge präsentiert, zwei Kompromisse also, zwei Briefmarken, die aber immer noch ausladend und »atmend« genug sind, um einen guten Eindruck zu vermitteln, was man erlebt hätte, wenn man die Sache live erlebt hätte. Dann nämlich wäre man aus dieser Impro-Ambient-Beschallung vermutlich als geläutertes Wesen hervorgegangen, als eine von allen Lasten des Alltags befreite Seele, durchdrungen vom transzendenten Odem der Musik bis in die Knochen. Auf Konserve kann man sich, wie üblich, im distanzierten Schatten halten und »Blage 3« immerhin noch eine sphärische Wucht bescheinigen. Vor allem der zweite Mitschnitt glänzt durch herrliche Bögen in Form minimalistischer Metamorphosen, die von Interpret zu Interpret zu springen, so dass selbst auf CD noch ein bemerkenswert hypnotischer Sog entsteht. Natürlich klappt das nicht restlos, dafür ist diese Art der musikalischen Erfahrung zu sehr auf die physische Präsenz, auf das unmittelbare Erleben angewiesen. »Blage 3« ist darum weniger Evidenz als Dokumentation derselben, aber auch so noch Statement genug. Für Genrefans ein Fest.

NITESTYLES.DE (Germany), Baze.Djunkiii:

An improvised concert / sonic performance exceeding the usual hour-long concept can be a tough bite for an audience to take but stretching things to a maximum of five - !!! - hours is a bit of a badass move, even more when doing so without letting the audience know upfront. But exactly this is what Simon James Phillips had in mind for the Berlin-based performance of "Blage 3", executed by six of the cities most recognized experimental artists including himself, Werner Dafeldecker, Liz Allbee and more which has been, although in a condensed, edited form of a close to two hours double CD album, released via the Mikroton imprint in mid May. Within these two hours we're taken on a journey through layers and layers of various instrumentations underpinned by mostly warm, athmospheric drones and noises providing an organic bed for multiple waves of piano improvisations, chaotic percussions, crushing waves and ambient'ish, slightly balearic guitars which, although embedded into sonic disarray, seem to restructure and ease off the musical ruckus to a certain extent, being a landmark to focus on amongst jazzy improv, rumbling anti-grooves, clanging percussions and other ADD-inducing events. And if it wasn't for this imminent, although subconscious structure, we're pretty sure that a journey through these two - or five - hours of cacophony would surely be able to drive listeners insane. But now, in it's recent and edited form, even this barely controlled succession of sonic events has a surprisingly calming and relaxing effect rather than being obnoxious and nerve wrecking for a reason. Defo a specialists album anyway.

NOWA MUZYKA (Poland), Lukasz Komla:

Australijski pianista powraca z nowym albumem, lecz tym razem w towarzystwie cenionych muzyków.
W ubieglym roku Simon James Phillips wydal solowa plyte „Chair” (Room40). Artyste nalezy tez kojarzyc z duetem Pedal tworzonym wraz z Chrisem Abrahamsem z The Necks, grupa The Swifter (Andrea Belfi, BJ Nilsen) i formacja The Berlin Splitter Orchestra. 15 maja ukazalo sie podwójne wydawnictwo Phillipsa – „Blage 3” (Mikroton). Poczatkowo material funkcjonowal jako instalacja, a nastepnie zostal zaprezentowany w formie performance’u. Zespól Phillipsa, w skladzie: Tony Buck (perkusja), Werner Dafeldecker (kontrabas), BJ Nilsen (elektronika), Liz Allbee (trabka) i Artur Rother (gitara), zagral pieciogodzinny set przed ciagle zmieniajaca sie publicznoscia. Dominujacym tematem prac Australijczyka jest badanie czasu, percepcji i miejsca, co tez potwierdza „Blage 3”. Ich nagrania plyna wlasnym tempem, z pewnoscia nie naleza do najlatwiejszych w odbiorze, ale po jakims czasie wciagaja. Muzycy balansuja gdzies na styku Reicha i Rileya, musique concrète i noise’u, lecz zdecydowanie najblizej im do transowo-improwizowanego grania spod znaku The Necks.


MUSIC WON'T SAVE YOU (Italy):

In “Blage 3”, Simon James Phillips porta a conclusioni monumentali il suo studio sulla relazione tra suono, luoghi e percezione. Gli oltre cento minuti dell’opera, ripartiti in due tracce uniche ognuna delle quali occupa un intero cd, non sono che un estratto di un più complesso esperimento di improvvisazione di cinque ore realizzato lo scorso anno a Berlino.

Accanto a Phillips (pianoforte), ha operato un ensemble formato da Tony Buck (percussioni), Werner Dafeldecker (contrabbasso), BJ Nilsen (elettronica), Liz Allbee (tromba) e Arthur Rother (chitarre), che secondo una tecnica di improvvisazione libera ha dispensato i propri contributi in uno stream of consciousness nel corso del quale schegge e cadenze jazzy gravitano su stratificazioni droniche.

Si tratta della via attraverso la quale Phillips prosegue la propria ricerca di un suono puro, che riempie gli spazi con la propria densità imponente, che arricchisce il concept del drone di una miriade di inserti accidentali e variazioni concrete.


BAD ALCHEMY (Germany):

SIMON JAMES PHILLIPS Blage 3 (Mikroton Recordings, mikroton cd 39/40): Eine elektrokustische Performance, ein dröhnminimalistischer Marathon. Fünf Stunden lang improvisierten Tony Buck, Werner Dafeldecker, BJ Nilsen, Liz Allbee, Arthur Rother und Phillips selbst an Drums, Kontrabass, Electronics, Trompete, Gitarre und Piano. Hier sind sie eingekocht auf 104 Minuten. Das Publikum konnte kommen und sich auf das Ambiente und den Sog einlassen. Oder ungefesselt wieder gehen. So etwas war typisch bei der von Kerstin Schroth in Berlin kuratierten sommer.bar-Reihe im Rahmen des Festivals Tanz im August. Die Zeit vergessen (oder auskosten), sich selber vergessen (oder sinnlich auftanken). Wagners 'Zum Raum wird hier die Zeit' spielt da hinein. Ohne nach Bayreuth zu pilgern, empfängt einen ein Erlebnisraum und ein Kontinuum, in dem die Uhren schmelzen. Besonders der fluktuierende Pianoklingklang lädt zum Eintauchen ein. Es fehlt nicht an spezifischen Besonderheiten, das Rascheln mit Muscheln oder das metalloide Klimbim ist typisch Buck. Er schafft mit schnellen Rolls oder heftigem Tamtam auch Verdichtungen, denen dann wieder Entspannung folgt. So wie Phillips rifft und rifft, kommt Charlemagne Palestine in den Sinn, wenn auch ohne dessen eigener Dramatik. Die Gitarre und die Trompete mischen sich erst ab der 38. Min. zum von Bucks Landsmann gesuchten Gruppenklang, der mir ein wenig vom Splitter Orchester und ein wenig von The Necks angeregt scheint. Im Changieren des Klangflusses rücken alle Facetten mal weiter in den Vordergrund. Von tranceähnlichem Dumpfsinn kann keine Rede sein, da wird sehr geistesgegenwärtig und nuanciert interagiert. Nur gibt, bildhaft gesagt, nicht Pollock den Ton an, sondern Rothko oder Helen Frankenthaler. Und immer wieder Buck Buck Buck.

BLACKAUDIO:

This is a recording of Phillip’s installation that was to span a mighty five hours (unbeknown to the audience). Luckily, this album has been condensed into 2 discs clocking in at a measly 1hr 40 or thereabouts; as I would have cried in despair if it was the full affair (although the extended version is available as a download for all masochists out there).

The difficulties in carrying a concept like this onto CD are obvious. An installation usually works for a good reason, be it audience participation or accompanying visuals; and without an added video mpeg of some sort, a vital ingredient to this production is most likely lost on such a release.

Musically however, there is much to be enjoyed should you have the patience. Swelling ambience and looping piano fall over layering drones, airy pads and bleeping electronics. Jazz instrumentation and percussion makes an appearance later in the act and is a welcome pinprick on the sonic bubble the listener is encased within.

Overall, I have to applaud Phillips for his accomplishments here. Orchestrating an ensemble over such a time span takes some doing; even more so when it is a cohesive as this. Is this an album I will play again? No. But I will tip my proverbial hat at the quality of musicianship on offer and the balls it takes to put something like this together.

 

the swifter

THE LIMINAL (UK)

… This astounding album seems, at times, the biography of the building it was recorded in – the Grunewald Church in Berlin. Acoustic bliss for an orchestral trio such as The Swifter, the space seems stony, resonant, and ethereal, and forms the basis of their interaction with each other and their instruments. Their attention to the atmospherics allows for a discourse that belies their own orchestral story – they’re nestled in the belly of this beast, and they’re producing their harmonies and rhythms accordingly.

Beyond this architectural reading of the album is a nautical element. ‘Swifter’ refers to a line that runs around the ends of the capstan bars on a ship that prevent their falling out of the sockets, and the names of the four pieces which make up the album conjure up a similar aesthetic. The opening gamut, fittingly titled ‘The End of the Capstan Bars’ begins quietly, almost invites its listeners to arrive in the space that it is opening up. But again, they’re inside the vessel; they’re swaying with its pulse, the rhythm that brings the trio together to perform this near perfect debut. They’re running their lines around this space, showing us its circumference, its nooks and crannies. They refuse to take up the space, but invite us to be inside it, for a soothing 46 minutes and 21 seconds. …

[read the full review online at www.theliminal.co.uk]

The Swifter was later named as one of The Liminal's Albums of the Year 2012.

BOOMKAT (UK)

The Wormhole introduce The Swifter - a new trio featuring Andrea Belfi (drums and percussion), BJNilsen (electronics) and Simon James Phillips (piano) - on three tantalisingly spacious live recordings made in the Grunewald Church, Berlin. The players operate in discrete discourse with the building’s unique resonant architecture, using its airy aesthetic qualities and stone construction to deftly accentuate the harmonically rich tones and textures of their delicate gestures. Phillips plays a Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand, which is subsequently processed by Nilsen and punctuated by Belfi’s fluid, distinctive style in a feedback system of measured, tempered sonorities. Their first piece ‘End of Capstan Bars’ starts out creaking and keeling, evoking “the loneliness within a ship's hold” but evolves into a gorgeous and minimal wash of spiritual jazz tones and tranquil bliss also recalling Edward Larry Gordon’s ‘Celestial Vibrations’; ‘Neap Tide’ is quieter, space afforded to the fluttering keys and pensile electronics; ‘Swallow’ the seductive centrepiece, evolves rippling drum patterns and plangent harmonics that diffuse like incense; with ‘Wave Guidance Allows Three’ Belfi locks onto an urgent, metronomic rhythm while Phillips’ keys and Nilsen’s electronics accumulate a stirring mass of energy, dissipating when Belfi flickers into impossibly dextrous double time.

AQUARIUS RECORDS (US)

UK tape label the Tapeworm launches their new, non-tape imprint, called The Wormhole, with two new releases, the double 7” vinyl debut of drcarlsonalbion aka Dylan Carlson from Earth, reviewed elsewhere on this week’s list, and the oddly named outfit The Swifter, a trio of piano, electronics and drums and percussion, featuring long time aQ fave BJ Nilsen manning the electronics. This record documents the group’s first encounter, which took place in an old German church, and found the trio taking full advantage of the space’s incredible acoustics, for a fantastic bit of dreamlike minimalism, beginning life as a creaking ship’s hull, channeling Nurse With Wound’s fantastic Salt Marie Celeste, but quickly letting the piano move to the fore, the sound transforming into something much more Necks like, the flurries of swirling notes reminding us of Lubomyr Melnyk, the drums a subtle background shuffle, the electronics alternately adding texture, or manipulating the sounds of the other players, but on the opening track, the sound is quite organic, minimal motorik free jazz drift, that gradually splinters into something much more rhythmic and abstract, and electronic sounding, but due to the instrumentation and the space, even the electronics sound organic.

The rest of the record explores similar territory, the piano adding most of the melodic color, while the drums and electronics supply the texture, dreamy and washed out one second, spare and skeletal the next, with some really fantastic moments throughout, the looped piano fragment and martial snare on “Neap Tide”, or the No Neck Blues Band like soft cacophony on “Swallow”, the record finishing off with the fantastic “Wave Guidance Allows Three”, which again on the surface has a Necks like feel, but the low end piano is looped and layered and processed, creating huge dense blackened billows, churning and strangely atonal, while the drums supply a simple subtle driving rhythm underneath, before dissipating into a gorgeous glistening bliss out coda.

BRAINWASHED (US)

This is the eponymous debut album from Andrea Belfi (percussion), BJ Nilsen (electronics), and Simon James Phillips (piano). Recorded live in a Berlin church. the album comes across as an isolating, but effective combination of these three different artists, coming together to produce something that sounds like none of them in particular, but a whole that has its own singular sound.

The trio used the resonant space of the venue to excellent effect throughout The Swifter, with each piece bathed in a distinct, though natural reverb. “End of Capstan Bars” leads off the album with a hollow, environmental clattering that has a distinct character that even the most advanced of digital reverbs could nary hope to accomplish. Because it does have such a natural quality, even when it is used heavily throughout the performance, it does not come across as cliché dark ambience.

The electronic creaking and popping textures of “End of Capstan Bars” are paired with more organic piano and brushed percussion, coming together as distinctly different take on minimalist jazz fusion. “Neap Tide” has a repetitive piano and distant percussive sounds that are less musical and more environmental, having a sparse, yet beautiful arrangement.

“Swallow” is less about subtlety and instead focuses more on shambling and muffled percussion from Belfi, while Nilsen's electronic mangling comes out sounding like popping pop corn. Amidst a hollow, low frequency drone, piano and unconventional rhythms balance each other out in a strange, tense equilibrium, resulting in a surprisingly delicate sound before increasing in intensity in its latter moments.

“Wave Guidance Allows Three” is where the understated sensibility gets tossed by the wayside, with a grandiose, massive piano sound dominating, accentuated by percussion and what sounds like a simple rhythmic synth sequence. While the boisterous piano leads, it is soon deposed by the percussion taking the lead, locking everything into a vaguely krautrock groove while the piano piles up into a lush background texture.

This debut is intrinsically tied to its setting and performance, which may or may not be an important factor in future recordings. The isolationist, rhythmic quality to the sound is inviting, even though it is an obtuse approach to music.

ONDAROCK (Italy)

Andrea Belfi alla batteria, BJ Nilsen all'elettronica e Simon James Phillips al pianoforte. Un trio delle meraviglie capace di parlare una lingua tra jazz e ambient più onirica che cosmica: la batteria di Belfi è il ponte tra l'elettroacustica di BJ Nilsen e il pianismo estremamente lirico di Phillips. Il suono dei piatti carezzati e percossi alla maniera di Paul Motian è il collante tra universi apparentemente distanti: nulla sembra fuori posto nelle liquide architetture sonore improvvisate da The Swifter.

Il disco è stato registrato all'interno della Chiesa Grunewald, a Berlino, nel settembre del 2011, facendo grande attenzione ai riverberi acustici dell'ambiente. A trarne giovamento è stata soprattutto la batteria di Belfi che nel mix finale sembra potersi muovere liquidamente nello spazio come nelle migliori produzioni dell'ECM. A enfatizzare l'eco e le riflessioni del suono gioca un ruolo fondamentale anche l'elettronica di Nilsen, che per l'ocasione ha manipolato i suoni del Bösendorfer suonato da Phillips al fine di sottolinearne i dettagli. Il risultato non è distante dalle atmosfere che si respiravano sugli incredibili dischi dei Necks (il cui pianista, Chris Abrahams, ha collaborato proprio con Phillips nel progetto Pedal, pochi anni fa).

L'idea di “spazio” fa scorrere con gran naturalezza le quattro lunghe improvvisazioni contenute sul disco. Ogni particolare della realizzazione di “The Swifter” è stato curato con grande attenzione: dalla scelta dei microfoni utilizzati durante la registrazione a quella per la foto di copertina per la quale è stato ingaggiato Chris Bigg, famoso per i suoi lavori sui dischi di David Sylvian e su molti dei capolavori della 4AD.

ROCKERILLA (Italy)

The Swifter è il progetto frutto dell’incontro fra tre dei protagonisti dell’ultimo decennio di musica ambientale: il pianista Simon James Phillips, il batterista Andrea Belfi (allievo “virtuale” di Brandlmayr) e il sovrano indiscusso del dark-ambient organico BJ Nilsen. Non inganni però la suddetta definizione: il riferimento è infatti a quella branca dell’ambient music elettro-acustica capace di evolversi sino a prendere le forme più svariate e a distanziarsi da quel canone “tradizionale” che da Brian Eno porta a Tim Hecker. L’omonimo debutto dei tre su Wormhole è un viaggio negli strati di un ambient imparentata strutturalmente con il minimalismo, espresso in un continuum sonoro costantemente in movimento, che nei tredici minuti di End Of Capstan Bars si dilata congiungendo ciclicamente nuove forme: prima il silenzio della natura, poi i flussi melodici dell’atmosfera e infine i droni di sinistri pseudo-archi a distanziarsi da ambedue. Negli altri tre brani la lente d’ingrandimento si posa rispettivamente su field recordings e ambienti da gelo svedese (Neap Tide), destrutturazioni ritmiche (Swallow) e onirismo strumentale guidato dal pianoforte (Wave Guidance Allows Three). Mai nessuno dei tre si era avvicinato tanto alla formula storica di Eno e successori: The Swifter congiunge quest’ultima alle sue incarnazioni più moderne, risultando UNO DEI DISCHI AMBIENT PIÙ FRESCHI DEGLI ULTIMI ANNI.

GOODFRIENDS WITH BAD HABITS (Germany)

Ähnlich wie bei Gilded und Ackroyd spielt auch bei The Swifter das Klavier eine zentrale Rolle. Ganz so formstreng wie jene ist das Trio auf seinem selbstbetitelten Debütalbum jedoch nicht unterwegs, ganz im Gegenteil. Kein Wunder angesichts der Akteure: Der schwedische Elektroniker BJ Nilsen steht seit jeher eher für freie Formen ein (das kann auch mal schiefgehen), Perkussionist Andrea Belfi transformiert schon mal ganze Häuser in Musikinstrumente und Simon James Philips, dessen Piano auf The Swifter eine so zentrale Rolle spielt, hat seinen klassischen Background schon lange gegen die Identität eines Improvisationskünstlers eingetauscht. Ungewohnt ist höchstens, wie verhalten sie dann doch klingen. Hauchzart, kurz vor der absoluten Stille bewegen sich die vier verjammten Tracks. Keine Verlegenheit, sondern musikalischer Feinsinn: The Swifter geben sich bedächtig und erweisen sich als perfekt fluktuierendes Kollektiv, in dem Egomanie genauso wenig Platz eingeräumt wird wie unmotiviertem Krach. Leise und sanft lässt Nilsen die Elektronik knistern, mit viel Gefühl akzentuiert Belfi die krautigen Rhythmen. Und über allem windet sich Philips‘ Klavierspiel in nie enden wollenden (sollten sie auch nicht!) Kaskaden der Schönheit. Drei Ausnahmemusiker in vollendeter Symbiose, verträumt, entrückt und doch mit dem Blick aufs große Ganze. Wie ein verschwommener Tagtraum. Ein wunderbares Album, bezaubernd von der ersten Sekunde bis zur letzten.

TEXTURA (Canada)

Recorded at the Grunewald Church in Berlin in September 2011, The Swifter's self-titled debut album pools the improvisatory talents of electro-acoustic percussionist Andrea Belfi, sound artist B J Nilsen, and experimental composer-pianist Simon James Phillips. Though each brings a highly personalized background in music production to The Swifter, it's Belfi's involvement in a project called Between Neck & Stomach, in which he turned a house into a musical instrument by using sound vibrations to shake items such as pots, plates, and cupboards (a CD of the same name was issued on Häpna in 2006), that provides a helpful segueway to the trio release. The connection? On The Swifter, the musicians also eschew conventional role-playing for a multi-layered approach to sound-generation that's predominantly textural in design.

The extended opening piece “End of Capstan Bars” begins with ambient sounds of object clatter and muffled noises of indeterminate origin that gradually assume a more musical formation, as if the three collaborators are feeling their way along, collectively shaping the material in the moment. Dense piano-generated clusters appear in tandem with percussive rumble and cymbal shadings, with Nilsen's presence more subliminal in the early going but becoming more pronounced as the piece unfolds. On the second side, Phillips's dense clusters nicely dovetail with Nilsen's electronics to generate a dronescape during the opening part of “Swallow” before Belfi splits it apart with a series of drum and cymbal punctuations. It's during the recording's second half that the material takes a more aggressive turn, with the rolling piano patterns, electronic cloud mass, and now-insistent drumming building into an ever-intensifying whole.

The Swifter exudes a rather Touch-like quality in the patient and explorative mindset the three participants bring to the project and in the restrained manner by which the material develops. No jarring detonations occur but instead carefully considered interplay, with each musician acting more as sound colourist than conventional soloist; Phillips, for example, uses the piano less for voicing themes than as a percussive device. There are times, however, when that reticent approach results in what seems like a missed opportunity, such as when Phillips initiates “Neap Tide” with a chiming pattern of Reich-styled repetitions that the others only tentatively respond to with subtle expressions rather than exploiting the dynamic potential offered by the pianist's playing.

TINY MIX TAPES (US)

[…] The Swifter combine their desire to record in an open, public space with the nautical aspects of their namesake. They aurally transform the alter into the hull of a ship, which bulges and splits as the group grace their makeshift platform. The transpiring set plays on these themes through track titles in addition to the coarse reverberation that clings to Phillips’ trembling keys and Belfi’s sporadic percussion, a delicate vessel at the mercy of a cascading body of water, chopping and slipping in tempo and rhythm. The ambiance embodies tumultuous quality, which exposes one of the central reasons for choosing this space: The Swifter utilize the loss of acoustic control that was wonderfully harnessed by A Winged Victory For The Sullen and use it here to bridge switches in pace that are so curiously explored on, for example, the second half of “Neap Tide,” which folds tidy and repetitive high notes into slowly encroaching percussion before breaking off into an imposing drone. Where these projects diverge somewhat is in their apparent mood; an air of uncertainty bisects the seemingly improvised jams this inconspicuous trio conjure as Nilsen feeds Phillips’ beautiful renditions through his wily circuitry.

Such subtle moments are also alluded to in the seafaring references that trickle across The Swifter’s tracklist. The interplay amid the stone-wall acoustics of Grunewald and the unyoked compositions that spill out over its decks create the most forsaken, precarious sensations — the sound of a bow creaking on “Swallow” or the rapid engulf of piano and percussion patchwork on “Wave Guidance Allows Three.” This is a project that remains loyal to its underlying themes while leaning heavily on the interference, or even the guidance, of environmental surroundings. The four resulting tracks bolster the groups’ decision to record at Grunewald while emphasizing their intent on using the building as a vehicle as opposed to exploring the possibility of lacing their songs with a message that veers anywhere outside of sonic temperament. In this case, it makes for an absorbing, resplendent listen that pulls on the unique talents of each musician, despite the isolated and forceful pieces they present here. A manically inspired protest album this is not, but through utilizing the capacity of their venue, The Swifter have cultivated a celestially enchanting debut.

[read the full review at www.tinymixtapes.com]

 

pedal

DIE TAGESZEITUNG - Tim Caspar Boehme

A piano duo on Staubgold? That's what Markus Detmer, operator of the electronic label specializing in experimental sounds, probably first thought. But Chris Abraham and Simon James Phillips need no other means than their two instruments to be heard.
Chris Abraham is here primarily as a jazz pianist of the Australian trio The Necks. His colleague Simon James Phillips, who still has to be discovered, is also from Sydney. In their joint excursions, at least 100 years of piano music come together: The reductionism of a Morton Feldman, Terry Riley repetitive mantras or the prudishness of Erik Satie - all that plus some inspiration from Impressionism and a little romance. If this occurs not spectacular enough, the two will prove you wrong. Under their fingers, the sound languages they are inspired by, become completely present and their music is definitely on it's own. With a cautious touch they paint quiet, slightly blurry mood images. The two grand pianos sound so soft, as if a filter has been used, which makes the misty nature of their improvisations even more present. The word "beauty" may no longer be en vogue, but for the music of Pedal you can use it in good conscience.

Ein Klavierduo, und das bei Staubgold? So ähnlich hat Markus Detmer, Betreiber des vor allem für experimentelle Klänge bekannten Elektronik-Labels, zunächst wohl auch gedacht. Doch Chris Abrahams und Simon James Phillips brauchen keine anderen Hilfsmittel als ihre beiden Instrumente, um sich Gehör zu verschaffen.
Chris Abrahams ist hier vor allem als Pianist des australischen Jazztrios The Necks bekannt. Sein noch zu entdeckender Kollege Simon James Phillips stammt ebenfalls aus Sydney. In ihren gemeinsamen Exkursionen fließen mindestens 100 Jahre Klaviermusik zusammen: Der Reduktionismus eines Morton Feldman, Terry Rileys repetitive Mantras oder die Sprödheit von Erik Satie - all das versetzt mit Anklängen an Impressionismus und ein wenig Romantik. Wem das zu wenig spektakulär vorkommt, wird von den beiden eines Besseren belehrt. Unter ihren Fingern bekommen die Klangsprachen, die sie inspirieren, etwas vollkommen Gegenwärtiges, das die Musik definitiv zu ihrer Eigenen macht. Mit verhaltenem Anschlag malen sie ruhige, leicht verwaschene Stimmungsbilder. Die beiden Flügel klingen dabei so weich, als sei bei der Aufnahme ein Filter verwendet worden, was den nebligen Charakter ihrer Improvisationen noch verstärkt. Das Wort "Schönheit" mag ganz sicher nicht mehr die höchste Konjunktur haben, für die Musik von Pedal kann man es aber guten Gewissens bemühen.

CALEIDOSCOOP – Jan Willem Broek

The ever surprising Staubgold label from Berlin has once more come out with something very special. They've just released a CD by Pedal with the same title. Pedal brings together pianists Chris Abrahams, better known from his work with the Necks, and Simon James Phillips. Abrahams usually makes an experimental mix of jazz, rock, and improv music, while Phillips has a more classical background. On this CD they both play concert grands. Without adding any other instruments, this might seem rather boring, but nothing is less true. First of all there is the sound that they manage to conjure from their grands, which is wonderfully beautiful. Next to that, their minimal way of playing together is so intense and captivating that it transcends the two. They create very emotional and at times rather filmic sonic landscapes that quite simply make you go quiet. At the same time both gentlemen from Sydney experiment and improvise enough to keep things exciting. As the CD evolves, you almost forget that you're listening to piano sounds. This is pure emotion, pure melancholy that is delivered by four hands in a soft and intimate way. Rarely has beauty announced itself so silently and surprisingly. Pedal to the medal. Wonderful.

Het altijd weer verrassende Staubgold label uit Berlijn komt wederom met iets heel bijzonders op de proppen. Ditmaal brengen ze de gelijknamige cd van de gelegenheidsformatie Pedal uit, waar de pianisten Chris Abrahams, beter bekend van zijn werk bij The Necks, en Simon James Phillips elkaar de toetsen schudden. De eerstgenoemde maakt meestal een experimentele mengelmoes van jazz, rock en improvisatorische muziek, terwijl de tweede meer van het klassieke werk is. Hier spelen ze beide op een concertvleugel. Dat lijkt zonder aanvullende instrumenten wellicht een saaie opzet, maar niets is minder waar. Ten eerste is het geluid dat ze uit de vleugels toveren al wonderschoon. Daarnaast is het veelal minimale samenspel zo intens en meeslepend dat het in alle opzichten het tweetal overstijgt. Ze creëren een uiterst emotionele en soms ook behoorlijk filmische klanklandschappen, waar je gewoonweg stil van wordt. Tevens experimenteren en improviseren de heren uit Sydney genoeg om het spannend te houden, zonder te vervallen in overdreven gepiel om hun virtuositeit eens flink te benadrukken. Naarmate de cd vordert vergeet je haast dat het om pianoklanken gaat. Het is pure emotie, pure melancholie die door vier handen zachtjes en op intieme wijze bij de luisteraar naar binnen wordt gemasseerd. Zelden dient schoonheid zich zo stilletjes en verrassend aan. Pedal to the medal. Prachtig!

MUSIQUE MACHINE – Roger Batty

Pedal is an atmospheric and hypnotic collection of pieces for two Steinway and Sons grand pianos played by Chris Abrahams (The Necks, etc) and well respected Sydney based pianist and conductor Simon James Phillips.

Going from awkward, sadden yet beautiful opener Security which feels likes the weary rhythmic pitter-patter of melancholy rain. To Performance's playful bright note wonder from one piano while the second piano's archers out a slow rising melodic march, but in the end the second piano joins the playful wonder of the first piano. It brings to mind a playful youngest trying to get it’s elder to play along with him and in the end he does. To the last slow melodic, sustained, felt slow shimmer and tentative movements of The Passenger, which keeps feeling like it’s going to slow to a stop but just keeps edging out its elegant yet shy wonder. All in all Pedal takes in just short of an hours worth of compelling piano music that sits somewhere between classical, jazz and expressive piano playing.

A charming, rich and varied emotional touched collection of tracks played and homed beautiful, that manages to follow the trail of great piano music yet adds its own distinct air to the proceedings.

THE BOSTON PHOENIX - Devin King

Pedal are an improvisational piano duo who synthesize the languid and slightly dissident chords of Morton Feldman with the more familiar repetitive drones of early minimalism. The surface of the music isn’t particularly intriguing; any undergrad who has a few Satie discs in his or her collection — for studying and making out! — would find the same passive ambiance on this album. What is remarkable about the record is the patient investigation of the happened-upon melodies of improvisation. On the second track, “The Afterwards,” the pair begin with pointillist tone clusters and eventually push the music out of ambiance toward a repeated descending melody. As this melody falls away, the tone clusters return with renewed harmonic purpose — having grown used to the melody, you apprehend more readily the tension between the duo’s flickering chords and the composition’s inherent musical “space.” In a moment, the descending melody reappears, and the players now reinvestigate it through modulations in different keys. This unfolds over 17 minutes (!) — a unity of structure combined with improvisational foresight that typifies the disc.

BOOMKAT.COM

An album of improvised piano duets from Simon James Philips and The Necks' Chris Abrahams, a pianist with a growing reputation thanks to some impressive releases for Room40. The music on this album is far from pastoral or easy going: from the nervy pianissimo of 'Security' to the trills and melodrama of 'The Afterwards', Pedal explore a very modern kind of improvisation, even stepping into an offset contemporary jazz setting for 'Performance'. At times the pianists exhibit a remarkable degree of synergy, fashioning two-man discordance from trickling scalar runs on 'Herzog' for a captivating, watery effect, only to dismantle this electrifying pace for the extended closing number 'The Passenger' which finds these two accomplished musicians subtly drawing melody from their quiet, dialogic meanderings. Excellent.

SOUNDS LIKE YOU AND ME

Pedal, Sump, Pedal, 2008, Staubgold Records. This piano duo from Sydney just released this album of improvised piano awesomeness. Some of the tracks are brilliantly unnerving, and some are just brilliantly moving like Sump. Staubgold says this: “What are they thinking? These guys are doing a record of acoustic piano music in this day and age! And let me tell you something, my prejudice was totally crushed within the first minute of listening to this CD. Just when I was thinking two grand pianos, four hands have nothing to say in this 21st century...”

MAPSADAISICAL

In Pedal, Abrahams teams up with Simon James Phillips to form a four-handed two concert grand piano monster (raaar!). Phillips comes from a classical tradition, being no stranger to the work of Grieg and Janacek, but has improvisational tendencies also; Abrahams...well, we know what he can do – in particular the mesmerising minimalist flurries which light up the Necks’ extended spontaneous compositions. Together they engage in thrilling dialogue over this hour-long album which totally transcends genre. “Performance” jabbers with the glee of a reunion between two old friends, clumps of rapid-fire notes bouncing off each other, asking and answering and following up and clarifying. Light and shade are provided by the next two pieces: the dense bottom-end tumult of “Burgeon” and the free-floating melodies of “Sump”. “The Passenger” is a brooding and ruminatory end to this marvellous record, only giving up its secrets in flickering moments of lucidity.

ALLMUSIC.COM – Ned Raggett

Given the Staubgold label's interest in electronic music on the general calmer tip, it's almost no surprise to hear something like Pedal's debut album on it -- where there are no electronics involved beyond the means used to record the duo's work. Instead, what Chris Abrahams and Simon James Phillips create are piano duets, seven total recorded at an Australian university hall, which probably would not have caused anyone to bat an eye if it had appeared on, say, ECM. In the context of Staubgold it's an intriguing contrast, but of course the key point is whether or not the recording works in its own right -- it does, happily. The precedents for the work of Pedal -- a contextually sly choice of name, given the instruments used by the two performers -- can be heard in everyone from Erik Satie to Arvo Part, a seeking to use the piano to move beyond its immediate and obvious classical employment, while at the same time well aware of the past and not simply a torpedoing of it. If a song like "Performance" can begin with a few calm notes that Beethoven would not have been surprised at, the addition of a more skittering series of them from the second piano would have pleased John Cage in turn. Though the notes do not make clear if the performances are improvisations, or if they were recorded fully live, the latter is a reasonable assumption to make, and Abrahams and Phillips sound utterly comfortable with each other, either obsessively matching each other's lines in close proximity, as on the quarter-hour-long "The Afterwards," or each playing against the other in subtle but clear fashion, as noted earlier. It's a fine listen overall -- and titling one effort "Herzog" serves as a nice calling card should that filmmaker be considering further soundtrack contributors.

OTHER MUSIC –

A powerful and provocative duo piano performance that brings an edgy vitality to a traditional medium through passionate playing and non-linear composition. Intense, dreamlike flourishes circle around an imaginary center, building layer upon layer of emotion and ingenuity. Heavy stuff, but extremely engaging and listenable.