Phill Niblock is one of the unsung heroes of the avant garde. Influencing artists like Glenn Branca, and working with the likes of Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, Niblock has had his hands deep within the experimental scene since the late sixties. His latest album, "Touch Strings" sees him continuing to mine the territories of expansive drones and minimalism.
The two discs of "Touch Strings" are composed of three huge drone explorations. The first disc is inhabited entirely by the hour-long piece "Stosspeng." This composition for guitar and bass is performed by Susan Stenger and Robert Poss. The notes of their instruments are stretched out for what seems like infinity, eventually returning to overlap. These shifts are subtle, but no less entrancing, pulling at the listener like a tractor beam. Before you know it, an hour has passed and you're late for whatever social engagement you were supposed to uphold.
The second disc features two pieces. The first piece, "Poure" features the cello of Arne Deforce. The same minimal drone approach is again featured. The sounds of the cello extend and hang, quickly stacking upon itself to form a piece that feels even bigger than its predecessor despite being composed by a single instrument. Niblock and Deforce's sustained string maelstrom eventually becomes so intense that it recalls the hellfire drone of Campbell Kneale.
And then comes the closing piece, "One Large Rose." Everything you've been hearing in the last eighty minutes was mere preparation for this. The Nelly Boyd Ensemble provides cello, piano, violin, and acoustic bass. They play off of a score for forty-six minutes-- recorded acoustically-- with four recordings of forty-six minutes each superimposed. That's a whole lot of sound, and this piece is every bit as fierce as its description indicates.
The rewards of "Touch Strings" do not come immediately. It will challenge you. Like any other sprawling works of minimalism and drone, the beauty is in the details, and the details only become apparent once you succumb to its hypnotic grace. This is essential listening. 8/10 -- Robert Oberlander (27 January, 2010)