Retirement be damned, minimalist composer Phill Niblock is going strong at age 83 | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Retirement be damned, minimalist composer Phill Niblock is going strong at age 83 

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click to enlarge Phill Niblock

Phill Niblock

Lindsay Metivier

The hoped-for paradox of minimalism is that reduced means will result in maximum effect. No artist has accomplished this more completely than composer and filmmaker Phill Niblock, whose music intentionally eschews rhythm and melody in favor of massed, sustained tones. The beats that result when microscopically variant pitches are played at sufficient volume turn unchanging tones into dense clouds of constantly morphing sound. And while the 83-year-old New Yorker prefers the timbres of acoustic instruments, these transformative phenomena result in music that often sounds electronic. He usually accompanies his compositions, which last 20 minutes or more, with films of people engaged in manual labor. Their movements, presented without comment, operate independently of the music, but their combined effects are powerfully trance inducing. One maximal thing about Niblock is his work ethic. While the decline of CD sales has slowed the rate with which he releases multi-CD sets—his most recent, the double-disc Touch Five (Touch), came out in 2013—he’s actually stepped up his composing. According to an interview with Bomb magazine, he made 14 pieces in the year following Touch Five, and aside from that record’s “FeedCorn Ear,” which was composed for cellist Arne Deforce, everything he’ll perform at this concert is being played in Chicago for the first time. The program includes “Bag” (2014), for bagpiper David Watson; “Praised Fan” (2016), for bassoonist Dafne Vicente-Sandoval; “Ronet” (2014), for tenor saxophonist Neil Leonard; “V&LSG” (2015), for vocalist Lore Lixenberg and lap-steel guitarist Guy De Bièvre; and “Vlada BC” (2013), for Elisabeth Smalt’s baroque viola d’amore. Niblock has a long-standing relationship with the nonprofit Lampo, which hosted his first concert here in 2000. Tonight’s performance, his first in Chicago since 2008, will close out its winter/spring 2017 schedule.   v

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