Phill Niblock: Baobab

Bozzini Quartet

About

Originally written for orchestra, Phill Niblock’s Disseminate (1998) and Baobab (2011) were arranged by the composer specifically for the Bozzini Quartet, or rather, for ‘multiples’ of the Quartet: twenty different tracks are mixed in each piece — twenty different instruments, the equivalent of five string quartets. The music is essentially a work on the shifting nature of overtone patterns that arise from acoustic instruments. As composer Robert Ashley convincingly argued, these pieces inscribe themselves in the “hardcore drone” scene of American electronic music: “Niblock [brings] the orchestra into the electronic world.” For Disseminate and Baobab, Niblock scored a distinct set of microtonal intervals, and the players are indicated how sharp or flat they should play. But a certain sense of range is given around each chromatic pitch, so that every bow stroke partly determines the microtones. All 20 “instruments” are then recorded to produce the piece. When mixed, the simultaneous microtonal intervals produced by the Bozzini Quartet(s) come together to create massive clouds of extremely rich, beating, and shifting sound. Such a complex signal needs time to unfold, and for the overtone patterns to emerge instrumentalists almost have to display the endurance of electronic instruments, producing long, seamless, sustained tones. As a listener, it is practically impossible to grasp when or how changes in the sound texture actually occur. Our sense of time is confused, and we are drawn deeper into a mode of listening that pays attention to the textural qualities of the “hardcore drone” sound itself. — Emanuelle Majeau-Bettez

Format
CD
Label
Collection QB
Catalogue no
CQB 1924

In the Press

  • Review in Touching Extremes (Italy)
    “This version of Disseminate stands among the mightiest episodes met over decades of acquaintance with Niblock’s material. Its character is extraordinarily “in your face””

Review

By Massimo Ricci in Touching Extremes (Italy), January 23, 2019
This version of Disseminate stands among the mightiest episodes met over decades of acquaintance with Niblock’s material. Its character is extraordinarily “in your face”

This record comprises the performances of two Phill Niblock scores, Disseminate from 1998 and the title track, first conceived in 2011. For the occasion, the composer worked with Quatuor Bozzini (Clemens Merkel, Alissa Cheung, Stéphanie Bozzini, Isabelle Bozzini) with the aim of multiplying the string quartet’s voices and overall muscle. The procedure is synthetically explained in the liner notes, so I won’t bother repeating it here; moreover, Niblock’s ways of assembling his cascading microtonal drones are (hopefully) well known to the readers of this blog. Let me just remind the brightness of a man who, armed with a mere laptop, still manages to produce unlikely levels of psychophysical correspondence with the invisible forces of our environment.

This version of Disseminate stands among the mightiest episodes met over decades of acquaintance with Niblock’s material. Its character is extraordinarily “in your face”; the self is symbolically invited to get out of the way, an army of shifting pitches developing a totality of quivering intensities striving to reach the perfection of an all-encompassing embrace. Baobab starts with a quasi-tonal affirmation, its enormous strength actually giving a chance to believe we’re hearing a steady chord. With the passage of time, the congenital jarring features start breaking through: right there the fun begins, internal rhythms and oscillations projecting a sense of cerebral and spiritual completion that no spoken or written word will ever be able to equal. The whole appears at once imperial and utterly instructive.

Aside from the usual advice — namely, playing this music loud for an improved functionality of the adjacent upper partials — one can only dream about the average brain finally learning to decode and accept the complexity of a mass of contiguous tones, regardless of someone’s dictations on “consonance” and “dissonance”. As the initiator himself said, it is what it is; the spaces may be completely filled by the sounds, but the ultimate outcome is the silence of the mind. Kudos then to Quatuor Bozzini, who finely rendered an essential concept of Niblock’s vision: the instrumentalist — a fundamental injector of sonic fluids — is nevertheless a means to an awesome end.