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Phill Niblock backstage at INSTAL 02

Phill Niblock

Phill Niblock

What impresses you most about Phill’s music is the monumental yet human scale and sheer volume of his pieces: slowly evolving ultra-subtle harmonics and multi-tracked, otherworldly drones that only reveal their true power at high volume. His live performances feature his beautifully shot images of people working, mesmerically ebbing and toiling in time to his music.


Distrustful of vinyl, he’s not released much over his 20+ year career, but is making up for it now: his latest work is a dizzying array ever changing harmonics, overtones and beats generated by the closely pitched guitar playing of Lee Ronaldo, Thurston Moore and Rafeal Toral amongst others.

Phill Niblock is an intermedia artist using music, film, photography, video and computers. His intermedia work addresses technical and aesthetic issues in four artistic disciplines that combine at various levels and diverge at others. His multi-layered installations and performances present simultaneous events in film and music, slides, video and computer controlled installations.

In Performance, the music and film or slide works and video are presented together in two possible ways: 1. An installation of several hours duration on one or more days. The music pieces are played consecutively, with several hours of work before repetition. Multiple images are shown simultaneously. 2. In a performance, several simultaneous works of music and film, or slides works and video pieces are presented, in one to three hours.

One to three film images are projected simultaneously. Each image is three to four meters wide. The films are 16mm and color. The music is produced from stereo or quad tapes, with four or more speakers in the corners of the space. The slide images are also four meters wide, and use a dissolve control for superimpositions. The video pieces are played individually or with several simultaneously, using large video monitors.

The music explores the texture of sound resulting from multiple tones in very dense tunings performed in long durations. The combination of static surface textures and extremely active harmonic movement generates a highly original music that has influenced a generation of composers. The pieces are created on tape from unprocessed recordings of precisely tuned long tones played on traditional instruments. In performance, live musicians may play, wandering through the audience changing the sound texture through reinforcement of or interference with the existing tunings.

Niblock’s films are about movement, particularly the movement of people working. Filmed in non-urban environments in many countries (China, Brazil, Portugal, Lesotho, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, the Arctic, Mexico, Hungary, the Adirondacks, Peru), the films look at everyday work, frequently agrarian or marine labor. As in the music, a surface slowness is countered by an active, varied texture of rhythm and form of body motion within the frame, the ultimate subject matter of Niblock’s films.

We started documenting our events in 2003 so unfortunately there is no video or audio documentation of this performance. If you have a bootleg or any photos you’d like to share with us, we would love to see them: get in touch with us here.