Phill Niblock | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Phill Niblock

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Sound artist Phill Niblock has been making music since the mid-60s, but for decades your best chance to hear any of it was the annual winter solstice concert in his New York City loft. Because he didn't want to sacrifice control over the way his music was heard, he didn't release any recordings at all until the early 80s, and even then he gave up after two LPs, complaining that vinyl couldn't convey enough detail at high volumes. The CD format is more to his liking, though, and since 1990 Niblock has released seven discs of his massive, glacially evolving drones. Most of his compositions are built from multiple overdubs of a single instrument--sometimes two dozen or more--but his latest, last year's Disseminate (Mode), uses a 60-piece ensemble. The method is always the same: he assembles the sustained tones into tight microtonal bundles and plays them so overwhelmingly loud--he shoots for 110 decibels--that they generate clouds of writhing overtones as they bounce off the walls. Niblock also makes films, but disappointed with the sound and picture quality of VHS, he didn't begin releasing them commercially until the advent of the DVD. Three DVDs have turned up since 2003, including The Movement of People Working (Extreme), a series of shorts filmed between '73 and '85. They consist of long, uninflected takes of laborers at work (baling hay, catching fish, chopping down trees) and have no sound tracks of their own; Niblock has been screening them at his concerts for years, and he'll show a few here. Lately he's been composing new music at a feverish clip--tonight's five pieces (for saxophone, recorder, trumpet, cello, and EBowed guitar) were all realized in the past two years. Sat 2/12, 9 PM, 6Odum, 2116 W. Chicago, 773-227-3617, $12. All ages.

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