The Early Films of Phill Niblock
Monday February 8, 2016, 7:30 pm
Los Angeles Filmforum presents
The Early Films of Phill Niblock
At Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), 6522 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90028
Phill Niblock in person!
NOTE THE CHANGE FROM OUR USUAL DAY AND LOCATION!
As part of a series of West Coast events featuring the work of legendary experimental composer and intermedia artist Phill Niblock, Filmforum is pleased to present an evening of his early cinematic endeavors. All the films in this program were originally shot on 16mm in the late 1960s and early1970s, and thus predate the corpus of films for which Niblock is most renowned, The Movement of People Working, a monumental series of 16mm works developed over the course of twenty-five years beginning in the mid-1970s. Here, then, is a portrait of the minimalist composer we know today as the avant-garde filmmaker he was from the very start. In the earliest of these cinematic experiments, Niblock’s ties to the New York avant-garde are amply on display: Morning, Raoul, and Dog Track each suggests a productive conversation with the likes of Hollis Frampton, Michael Snow, and Yvonne Rainer. Yet no less prominent are the origins of Niblock’s sui generis amalgamation of both structuralist and diaristic impulses with a composer’s sense of rhythm and pattern and a painterly preoccupation with texture. In T H I R, these currents converge with the architectural approach to sound that would soon become Niblock’s signature as a creator of densely layered, microtonal sonic environments. Together, the four works presented here bear witness to a singular artistic vision, a virtuoso of the moving image who seems to have emerged fully formed from the creative womb, already a master of the instruments of his powerful craft.
“The film and music of Phill Niblock are of a single piece. And like a fractal understanding of the world, each version contains the whole. No matter the scale, we have an assured and commanding meditation on paradoxes elegantly resolved. Each experience leaves the viewer/listener feeling clear-headed, lightened and uplifted.” – Abigail Nelson, “T H I R Redux,” from liner notes to Von Archives DVD release of T H I R.
Phill Niblock (b. 1933, Anderson, IN, U.S.A.) is a composer, filmmaker, videographer, and director of Experimental Intermedia, a foundation for avant-garde music based in New York and Ghent, Belgium. Niblock's musical compositions feature microtones of instrumental timbres, which generate other tones within the performance space. He presents these compositions alongside abstract films and videos. http://www.phillniblock.com/
Since the mid-1960s, Niblock's music and intermedia performances have been presented at venues across the world, including The Museum of Modern Art, Roulette, the Wadsworth Athenaeum, The Kitchen, the Festival d'Automne à Paris, the Pompidou Center in Paris, Eyebeam, Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, Institute of Contemporary Art London, Akademie der Kunste in Berlin, the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard, and the World Music Institute at Merkin Concert Hall in New York. He has collaborated with a number of artists including Susan Stenger, Robert Poss, Jim O'Rourke, Ulrich Krieger, Seth Josel, Petr Kotik, and Tom Buckner. Niblock's music is available on the XI, Moikai, Mode and Touch labels.
Niblock has received grants from the Massachusetts Council on the Arts, Phaedrus Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, Creative Artists Public Service Program, Meet the Composer, and the Research Foundation of the City University of New York. He was a 1978 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow. Niblock received a Grants to Artists award in 1994. He received [Foundation for Contemporary Art]'s biennial John Cage Award, a $50,000 lifetime achievement award, in 2014.
Niblock has been an artist and member of Experimental Intermedia since 1968 and its Director since 1985. He is the producer of over 1,000 music and intermedia presentations at Experimental Intermedia since 1973. He also serves as the curator of Experimental Intermedia's XI Records label and co-founded its branch in Ghent, Belgium, EI v.z.w. Gent. He received his B.A. from Indiana University and was a Professor of Film, Video, and Photography at the College of Staten Island from 1971-1998. Niblock continues to perform around the world. (foundationforcontemporaryarts.org)
Phill Niblock at Experimental Intermedia: http://experimentalintermedia.org/pn/
See also: “Who’s Who in Filmmaking: Phill Niblock,” an article by Abigail Nelson originally published in Sight Lines, vol. 7, no. 3 (1973/74): http://www.vasulka.org/archive/Artists4/Niblock,Phil/general.pdf
Tickets: $10 general admission; $6 students (with ID)/seniors; free for Filmforum members.
Tickets available at http://bpt.me/2492926 or at the door.
For more event information: www.lafilmforum.org, or 323-377-7238
Morning, by Phill Niblock
1966-69, 16mm to DV, b/w, sound, 17 mins.
From a concept by Niblock and Jean-Claude Van Itallie, “Morning” sets performances by members of the Open Theater Group to the reading of a text by Lee Worley and Michael Corner. As the five New York denizens of the film awake, dress, groom, meet, shop, drink, amble, converse, and contemplate, we listen not to the words they speak to one another but rather to the disjointed, meandering monologues they carry on in their minds. A daisy chain of unremarkable encounters and leave-takings belies the inner drama of everyday existence, as the voices of men and women feint and parry, vying for coherence while straining as much to make meaning as to find it. If at first glance “Morning” seems unlike Niblock’s later films, the seeds of his mature art are there in nuce, from its insistent attention to the nuances of human gestures—often filmed in tightly framed detail—to the concept of sound as a complex armature of interlocking elements.
1968-69, 16mm to DV, b/w and color, sound, 20 mins.
A portrait of the painter Raoul Middleman, “Raoul” intercuts black and white, time-lapse footage of the artist at work in his studio with terse, exterior sequences in opulent, saturated color consisting mainly of close-ups of the painter’s hands at work with his brushes and charcoals. It is impossible here to disregard the foundations of Niblock’s abiding interest in the forms of human labor, albeit more as the expression of aesthetic structures and primal physiological laws than as any signifier of socio-economic conditions. The chatty, often distorted soundtrack, an improvisation by Niblock and Middleman themselves, announces the penchant for oblique image-sound relationships that characterize nearly all of Niblock’s moving-image work.
1969, 16mm to DV, color, sound, 8:30 mins.
Niblock’s predilection for precisely framed shots of locations and objects in both the natural and inhabited worlds here marks “Dog Track” as a harbinger of his later films, even as this early work retains the preoccupation with language and structuralist principles that occupied him at the time. Set to richly saturated shots of urban and natural locations composed with an array of experimental techniques (static extreme close-ups; time-lapse; multiple exposure; flicker; rapid hand-held camera movements), the soundtrack of the film has Barbara Porte reading dispassionately from a scavenged text whose narrator relates acts of bestiality in lurid detail.
T H I R (a.k.a. TEN HUNDRED INCH RADII)
1972-75, 16mm to DV, color, sound, 43 mins., featuring an updated soundtrack, One Large Rose, composed by Phill Niblock, 2008 (T H I R edit: 2015).
TEN HUNDRED INCH RADII (T H I R) was originally produced for the fourth in a series of non-verbal, intermedia projects titled Environments. The performance-installations were staged in various venues between the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s, each incorporating color slides, dance, and original sound compositions together with three 16mm film images projected side-by-side on a massive, thirty-six foot wide screen. For tonight’s program, we present the single-screen version of T H I R, accompanied by One Large Rose, an updated sound track composed by Niblock in 2008 for bowed piano, violin, cello, and bass. T H I R represents the consolidation of an immersive approach to sound and moving-image presentation that Niblock had been innovating and refining through the turn of the 1960s. It also crystallizes the aesthetic concepts and technical methods that would dominate his later career: objects and bodies (in this case, elements of nature) observed at extremely close range, in obsessive detail, with a shallow depth of field and the extreme curtailing of context; an acute yet subtle sense of rhythm that defies the immobility of the frame; and dense, intricate curtains of sound that seem to weave space itself into the fabric of its multiple, interlocking threads.