Phill Niblock at 80. Café Oto. 28. ii. 13

lost time1…well what I thought was interesting about this evening (notwithstanding Geoff Winston’s concerns as expressed on LondonJazz) was the way that it casually occupied a chunk of time…

Immediately after the opening performance by Thomas Ankersmit a film was projected onto the screen without introduction. No title sequence or preliminaries – just straight into the images of men working in a sawmill. Then, at some arbitrary (?) point the music began – washes of electronic and acoustic sound with no apparent starting point. At the same time the bass clarinetist David Ryan took his place to the left of the screen. The audience stopped talking and the film continued but Ryan sat placidly as if awaiting his cue. Projected on the screen was the record of faceless people doing repetitive jobs – mostly by this time de-scaling, gutting and filleting fish with alarming looking knives in torrents of ice and water. This abject spectacle reminded me of the unsettling fish factory in David Cronenberg’s Existenz. After a while Ryan began to improvise over the ‘score’ adding further sensitive levels of wash and drone to the sound. Then he stopped and the recorded music and the film continued. When the music finally came to an end it was without a climax. The audience clapped in a half-hearted way as if not sure that the ‘piece’ was over – but a few seconds later the projector was also turned off marking a definitive end.

Maybe the obvious comparison here is with Godfrey Reggio’s film Koyaanisqatsi with music by Philip Glass – but I have always had problems with the judgemental quality of this work. The staging of the event ‘Phill Niblock at 80’ suggested we were being shown a fragment of work (both in its meaning as labour and in the musical/artistic sense) that was ongoing and even infinite. It was as if these activities (fish-gutting and music-making) had been happening before we all sat down to witness this particular stretch of time and they would continue after we left the building. In this what we experienced was an anti-performance that happened to be directed in that place and at that time by Phill Niblock. And this gave the event what might be called a political edge. There was a point being made about that idea of ‘work’ I think. This was the ordinary-invisible made into something seen and experienced in a way that moved it into the Perecian category of the infra-ordinary. So the music was present but detached…existing alongside the film which itself was documentary without commentary and without interpretation…