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Simon James Phillips
Blage 3
MIKROTON CD 39 | 40 | 2015

Edition of 350.

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PHYSICAL | 2 x CD

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Photographer: Tania Kelley

CD 1
1. Untitled

CD 2
1. Untitled

Tony Buck drums, percussion
Werner Dafeldecker double bass
BJ Nilsen electronics
Liz Allbee trumpet
Arthur Rother guitar
Simon James Phillips piano

Exploration of time, perception and place is the recurring theme of the work of Simon James Phillips. Blage 3 was an extended installation and performance piece curated by Phillips — a one-off five hour uninterrupted improvisation with an ensemble of six of Berlin’s most visible experimental artists – Tony Buck (drums and percussion), Werner Dafeldecker (double bass), BJ Nilsen (electronics), Liz Allbee (trumpet), Arthur Rother (guitar) and Simon James Phillips (piano).

The ensemble was placed in the centre of a large dance studio. Borrowing from a concept used by Berlin electronic trio Groupshow, the audience, free to come and go, were admitted only once the work had begun – the five hour duration unknown to the audience. The ensemble created sonic atmospheres that incorporated outside concrete noise, extended techniques and a sense of gradual overlapping thematic development. Communicative and responsive yet with a continual sense of consensual disconnection between the artists.

Blage 3 (Excerpts) from Alexia Fernandes on Vimeo.

Reviews

The Sound Projector, Stuart Marshall:
Conducting a marathon installation improvisation in a dancehall might make as much sense as digging a hole with a banana, but the crack team assembled in Berlin by Australian pianist Simon James Phillips is clearly not intimidated by unlikely tasks, especially not when sporting such formidable musicians as Tony Buck from ambient jazz exponents The Necks and Icelandic sound artist BJ Nilsen. One should not be surprised to encounter a sound world not far removed from these camps, though the original performance time of five hours stands as quite exceptional. Inaugurating the opening of Tanz in 2011, the full duration of the performance was not divulged to the audience, so the near-constant succession of build-ups and prolonged releases must have seemed both cathartic and anti-climatic to viewers, who were free to flit in and out, constituting an ever-changing spectacle for the group itself and one key aspect of what Phillips describes as an ‘exploration of time, perception and place’.
A slightly different experience awaits us however, these two discs containing but two hours of highlights. One can easily spend five or more hours on a single creative endeavour, but this time may encompass doubt, boredom, loss and renewal of direction, tea and biscuits, none of which are noticeably in evidence here. High in intensity and low on audience input, this seamless editing offers a glimpse of the near-constant high of a group in almost perpetual ascent, driven by the force of Phillips’ tremulous piano and the reassuring sway of Bucks’ drums, which ensure strong acoustic counterpoint to Nilsen’s radiant electronics. For two hours the collective undulates in echoic flickers through a dense microclimate of gauzy electronics and atmospheric recordings, dissolved into which the bass, guitar and trumpet serve as solid, textural elements; an aggregate I personally find more reassuring force than, say, the disorienting mania of Vibracathedral Orchestra’s psychedelic ramshackledom. Time evaporates while listening, though having to change CDs is a nuisance. The ipod is a more natural choice I think, especially on train journeys where the smooth transition between events is echoed in changing scenery, enhanced by the odd snooze and rude awakening in god-knows-where.

Jazz Word, Ken Waxman:
Answering affirmatively but with stipulations as to whether an almost indeterminate site-specific composition should be preserved on disc is Australian pianist/composer
Simon James Phillips’ Blage 3. Originally performed in a dance space in Berlin where Phillips now lives, the five-hour performance was designed so that audience members file in-and-out of the room at will once the improvisation began. Besides the pianist, the ensemble consisted of American trumpeter Liz Allbee, Dutch guitarist Arthur Rother, German bassist Werner Dafeldecker, Australian percussionist Tony Buck and British electronics manipulator BJ Nilsen. An edited version of the performance is presented here on one CD of approximately 58 minutes and a second of about 42 minutes.
That was a wise choice. Like an extended oration that appears riveting when presented in the midst of an emotional assemblage, but sounds bloated and self-indulgent later on, Phillips no doubt realized that the repetition and bravado needed to keep a constantly changing group of people interested wouldn’t be acceptable when transferred to a focused listening environment. With the near-hypnotic work balanced among themes and variations, tension and release plus multiple and singular strategies among the performers who utilized extended techniques and sometime reacted to external sounds, an altered protocol had to be established. So like a novelist who condenses what initially appears to be never-ending prose into shorter, more focused works, Philips has carved out two stand-alone but related programs from his composition. Disc 1 could be termed the acoustic version of Blage 3; and Disc 2 its electronic variant.
Bulked up piano chords scattered alongside higher-pitched slides and wiggles from the keyboard provide the thematic introduction for the first CD with asides notched in the narrative via rattling percussion, crackling and buzzing electronics and eventually contrapuntal guitar licks which suggest a different, but complementary, melody. As the piece advances it’s as if a gauzy aural curtain is gradually being pulled back so that additional instrumental tones are glimpsed, including double bass string sluices, piano cross pulses, slurred guitar extensions, crying cymbals and trumpet whimpers. With processed drones providing the continuum, a near crescendo and a new variation arrives two-thirds of the way through the program. An exercise in double counterpoint consisting of centred guitar strums and scattered trumpet tones, this is eventually assimilated into a wave form overview as ancillary oscillations. By the first disc’s denouement, buzzing static has confirmed the resolution as acoustic timbres encompassing bottle-cap-like pops and wispy brass puffs vanish excerpt for a final detached snarl.
Perhaps that snarl is one of defiance viz-a-viz the electronic sequences for like a movie franchise sequel that follows the original’s secondary characters CD2 relegates most of the granular processing to the background. Moving outward from wave form crackles that suggest an electronic thunder storm and later to raindrops splashing on a reflective surface, the instruments’ expected properties come to the fore. With Buck’s brush strokes providing a measured backdrop and the occasional peep or whistle interpolated by the trumpeter, “Part2” is at first mostly a piano showcase. Continuous key movement rotates the keyboard strategy from whimsical to charming to utilitarian as the tremolo timbres become tougher and more pressurized. Each time the electronic flanges make their presence felt, like the original film’s lead making a cameo appearance in the sequel, the blurry drone and delays are relegated behind the foreground action by bass drum resounds plus cymbal top sizzling. Working to a crescendo of near-opaque ecstasy, the track wraps up with an enthralling theme that, considering the context, is almost hummable.
Judicious editing and procedures make Blage 3 a listening rather than just as site-specific program. With that confirmed, perhaps now though Phillips will be encouraged to do more composing as well as sound editing.

Tome To The Weather Machine, Ryan H:
For: The Necks, Lamonte Young, Simon Bainton
Byline: Phillips' five hour long improv marathon compressed to two of the best hours of ensemble-driven work by this wickedly talented composer.
Two years ago I reviewed Simon James Phillips excellent solo-piano record Chair on Room40. In it, while describing Phillip's gorgeously hyper-kinetic piano playing, full of melodies seemingly happening all at once, droning reverberations from crashing and collapsing soundwaves, I assumed that this sound was somehow produced using a manual delay pedal (or any pedal at all). Phillips kindly responded to me that, in fact, there was no outside manipulation of his instrument at all. That all the drones and huge, cavernous tones were in fact a natural interplay between the instrument, acoustics and strategic placement of microphones in the Grunewald Chapel in Berlin. All of the incidental sounds, the reverberations and twin/triple tones was part of the natural way sound reverberates and bounces off of stone settings. That blew me away.
Phillips returns, this time as part of a marathon-length double CD that takes the fruit of a five-hour long all-improv performance recorded in 2011 and compresses it into a 2 hour opus for piano, percussion, electronics (featuring BJ Nilsen!), guitar, double bass and trumpet. The result is a slow-building, ever ascending journey held down by Phillips' mandible dexterity and endurance. Phillips' piano playing sounds hard to maintain for 20 minutes, let-alone 5 hours. Phillips' plays busy, major chord cluster notes that fill up all available airspace with clashing and replicating tones that completely submerge the listener in an avalanche of sound. With a full band, Phillips guides each performer into delivering, or at least buying into this aesthetic. What starts with solo piano on Disc One and solo piano over and under the sustained tones of Nilsen's electronics on Disc Two, ends by breaking into a crescendo on each disc on max-power.
After graciously and gracefully constructing darting piano lines that continuously tumble after each other like waterfalls, Nilsen's electronics and William Dafeldecker's droning double bass, elegiac trumpet lines from Liz Albee, swoops of guitar drone and the frantic, pulverizing drums from Tony Buck come in with full-force when the track reaches its logical breaking point. After holding tension for close to 40 minutes on Disc 2, the restrained, everything-on cacophony is a welcome daybreak rainstorm that scratches every itch and fulfills every promise of this incredible ensemble. In between peaks and valleys we get to savor on the brilliant acoustic-electronic interplay that blurs the line between electronic manipulation and the piano's sonic capabilities.
This record is brilliant in every way. I, by my naturally Type-A, competitive personality am drawn to feats of endurance/strength. When I run for long distances I sometimes get a major dopamine dump to my central nervous system called a runner's high. That level of transcendence is I am sure what five hours of sitting through/actively listening to this performance would have produced. But for now, we have an artifact. A "Best Of" compilation that seamlessly tracks the trajectory of one of, in my opinion, best composers around today. Do yourself a favor and be cornered by this, alone, for two hours. You can do it.

Dalston Sound, Tim Owen:
Here’s one for fans of first-rate, long-form electro-acoustic improvisation, a recording that sits somewhere on a drift continuum between The Necks and MIMEO.
Blage 3 (Mikroton) is the part result of an installation and performance piece curated by pianist/composer Simon James Phillips: a double CD presenting two long extracts from an uninterrupted five hour improvisation.
Playing alongside Philips are two colleagues from Berlin’s Splitter Orchestra, trumpeter Liz Allbee and double bassist Werner Dafeldecker, BJ Nilsen on electronics, guitarist Arthur Rother, and The Necks’ Tony Buck on percussion.
Both The Necks and Dafeldecker’s group Polwechsel provide useful and apposite touchstones for this music as all three projects focus on slowly unfolding structures, albeit with varying degrees of subtlety and implacable intent.
The performance took place in the centre of a large dance studio, with an audience, who had no idea how long it would last, admitted only once the work had begun, and free to come and go. Philips then edited two long excerpts from the full five hours of improvisation, each with its own character. Any audible evidence of the audience has been carefully excised.
The first hour-long excerpt begins with a warm, hazy strumming of processed piano and combined harmonics, turning on a diminuendo through which more lyrically arpeggiated pianism emerges in counterpoint to individuated electronic drones and an ominous underlying rumble of percussion and bowed bass. Through overlapping movements, those bass reverberations operate in counterpoint to queasy, high-frequency tones until both fade, yielding again to Philips’ pianism.
Fluctuations in the balance of power between inputs produce a tension between the music’s lulling and discomposing aspects. It holds the ear.
Philips’ playing, rippling over collaged drones, has a hypnotic mellifluousness that’s reminiscent at times of Charlemagne Palestine’s ‘strumming music’ but twenty two minutes in, and Tony Buck’s rainforest shakers and vibrating snare drum herald a darkening of mood, with Rother’s guitar abstractly dark-hued against bowed contrabass and harmonious grains and pulses of electronic texture. As always, the piano seems to draw the music onward, exerting a calming influence, but as electronic textures fade away Buck’s percussion becomes dominant, establishing a restive tension between pulse and abstraction.
Allbee’s trumpet is now clearly audible for the first time, binding the music with strenuous sustains, shaping melody, but sounding clarion only when Rother chimes in with a simple guitar motif. Still, there’s an inevitable slip back into abstraction, with Allbee heard only in occasional clucks and smears amid a constellation of electro-acoustic microsound, all bolstered by washes of cymbal and irregular contact static. From here, there’s a slow but sure wending of convergences to a subtly-drawn conclusion.
This is restless music, characterised by a constant tension between the acoustic, purely electronic and/or electro-acoustic facets of an always-recombinant ensemble sound. The second, 43-minute long excerpt is more tightly structured.
It begins with what sounds like interior field recordings of external weather, concomitantly creaky foley sounds, and a long, mellifluous and increasingly hypnotic piano solo, under which Buck slowly develops a rolling, rhythmic tattoo. Phillips’ rapid, looping note series recall Lubomyr Melnyk’s ‘continuous music’, but it’s Buck’s percussion that continues as pianism gives way to ambient harmonics.
Buck turns to peripheral percussion to emphasise texture over pulse, then patterns cymbals over thickening drones—BJ Nilsen meanwhile summoning long threads of muzzy but penetrating audio and a thin skein of tanpura-llke sound—before again breaking into rolling tympanic thunder. But then there’s a turning of the tides, and those processes are reversed, with Nilsen’s drones again predominant, reverberating loudly while Buck whips up a surf of cymbals, but all drawing ineluctably back to stillness and silence.

Skug, Curt Cuisine:
Es ist alles eine Frage der richtigen Dimension, oder? Wenn man ein Kuppelfresko auf eine Briefmarke presst, bleibt nicht mehr als der Wiedererkennungswert übrig. Auch in der Musik ist das mitunter so. Es gibt Musik, die muss atmen, muss sich entfalten, die braucht Zeit, um zu ihrer Wirkung zu kommen. Unter diesem Vorsatz hat sich ein Berliner Ensemble, kuratiert vom Pianisten Simon James Phillips, in ein Tanzstudio begeben und eine fünfstündige, unterbrechungslose Improvisation eingespielt. Fünf Stunden am Stück, das ist schon alleine in der Konzeption ein starkes Stück, aber auch eine heikle Sache. Kann das überhaupt funktionieren? Selbst dann, wenn dafür so kompetente Leute wie Werner Dafeldecker (Kontrabass), Tony Buck (Drums), BJ Nilsen (Elektronik), Liz Albee (Trompete) oder Arthur Rother (Gitarre) am Werk sind? Es kann. Und es kann nicht. Die gesamte fünfstündige Improvisation gibt es als Download, auf CD werden zwei Auszüge präsentiert, zwei Kompromisse also, zwei Briefmarken, die aber immer noch ausladend und »atmend« genug sind, um einen guten Eindruck zu vermitteln, was man erlebt hätte, wenn man die Sache live erlebt hätte. Dann nämlich wäre man aus dieser Impro-Ambient-Beschallung vermutlich als geläutertes Wesen hervorgegangen, als eine von allen Lasten des Alltags befreite Seele, durchdrungen vom transzendenten Odem der Musik bis in die Knochen. Auf Konserve kann man sich, wie üblich, im distanzierten Schatten halten und »Blage 3« immerhin noch eine sphärische Wucht bescheinigen. Vor allem der zweite Mitschnitt glänzt durch herrliche Bögen in Form minimalistischer Metamorphosen, die von Interpret zu Interpret zu springen, so dass selbst auf CD noch ein bemerkenswert hypnotischer Sog entsteht. Natürlich klappt das nicht restlos, dafür ist diese Art der musikalischen Erfahrung zu sehr auf die physische Präsenz, auf das unmittelbare Erleben angewiesen. »Blage 3« ist darum weniger Evidenz als Dokumentation derselben, aber auch so noch Statement genug. Für Genrefans ein Fest.

Jazz'n'More, Christof Thurnherr:
Die Klangkunst steht auf den ersten Blick bereits wesensimmanent in einer besonderen Beziehung zur Zeit. Denn sie ist eine jener Künste, deren Inhalt sich scheinbar zwingend zwischen einem Anfang und einem Ende entfaltet und deren Vermittlung deshalb immer von der zeitlichen Dimension geprägt ist. Dass diese temporale Determination aufgebrochen werden kann, zeigen zwei sehr unterschiedliche neue Werke.
Etwas kürzer und überschaubarer, aber nicht weniger durchdringend sind die Stücke, die während einer Installation zum Thema Zeit unter der Leitung von Simon James Phillips entstanden. Die Formation aus sechs ausgewählten Musikern platzierte sich in einem Aufführungsraum, in welchen das Publikum erst nach Beginn der Aufführung eingelassen wurde. Die effektive Dauer der Aufführung blieb den Zuhörern somit verborgen und so wurde
jeder sich selbst überlassen, das Gehörte in den Kontext seiner eigenen Zeiterfahrung einzureihen. Durch die zusätzliche Integration konkreter Aussengeräusche und künstlicher Dehnungstechniken verliert die Musik Phillips’ auch die offensichtlichen Bezüge zu einer eigenen Zeitlichkeit und bietet sich damit an als Ausgang aus der gewohnten wahrgenommenen zeitlichen Perzeption.

RifRaf, Fabrice Vanoverberg:
C’est de l’art ou du bruit? Est-ce du génie ou de la pédanterie? Si nous n’avons pas la réponse à ces deux questions, qui valent pour ‘Blage 3’ de SIMON JAMES PHILLIPS (Mikroton Recordings) comme pour bien d’autres disques où l’électronique et l’acoustique interviennent, nous demeurons circonspects face à la démarche du musicien australien. Enregistrée dans le cadre d’une installation/performance à Berlin où cinq heures durant, un ensemble de six improvisateurs jouait face à un public libre d’aller et de venir (le tout condensé en 1h30 sur un double CD), l’affaire passe particulièrement mal la rampe purement sonore, atrophiée de son aspect visuel et scénique. Mais si ça se trouve, c’est juste nous qui sommes totalement à côté de la plaque.

Gonzo Circus, Arjan van Sorge:
"Blage 3" bestaat uit twee cd's van een vijf uur durende, ononderbroken performance uit 2011, als onderdeel van een project van Tanz Im August en Kerstin Schroth. Spin in het web waarbij alle draden samenkomen is Simon James Phillips, een Australische pianist en componist die graag samenwerkt met anderen, in allerlei samenstellingen en variaties. Dit keer met wat mensen uit de jazzhoek, zoals de in Nederland niet onbekende drummer en percussionist Tony Buck, die in uiteenlopende bands speelt of speelde zoals the Necks en Peril. Maar zet jazz verder uit je hooft, daarvoor houdt Simon James Phillips de bandgenoten te goed in de hand, en leidt hij ze verder op het pad van geimproviseerde soundscapes, zenuewslopende ambient en spannende, film noirachtige golfbewegingen. Er wordt veel gevraagrd van de muzikanten (vooral van de drummer), die de spanningsboog urenlang strak gespanne houden. Het album is uiteraard een ingekorte versie van de registratie, maar dan nog.

Blow Up, Massimiliano Busti:
Blage 3 e una performance curata da Simon James Phillips (piano) con la collaborazione di Tony Buck (batteria), Werner Dafeldecker (contrabasso), BJ Nilsen (electronics), Liz Allbee (tromba) e Arthur Rother (chitarra), che si sviluppa per un tempo imprecisato (in media attorno alle cinque ore) come una sorta di tour de force sonoro forse piu assimilabile ad un'idea di meditazionen trascendente che d'improvvisazionen collettiva. Il pubblico vieno ammesso all'evento solo quando i musicisti hanno gia iniziato a suonare, ma non conoscendo l'effettiva durata dell'esibizione, ciascuno e libero di abbondonare la sala e tornare al suo interno tutte le volte che vuole, in un rapporto di continua disconnessione con i musicisti volto ad alletare il senso comune della percezione. Questo doppio cd contiene solo un estratto dell'intera performance (una versione piu estesa e in ogni caso disponibile grazie al download), in cui il suono si dipana lentamente attraverso una serie di graduali variazioni che ricordano i meccanismi compositivi dei Necks, assumendo quindi una forma assimilabilie ai canoni tradizionali del linguaggio improvvisativo contemporaneo, piu convenzionale rispetto ai tempi iperdilatati della dimensione live.

Whisperin & Hollerin, Christopher Nosnibor:
‘Blage 3’ began life as an extended installation and performance piece curated by Philips. A one-off improvisation spanning five hours without interruption, it was a piece preoccupied with exploring time, perception and place while the six musicians played in the centre of a large dance studio, while the audience came and went. This release spans two discs, but necessarily is an abridged representation of the performance.
The quality of the gatefold card sleeve and overall presentation is exceptional; it looks and feels like an art package, although it would perhaps benefit from a booklet or some liner notes to provide a sense of context (I cribbed my info from the very informative press sheet).
Musically, the experience is immersive, and the recording quality is faultless, allowing the full range of tones and textures to breathe and resonate. Transitioning effortlessly and at times, unexpectedly, from tranquil to tense, there’s atmosphere, mood and drama spread with great consideration across the course of the two hour running time

Nitestylez.de, Baze.Djunkiii:
An improvised concert / sonic performance exceeding the usual hour-long concept can be a tough bite for an audience to take but stretching things to a maximum of five - !!! - hours is a bit of a badass move, even more when doing so without letting the audience know upfront. But exactly this is what Simon James Phillips had in mind for the Berlin-based performance of "Blage 3", executed by six of the cities most recognized experimental artists including himself, Werner Dafeldecker, Liz Allbee and more which has been, although in a condensed, edited form of a close to two hours double CD album, released via the Mikroton imprint in mid May. Within these two hours we're taken on a journey through layers and layers of various instrumentations underpinned by mostly warm, athmospheric drones and noises providing an organic bed for multiple waves of piano improvisations, chaotic percussions, crushing waves and ambient'ish, slightly balearic guitars which, although embedded into sonic disarray, seem to restructure and ease off the musical ruckus to a certain extent, being a landmark to focus on amongst jazzy improv, rumbling anti-grooves, clanging percussions and other ADD-inducing events. And if it wasn't for this imminent, although subconscious structure, we're pretty sure that a journey through these two - or five - hours of cacophony would surely be able to drive listeners insane. But now, in it's recent and edited form, even this barely controlled succession of sonic events has a surprisingly calming and relaxing effect rather than being obnoxious and nerve wrecking for a reason. Defo a specialists album anyway.

Sonic Seducer, Sascha Bertoncin:
Simon James Phillips beschäftigt sich in seinen künstlerischen Arbeiten immer wieder mit den Themen Zeit, Wahrnehmung und Ort. So auch im Rahmen von "Blage 3", das als Installation seinen Anfang in einem Tanzstudio nahm. Ein Ensemble von sechs Musikern — u.a. BJ Nilsen an der Elektronik — führte vor nicht eingeweihtem Publikum eine fünfstündige Improvisation auf. Für die CD-Version hat Phillips das Material gekürzt, der Effekt des scheinbar endlosen Auftritts lässt sich im Rahmen eines Tonträgers leider nicht konservieren. Dennoch macht die Veröffentlichung Sinn, denn "Blage 3" weist natürlich nicht nur konzeptionelle, sondern auch musikalische Qualitäten auf: ein ständing sprudelnder Quell von Klavier und Elektronik, dessen Strom immer wieder von Gitarre, Bass, Trompete und Schlagwerk gekreuzt wird. Dazu gesellt sich ein akustisches Flimmern, nervös und kurz vor der Eruption. Viel zu schade, um es bei einer einmaligen Installation zu belassen.

KindaMuzik, Sven Schlijper:
Zes kanonnen bij elkaar, dat moet wel bulderen. En dat deed het op een kalme manier dan ook, vijf uur lang in een eb-en-vloedbeweging van piano, trompet, percussie, contrabas, gitaar en elektronica; dit alles opgenomen in een grote dansstudio die een niet te onderschatten rol meespeelt. Een uitsnede van het lange installatiewerkstuk verschijnt op dubbel-cd, de download is wat uitgebreider. Alsof je even een kijkje kwam nemen; een tijdje luisterde. Het publiek had namelijk geen idee van de duur van de performance.
Voor Blage 3 verzamelt pianist Simon James Phillips een team dat naast hemzelf bestaat uit BJ Nilsen, Liz Albee, Arthur Rother, Werner Dafdeldecker en Tony Buck. En dan weet je per direct dat je te maken hebt met de neusjes der zalmen. Mensen ook die je hun eigen gang moet laten gaan om het beste eruit te laten komen. Dat doet Phillips dan ook. Natuurlijk, de zes reageren op elkaar en communiceren muzikaal, maar er ligt in het voortdurende spel ook een zekere mate van onthechting besloten, doordat het zestal ruimtelijk door de zaal verspreid is. De reflecties vanaf de vlakke muren brengen de groep samen in ketsende reverb.
Tijd en het besef daarvan vervaagt in de overlappende lange dronelijnen. Daarin giert ijle noise rond, wappert soms geluid van de straat door een open raam binnen en klateren de snelle pianoaanslagen over elkaar heen. Net als in de uitvoering krijgt je als luisteraar acuut het gevoel dat de zes al een hele tijd bezig waren, voordat je 'binnenkwam'. De organische golfslag zonder bruuske botsingen pulseert alsof het zo moet zijn en altijd zo geweest is. Blage 3 is een wolk van pointillistische, vloeiende tonen; een studie in decay en sustain waarin fans van The Necks, The Swifter en Charlemagne Palestine volledig aan hun trekken komen.

Nowa Muzyka, Łukasz Komła:
Australijski pianista powraca z nowym albumem, lecz tym razem w towarzystwie cenionych muzyków.
W ubiegłym roku Simon James Phillips wydał solową płytę „Chair” (Room40). Artystę należy też kojarzyć z duetem Pedal tworzonym wraz z Chrisem Abrahamsem z The Necks, grupą The Swifter (Andrea Belfi, BJ Nilsen) i formacją The Berlin Splitter Orchestra. 15 maja ukazało się podwójne wydawnictwo Phillipsa – „Blage 3” (Mikroton). Początkowo materiał funkcjonował jako instalacja, a następnie został zaprezentowany w formie performance’u. Zespół Phillipsa, w składzie: Tony Buck (perkusja), Werner Dafeldecker (kontrabas), BJ Nilsen (elektronika), Liz Allbee (trąbka) i Artur Rother (gitara), zagrał pięciogodzinny set przed ciągle zmieniającą się publicznością. Dominującym tematem prac Australijczyka jest badanie czasu, percepcji i miejsca, co też potwierdza „Blage 3”. Ich nagrania płyną własnym tempem, z pewnością nie należą do najłatwiejszych w odbiorze, ale po jakimś czasie wciągają. Muzycy balansują gdzieś na styku Reicha i Rileya, musique concrète i noise’u, lecz zdecydowanie najbliżej im do transowo-improwizowanego grania spod znaku The Necks.

Ondarock, Matteo Meda:
Per la performance di cinque ore ininterrotte di cui questo “Blage 3” non è altro che un surrogato in forma “breve” di doppio cd per due ore scarse di musica, Simon James Phillips ha sostanzialmente radunato un supergruppo. L'amico (e compagno di merende negli Swifter) BJ Nilsen alla postazione elettronica, il mostro sacro e fuoriclasse dei Necks Tony Buck a dettare il ritmo alla batteria e alle percussioni, il veterano Werner Dafeldecker al contrabbasso, il regista occulto dell'underground berlinese Arthur Rother alla chitarra e Liz Allbee alla tromba dall'altra Berlino, quella americana (e meno nota). Non una formazione che si riunisce per un'occasione qualsiasi, insomma.
Ed effettivamente basta quanto già accennato a rendere evidenti le peculiarità del progetto in questione. Cinque ore ininterrotte di un sostanziale raga quartomondista improvvisato, che tende un filo fra la “storica” Germania, il Nord Europa e le vastità d'oltreoceano. “Blage 3” è una sorta di sinfonia trasversale, che cerca e trova una fuga dai limiti dello spazio e del tempo, che lega le scorribande post-fusion dei (già citati) Necks, le contorsioni post-(post-rock) dei Radian e le meditazioni extra-sensoriali di Mike Cooper in un unicum dalle mille identità. Un viaggio, di sicuro, ma guai a cercare un'origine, una destinazione, un mezzo di trasporto o un fotogramma dalla strada.
Il primo cd parte dunque con un'ouverture che sembra dilatare all'inverosimile un passaggio dall'ultimo Tim Hecker: una sorta di sacralità sembra farsi tangibile man mano che il pianoforte prende il sopravvento, ma assieme ai suoi tasti è l'intero paesaggio a variare in maniera irrefrenabile e continua. Un rallentamento apparente, piroette di tastiera e i droni della chitarra mischiati e reiterati come Oren Ambarchi insegna, un rivolo noise all'orizzonte ogni secondo più opprimente. Poi, al minuto dieci, un altro cambio di scena: l'angoscia che entra di colpo, si mostra e si nasconde in un crescendo prima accennato, poi materializzatosi nell'unisono di chitarra, tastiere e pianoforte.
Sbuca l'ombra di LaMonte Young, subito sotterrata dai colpi del contrabbasso. È una sorta di caleidoscopio che continua a girare modificando costantemente il soundworld e i suoi equilibri: i dieci minuti centrali sono interamente dedicati a un'evasione al pianoforte sporcata di rumore, dalla mezz'ora in su una progressione tribale di un Tony Buck in super-spolvero strappa la palma di epos della suite avvicinando i sentieri più free di Charlemagne Palestine.
Gli ultimi due segmenti corrispondono rispettivamente a un quarto d'ora di isolazionismo elettroacustico e penetranti litanie atonali affidate alla tromba di Allbee e a un finale “romantico” fra distensioni armoniche e melodie in libertà ad opera del pianoforte di Phillips.
Decisamente più compatta ma ugualmente stimolante e trascinante, l'altra odissea raccolta sul secondo cd vede il pianoforte e la batteria impossessarsi del ruolo di protagonisti assoluti, a parziale discapito della straordinaria coralità precedente. I primi venti minuti sconfinano un territorio a cavallo tra il totalismo e il mantra, con il medesimo giro di accordi ripetuto a velocità fino all'ascesa del ritmo. Dalla metà della suite in poi è proprio quest'ultimo a dettare legge, tramite i ritmi spezzati e tumultuosi di Tony Buck, in preda ora alle accelerazioni più cruente ora a rientri nel ciclo meditativo, fino al calo di tensione degli ultimi minuti che sfuma lentamente nel silenzio.
È un amalgama di colori, suoni, idee, evocazioni, percezioni sensoriali che guidano verso dimensioni squisitamente extra-sensoriali, immaginarie, impossibili. Se l'ultimo Necks poteva rappresentare l'ipotesi di una fusion del futuro, qui siamo di fronte alla coappartenenza tra presente, passato e possibile destino della psichedelia in senso ampio, liberata dalle precostruzioni che oggi la affliggono e la costringono all'eterno ritorno dei suoi cliché, rock o Lsd che siano.
Semplicemente oltre.

Merchants Of Air, Serge:
Some artists prefer the term 'sound art' above 'music'. Their creations are usually elaborate pieces of ambient or noise which remain pretty far away from what most people would describe as music. Rhythms, melody and song structures are very different, if they're present to begin with. Often these artists work with an installation rather than with musicians or instruments and their concerts are 'performances'. This is an enourmous world where anything is possible and allowed.
Simon James Phillips is a classical trainer composer, born in Australia but currently residing in Berlin (Germany). His work usually constists of improvisation sessions around the exploration of time, place and perception. For this work, he put together an ensemble of musicians and placed them in the center of a large dance studio. The whole set lasted for five hours and the audience was welcome to come and go at will. Afterwards, Phillips editted the whole to create this almost magical album.
The musicians on this album are not the least. Tony Buck (drums and percussion), Werner Dafeldecker (double bass), BJ Nilsen (electronics), Liz Allbee (trumpet), Arthur Rother (guitar) and Simon James Phillips (piano) performed in this piece. The result are two CD's filled with organic ambient, created with both analog equipment and electronics. As usual the music drives on a number of soundscapes where other elements seem free to come and go, just like the audience was when they recorded this work. These pieces continuously change, like a very, very slow version of free jazz.
This work reminds me of people like Aidan Baker and his Hypnodrone Ensemble or Fear Falls Burning on his 'Frenzy Of The Absolute' album, although there's little to no uptempo krautrock or pounding drums on Blage 3. The resemblance lays in the perfect cooperation between these talented and experienced musicians. You can almost feel the chemistry and the magic in this music. Highly recommended for every experimental ambient and improvisation fan, that's for sure.

Rockerillla, Roberto Mandolini:
L’edizione in doppio compact disc è solo un assaggio del concerto organizzato da Simon James Phillips (Pedal, The Swifter) in uno studio di Berlino durato ben cinque ore. Una vera installazione sonora con il pubblico ignaro dell’evento che entrava e usciva dalla sala, mentre Phillips con altri cinque musicisti residenti a Berlino — Tony Buck (batteria e percussioni), Werner Dafeldecker (contrabbasso), BJ Nilsen (elettronica), Liz Allbee (tromba) e Arthur Rother (chitarre) — improvvisavano stratificando matasse di suono in drone maestosi. Oltre alle due ore scarse dell’edizione in CD è disponibile una registrazione più lunga dell’evento solo in DL.

Vital Weekly, Frans de Waard:
Always on the careful side, but the name Simon James Phillips popped up once before in Vital Weekly, when we reviewed the LP by The Swifter in Vital Weekly 868. That was a trio with him on piano, Andre Belfi on drums and BJ Nilsen on electronics. The latter is still part of this new work by Phillips, who seems now the leader of a bigger ensemble, which also includes Tony Buck on drums, Werner Dafeldecker (double bass), Liz Allbee (trumpet) and Arthur Rother (guitar). This double CD is the result of a five-hour long improvisation session in a large dance studio. They began with playing before the audience arrived, which was free to come and go. Much like the LP by The Swifter I am here reminded of the new jazz from Australia (well, by now, perhaps not so new any more, but it still smells great). Spacious improvisations with lots of room, no doubt because of the big space this was recorded in (and with a microphone set-up in the middle capturing both the proceedings as well as the space this was recorded in). Most of the time it's all wide apart but in the second half of the second disc it is also more menacing and closed off. This was quite some amount of music, I thought, one hundred minutes, but then I read one could get more of this on the download side of this release, and maybe one should not be reviewing this, but rather undergoing this as a lengthy sound experience. (FdW)

blackaudio, Tony Young:
This is a recording of Phillip’s installation that was to span a mighty five hours (unbeknown to the audience). Luckily, this album has been condensed into 2 discs clocking in at a measly 1hr 40 or thereabouts; as I would have cried in despair if it was the full affair (although the extended version is available as a download for all masochists out there).
The difficulties in carrying a concept like this onto CD are obvious. An installation usually works for a good reason, be it audience participation or accompanying visuals; and without an added video mpeg of some sort, a vital ingredient to this production is most likely lost on such a release.
Musically however, there is much to be enjoyed should you have the patience. Swelling ambience and looping piano fall over layering drones, airy pads and bleeping electronics. Jazz instrumentation and percussion makes an appearance later in the act and is a welcome pinprick on the sonic bubble the listener is encased within.
Overall, I have to applaud Phillips for his accomplishments here. Orchestrating an ensemble over such a time span takes some doing; even more so when it is a cohesive as this. Is this an album I will play again? No. But I will tip my proverbial hat at the quality of musicianship on offer and the balls it takes to put something like this together.