Phill Niblock

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Niblock is an intermedia artist using music, film, photography, video and computers. He was born in Indiana in 1933. Since the mid-60's he has been making music and intermedia performances at: The Museum of Modern Art; The Wadsworth Atheneum; the Kitchen; the Paris Autumn Festival; Palais des Beaux Arts (Brussels); Institute of Contemporary Art (London); Akademie der Kunste (Berlin); Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard; World Music Institute at Merkin Hall; and on radio in the U.S., West Germany, France, and Belgium. He has had grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Creative Artists Public Service Program, the City University of New York Research Foundation and the Foundation for the Contemporary Performance Arts. He is Director of the Experimental Intermedia Foundation in New York. He has been director since 1985; an artist/member since 1968. He has been the producer of Music and Intermedia presentations at EIF since 1973 (about 800 performances). Recently, an Experimental Intermedia Organization was formed in Gent, Belgium, to support the artist-in-residence house and installations there. Niblock's intermedia work addresses technical and aesthetic issues in four artistic disciplines that combine at various levels and diverge at others. His multilayered 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: an installation of several hours duration on one or more days (the music pieces are played consecutively, with several hours of work before repetition, while multiple images are shown simultaneously) or 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 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. These films are recognized internationally for their mastery of long takes utilizing clear, simple techniques that result in high resolution and extended tonal ranges. Movement is treated abstractly without reference to anthropological or sociological meaning. 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. In video, Niblock turns to quite different concerns. Using the intimacy and superior audio capabilities of video (compared with 16mm film), he has created a series of video portraits. The subjects are shown in unrelenting close-range shots while they talk about childhood. These often surprising and revealing videos present a new form of portraiture that explores aspects of biography in conjunction with the captured visual image. The slide work in his presentations are principally high contrast black and white. Each slide is designed and photographed to be superimposed with other slides in a texture of constantly shifting tonal relationships. The subject matter of the slides is chosen for formal rather than representative considerations while unusual film stocks and development techniques are employed to augment formal issues.