Chair – Simon James Phillips sits in a room. (Music Review)

RM458 SJ Phillips Chair

Chair – cover

Chair by Simon James Phillips is available through Room 40

When Simon James Phillips fills the cathedral ceilings with his sonorous repetitions, the act of creation forces the sound to live, as a changing formulating thing, obeying certain laws of mathematics and phenomenology, and at the same time building on itself, a musical repetition being equally as transformed as the space it encounters, as defined by its surrounding silences as it is by its creators intention – more so in fact. If, as Deluze suggests, creation is a sustained and active force, it is only because of an eternal return, each repetition harkening to its originator, only to find it already gone, and so each repetition starts a fresh almost as if it were building a solid field of sound, sound having the remarkable quality of being able to change into what it is and isn’t, informed and linked by memory, and yet a wild and new thing with each renewed noise. In this way, Simon James Phillips repeats sounds from time itself, each repetition not just an affirmation that time exists, but a forging into a new landscape that wouldn’t be if it weren’t for that note, repeatedly building upon its own memory of what has already past, but thrives fresh in what is being created new.

However, Chair is constrained by its own laws, which are bound in the instrument, the room that holds the instrument and the fact of recording. All these things have a beginning and an end and are not perfect loops of endless time, able to free themselves from the definitions of start and finish. Simon James Phillips examines possibilities around this by building each sound as its own mini loop, its perfect existence realised in its journey around the room prior to and after we hear it in whatever form it is by that time. What form do sound waves take after we have heard them? The listener becomes part of a process rather than a sacred holder of a satisfied end, the loop existing outside of our capacity to measure forming its own fields of sound and silence.

For the development of this field, Simon James Phillips chose to situate his piano in the Grunewald Church in Berlin, using instrument and environment as a cohesive whole contribution to this creation of the field of sound, via the instruments and environments natural ability to sustain, and where he can “draw out the natural harmonic saturation of his subjects.” (liner notes) Of the recording, Philips’ notes “My sound engineer Mattef Kuhlmey used numerous microphones, placed in various positions around the church in order to capture not only the sound of the piano, but also how this sound behaved in such a richly resonant environment.” To achieve the lofty ambitions of the project, Phillips constructs seven pieces of pure piano worship to fill a room wanting to be filled. Many influences in minimalist music are recognisable in different tracks, including Charlemagne Palestine, La Monte Young and the Erik Satie furniture music concepts – although the music sounds to this listener that Phillips plays with the concepts of furniture music in Chair, bringing a cerebral backdrop not to a Cagean fore but to a world of its own particular to time and space. (But I might be misunderstanding this, I’ll hasten to add)

The works of Chair vary from just under four minutes, ‘9er on off switch’ through to the extraordinarily beautiful eleven and a half minutes  of ‘Set Ikon Set Remit’ with shorter works having a more poignant relationship with their own silence and longer works set on a headier world build that rumbles and storms its way through sound image. Each of the seven tracks is a stand alone reflection of its own beauty, each work openly recognising itself as a field upon which time is transformed through the use of its own endless possibility.

Chair is a deeply beautiful listening experience, that all lovers of minimalist music will appreciate, solo piano listeners will love, and the furniture music aficionado might find asks some interesting new questions.

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