Although probably best known for his remarkable drone compositions, Phill Niblock began his creative career working in the visual arts, usually filming and photographing jazz musicians – perhaps most notably Sun Ra, for the 1966 film The Magic Sun (previously released on a DVD edition by Atavistic, but also included on this retrospective).
This Die Schachtel disc compiles six of Niblock’s experimental 16mm films spanning 1966 to 1969, which are, for your reference: ‘Morning’ (1966-69), ‘The Magic Sun’ (1966-68), ‘Dog Track’ (1969), ‘Annie (1968), ‘Max’ (1966-68) and Raoul (1968-69).
‘Morning’ begins with performers dressing and preparing for their day to the accompaniment of clashing male and female internal monologues, and subsequently depicts various characters going about their daily business while we listen in on their thoughts and anxieties. Next is the aforementioned Sun Ra film, taking the form of a seventeen-minute tirade of abstracted negatives rifled through in fast motion – the soundtrack, of course, is exceptionally good and is in its own right a highlight of this collection. For ‘Dogtrack’ a deeply unsettling, bestiality-themed found text is read aloud with alarming detachment by Barbara Porte while Niblock intercuts between static location shots of urban and natural locations. Next is the entirely more wholesome ‘Annie’, a portrait of the dancer Ann Danoff set to the soundtrack of a concrète collage by Max Neuhaus. Speaking of Neuhaus, he’s the subject of the next film, ‘Max’, which pairs another of his soundscapes against a succession of processed images and heavily edited, percussion-based performance footage. Rounding off the collection is ‘Raoul’, whose subject is the painter Raoul Middleman, captured at work in the studio using time lapse photography while an improvised soundtrack (performed by the filmmaker and subject in collaboration) accompanies the rapid influx of images.
With a total running time of eighty minutes, Six Films 1966-1969 gives a fascinating glimpse at Phill Niblock’s early creative life, predating not only his music career, but also his widely celebrated The Movement Of People Working films.