It is important to remember that sound is ultimately a physical medium. Vibrations, emitted through the airwaves collide with surfaces, reflecting and inflecting in a blissfully chaotic interplay before finding their way to our ear drums.
It’s here, in this space of reflection, that Simon James Phillips has created Chair. It’s an album of clustered piano works, where notes compound and flutter in a spiraling flow of attack and decay. Using the natural sustain of both his chosen instrument and the recording environment - the Grunewald Church in Berlin - Phillips’ playing draws out the natural harmonic saturation of his subjects. Of the recording Phillips’ 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.”
Unashamedly beautiful, Chair is a record that does not shy away from the transcendent quality of the piano. Part pulse, part harmony, Phillip’s playing taps into the finest minimalist traditions whilst not dwelling on repetition. Manipulating the pacing of his playing, Phillips creates an unsettled sense of time. Pieces like ‘The Voice Imitator’ utilise large decay tails - the spaces between the notes ringing out a kind of spatial mapping, that speaks as much to the instrument, as to the space. By contrast ‘Moth To Taper’, with its embracing overtones generates a profound quality of acoustic texture - notes tumbling into their counterparts in a sea of inter- locking harmony.
Chair reminds us that less is almost always more - one player, one instrument, one room.
Outside of his solo work Phillips spends his time as one half of Pedal (with Chris Abrahams), a member of The Swifter (with Andrea Belfi and BJ Nilsen) and he also performs with The Berlin Splitter Orchestra.
There is a moment, four minutes into K1, where the dense haze breaks and you're granted a delicate, beautiful respite. It lasts half a minute, and then you never hear this again. Moments like these, and the weight they hold, makes this simultaneously the most gorgeous and harrowing album I have ever heard. contrapaasso