Simon James Phillips – Chair (Room 40)


Simon James Phillips

Listening to Chair by Berlin-based pianist Simon James Phillips, it is interesting to note that he collaborates with Chris Abrahams of The Necks. The duo perform together as Pedal, a word with links to the ‘Chair’ of this album’s title, and emphasises, the physical link from body to instrument at work when performing music. There’s a similarity too between Phillips and Abrahams’s playing, a fondness for melodic repetition particularly, but Phillips is far closer to Charlemagne Palestine in most other respects.

The physicality of sound production, not just from human to instrument but from instrument to resonance in space, is what most strongly unites Phillips and Palestine. Like the teddy-coveting dronester, Phillips plays with repetition, sustain and the reverberation of the recording space to create rich and blurred walls of sound. So dense is much of Chair that I’d guessed at multitracking, but it turns out the result comes from sound engineer Mattef Kuhlmey’s use of numerous microphones, placed around the “richly resonant environment” of Berlin’s Grunewald Church.

Chair‘s seven pieces tend for either busy density or cautious spaciousness, the former like Palestine, the latter recalling exploratory Spectralists like Tristan Murail or Helmut Lachenmann. These slower pieces are the more interesting, if not as exciting, offering patient examinations of various sonic effects within approachable, repeated patterns. ‘9er On Off Switch’lurches forward, all breathy and open, before suddenly withdrawing, like explosions in reverse. ‘Posture’ plods, methodically, like a retentive drunk. ‘Set Ikon Set Remit’s and ‘Poul’ meanwhile erupt like geysers, the sustain pedal held throughout (12 minutes each), particulars bleeding into luminous sludge. Kuhlmey captures both the murk and the clarity with precision, making for another highly recommended Room 40 release.


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