Dave Phillips - IIIII

CD, 2004, Groundfault, Los Angeles.   Available


we can scrutinize our motives and impulses, we can know why we act as we do, we can approach a point at which our actions are the results of our choices. when we are conscious, everything we do will be done for reasons we can know. at that point, we will be authors of our lives. this may seem fantastical and so it is.


Dave Phillips began his musical career when he was 17, co-founding the hardcore extremists Fear of God in 1987. As Fear of God developed into Switzerland’s answer to Napalm Death or Carcass, Phillips began to see that their faster, shorter, noisier approaches to grindcore were merely a springboard for more psychologically challenging and physically demanding artforms. Soon after Fear of God’s demise in 1989, he met up with Rudolf Eb.er of Runzelstirn & Gurglestock and joined the actionist Schimpfluch-Gruppe which has followed the traditions of abjection and transgression as dictated by the Viennese Aktionists (i.e. Hermann Nitsch, Gunter Brus, Otto Muhl, etc.). In performances punctuated with short sharp bursts of noise, the Schimpfluch-Gruppe quite literally plays with vomit, blood, and all of the fluids from bodily orifices. If it sounds juvenile, it is; but both Phillips and Eb.er also manage to make their gross-out sessions numbingly effective manifestations of the nether regions of the human psyche. Along with the official Schimpfluch-Gruppe actions, Phillips has performed with Sudden Infant, PK, and Ohne which had received a considerable amount of acclaim with their Mego debut of electrocutionist musique concrete. On IIIII, Phillips recorded work proves to be just as absurdist, nihilistic, and nauseating as his performances. The noise comes quite sporadically, and when it does, Phillips clobbers you over the head with volatile sick tones and splattered distortion; but the bulk of IIIII waits with a tense silence until wooden hammerings, demonic growlings, blister-pricked ruptures, and unsettling screams shatter the empty spaces. As a result, Phillips’ work is far more nervewrecking that maximalists like Merzbow or The New Blockaders. Even if you have a stomach strong enough for R.H.Y. Yau and Runzelstirn & Gurglestock, Phillips makes for very difficult listening.


Extreme Dynamiken, extreme Wechsel zwischen Stille und konkretesten Noise-Attacken, die wie Schlaege in die Magengrube wirken, aber auch ruhigere field recordings & microsounds zwischendurch, das Unerwartete GERÄUSCH ist hier allgegenwaertig. Sehr expressive Geraeuschmusik, DAVE PHILLIPS ist ein Meister darin Klaenge fast physisch einzusetzen ! 99 tracks !!

(Drone Records)

There’s something instantly intimidating about popping a CD into your player and seeing 99 tracks flash up, especially when the first of them (called ‘wec’) is completely silent. Quiet rain begins to fall during track two (‘an’), but that distant thunder should put you on your guard. The deluge subsides a little, but all hell breaks loose on track 4 (‘rut’) - for 11 seconds. The first sign of retching appears in track 6 (‘zeo’), and it returns on track 9 (‘ti’), alternating with some particularly vicious bangs and crashes. Par for the course for Phillips, whose previous work with Fear Of God and the actionist activists Gruppe Schimpfluch is ideal for anyone who needs to be forcibly evicted from their apartment in a hurry. The novelty of IIIII is the element of surprise, as there’s at least as much silence as noise on the disc, but the novelty soon wears off and you wish that Dave would just finish emptying his stomach once and for all and go get himself a Milk of Magnesia. Doubly frustrating is the fact that what noise there is tends to come in short sharp bursts - no chance of a good ol’ Merz-style extended blowout here. (There are a few exceptions, notably the final track ‘is’ and number 78, ‘po’ - incidentally, if you’re wondering about the cryptic track titles, you need only put them together and they read as follows: ‘we can scrutinize our motives and impulses we can know why we act as we do we can approach a point at which our actions are the results of our choices when we are conscious everything we do will be done for reasons we can know at that point we will be authors of our lives this may seem fantastical and so it is’.) If the idea of the disc is to antagonise, it deserves five stars; if, though, the name of the game is enjoyment - ah, how old-fashioned that sounds - you might want to steer clear, unless your idea of enjoyment is having someone vomit in your ear before shooting you in the head with a nail gun.

(Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic Magazine)

Field recordings of chirping birds and rushing water go to my head, my heart, deeper still. But what differentiates them besides for the moment in time, the rhythm of the moment? Well in the case of the latest by Dave Phillips, expect the unexpected as the lilting ambience turns to something of a distorted torture chamber in a flippant, immediate way. Creating a collage of pasted parts that conceal just enough and expose the way say, The Gerogerigegege (Juntaro Yamanouchi) does, with quirky voice like interactive happenings and other dramatics. Phillips crams 99, mostly micro-short, pieces into one full-on 74-minute adventure - some tracks are pauses with pure silence, others are tape rewinds and silly sounds ala Woody Woodpecker. Maybe this is for the birds after all.


Phillips started out in the shortlived grindcore band Fear of God and then fell in w/ Rudolf Eb.er and the Schimpfluch/Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock crowd. I ‘m sure there ‘s some kind of indirect Dada (I wouldn ‘t say Schwitters specifically) influence on their performances and certainly on the Schimpfluch records, more than a few of which were unplayable objects. But the Vienna Aktionists are probably a much more apt comparison, though one the Schimpfluch people are quick to downplay. I read an interview w/ Eb.er where he mentioned that he was much more influenced by the writings of a certain Buddhist monk who was ‘much more extreme’ than the Aktionists were. (No, I have not been able to track down anything by said monk and even I ‘ve forgotten the name.) He ‘s also talked a lot about breathing techniques (Eb.er teaches an esoteric brand of martial arts in Japan) which induce certian psychological states. This kind of breathing certainly plays a large part in Eb.er ‘s work and I ‘d say Phillips as well. These techniques and the use of space they entail (there are a lot of various breathing patterns for certain kinds of meditation that involve long stretches of holding your breath, counting to 100, etc.) are very prevalent in a lot of Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock recordings and are one of the dominent aspects of their influence on a lot of musicians today (a lot may be exagerrating, but I know more than a few who ‘ve been highly influenced by them). The combination of this and the absurdity of Dada and the Aktionists, and the bodily extremity of the Aktionists bring you a bit closer to the Schimpfluch way. Then add the lo-fi, cheap, transgressive aesthetic of the burgeoning noise scene in the 80s and we ‘re getting somewhere. With Phillips, beyond the general extremity, psychological tension, induced states, punk, anti-art, etc. there ‘s also a strong political/anarchist angle which was part of Fear of God as well. He ‘s passionate about animal rights (a vegan I believe), human rights, civil rights, etc. which (may or may not) give the frustration, anger, whatnot a more purposeful focus. So… on to ‘IIIII ’ - I listed it as one of my favorites of this year. I think it ‘s a fantastic recording. I also get a bit concerned when I see 99 tracks on a CD, but since it ‘s a Dave Phillips CD, I wasn ‘t worried. It makes perfect sense. A lot of his work has the taut, fragmentary, broken, almost binary (complete silence or in the red) quality of the finest Schimplfluch works where the sounds themselves are aaaaaallmmosst arbitrary and the compositional/psychological rhythm and form they create are much more important. A lot of the Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock recordings used almost the exact same sounds even. R & G fans will easily recognize the infamous short scream/hitting oneself on the chest sound that were all over countless R & G recordings. This was partially comic, partially referencing the arbitrariness of the sounds themselves and partially lazy? (80s noise we-don’t-give-a-fuck ethic). This is or was also a technique of Lionel Marchetti’s tape music for a while. The ‘swooshing of a switch through the air ’ sound was ever present on his recordings, to the point that it became a point of tension/composition when and if it arrived. It seems like he hasn’t used it in a while - I miss that sound! At any rate, yes, there are some familiar sounds happening. The Schimpfluch folk are probably responsible for the popularization of the retch sound you mention. Part of Phillips’ set up involves a contact mic in the mouth and the performative qualities of bodily extremity certainly play a part in his music and you can read into this in a number of ways as being some kind of abject body horror transgression, a statement on dehumanization or whatnot or you can treat it like a sound. A sound that turns up often enough in Schimpfluch-related recordings (Yau is certainly influenced by these guys - I’m not sure where else you’ve heard this sound). But like the sax slap tongue, a bowed cymbal or a ‘gamelanesque’ plucked note on a prepared guitar in free improvisation, simply part of the lexicon.

(Elk, Bagatellen)