dave phillips - human nature denied

cd / digital, 2023, Flag Day Recordings, USA.   Available

cd edition 250






As one of the founding members of The Schimpffluch Gruppe, indisputably some of the most daring sonic explorers to come out of Switzerland in the last 50 years, Dave Phillips travels faithfully along a similar trajectory of acoustic provocation and agitation on his new CD Human Nature Denied.

As one might gather from the title, this collection of eight compositions deals with the plague that humankind is, wreaking havoc and destruction on the natural forces of our planet. To these ends, the music on Human Nature Denied often inhabits a territory of foreboding and darkness. There is much in the way of howling voices, crashing objects, looming shadows of feedback and deep standing waves of sound hunkering down like great blue wales awaiting their eventual extinction. Much like the socioacoustic nature of Luc Ferrari’s compositions, at times employing the sonic textures of harbors and neighborhood streets, the sound objects Phillips sets to motion in his pieces function as more than just signposts giving structure and atmosphere to the music. Rather, they serve as psychoacoustic instigators, communicating beyond what words can to transmit the bleak message of our mindless, self-imposed destruction. All of which can easily be discerned from track titles such as See Man Fall, Wrecking the Planet and Degrading Its Inhabitants or This Civilization Causes Sickness. Despite the programmatic titles to these pieces, Phillips’ music offers the listener much room to find a way to navigate these sounds. Though often dense in texture, the music never becomes flat or distilled down to one dynamic level. The sheer depth of Phillips’ sound events invites the listener to dive in and inhabit this expansive world with the composer. There are plenty of twists and turns in each piece, with sources as disparate as piano, string instruments, whacking pieces of metal, creaking floorboards, whispered voices, environmental recordings or screeching feedback making their entrance and moving serenely across the soundstage to wait in the wings until their next call. For the most part, the pieces never enter full conflagration-mode, pulling back just long enough to allow the listener a brief space of repose to catch their breath. As counterpoint to the dire atmosphere coursing through the CD, the tracks on Human Nature Denied exude the kind of majestic pageantry one might hear in some of Scelsi’s later works. Phillips’ music moves along in a similarly unhurried pace, though a sense of nerve-wracking tension imbues each track, giving one the impression that, indeed, time is quickly running out. Add to this a certain bombastic aplomb calling to mind the organ pieces of Hermann Nitsch, and one might have a vague sense along which line of sonic discourse Phillips’ work on this new CD hews closest to. Not unlike Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, which sought to assail the senses of the audience, Phillips’s work lunges at our sensibilities, challenging our complacency with a music that grabs you by the throat and won’t let you loose until you’ve finally come around to giving some thought about what is happening to the planet. The final piece of the CD, Sars-COV2 Is a Vaccine, underscores this proposition. Starting with rhythmic chanting, not unlike the final scene in Apocalypse Now where Captain Willard has killed Colonel Kurtz and walks out to find the indigenous denizens of the encampment hailing him as their new leader, perhaps it is Phillips hearing these very same voices in his head, ultimately resigned to our inevitable fate. If so, then I suspect in a strangely optimistic way. In that once we are all finally gone, whatever’s left alive on this post-apocalyptic planet will be free to make a new start. At last mercifully rid of the deadly virus that humankind undoubtedly is.

(Jason Kahn, Dusted Magazine, February 2023)