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Legendary avant-garde composer and filmmaker Phill Niblock dies, aged 90

Phill Niblock, the legendary avant-garde composer and filmmaker, has died at the age of 90.

Niblock, who was known for his pioneering work in minimalist drone music, passed away on Monday (January 8), according to his official website. No cause of death is known at the time of writing.

Born in Anderson, Indiana in 1933, Niblock received an economics degree from Indiana University before moving to New York in 1958. He later began working as a filmmaker and photographer documenting the jazz and modern dance scenes.

In 1968, Niblock started composing his own music after being inspired by the overlapping sounds of truck engines on the highway and performances in New York’s avant-garde classical scene.

His influential material focused on microtonal drones that bled together into hypnotic textures.

During an interview with Tone Glow in 2020, Niblock explained: “I only make one kind of music. I don’t make anything else.

“I’m interested in sound – a particular order in it. It all came from a very short moment of about five minutes of thinking about music and how I could make it and what I could make and what I couldn’t make.”

He continued: “I defined what I was going to make in the middle of 1968 and the first piece was at the end of 1968, and that piece defined what I was going to do. What I was doing got better and more clear in a few years, but basically I had decided what to do, how I was going to do it, in a few minutes in 1968. And that’s all I did.”

Back in 1985, Niblock was appointed director of Experimental Intermedia – a New York-based foundation for avant-garde music. He was also the curator of the foundation’s record label, XI.

Niblock documented the work of greats such as Arthur Russell while at Experimental Intermedia. Additionally, he worked with the likes of Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore, as well as Petr Kotik and Ulrich Krieger.

He regularly performed a winter solstice concert at Experimental Intermedia – which was located within Niblock’s own Chinatown loft – until a dispute with his landlord forced him to move it to the Roulette in Brooklyn.

The most recent event took place late last year to mark Niblock’s 90th birthday. It contained 24 hours’ worth of music and film content, which was showcased across two days. See the video above.

According to ARTnews, Niblock spent two years serving in the US Army after graduating from university.

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