Dave Phillips - Homo Animalis [Schimpfluch Associates - 2014]
This two-cd set comes in a beautifully designed fold-out card wallet, accompanied by a small booklet of text. The wallet is adorned with ghostly photos - clearly parts of the body, but shot so that they become odd, misshapen flesh. The front cover itself, is an unsettling, humanoid figure, derived from a foot; it has a “flesh-transformed”, Silent Hill-esque quality, which is telling for the audio contents of the package. The two cds collect up ten tracks in total; culled from recent tapes and cdrs, and adding one previously unreleased piece.
There are two things you should know right now: firstly, I am a huge admirer of the work of Phillips and secondly, I would eagerly recommend any of his recordings. So I presumed I would enjoy “homo animalis” - and I have, but I’ll try and tempt any uninitiated ears. Phillips is probably best known for his short, chaotic “cut-up” pieces, which insert bludgeoning found-sounds and vocal contortions into long periods of silent tension. Live, though, he can often construct longer works utilising layers of field recordings and electronics. The tracks on “homo…” lean more towards this live set-up. Many of the pieces build up menacing “drones”, often using animal sounds; these are processed and layered into spiky rivers of unsettling energy. At the opposite dynamic end, so to speak, there are indeed some sections of “bludgeon/silent tension”; with a particularly explosive one near the start of “novaturient”. Perhaps the most effective passages, are those where Phillips cuts a line between these two approaches; creating sections of longer, dynamic constructions: the series of whining synth (or violin?) crescendos, ending in loud thuds, in “humanimal b”, for example. These show Phillips at his best: meticulous, careful construction and craft, but still imbued with raw noise and emotion. There are very clear comparisons to be made with musique concrete here, but theres no sense of academic coldness or detachment. This is, of course, aided by the text accompanying the release: a “humanimalist” manifesto of sorts - thought-provoking reading.
This is a collection of great pieces, well worth treating your ears to. Its another worthy addition to your Dave Phillips collection, though not necessarily the best place to start with his discography. This is mainly due to the generally homogenous sound presented on “homo animalis”; which over two cds is a lot to take in. Saying this, although there is a predominance of field recordings, electronics and vocal sounds, the tracks also use piano, swirling strings and possibly a trombone (on “humanimal a”) - I’m merely suggesting that its easier digested in smaller pieces. To return to the front cover, the album again showcases Phillips’ ability to transform everyday “raw” material into something warped and “alien”: recognisable, but “wrong” - this is where a crass comparison with Silent Hill makes some sense. Put together, the text and sounds combine to make a interesting case for Phillips’ idea of “humanimalism” and show a body of work yet to wane. Martin P