Philip Jeck - Biography
British sound artist Philip Jeck has been one of modern electronic music’s vital figures since the early 1990s. Working with turntables and modified electronics the composer creates surreal, swirling works of beautifully decayed ambient music. His unique sound transcends such labels however. Incorporating elements of noise music, minimalism and textural electronica Jeck has created an instantly recognizable style and continues to influence many in the avant-garde. He is widely considered one of the most important abstract electronic composers of his generation.
Born in 1952, Jeck went on to study visual arts at Dartington College of Arts in Devon, England. At some point in the early 1980s he began to experiment with record players and electronics. Slowly developing a sonic signature the composer would not release a proper album until 1995’s Loopholes. Working with the highly respected Touch label almost exclusively, Jeck has continued to expand on the approach so painstakingly developed and presented on this debut release. Salvaging old record players, perhaps most famously the Fidelity brand, Jeck modifies the players to suit his needs. He sources material from equally ancient records and uses various electronic effects to manipulate the sound. His music explores the play of memory, nostalgia and time through recontextualizing sound from these old aural snapshots. Dusty samples of piano, strings and other instruments become hazy, smudged melodic loops. These are layered with vinyl crackle and surface noise, rattling percussion loops and often samples of the human voice to shape utterly hypnotic webs of shifting sound.
1999’s Surf and 2000’s live recording 20_02_00 Live At ICC, Tokyo furthered the narcotic sonic tapestries Jeck created on Loopholes. But it was the double record set Vinyl Coda I — III that cemented Jeck’s creative voice. Released on Intermedium Records in 2000, the sprawling, dense compositions perfectly capture the composer’s technique. The music here is very carefully measured and wholly absorbing. Over the course of three long pieces we are taken on a strangely sublime aural journey. The results sound like a melding of Brian Eno’s On Land, the work of William Basinski and Holger Czukay’s early experiments with sampling. The synthesis of these influences and Jeck’s own deft skill at working with the record players and effects makes for music that is truly special.
After similar releases for the Sub Rosa and Audiosphere labels, Jeck returned to Touch in 2002. He released two spectacular albums that year, Soaked and the stunning Stoke. The first release was recorded live as Jeck improvised with ambient sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard. It’s a wonderful recording of spontaneous textural noise and ambient drift. Stoke on the other hand is one of Jeck’s most carefully crafted records. Its seven tracks of mesmerizingly sculpted samples, haunted drones and faded, crackling atmosphere remains a high point in the composer’s catalog.
2003 brought the release of 7, one of Jeck’s most accessible, focused and well-received records. The following years saw a flurry of live activity and work for dance performances, most notably with choreographer Laurie Booth, as well as several fine releases such as 2004’s collaboration with Janek Schaefer, Songs For Europe. In 2005 Jeck performed Gavin Bryars’ post-classical masterpiece “The Sinking Of The Titanic” with Alter Ego and Bryars himself. Touch released the performance in 2007 and it remains the most engaging interpretation of the piece. 2008 saw two more fine albums, Sand and Suite: Live In Liverpool.
Philip Jeck has slowly and surely developed a unique aesthetic over two decades of experimentation. Since his first releases the composer has continued to expand and evolve his trademark ambience, defined by swelling waves of vinyl crackle and hiss and hypnotic loops of floating, decayed samples. Jeck’s work with the turntable is among the most important in abstract electronic music and his releases continue to astound listeners with the elastic possibilities of sound.