Stephen Philips is an idea man. He is always looking for new
showcases for his wonderful drones – and he usually finds them. In early 2005
he conceptualized a series of CD’s of “environmental minimalism” – ambience
that would reflect the environment in which it was created. He marketed the
series – Inside and Outside – as a limited edition (25 copies). Listeners were
required to prepay for the entire series.
Steve gathered new field recordings for July, August,
September, October and November of 2005 and recycled some for December. He
processed, warped, manipulated and mangled them and surrounded them with his
signature minimalist drones.
Inside and Outside, Volume 1:: August 2005 covers July and
August of 2005. This is “dark heat” as only Stephen does it. It is desert
ambience but for urban and suburban deserts. Listeners will feel the heat
rising from the concrete and blacktop wastelands as the drones roll and crawl
along. The field recordings are languid, befitting a slow day in a muggy
summer. The dark atmospheres offer no respite from the heat and humidity.
The dark heat has begun!
Inside and Outside Volume 2:: September 2005 starts with a
swirling and coiled drone with hollow edges and a solid core. The gentle nature
samples belie the dark heat of the long (74’) composition. The shifting depth
of the drone is its essence and gives the piece integrity and strength. As the
drone progresses, Steve alters the pitch and adds layers. While the field
recordings remain relatively constant, the drones shift and define the
The dark heat swelters!
It is time for an attitude adjustment as summer fades into
autumn. Inside and Outside Volume 3:: October 2005 has a new feel to it. The
drones are still deep and dark but the field recordings are industrial and
blue-collar – not in the redneck sense but in their work ethic. The field
recordings surround hollow drones and experimental sounds surround the field recordings.
The hollow drones surround the experimental sounds. (It is a musical version of
a Max Escher drawing.) While the music unfolds and crawls along very slowly, it
has almost no tempo or pitch. It is just there – and then it is somewhere else
and then it is there again and then it is here. It is shapeless music. The lack
of definition is its definition. Stephen continues to define his craft on his
The heat is gone! Long live the heat!
Inside and Outside volume 4:: November 2005 is its own
symphony in six movements. (Indeed, one can experience it as a symphony within
a symphony.) The coda is the deep drone. The field recordings are the scherzos.
Steve’s experimental sounds are the plot and the denouement. There is no
climax. There is neither an overture nor an underture. This symphony with no
orchestration is pure minimalism. There is complexity in its simplicity and
simplicity in its complexity. Stephen’s sound design is on the cutting edge of
The heat is cold. It melts the atmospheres.
Inside and Outside Volume 6:: December 2005 is a two-disc
set. It is also a bit misleading and somewhat of a “trick.” Stephen recorded
some outdoor ambience (about 75’ worth) back in the summer of 2001. He
misplaced the recording until February of 2003 when he “discovered” it while
organizing his studio. In his words, he was “taken to another time and place.
He has used this field recording for the background of about 20 compositions
over the years (none of which he has released). These two CD’s are the best of
those pieces – as judged by the artist. He has released them in the winter to
help his listeners feel a respite from the harsh winter.
The first disc has very subtle drones. The weight of the
sample gives the piece a forest ambience tone. Deep listeners will feel and see
the soft atmospheres of a lush landscape. The journey from the harsh winter to
a gentle summer is a pleasant experience. The drones define the tempo – slow as
they crawl along.
The heat is lush.
Disc 2 surrounds those field recordings with ominous drones
and foreboding atmospheres. It is the complete opposite of its sister disc.
This is the prelude to a storm. The drones and atmospheres are the wind, rain,
thunder and lightning as the journey back to summer takes an unexpected – and
interesting – twist. The diversion is a welcome surprise.
The heat wavers and does not falter.
This series might be Stephen’s finest hours as a musician.
It shows his exponential growth as a composer and his diversity as a performer.
At the same time he stays within the boundaries of atmospheric minimalism and
dark ambience. It is his own skills as a master that allow him to redefine
those boundaries on the fly.
by Jim Brenholts for