Harmony Within

all new music from flute virtuoso Phippen

Raquel Dorf, photos by Andrea Paulseth

NATURAL SOUNDS. Peter Phippen’s new album, Suspended Within, taps musician Rahbi Crawford and features traditional wood flutes and Tibetan crystal singing bowls.
NATURAL SOUNDS. Peter Phippen’s new album, Suspended Within, taps musician Rahbi Crawford and features traditional wood flutes and Tibetan crystal singing bowls.

It was by accident that a flute caught Peter Phippen’s eye while shopping at a furniture store back in 1987, and after deciding to purchase it, the instrument captured his curiosity and ignited a new passion in him. Ever since that day, Phippen has been self-teaching, mastering, and improvising upon the art of the woodwind.

“The more I learned about the flutes, the more I wanted to play them. It made me hungry for them,” he said. Phippen plays simple system bamboo and wooden flutes from all around the world. “I say ‘simple system’ loosely because some are extremely difficult to play,” he explained.

Now fast forward 29 years, and Phippen has had a Grammy nomination and four Native American Music Awards nominations, he’s been a finalist for the International Acoustic Music Awards, and has released 15 solo albums.

“I don’t write music. I’m more interested in playing in the moment. We never look at each other while we play. You use your ears, not your eyes, for music.” – flutist Peter Phippen on his improvised album with collaborator Rahbi Crawford

The flute virtuoso’s newest album, Suspended Within, was released earlier this year. Phippen collaborated with musician Rahbi Crawford to create seven haunting tunes on an improvised album featuring traditional wood flutes and Tibetan crystal singing bowls. Many of the exotic instruments used come from all over the world and are century-old antiques creating rich, one-of-a-kind tones.

The recording process for Suspended Within was simply organic; all of the songs on the album were completely improvised by Phippen and Crawford on the spot in the recording studio. “I don’t write music, I’m more interested in playing in the moment,” said Phippen. The artists were set up in different rooms so they could be alone while they improvised. “We never look at each other while we play,” said Phippen. “You use your ears, not your eyes, for music.”

“Rahbi or I would say ‘let’s play in this key,’ and then we intuitively listen to each other and follow,” Phippen explained. “It’s a give and a take.” The whole project was completed in less than four hours, resulting in a very sparse, understated exploration of sound. The beauty of improvisation, for Phippen, is that the music follows no set of rules – it’s just playing freely.

“The flow of the music can just suddenly turn and go somewhere else,” he said. “It’s unexpected and a surprise.”

As a professionally trained bassist as well, Phippen’s relationship to his music runs blood deep. “Music is all I’ve ever known,” he said. His mother had a big role in influencing his musical style as well: She tuned him into listening to all things natural.

“My mother, when I was very young, used to take me to picnics in the woods and after I ate, she would ask, ‘What do you hear?’ And she wouldn’t just settle on ‘the wind’ or ‘the trees,’ or ‘the birds singing,’ ” he said. “Music is all around you if you stop and listen.”

Hear Phippen’s woodwind mastery on Suspended Within, and on his other works, which are available on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, and at The Local Store. To find out more about Phippen or his music, check out his Facebook page. Phippen will perform at The World Flute Society Convention at UW-Eau Claire’s Haas Fine Arts Center on July 27-31.