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Tim Catlin & Jon Mueller - Plates and Wires

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Artist: Tim Catlin & Jon Mueller

Album: Plates and Wires

Label: Crouton

Review date: Sep. 20, 2007

Australian guitarist Tim Catlin and Milwaukee-based percussionist Jon Mueller have teamed up for this fantastic release on the latter's Crouton label. Working in different recording settings over the past year, the duo have constructed variously interwoven setups utilizing prepared guitars, gongs, drums and other amplified percussion. No instrument can be played without somehow bringing its peers to life. One reviewer at Aquarius Records in San Francisco aptly described the process behind Plates and Wires as “like a game of Mouse Trap,” with each element seemingly activating the next in an endless harmonic give-and-take. What results is a very organic recording with a dream logic in place, wandering through the speakers in an hour-long musical dérive.

You can hear the effect with particular clarity on the fourth untitled composition, as Mueller’s militaristic rolls invite a heavy drone from Catlin, causing Mueller’s snare to rise in volume with the oscillations of his partner’s guitar. As the snare fades out, it’s replaced by shifting electronic textures and heavily processed rhythms. We hear a slow scraping noise begin to emerge, creating perforations in Catlin’s guitar, which has become hypnotic and full of subtle reverberations. A great poet once wrote, “No man is an island,” and, likewise, no instrument can sing its song in hermetic isolation. With a brilliantly self-reflexive gesture, Catlin and Mueller have incorporated this age-old truth into the physical machinery of their art.

Moving away from structural concerns to questions of style, the tonal palette here is decidedly murky. All of Plates and Wires has a forbidding quality that brings a formal unity to the otherwise-quixotic proceedings. Its damaged drones aren’t really fit for meditative purposes; they’re more like lingering snapshots in the back of one’s mind, faded and scratched. The second track begins with a harsh, pulsating guitar line reminiscent of Remko Scha that is terrifying in its minimalist purity. It fades away into an extended network of drones, but one feels that these sustained units have somehow internalized the composition’s initial distress. Like a trauma, it is progressively obscured beneath layers of scratchy snares and metallic rattling, tucked away like an evil dream. Each piece chews and digests its material in a way that will surely leave listeners at a loss to describe just how they ended up at their destination – as if the end is never really an end, just an arbitrary limit placed on the music’s flow. No climax, no dénouement. Only drift.

In the process, we lose track of what these two men are even playing; the sounds they produce are so far from what we think of as “guitar” and “drums” that to analyze them in that context is more or less a dead end. Track three sounds closer to synthesizer trickery than anything else, its twittering sine-like oscillations balanced by low-end hum; Mueller’s percussion on this piece takes on the quality of television static, and it almost requires a leap of the imagination to connect it back to anything resembling a rhythm instrument. With their innovative methodology, Catlin and Mueller turn the most disparate sounds into a complexly woven tapestry, beautiful from a distance but rough to the touch, boiling music down to two of its most distinct elements: texture and movement. Like a game of pong, the ball is bounced back and forth between opposing poles at varying angles and speeds. To complete the metaphor, however, one would have to imagine this ball changing color mid-flight.

Note: Plates and Wires was released in a limited edition of 300 in a 10x10" package featuring artwork by Milwaukee painter Thomas Kovacich. Copies may be few at this point.

By Seth Watter

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