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Percussionist and composer Jon Mueller’s discerning creativity does not rule out a willingness to put the listener’s ears through the ordeals. His music is often bewilderingly violent, yet retains a pumping nucleus connecting it with all that matters in life, good or bad: bodily functions, natural phenomena, ecologic disasters, contagious enthusiasm. The title Physical Changes is perfect for the description of the diverse emotional states in which the audience is transported: tense puzzlement to serious angst, powwow-like repetitiveness to downright desolation. The release comprises three different items: an LP, a CD and a DVD. These recordings, we’re warned, should be played loud. This is feasible if you need to fight with the neighbours or live in isolation, we politely suggest. Such is in fact the quantity of amassed textural tissue that one might reasonably expect some sort of exudation from the speakers. Indeed, somewhere in the second half of the vinyl album, the grooves seemingly couldn’t manage to contain the thunderous frequencies, the turntable’s arm severely quivering, the stylus bouncing back repeatedly until a manual shift became necessary.
The black side of the LP, “Things Will Not Stay The Way They Are,” finds the protagonist in company of a secret hero of mine – James Plotkin, on guitar and electronics. An immediate blitz perpetrated via boisterous percussive outbursts is soon corroborated by semi-inert surfaces and hyper-stretched distortion, which shortly achieves stability through unremitting hammering and ominous chords that depict a state of blissful infection. Then, unexpectedly, the “big vibe” abruptly stops, Plotkin remaining alone in autistic reiteration for a few seconds – picture a Metal icon trapped in the quicksand of his own fingerboard tapping. Soon the cyber-tribal thrashing resumes as woofers cry “no more.”
“Change Is The Only Evidence Of Life,” on the white side, picks up where the volcanic activity of the preceding episode left off, a ferocious unaccompanied performance in which the drums are deformed by a heavy dose of studio treatment. In certain sections I was pushed to think of Z’EV: same no-nonsense attitude, identical desire to experiment beyond expectation.
The CD includes two lengthy tracks. “Nothing Changes,” with Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) and Jim Schoenecker (analogue synthesizer), begins with a Tibetan bell looped ad infinitum, Mueller establishing a steady single-tone pattern on a hammer dulcimer and reinforcing it with bass drum and cymbals. The plot thickens eight minutes in, bowed evolutions trying to emerge from the background without actually coming to light. Outrageously, the feel is one of minimalist bluegrass, Lonberg-Holm desperately attempting to let his anarchic organization gain a noticeable role in the track’s economy. This rebellious effort is brutally repressed as Mueller starts roaring and pounding without cease, a massive tumbling of rolls and crashes that sounds viciously hypnotic while keeping the pulse stable throughout, supposedly implying an absolutely shattered performer at the end. No finesse allowed: this is drumming carnage, other instruments just slightly visible as the hands of a drowning man prior to a definitive sinking.
“The Only Constant Thing Is Change” was recorded with the processing aid of Dan Burke (Illusion Of Safety), who also added electronics. It’s a fascinating display of electro-acoustic acumen, components mixing flawlessly yet behaving impulsively, perennially thudding beats and abnormally equalized snares declaring superiority amidst fearsome panoramas, where understanding what’s imagined and what’s radio static is quite difficult. The savage atmospheres, the merciless degradation process to which the timbres are subjected, the dictatorial rumble threatened by Burke’s acknowledged facility in generating unprecedented emissions and bleeping disturbances from various apparatuses, the final juxtaposition of uniformity and instability – everything contributes to place this chapter among of the very best of the project.
Still, my favourite things lie in “Survival Is Not Mandatory,” featured in the DVD. To Lonberg-Holm and Schoenecker add Markus Schmickler, whose computer omniscience is responsible for giving this spectacular composition its temperament. The mood is permeated with conscious desperation, as if Mueller wanted us to forget about illusions and get prepared for the worst possible fears to materialize – ominously resonating glissandi, disquieting vocal ectoplasm and droning threats drawing arcs everywhere, an enigmatic soundscape occasionally evoking the ghost of Daniel Menche but less explicit and, for that, even scarier. This frighteningly stunning piece must be filed under “soundtracks for the redde rationem,” definitely corresponding to Physical Changes’ zenith. The (mostly monochrome) static shots by David Dinnell are equally engaging, showing tangential urban areas beneath unpromising cloudy skies and alternative environmental settings through a perpetual veil of fuzzy indefiniteness which transforms the simplest picture (say, the wavering branches and leaves of a tree in the wind) into a disturbing vision. The blend of images and sonic grief is outstanding; savouring it for last is strongly advised, as it signifies a stamp of prominence on this artist’s finest outing to date.
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