Prolific Dutch experimental electronic artist Rutger Zuydervelt (aka Machinefabriek) first discovered the work of Melbourne composer Tim Catlin when researching prepared guitar. Catlin who’s extended techniques had resulted in compelling somewhat stately works like Radio Ghosts, was intriguing enough to Zuydervelt that he reached out over the Internet and they began working together. It’s testament to how successful this collaboration has been that this is now their third album together, following on from 2009’s Glisten and 2011’s Patina.
In the resultant four years Catlin has extended beyond his extended guitar and now predominantly performs live with his Overtone ensemble, offering remarkable microtonal works on his self made instruments that he’s dubbed Vibrissa, which are essentially large aluminum rods that his ensemble then stroke, the vibrations creating these ethereal haunting otherworldly sounds.
The vibrissa appears on Whorls, as does zither, bowed piano, avian guitar, and acoustic synth guitar, all played by Catlin. Zuydervelt then reorders, recontextualises, processes and provides additional layers to Catlin’s sounds, and you’d imagine sending them into entirely new realms. Whorls is much more dynamic than its predecessors. It feels like there is a wider palette here, in fact each successive piece feels like a whole new sound world into itself. This is not an album you lose yourself in and let it wash ethereally over you, rather it requires, or possibly demands active listening. That’s not to say that amongst its crackles, plinks, glitches, drones and flutters there aren’t seductive sound worlds waiting, it’s more that the diversity of approaches and sounds is quite staggering and the duos decision to showcase them all keeps you on your toes.
They’re at their best with possibly the one consistent element through most of the pieces, which is their ability to craft these gentle low-key moments of profound experimental warmth. They love crackles and fuzz, at times their music just lulls beneath thin spooling electrics, offering a warm feeling of nostalgia, yet it also serves a greater purpose too, particularly when the electrics begin engaging compositionally with the musical elements. And it’s developments like this that are key to Whorls, these gentle moments where production and composition intersect and become one. It also highlights the level of detail at play here, with the duo clearly relishing in micro timbres and tiny gestures. There are multiple layers, multiple levels to Whorls, and they’re all grist for the compositions; music, sound design, sound art, experimental electrics, production techniques, errors, feedback systems, field recordings – they’re all tools, all ingredients for this incredible and compelling tapestry of sound.
Aside from a couple of moments that seem designed to tear you from this world, with a few jarring moments of feedback, you could describe Whorls as a kind of seductive experimentalism, the duo displaying not only their delight in unfamiliar extended compositional techniques, but also in warm highly textural sonic worlds. Usually mutually exclusive, it’s a further demonstration of what a rare and considered collaboration this duo is.