The Overtone Ensemble are a unique group from Melbourne who have just released their first self titled cd Overtone Ensemble, on 30th June. Tim Catlin is the mind behind the Overtone Ensemble who has a passion for making unique instruments that produce specific timbres, such as the ‘Vibrissa’, an instrument that “consists of twelve vertically mounted aluminium rods that are longitudinally stroked by hand to produce ethereal “singing” tones.” The group like to explore microtonal tunings which “allow players a sonic palette of complex textures and harmonic complexity”. Their palette includes “massed hand-bells, quarter-tone bells, e-bowed acoustic guitars, re-tuned glockenspiels, wineglasses and long wire instruments”. All sounds are acoustic in origin the group state.
As a sonic odyssey I liked it very much but from a public safety OH&S perspective it needs to go out with a WARNING: EXTREMELY SHRILL FREQUENCIES. The recording, mic proximity and mix have given prominence to some very shrill frequencies and I could not have it above 1 on my audio system even with flat response speakers. If I had of mixed it, things would be placed much further back and spatially arranged slightly differently, and with a lot more eq for listener safety. For listener ear health and equipment safety I urge listeners to start at 0dB and gradually turn up to comfort level. I advise against listening with headphones on or beginning with one’s head too close to speakers. Proceed with care. It starts intensely and becomes gentler with each track.
1. “Adumbration” has an instant piercing nature. I struggled to listen. I can appreciate the amazing artistry of the instruments and the practice of innovation but sonically, safety always comes first for me. If it were amplified it would be intolerable for me personally. It reminds me of strange creatures in an ice forest, an Ice orchestra twinkling in the wind. It slowly builds and cascades but has a strong drone base, and is not too dissimilar to Tibetan bowls or gongs, accept they do not have the same cutting edge this has, the metallic blade sounding timbre.
2. “Scintillation”- again the piercing nature is intense. A public safety warning should be in the press release. Different frequencies come in, we have rim strikes and plays and the reason the release is titled as Overtone Ensemble becomes evident. I find my mind stretching out across the expanse of space. Scrapping, tipping, scratching sounds feature. The low tones add necessary warmth and brings the searing quality back to earth.
3.”Oscillation”- My first impression is Eskimos and like many reverberating telephone warnings within a dome like structure, pings, moans, whirs. Of the three tracks, this one is the most undemanding. I feel myself relax a little. Strikes, bells, pipes and many different irregular pitches makes one engage, curious as to what comes next. This one has a necessary distance in the mix spatially.
4. “Accretion”- Featuring hand bells, the space features more, we are not seeming as close. It reminds me of the tinkling of Santas Elves at the North pole, busy in the workshop. It evokes floating and breaking ice sheets on top of ocean waves. A fascinating journey. I can imagine the group receiving commissions for their unique work and finding a place in specialist sound design with moving image.