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Jon Mueller: "Physical Changes"

img  Tobias

Almost all trained Percussionists working in the realm of Sound Art have retained a sense of pulse in their work. Think of Jason Kahn's crisp microripples, the serene, subliminal movement of Günter Muller's steel pastures or the axial rotation of Alan Bloore's metal machine installations under the Pholde moniker. Just like them, Jon Mueller has used snares, bass drums and hihats as processable source materials, separating the metaphorical wheat from their primaeval thunder. Yet he has always remained a Drummer in the original sense of the word as well. Even though „Physical Changes“ marks the first step in an entirely new direction and has all the bearings of a „magnum opus“, you still think of him as the little boy alone in his room sometimes, terrifying the neighbours with his attempts at blastbeats and using his kit in the most fundamental function it was conceived for: Making a hellofalot of noise.

It doesn't really matter where you start your journey through this tryptich comprising a CD, an LP and a DVD featuring an audiovisual collaboration with director David Dinnell to find that out: Keeping a finger close to the volume control of your stereo is certainly a wise idea before pressing play,  for the safety of your hearing capacities alone. Considering the degree of craftmanship Mueller has displayed as a builder of subtle soundscapes over the course of his career, „Physical Changes“ comes across as extraordinarily raw and roughly-hewed, as either brutish or monolithic depending on your point of view. As though it has been recorded on the inside of an oversized bronze bell constantly struck by massive hammers, all colours are turned inside out here and a stoic protometal pattern ploughs through the tracks like a madman's idee fixe or a Drummer's dream of an infinite riff. Ominous, greyish sheets of harmonics and distorted shardes of ripped-apart powerchords hover on top of these palpatations like suffocating cirrostratus over the suspiciously peaceful black and white countryside in Dinnell's video – in as far as it aspires to the most radical outskirts of musical imagination, this is hardcore.

Conceptually, Mueller has hinged his work on two extremes of the scale, indicated by philosophically-flavoured track titles: „Nothing Changes“ on the one hand and „Things will not stay the way there are“ on the other. As if to prove their point, the correspondent compositions are marked by a continuous 36-minute industrial-folk beat on the one hand and a fine web of associations, variations, development and directional swings on the other. And while a percussion motive repeatedly tries to stab its way back through the fragile fabric of clicks and cuts of the middle section of „The only constant Thing is Change“, it always comes out appearing different, deformed, morphed and mutated. And then, of course, there are even more trivial expressions of the concept: With its tri-medial approach, „Physical Changes“ documents the gradual move from Vinyl as the main sound storage device  for music and towards formats like the CD and digital files. With its band line-up consisting of James Plotkin, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Marcus Schmickler, Dan Burke and Jim Schoenecker, it is also the logical next progression of a process which began with the Mueller/Kahn co-operation. And as a reworking of the „Metals“ album into a concert-piece, it furthermore illuminates the powerful potential of respectfully revising one's own music for different occasions.

There is more beyond the horizon of these interpretations, however, as the album reveals itself in layers and through minute listening. Seemingly repetitive Drum themes are containing delicate diversifications upon closer inspection and static drone sheets are intricately made up of different textures, slowly shifting and rubbing against each other. Passages which appeared to be marked by radical change turn out to be mere timbral processings of all but identical segments from a few seconds before – to this end, Mueller regularly makes use of the effective trick of running his drums through a high-band filter, from which they are spewn out as a vibrato-like whir. The idea of these exercises seems to be that while there can be no doubt about the notion that „Change is the only evidence of life“, we need to refine our terminology: There is ceaseless change in outwardly immobile states and unexpected continuity in turbulent galaxies of chaos.

For all of its hard-boiled ambitions and rare textures, however, „Physical Changes“ is surprisingly palatable and easy to digest. For most of its duration, it is a monumental and overwhelming affair, headbangingly energetic and spinetinglingly terrifying, rurally direct and challengingly sophisticated. Jon Mueller may be a Sound Artists with a particularly rarefied sense of the world, but he is still a Drummer at heart. Entertaining and emotionally thrilling listeners in the best possible of ways is still as important to him as spicing up their lives with demanding new sonic experiences.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Jon Mueller
Homepage: Radium Records/ Table of the Elements

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