Whorls – Tim Catlin and Machinefabriek. Low Point 2015 (LP)
Cyclic Defrost 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.
A Closer Listen Tim Catlin & Machinefabriek‘s third collaboration is also their first in four years. The gap in time is clearly responsible for a shift in sound. Whorls is as dynamic and exciting as Patina was soft and calm. When the latter was released in 2011, the label called it a work of “gentle nuance”. The new work is more an album of powerful contrast. The return to shorter works (the last album included two side-long halves) recalls the duo’s 2009 debut, Glisten, but that one was even quieter, content for the most part to luxuriate in the dust of sunbeams, save for the finale of “Haul”.
The compositional method is the only constant. First, Catlin records the initial sounds (guitar on Glisten, plus sitar on Patina, plus piano and zither on Whorls). Then Machinefabriek (Rutger Zuydervelt) moves the whole thing around and adds new layers (similar to his technique on the recently reviewed Sneeuwstorm).
This knowledge still doesn’t prepare the listener for what amounts to a Whitman box of sound. The opening track, “Sweep”, is just one drum beat away from being a dance track; and the clicking of “Sloth” might lend itself well to a remix. This isn’t new territory for Zuydervelt, but it’s new territory for this collaboration. Both artists have stepped up their game, Catlin by adding more instruments to his palette, and Machinefabriek by expanding the boundaries. By the time “Sweep” ends, it has gone through various stages of permutation, incorporating bowed string, deep bass and a heart monitor pulse. The pace may be sloth-like, but the harmonic chord struck at 2:10 is an alarm. This is not background music; the harshest tracks, “Chirn” and “Yowl”, offer moments of pure abrasion.
The more one listens, the more one thinks of the early days of Machinefabriek, which were dominated by a variety of CD3″ releases. One never knew what to expect from each release, and while the same holds true for Machinefabriek’s albums today, one seldom encounters such variety within an album. The closest corollary may be 2007’s Weleer, a collection of disparate tracks gathered under the same roof. “Volary” pings like sonar; “Flotsam” crashes like waves. This latter piece, one of the album’s best, includes moments of void within the cacophony: negative space in relief to the outer chaos.
“Nocturne” contains the sound of what may be church bells, surrounded by static. The pleasure is in the curiosity. By taking familiar sounds and cloaking them in the unfamiliar, Machinefabriek creates sonic mysteries. It would be interesting to learn if Catlin were still able to recognize his own samples in the wake of their treatments. Only on occasion does a contribution come through unscathed: the acoustic guitar of “Koan” is a curtain being drawn back, conjuring comparison to the opening lines of Yes’ “Roundabout”. What was progressive then is no longer progressive now; if anything, Whorls is the new progressive: sound molded until it no longer resembles its original shape.
Vital Weekly Oh boy. With all the times I spelled his name wrong (and I am deeply sorry, but I am sure it adds to my sloppy reputation), it’s impossible to find all the reviews I did of the music of Tim Catlin – right spelling. ‘Whorls’ is his third release with Rutger Zuydervelt, also known as Machinefabriek, and I reviewed the first one, ‘Glisten’ (Vital Weekly 706) but perhaps I didn’t review ‘Patina’, which was released in 2011. Catlin uses prepared guitars to which he attached machinery and have them played mechanically, but these days also extends that to a bowed piano, metals, vibrissa, zither and the cover mentions also acoustic synth guitar and avian guitar. A recording of this Catlin sends to Zuydervelt for ‘editing, processing and additional sounds’. What Zuydervelt doesn’t do is add a whole bunch of sound effects onto a single layer of sound and create a powerful drone, but in stead creates many layers of sound and plays around with them in a rather playful manner. One of the great things about this album is that there are no less than fourteen individual pieces. One could easily think this one of those ‘one track per side’ kind of things, but it’s not really. Zuydervelt creates rather short and to the point pieces, in what seems to be his current interest of doing this in a collage like style. There is lot of attention to detail and everything sings around, drops in and out, while some elements continue. Just as easily as you could say this is just two long pieces of collage(d) music perhaps. Unlike ‘Glisten’, which seemed a more ambient outing, this one has a more varied touch, even with dashes of mechanically organised rhythms, giving this a slightly pop-like tone, occasionally. This I thought is an excellent record. It’s highly varied, short and to the point, great small compositions, lots of different approaches and yet, it all makes sense as simply an excellent record. One of the best collaborative records I heard from Machinefabriek and no doubt thanks to a mighty varied input from Catlin.
David Brown and Tim Catlin – Sieve. Bocian 2013 (LP)
Daniel Spicer – The Wire In Rush’s 2112, a futuristic sci-fi potboiler of an album, the protagonist finds an ancient acoustic guitar and, miraculously, is able to start playing pristine folk rock almost straight away. Collaborating as Helium Clench, Melbourne musicians David Brown and Tim Catlin offer a more realistic vision of post-apocalyptic Improv in which the unearthed guitar comes with four strings and a bag of rusty springs, and is subjected to tentative fumblings. Actually, it’s sound that belies a great deal of patient skill, with Brown and Catlin manipulating an array of different guitars, small percussion and bowed objects to build a minutely detailed and convincingly integrated electroacoustic sound bed of elastic twangs, dry clanks and sarcophagal creaks.
Vital Weekly Here Catlin has a record with David Brown as Helium Clench and this is what you could call a duet for guitars. Many variations are listed on the cover, including, I guess, objects which are used to play them: (David Brown:) bandoura, bass guitar, bowed acoustic guitar, bowed objects, semi-acoustic guitar, child’s tenor guitar, chord organ, electric guitar, ukelin, guitar pedals, lawn bowls, mandolin, percussion, prepared acoustic guitar and rainstick (dog-trainer) (Tim Catlin:) acoustic guitar, bowed acoustic guitar, bowed electric guitar, bowed objects, electric guitar, fretless electric guitar, guitar pedals, percussion and prepared acoustic guitar. What can be noted is the extensive use of all things acoustic here. I imagine these guys sitting together, each with a guitar on their lap, all these objects and in the meantime playing some chords on the organ using their feet, or perhaps keys taped down. They are in search for microtonal qualities in their sound. Strangely coherent wandering through the field of improvised music, electro-acoustic sound collage and musique concrete composition. Not always as easily though, but a highly concentrated effort it is. Lots of scraping and less on the overtones, curious enough. A record that requires all your attention!
Patina – Tim Catlin and Machinefabriek. Low Point 2009 (White Vinyl LP)
The Liminal “So many words associated with the process of patination have such negative connotations: the act is a tarnishing, a corrosion, a corruption. Yet in certain circumstances, the formation of a patina is welcomed, sought after, even encouraged. Just down the road from where I sit right now, there are some new houses which have been there barely a couple of years, but their roofs are a bright green, copper having been used with the clear intention that it would oxidise this quickly. Likewise, new timber structures are designed to change in appearance prematurely, to silver, or to attract moss; as well as providing additional layers of protection, or even insulation, there is an implied message that the buildings are working with, as opposed to usurping, nature. But more than anything it is the age, or the desire to set the young in the context of the aged that is prized. Indeed, inside those homes, brand new furniture will have been made from reclaimed, pre-patinised, or even, to use another word which doesn’t sound like it should be a good thing, distressed materials.
And so it is with music too. The patina of vinyl crackle, and the repurposing of music’s past, have been the calling cards of the hauntological genre, a canon of records which very much put the geist back into the zeitgeist. ‘Patina’, the second release from the pairing of the Netherlands’ Rutger Zuyderfelt, aka Machinefabriek, and Tim Catlin from Australia, isn’t necessarily one that always feels like it belongs in that spectral body of work, but there is that same deliberate temporal disconnect, the joins between the new and the old being visible, the patina being welcomed, encouraged and facilitated. From the materials that were provided to him by Catlin, Zuydervelt has produced something that is at once novel and ancient: a modern piece which has that much sought-after sense of provenance.
You may have gathered that this is not one of Zuyderfelt’s improvised collaborations, such as the particularly productive one with clarinetist Gareth Davis (which has just yielded some more fruit in the Grower CD), but rather something approached from the perspective of architect or engineer. Catlin specified the materials, a collection of electric guitar and sitar recordings, which Zuyderfelt has patiently spliced together, adding historical features, and then aging the end result.
Though it is released by Low Point on (pretty white) vinyl only, much of the crackle that you will hear is the product of the design, rather than of the reproduction. The first side in fact begins with a looped section of hissing surface texture noise, into which creeps the slowly evolving drones of the source material. Catlin is a guitarist (much like his countryman Oren Ambarchi or, indeed, like Zuyderfelt himself) who is less interested with the conventional applications of his instrument than with its sonic possibilities. What the embellishments do is make you think of an alternative history for the guitar, one in which the more experimental urges of the pioneering likes of Les Paul were the ones that took root; you find yourself imagining what might have happened if, for example, Hendrix hadn’t died before getting his hands on an e-bow. This desire to connect to (or rather, to show a disconnect from) music’s linear history asserts itself most strongly when a ghostly choir emerges from amidst the static, a classical music LP being mined for its nostalgic mood much as Philip Jeck would do, before it is supplanted once more by more contemporary-sounding ebbing and flowing tones.
The warm and natural sounding drones of the second side, in which the pulsations of Catlin’s guitar take on the character of a field of crickets on a balmy evening, are increasingly sand-blasted, the surface becoming pock-marked, the underlying detail indistinct. After a section of echoing, panning rhythm (the uncanniest of all dub revivals, in a sense), it closes with a hazy fragment of improvisatory guitar, spinning and fading like the last dying notes of a mechanical music box, or like a distantly-remembered tune evaporating from memory. And that last layer, the one that is formed in the mind of the listener, is perhaps the most important patina of all. It is those positive connotations of that word you’ll be left with, of that sense of reinforcement, and of just how powerful those juxtapositions of past and present can be.
Fluid Radio ‘Patina’ comes via influential Nottingham label Low Point and features Australian sound artist Tim Catlin, along with the prolific Rotterdam based Rutger Zuydervelt, appearing here under his Machinefabriek moniker…When embarking upon the recording process for Patina, Caitlin and Zuydervelt continued the method practiced on their previous work, Glisten, Catlin beginning with electric sitar and guitar, exploring an array of techniques and approaches in order to capture his wanted sound. This raw material was then forwarded to Zuydervelt, who added his own ideas, overdubs and sequencing along the way. The result of these efforts is two pieces around eighteen and fifteen minutes respectively, containing a number of subtle movements which bleed into each other and explore an expansive sonic territory.
Side A opens with gentle ambient loops which are stylistically quite similar to Machinefabriek in tone and are marred by glitches and static, with short bursts of noise throughout. As the minutes pass however, Catlin’s influence makes itself known, at first almost imperceptibly but with increasing frequency, in particular when the chiming tones which presumably originate from treated electric sitar appear. The remainder of Side A is driven forward by harsher sounds, which hit apex towards the final minutes and drop into delicate chiming melodies to see out the piece.
Side B begins slowly and opens up over some minutes with long drones, the music here more challenging and abstract than on the previous side. As the music progresses with carefully sculpted noise, a beat of distinct timbre is improvised, lending a strong rhythm which punctuates the noise. The final moments of Patina are dominated by casual melodic wanderings which though feel almost an afterthought, are a fitting close to the album.
Patina is an intelligent and engrossing work which imparts a feeling of being composed with care, rather than the product of improvised jamming. Both sides of Patina are accessible and amongst the subtle ambience and experimental tones there is a wealth of melody and sound for the listener to get lost within. Fans of Catlin and Zuydervelt’s past work as individuals or collaborators will enjoy Patina and it is another strong work for both artists’ catalogue.
Glisten – Tim Catlin and Machinefabriek. Low Point 2009 (CD)
Boomkat Album of the Week 13/11/09. “Enjoying a quiet year by his standards, Rutger Zuydervelt finds a new sparring partner on this album: Australian guitarist Tim Catlin. It would seem that this collaboration came about largely by accident, Zuydervelt stumbling upon Catlin’s work whilst researching prepared guitar techniques. Once the two musicians established contact, Catlin set about a number of initial recordings that were then sent the way of Zuydervelt for overdubs, final editing and sequencing. The final product differs markedly from the main thread of Machinefabriek’s catalogue, detaching from its conventionally process-heavy sonic language, and instead leaving the instrumental source very much at the heart of each composition. The shorter track times also means that Zuydervelt doesn’t fall into the kind of structural conformities that characterises his longer pieces, and these tracks feel free of the pressures of narrative sculpting, left instead to get on with the business of… well, just sounding lovely. The music is at its most successful when avoiding drone-style material, and pieces such as ‘Strain’, ‘Arpeggio’, ‘Ghostbox’ and ‘Flutter’ all do well to avoid what could easily have turned out to be a torrent of steely sustains, but the strongest works are probably ‘Skip’, ‘Glisten 1’ and ‘Glisten 2’, which exude a huge amount of warmth whilst retaining the strongly physical qualities of the guitar strings. Highly recommended.”
Cyclic Defrost. Glisten is the first collaboration between Melbourne guitarist and sound artist Tim Catlin and prolific Dutch producer Rutger Zuydervelt. Apparently Catlin recorded the pieces at home in Australia and then sent them off to Zuydervelt for more processing and overdubs, and it’s resulted in an album that is a really interesting fusion, quite different than either have previously produced. That said on certain pieces like the opener Strain or even the later Glisten 1 you can hear Catlin’s stately drones as the bed of these ambient works. Catlin prepares his guitar with all manner of imaginative implements, often playing with a e-bow or small fan, then processes these sounds. The other night improvising live at the Make It Up Club he was rubbing a giant comb across the body of the guitar, making it sound like frogs. However there’s nothing as disordered on display here, where he’s creating these gorgeous experimental drones, closer to the work on his previous Radio Ghosts (23Five). Though he also plucks and plays notes in a picking style, offering a quite diverse range of techniques. What sounds and textures Zuydervelt is bringing to the work is a little less defined or identifiable, though there are these moments of processed electronics that seem suspiciously like his handiwork. Due to its subtlety and lack of bluster (aside from the final third of Haul in which the sound builds into white noise) the peace of Glisten serves to lower the heart rate and also train the ears to operate on a micro level, to appreciate even the smallest gesture. It’s an incredibly still work of understated beauty, the layers of sound coming across in slow gentle carefully controlled waves, demonstrating the experimental can also be both elegant and restrained.
Tokafi As obviously appealing as the machinefabriek/Broderick-line-up may be, it is possibly „Glisten“, which shows Zuydervelt’s aptitude at arranging most clearly. For this, another co-operative work, after all, he was initially sent no more than a couple of Guitar-recordings revolving around various instrumental techniques by Australian artist Tim Catlin. Remarkably, there doesn’t seem to have been any clear-cut separation between editing the material and shaping the album here: All nine pieces are of stringent minimalism, focusing with mantric sharpness on a single idea and never following it for longer than its natural conclusion. At the same time, it is this almost obsessive concentration which binds these outwardly unconnected scenes into a silent vortex of frightful gravitational power. Like a stumbling sleepwalker driven by shamanic visions, the album progresses from one neon-lit sound episode to the next and with each step, the intensity of the work increases to a point where madness and utter excitement can no longer be separated. In a way, none of these sequences ever really goes anywhere, a sensation underlined by a quartet of shorter tracks taking the album from its middle to final installment „Glisten 2“. Instead, the music rests in the moment in a succession of surreal scenes. The eery, unreal feeling conveyed by the majority of the material only serves to emphasise the occasional moments of pure and undilluted beauty seldomly consisting of more than a few glassy Guitar-arpeggios and a deep, sonorous Bass-swell or a warmly radiating field of harmonics. At a mere 35 minutes this is a concise effort, but that takes nothing away from its haunting and unsettling impact and its addictive qualities – which, in itself, must be considered a compliment of the highest order in relation to an album of such determinedly uncompromising intensity.
Vital Weekly 706 It was through the 23Five release of ‘Radio Ghosts’ by Tim Catlin that Rutger Zuydervelt learned about his mechanically prepared guitars. This led to this somewhat one way collaboration: Caitlin sent some of his prepared guitar sounds to Rutger who then added some extra sounds and ‘overdubs’ and finished it off as a release. There are nine pieces to be found here, all of them not too long and each seems to find a place of its own. Both Catlin and Zuydervelt have a liking for the more ambient kind of music and all things guitar, so it naturally falls in that particular kind of era. Perhaps its the extended techniques applied by Catlin that make this into a rather varied album of textured mood music. In ‘Haul’ things suddenly swell above the average level of ambient and marks a distinct point of difference of the album. Throughout however elegance prevails here. Its not that distinctively new and different Machinefabriek record that some people may want, but just another fine excursion in the land of six strings – well twelve here. (FdW)
Earlabs Rutger Zuydervelt, the Dutch (over)productive musician better known as Machinefabriek; for a while I didn’t really follow his new releases but now I got the cd Glisten that he made with Australian guitar player Tim Catlin. Machinefabriek is most known for his drone based ambient music usually with guitar as main ingredient, while Tim Catlin is known for his prepared guitar pieces. Because of this the approach the two musicians took is not completely unexpected. Tim Catlin recorded tracks at home of his prepared guitars and customized and abused effects, but also some of more traditional picking style parts were included. Zuydervelt on his part worked with these recordings by adding extra sounds, doing overdubs and all the other magic he usually does to create his things. The result is presented on Glisten as 9 tracks.
For this work you do not have to expect the usual drone noodles, on the contrary Catlin provided some melodic pieces which bring a lively feeling to the music. Though, on the other hand we also find abstract pieces where the focus is more on sound crafting than song writing. Still, though even while there are these different pieces you can recognize the finger print of Zuydervelt. It might not be the drone based works, but clearly the structures and sound colour does not differ much from his other work. Personally I think this is a shame, not because it is bad (because it isn’t) but it would have been nice to see a bigger influence of Tim Catlin’s own sound. Overall Glisten is a nice release and if you missed out on a lot of the other releases Machinefabriek was involved with it sure is a nice addition to the collection, though if you do have dozens of his releases this is not really an needed addition.
Tim Catlin and Jon Mueller – Plates and Wires. Crouton 2007
Limited edition – 10×10″ Cover by Milwaukee painter Thomas Kovacich. First 50 came with unique intaglio artwork.
Dusted Magazine “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.” – Seth Watter
Aquarius Records “When Catlin and Mueller begin to generate their quiet fluctuations of sustained harmonics and constantly abraded textures, their sounds enjoy an organic intimacy. Each droning sound emerges out of an ambient co-habitation and cross-contamination of psychoacoustic manipulation, resulting from very little (if any) digital tricks.” – Aquarius Records
The Wire August 2007 “Catlin explores similar territory on Plates and Wires, his collaboration with Crouton label founder Jon Mueller, whose approach to percussion sits comfortably alongside Catlin’s dronology. Indeed, “sitting alongside” is the feel of these duo recordings: sounds don’t intersect so much as trace parallel lines within their chosen field. Incremental exposition and slow fades to black are the order of the day, though Plates and Wires is most engaging when Catlin augments his guitar with mechanical contraptions like a low-tech Remko Scha, whose Machine Guitars could be one of Catlin’s lesser acknowledged influences. In a similar manner, “Black Magnet” on Radio Ghosts treats the guitar as a willing subject for what’s probably a particularly energetic hand-held fan.” – Jon Dale
Lost at Sea Magazine “If the quality of its artwork and packaging determined the quality of a music release, Plates and Wires might be one of the most intriguing albums ever. Handsomely clad, the record doesn’t really bounce off like a brilliantly cut diamond though; based on its sounds, it is something much more complex, and less obvious in its impressiveness. Nonetheless, Tim Catlin and Jon Mueller’s Plates and Wires is a fine collection of sounds and further proof that the Crouton imprint, run by Mueller, is generally overlooked. Through both its visual and aural elements Plates and Wires is centered around a theme of organics and a sonic grittiness. The packaging design is unique: a matted, painted print of grayish/blue and yellow wood. The back of the black matte cardboard is a white, note-type list (instrument attribution, album information, plus a ___ /300 series mark) that handles like a 10-inch record, but when I first got my hands on it I couldn’t find a side that would open to reveal any vinyl. After removing the liner sheet, an artistic and ingenious plastic jacket can be found holding the compact disc. As much of a departure from the norm as the outside is, there really is no conventional “music” to talk about inside Plates and Wires either. Those who are encouraged by the description of Tim Catlin as an Australian guitarist and Jon Mueller as a percussionist and former member of Pele, who would pre-compose an idea predicated solely on those basic chunks of information, will soon be thrown from the unbridled pony of their expectations. Through five tracks – all of which are over six minutes long – experimentation and sound texture are the focal points here, more akin to Mueller’s other work in Collections of Colonies of Bees or one of his many solo projects than to Pele. One could also consider it similar to the clanging, abrasive noises on Don Caballero’s II, when Damon Che saws a cymbal in half during the course of the song, many compositions of Plates and Wires are hinged on the sounds of metallic materials, singing in resonance and vibrating off of each other. Some tracks are unbearable in that dog-whistle pitch respect, others are interesting experiments between man and material. At worst this is a multi-faceted project that gets filed deep under art that doesn’t meet your taste palette. At best, Plates and Wires challenges more than just a sense of hearing, filed under art that is all the more interesting. Either way you take it, it is pretty fucking cool.” – Josh Zanger
Tim Catlin – Radio Ghosts 23Five 2007 (CD)
Musicworks #104, Summer 2009 “Australian Tim Catlin’s Radio Ghosts delivers six beautiful drone pieces from the sonic beyond, creating beautiful static walls of sound with intricate detail and a patient, unfolding logic. Created from the sounds of prepared guitars, one cymbal and a radio, each track is a beautifully focused exploration of the power of the drone.
Ghosts is an appropriate metaphor, as it is often hard to distinguish the hand of the maker in these pieces, as if these standing waves arrived fully formed. This is especially true of the first two tracks, which remarkably were made using only acoustic guitar. The purity of the sound obscures any noticeable intervention, unlike the cymbal-and-electric guitar pieces where you can hear the mallet and plectrum at work. It is as if the strings were able to resonate on their own, vibrating in a perfect key.
Equally beautiful is the fourth track, created with a radio and guitar. The interference on the radio creates siren calls (in both senses of the word) that slowly dissolve into an ambient drone. Throughout the album, the sounds hang like mist, most noticeably in the final track, “Mirage”, which utilizes a crash cymbal in the subtlest of ways. However the sounds were created, the resulting work allows for some very deep listening as the resonant frequencies slowly wash over each other, creating a feeling of timeless weightlessness over the course of each meticulously detailed shimmer.” – Chris Kennedy
The Wire August 2007 “Australian guitarist Tim Catlin is particularly graceful in his approach. Radio Ghosts is his second solo album and the drone is writ large through both releases. There’s nothing perfunctory about Catlin’s compositions however, which are as rich and alive as comparable recordings from Andrew Chalk or Organum. He has a rather painterly take on the tabletop guitar, extrapolating from Keith Rowe’s application of the values of abstract expressionism to the instrument. Catlin trades literal development for lateral accumulation, with the drone as structural bedrock for all sorts of sidereal detail. “Mirage” closes by applying the same techniques to cymbal, which implies the “action” of agitation is just as important in his work as the instrument itself.” – Jon Dale
Cyclic Defrost Issue 17, April 2007 “There’s a profound stillness to the second album from Melbourne musician and tabletop guitarist Tim Catlin. Predominantly utilizing treated guitars, both electric and acoustic, Catlin crafts these amazing drones that consist of a certain crisp textural quality, drones that seem incredibly thin, simple and stately, with a lot of carefully considered modulating activity. This is the polar opposite of your warm woolly feedback drones in which modulations and rhythms collide haphazardly around. The work here is filled with intent, almost scientifically so. Development comes slowly, almost imperceptibly, many of the pieces feel like you’re trapped in stasis, before you realize that something hidden low in the mix has gradually began to assert itself. The pieces are highly treated, whether by guitar effects or postproduction, with Catlin making no attempts to hide this fact, actually listing the instruments that he used at a basis for each piece. It’s not until the third piece “Black Magnet” however, where he first utilizes electric guitar that we receive a familiar sounding instrument with some cascading fluttering. Even here it’s quite sparse work, with no accompaniment, just developing patterns to uncover new resonant frequencies. The title track, another gentle piece with a strange looped sound that later seems to reveal itself as a drill on the strings, is interspersed with radio static and an incredibly dense warm drone that evolves into something that closely resembles throat singing. It’s these subtle carefully controlled evolutions that are the rewards of Radio Ghosts, Catlin’s ability to shift the listeners perception without them even realizing that it is occurring. It’s such a lulling experience that when he adopts approaches that appear noisier and less controlled, relying more on subtle feedback from a bowed cymbal on Everything must go, that the effect is infinitely more jarring. Perhaps he realizes this as the outro to said piece is the most relaxing drifting piece of ambient music on the album. Radio Ghosts is an experimental work where nothing feels out of place whilst its minimal approach to tools, exploring elements of the guitar, strings and wood might be alienating for some, it has a cumulative effect of leaving the listener sated with a feeling of purity, balance and stillness. — Bob Baker Fish
Postscript – After seeing this review, Tim Catlin kindly informed me that he doesn’t use electronic processing, so every mention about post production should be scrapped. How he was able to achieve such an incredible sound utilising acoustic guitars (on the first two tracks) is beyond this writers comprehension. He suggested it was via overdubs and EQing, and did admit to using an e-bow. That said the absence of this kind of processing raises his achievements to a whole new level, and makes this writer vow to read the press release in the future.”
The Sound Projector Winter 2007 / 2008 “Last noted in these pages with his excellent 2003 recording, Slow Twitch, a title which accurately describes Catlin’s working methods (twitchy) and the overall pace of his work (slow). Pouring ouf fhis music like golden syrup, this Melbourne-based fellow is equally at home in the worlds of improv, composition, and gallery art; and he is a significant name on the Australian avant scene, having played with US minimalist big-fish Niblock, and is known to build his own mechanical resonating devices to stimulate the strings of his guitars in naughty ways. As a result, he usually comes up with rich and fascinating drone pieces. More of them are on this CD; two of them “Hysterisis” and “Zumbido” were realised using an acoustic guitar, and “Mirage” using a crash cymbal; the rest were done with electric guitars. While the opening cuts are rich with buzzing interest, they’re just too process-based for me, and there isn’t enough human interaction in that process (one gets the feeling that he could have just turned on a device and left the room). We enter more interesting areas with “Black Magnet,” the first electric guitar piece. Here, it feels like someone is actually playing something (though this could be an illusion), and the jangly dynamics of a very sporting right hand make this an exceeingly pleasant six minutes, like hearing the guitar solo to “Eight Miles High” spun out to excessive length. “Everything Must Go,” another electric guitar episode, is spread thickly with further room-filling monolithic shapes (very Niblock-esque, this), while occasional scrapes and key-jangling on the strings prevent the listener from falling asleep out of tonal boredom. “Mirage,” the cymbal piece, gives the impression that a small motorized object has been left to patter against the metallic surface of that percussive component for 12 minutes; leave it on if you like watching gaseous clouds billow forth. The title track, which uses a radio alongside an electric guitar, creates a stir in my lower depths. While one could glibly make comparisons to the radio capers of Keith Rowe, or the estimable Radio Guitar CD by Peggy Awesh and Barbara Ess, this time Catlin strikes gold in his own unique way. Here’s a guitar sound worth getting out of bed in the morning for; it could have been dug up from the bottom of cathedral crypt, it reeks that much of mustiness and ancient. The radio elements, which only infect the first half of the performance, are gentle and surreal; they pass on the sensation of dream-like flight to planet Venus, as the listener grows white swan’s wings and floats with the grace of a weightless dragonfly.” — Ed Pinsent
Paris Transatlantic June 2007 “Audio stasis is a wonderful condition, especially when it can be created through the use of ever so slight variation and tonal phasing. Here, Melbourne guitar improviser Tim Catlin delivers a series of measured drone works that resolve many of the issues he’s investigated in his recent live performances. Split effectively into three sections – works involving acoustic guitar, electric guitar and also, interestingly, cymbal – Catlin tends his instruments with a smoothness, ensuring their vibration is, for the most part, kept at a suitable level. Without question, it’s the tentative stasis on Radio Ghosts that is the album’s supreme asset, a sense of uncertainty resulting from Catlin’s tendency to alternate between withdrawing from and developing his ideas, refocusing the sound palette and ensuring that at no one point does the listener become complacent. Nowhere is this stealthy transformation more apparent than on “Everything Must Go”, which finds Catlin exploring a series of ill-fated high ringing tones that eventually deconstruct to reveal the slowly modulating E-Bow underbelly. “Mirage”, with its constantly emerging bowed tones and motors gently pounding the surface of the cymbal, is a fine closing thought for the record, a summary of sorts, crystallising these six exercises in tonal variation and gradual transformation. — Lawrence English”
Bagatellen May 2007 “The circlet of intertwined steel strings on the front cover of Tim Catlin’s new disc is an apt illustration of the guitar-generated dronage found within. How much affinity the listener will find with the music depends a bit on how satisfied s/he is with just the drones since, by and large, that’s how things are presented here. There’s a certain amount of fascination to be found with the sounds themselves. On the first two cuts, Catlin employs only an acoustic guitar, presumably enhancing its output with vibrating devices of some sort resulting in tamboura-like, jangly drones with back layers of smoother hums. The texture, grainy and bumpy, is the main attraction because, simply put, that’s all there is, the variation between elements of less interest than the overall “feel”. Personally, I found these tracks lacking enough richness to really maintain interest, though I can easily imagine others happily lolling in the mesh. The emergence of the electric guitar on tracks 3-5 comes as a bracing tonic, a clarity of intent that’s quite attractive. Its ringing tones immediately recall Branca’s “The Spectacular Commodity” from his The Ascension. While the essential strategy appears virtually unchanged, the mere sonics of the piece, for this listener, create an engaging, vibrant ambience, more so than in the prior two pieces. The title cut includes abstract radio usage, further enhancing and variegating the drone. Catlin ends the disc effectively with a work for crash cymbal, again a steady-state construction that might remind some of Jason Kahn’s investigations of tangential areas. In the end, it all depends on one’s capacity for simply wallowing in the drones. If that’s your notion of a well-spent afternoon (as it occasionally is for me), Radio Ghosts is for you.” — Brian Olewnick
ei-mag July 2007 “… without discarding this imbalance entirely, Radio Ghosts puts more of an emphasis on its cultivation. The album as a whole is superbly measured, yet its changes ring true. Catlin places motor devices such as ebow and ventilators on the strings of his acoustic guitar so that a vast resonant hum emanates from the instrument. These slow-moving, spacious drones, far from coaxing one into complacency, twine the aura with the non-homogenous: metallic percussion, low-end sublimities and jittery high frequency tones all allow the ambience to open up, grow in complexity, and reveal its polychromatic dimension. Although the terms of its development are easily discernible, given that Catlin replays them time and again throughout the album, it’s nevertheless refined in its management and ultimate collusion with the objects at hand.” — Max Schaefer
Signal To Noise Issue 47, Fall 2007 “Keith Rowe names his recent quartet “Four Gentlemen of the Guitar” because, although not all members were playing guitar in the usual sense, all of their playing was related to the instrument. It’s a nice way to think of the sort of minimal guitar abstraction of which Rowe is the granddaddy and in which Australian Tim Catlin indulges as well. It’s a curious mix of acoustic sounds with electronic textures. At times, it’s unabashedly guitary, other times resonantly mechanical, and in parts purely alien. Catlin tends to separate these parts, doling out different sound ideals in segments. His solo record features six tracks — two performed on acoustic guitar, three on electric, and the last played solely on crash cymbal. As such, it’s more a considered listen — one doesn’t get lost in an hour-long soundworld but instead concentrates on the guitarist’s approaches, artistic if not physical. And while the division into shorter (under 10 minute) tracks invites comparison more than a single extended piece would, it’s of no consequence. Overall, it’s an inviting, even warm, record.” — Kurt Gottschalk
Ruis Magazine September 2007 “De prijs voor de mooiste hoes in de reeks gaat naar Tim Catlin’s Radio Ghosts. Wat enkele simpele en arty foto’s toch niet kunnen teweegbrengen bij ons. Catlin woont in Melbourne en neemt zijn gitaarspel op zonder de gitaar aan te raken. Nu en dan tokkelt hij wel eens op een snaar, maar bij Catlin draait alles rond de mechanically prepared guitar: hij neemt de triviale details op van een gitaar in beweging. Catlin verbaasd ons met zijn rijke drones, simpelweg ontstaan door zorgvuldig en weloverwogen minimale gitaarmodulaties.” — Dave Driesman
Jazzthetik September 2007 “Oder auch die des Melbourner Gittarristen Tim Catlin, der auf Radio Ghostsdie Vibrationen seines instruments auslotet. Und Die haben Sowohl Abgründe, aber auch Spitzen, die Catlin in einen spürbaren Zustand überträgt. Von Anschlagen oder Spielen kann dabei nicht dei Rede sein, veilmehr versetzt er alles in Schingungn, die zu unglaublischen Interferenzen führen. Über mehrere Minuten hält Catlin wie in der Minimal Music dei Stücke in der Schwebe und lässt das Ganze wie ganz langsame Wellen anspülen unde abebben. Kaum zu glauben, dass er sich dabei wirklich auf die Mittel Holz, Saiten und Verstärker berschränkt und den Prozess nicht editiert hat. Dass er auch andere Instrumente in diesen Zustand versetzen kann, beweist er mit dem letzten Stück, “Mirage,” wenn er ein Beckn ins permanente Vibrieren bringt. Großartig.” — Klaus Smit
Touching Extremes July 2007 “After Catlin’s first CD – 2003’s Slow Twitch on Dr. Jim – four years have passed before Radio Ghosts, a collection of six pieces – two for acoustic guitar, three for electric guitar and one for crash cymbal. It’s an intriguing assortment, in which Catlin shows his ability in setting guitar strings in continuous motion, thus creating systems that highlight the impact between an oscillating emotional response and the sheer mechanical experiment. Staying away from manual interventions as much as he can, the Australian is one of those artists who seems to prefer the observation of an unfolding process, with just a modicum of changes over the course of the pieces. Motorized preparations and alternative tunings contribute to the creation of tapestries that exploit the clash of the adjacent upper partials while maintaining a sort of inner consonance, the only exception being the cymbal-based track “Mirage”, which throws its most potent rays of unfathomable environmental symbiosis with a higher degree of controlled violence. The title track adds a radiophonic presence to the existing soundscape, determining phenomena of imaginary voices accompanying a mantric graduality. All things considered, Catlin’s music is quite different from that produced by the names quoted in the press release – Branca, Rowe, O’Rourke, Organum – as its remote morphology is perceivable deep within its most obscure sections, in contrast with the oppressive rumbles and deformations reminding us what Greek composer Dimitri Voudouris wrote: “Consciousness itself is a vibration pattern.” — Massimo Ricci
IndiePopRock.net “Zzzrrzzzhh : c’est à peu prês tout ce qu’on entend sur la première plage de l’album. Un feedback long de sept minutes trente neuf secondes, ça fait parfois un bon morceau ambiant et expérimental, mais on ne cachera pas notre ennui lors de l’écoute de Hysterisis. Et après cette entrée en matière on caresse l’idée d’entendre un fragment de mélodie auquel se raccrocher. Peine perdue, on entendra juste un Rzzzrrzhh sur le deuxième morceau de dix minutes, Zumbido. Avant la fin de ce dernier, on sera passé à la plage suivante, Black Magnet, où l’on commence à retrouver un peu de musique. Ambiant et atmosphérique, ce morceau est le seul vraiment audible de tout l’album, composé à partir de guitares électriques, acoustique et d’une cymbale. Au final il faut bien avouer que l’on s’emmerde pas mal à l’écoute de ce “Radio Ghosts”. — Mathieu Gandin
Tim Catlin – Slow Twitch Dr Jims 2003 (CD)
The Wire September 2003 “Tim Catlin’s Slow Twitch initially suggests misaligned machines, their rattling bolts struggling to hold everything together while the torque of the engines slowly unscrews itself to its own demise. However, this Australian sound artist has realised an impressive trompe l’oreille charming an arsenal of prepared guitars to mimic the environmental clatter of an archaic air compressor or a grizzled refrigeration unit or whatever obnoxious machine came to hand that never quite works. Fans, e-bows and customised automatons keep his guitar strings in constant motion, building dense layers of rapidfire clinkings and glistening magnetic disturbances. Slow Twitch resonates with the conceptual self-propulsion of Paul Panhuysen’s robotic guitar ensembles, blurring lines between metal machine music and holy minalism.” Jim Haynes
Aquarius Records “Tim Catlin has made maybe the greatest experimental guitar album you’re least likely to hear. Slow Twitch, released on the under-represented Australian label Dr. Jim’s. If you’ve bought a Christian Fennesz, Oren Amarchi, Birchville Cat Motel, or Sunroof album you owe it to yourself to pick up Tim Catlin’s Slow Twitch. It’s really that good. Slow Twitch is not another Max/MSP demonstration of deconstructed guitar samples, nor is it a improvised wall of sound from blistered amplifiers struggling to keep up with high voltage attacks; rather Catlin constructs very low-tech systems of fans, e-bows, and other mechanical devices that keep the guitar strings moving. These experiments are then immaculately recorded with little to no post-production, probably just a couple of edits, snips, and crossfades. In the end, Catlin’s automatically propelled guitars resemble the resonant frequencies that Jean-Francoise Laporte coaxed out of a bunch of air compressors (or perhaps a Zamboni) on his stellar Mantra disc. Rasping striations of metal vibrating against metal form complex drone harmonics that double and triple throughout the spectrum, with placid low end rumblings sympathetically resonating with angelic shimmerings. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.”
Improjazz “Although the CD cover tells us Catlin plays electronic and acoustic guitar, no subsequent sound gives any hint of this. The first of the four tracks resonates with blistering industrial tones that Catlin, in the manner of a sculptor, has hollowed out, pared down or embellished. The musician’s craft focussed on the act of producing the sound itself. The second track is both dense and ethereal, recalling the strident energy of an electric guitar with layer upon layer of sound. The music’s precision derives from a complete lack of pretence, the process reaching its logical conclusion in an unforced manner. The third track is quite short, consisting of rhythmic, low-end vibrations, resembling incantations. The fourth piece by contrast, is long and rich in variation, giving the impression of intermittent streams of light. According to the information on the cover, Catlin uses small, low-tech mechanical devices to produce his guitar sounds. In my opinion, his greatest achievement is that this process cannot be heard; instead we hear the sound of the mechanical devices themselves. In the same way, in the early 20th Century, musicians attempted to include the sounds of the modern world in their compositions. Catlin transforms music using mechanical devices just as mechanical devices once transformed the world. From the perspective of our electronic age, this throwback to electricity and mechanics is a reflection, a retrospective and yet a dramatic leap into the future. Minimalist yet highly enticing.” Noel Tachet
RealTime Arts Earbash “Slow twitch: an expansion of an impulsive, reflexive and instantaneous gesture. The title is a poetic description of the dynamic energy freeze-framed on Tim Catlin’s latest release. Imagine hitting pause half-way though King Crimson’s Red. Rather than all going dead, your CD player waiting for the cue to resume, you are left with Robert Fripp’s last chord sustained indefinitely until you decide to resume play. Visually, we experience these ruptures of temporality every time we take a photo or pause a video. The transient nature of sonic energy makes such an effect impossible, but listening to Slow Twitch is suggestive of this hypothetical experience. Catlin has taken the shimmering ephemeral nature of the guitar’s indefinite identity and exploded it into a fine mist. The guitar is not a solid entity, its location in the mix no longer governed by a common understanding of how the elements of rock fit together. Free of such constraints, the sound is allowed to evolve and mutate, pulsate, rattle, hum, buzz, crackle, breathe, and resonate of its own accord. Using simple low-tech automatons, fans and e-bows, mechanical devices to keep the strings moving, Catlin has refined a system where the energy and harmonic complexity of the electric guitar is allowed to develop without the self-importance of the virtuoso performer, the epic narrative, or a formulaic mix schematic. Not concerned with preserving the instrumental identity of the guitar (a tenuous prospect given the past 50 years of rock & pop production), he has detached it from such narrow definitions to discover unknown sound-worlds only ever faintly alluded to in rock music. Furthermore, the extension of the instrument through mechanical preparations (rather than computer processing), has produced complex acoustic phenomena in the unpredictable interactions between machine and instrument. The result is an incredibly rich acoustic soundscape, within which one may forget the origin of the sounds and marvel at their foreign beauty.” Phillip Pietruschka