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. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 6 April