TIM CATLIN : Radio Ghosts
23five011, Compact Disc
published in 2007
$12.98, plus shipping
The name Tim Catlin may not be terribly well known amongst the avant-guitarist circles; but his recorded output clearly stands amongst the best that Glenn Branca, Keith Rowe, and Jim O’Rourke have mustered from their six strings hard wired into the histories of electroacoustics, minimalism, and post-punk experimentation. Based out of Melbourne, Catlin is a guitarist who incessantly tinkers with the mechanics of his instrument, envisioning it as alternately as a mimetic sculptural object and a pure sound generator. Through his experiments with alternative tunings, atypical string gauges, and Rube Goldberg contraptions of interconnected motors, speakers, and radios, he seeks out the rasping textures of strings vibrating against each other, the acoustic phase patterns of two microtonally tuned strings, and the electrical purity of circuits feeding back upon themselves, essentially creating a polyglot drone symphony cast in smoldering monochrome.
Radio Ghosts arrives nearly five years after his debut album Slow Twitch and showcases Catlin’s unassuming expertise with the finer aspects of the mechanically prepared guitar. For all of its dynamic frequencies and crosshatched vibrations, Radio Ghosts is devoid of Marshall stacks, Sunn amps, and stomp boxes, as Catlin captures the acoustic phenomenon of the guitar’s transient vibrations and steers clear of any tricked out sonic demolition. Instead, Radio Ghosts focuses upon the minutiae of the guitar: wood, strings, and amplifier. Through his refined, tabletop guitar techniques, Catlin prefers to set his guitar in motion, allowing the process dictate the course of action with minor edits and sleights of hand from the composer himself. Catlin’s drone guitar work is simultaneously capable of expressionistic illusions (e.g. cicada choruses, industrial grind, uncanny ephemera from the radio waves, etc.) and a sonic transcendence of pure sonic introspection. Given that the final piece on Radio Ghosts replaces the guitar with a crash cymbal that Catlin agitates through similar processes, Catlin’s work shows that Organum does not have exclusivity on the bowed cymbal for creating epic, tactile sound fields.
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.
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
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
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
Issue 579, June 2007
...something similar we can say of Tim Catlin's Radio Ghosts. He's also from down there [Australia] and the only time his name popped in Vital Weekly (388) was when we discussed his Slow Twitch CD on Dr Jim's Records (which is really run by a doctor). Much water has passed under the bridge, and here is the second CD by Catlin (that we know of). Catlin plays his guitars by using objects to get resonating sounds out of the strings. Small motor devices such as ventilators and e-bows are placed in such a way that overtones occur. Glenn Branca used a real ensemble to create this, Remko Scha ropes and wires and Keith Rowe already the ventilator. What Catlin does is hardly to be called 'new', and the review of his previous CD ended with the suggestion that he should find new ways to create his music and not stick around with this, so perhaps it's a pity that he did stick around this sound. He could easily produce another ten or so of these kind of works, but it would be good to see some progression. Four or so years would be enough to get something moving, I'd say. But as such this CD is quite nice. The pieces he plays are done nice and executed with style and a keen ear for subtle changes. So in that aspect there is no let down. -- Frans de Waard
... 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
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
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
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
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