October 22, 2010

Thoughts : Jon Mueller, Olivia Block in performance

In the Internet world, it’s been an eternity since I saw the Olivia Block/Jon Mueller in-store performance at Chicago’s Saki Records. In fact, it’s only been since last Saturday (16 October 2010), and because of the remarkable convergence of several really exciting elements, I’m still excited about it as I write this tardy review.

Saki is a relatively new shop that has been hosting a great series of in-stores, drawing such diverse and respected Chicago artists as Ken Vandermark and Zelienople. The store itself, it must be said, is very tempting—the ratio of items on the shelf to things items I would buy is by far the highest in the city, and doesn’t limit itself to any particular niche. The selection of modern jazz and improv, indie rock, garage, and experimental is equally weighed, and Saki simply seems to have the best of everything. So wandering the aisles in between sets was the icing on the cake here.

Notice has been fortunate enough to be involved in Jon Mueller’s extraordinary recent phase of work, culminating in the recent Type release of “The Whole,” an album that captures many facets of his art in such a complete and lucid way that it simply has to be considered essential. As a loose companion release, Notice’s “Halves” cassette finds Mueller working with the tape elements of his recent performances to craft some intricate and powerful drones. Both of these documents play into his live shows, which find extraordinary tension between a long drum roll and cassette drones.

Many of the reviews of “The Whole” have been extremely positive, but they must be reviews of the CD version, because they exclude mention of the CD remix by Chicago sound artist Olivia Block that comes with the LP. Block is another musician who is capable of extraordinary complexity and depth, and on her 30-minute remix of “The Whole,” she reorganizes the raw sounds used in Mueller’s recordings to create a completely different kind of piece. Gone is Mueller’s driving percussive attack and vocal incantations, replaced with an ever-changing dronescape—subtly and distinctively textured, well-paced, and essential on its own.

Both were captivating at Saki. Block created an extraordinarily immersive sound environment using multiple small speaker pairs and at least one boombox in addition to the PA. Like fellow Chicagoans Haptic, she deftly blurred the line between industrial and organic textures, punctuating the soundscape with plucked notes on autoharp. Mueller’s unusually long set featured the physicality, precision, and simplicity of his craft that never fail to create a memorable experience. Although they performed separately, there was a sense that both solitary, exacting artists were somehow connected, with both employing rigorous technique and organic development in addition to precise preplanned structures. Here’s hoping that leads both of them onward as they move into their next phases.

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