Grounded in the physical sensations of pulse and rhythm, composer/percussionist Jon Mueller’ latest work nonetheless uses layers of almost-chaos to find ways into the realization of shifting states and subtle presences. Mueller has indicated that Shaker crafts — and, perhaps, the hands-on connections with form and simplicity manifested by Shaker artisans in the objects they made — were a major influence on this music. And indeed, one can hear folk-art resonances in the simplicity and shimmering mystery of the hammered dulcimer patterns of The Whole‘s opening section, “Remembered As.”
But soon, everything changes. On the next section, “Hearts,” Mueller’s stripped-down drum pulses and overlapping layers of chaotically staggered vocal chant create an almost frightening ecstasis. Intensity and density act here as the harbingers of a new horizon: the simple patterns and sonic gestures — seeming to be intensely physical in the way they come from drum and voice — bloom and grow in a chaotic, but nonetheless organic accretion of ever-moving forms and not-quite-graspable structures and formations.
A more ordered intensity is obtained on “Hands,” with perfectly essayed snare and tom patterns serving as the ground for a minimalist and spacious study in repetition and change; in dynamics, distance and sound-field saturation.
The finale, entitled “Remembered,” brings a stunning — and perhaps uneasy — sense of calm. Again, the hammered dulcimer suggests centered-ness and contemplation, but some percussive power from the two previous sections remains. Little shards of pulse and resonant bell-tones are scattered throughout the dove-tailed lines unfolding within the large and resonant space. It’s a strange and lovely conclusion, and one that seems to gain all the more strength and substance from the journey taken to reach it.