Review: The Overtone Ensemble – S/T

imprec441Tim Catlin’s Overtone Ensemble (completed here by Atticus Bastow, Philip Brophy and David Brown) centres on his self-made instrument called a “Vibrassa”: an array of vertical aluminium rods, all set to a different microtonal tuning, which emit pristine sustained tones when stroked by hand. They gleam fiercely like stars, confined to shrill pitches that beautifully evoke the slender and exact aluminium objects that instigated them, while paradoxically feeling shapeless and devoid of point of origin. The clarity of those tones is a crucial component. I’m able to witness the impression of those microtonal intersections as several rods are played at similar pitches – the tones quiver anxiously as though protesting the invasion of tonal purity, generating buzzes and circulating whistles as they grind against eachother. What starts out as a vivid chorus of two or three tones soon becomes a restless junction of collision and consequence: a lightshow of instrumental sound and the strange compounds of acoustic reaction, with different pitches blazing and dimming in ballets of chaotic vibratory phenomena.

Other instruments are invited to interact with the Vibrassa’s sculptures of high frequency. The warm hums of singing bowl swim through the channel of air that lies just beneath, creating their own swirling images of overtone and blurred resonance. The tumultuous opening of “Eskiphones” sounds like a waterfall of liquid metal, shimmering with shades of bronze and steel as it descends, erupting into clouds of bells and chimes at the bottom. It’s like a gigantic watercolour painting, in which each colour is a blotchy composite of other colours, half-blends and intimate merges of contrast. The detail to be observed within Overtone Ensemble is limitless. In order to hear it all, I have to constantly adjust the focal point of my listening, swimming through the sea of frequency at different depths and in different frames of mind (intense concentration, meditative acceptance…). There’s something exciting about the fact that I’ll never comprehend Overtone Ensemble in its entirety, which is only heightened by the knowledge that even the composers themselves couldn’t possibly have explored every intricate nook of their own creation.