Jon Mueller: Tongues

I have the greatest amount of respect for an artist like Jon Mueller, someone who determinedly pursues a personal vision without seeming regard for trends or what others are doing. That's never more apparent than on Tongues, his latest provocative statement issued on his own Rhythmplex imprint. A vinyl release (in an edition of 500 copies) featuring two side-long tracks generally pitched at a relentless level, Tongues takes no prisoners and doesn't compromise. Mueller arranged and performed the material using bass drums, percussion, and his own voice, but didn't create the material entirely alone: Cory Allen contributes harmonium, tanpura, and shamanistic ceremonial breath to the proceedings, and William Ryan Fritch, whose contributions to Mueller's Death Blues' Ensemble record were integral, adds sarangi, though played through a piano to amplify the instrument's sound.

The recording includes no overt connections to any particular spiritualist movement nor are there explicit references to philosophical concepts or Greek mythology. Yet while that might be the case, the music exudes the kind of ecstatic abandon and high energy characteristic of Dionysian revelry, even if the vocalizations aren't tied to one specific language. That said, there's nevertheless a strong Middle Eastern flavour to the chanting, which on the fifteen-minute opener appears as a multi-layered, declamatory howl alongside a powerful percussive onslaught of tom-toms and triangles. As the piece progresses, the plot thickens, so to speak, the music growing ever more dense and the voices multiplying, seemingly exponentially. Eight minutes along, the sound mass briefly collapses, after which the elements resume their delirious charge in the service of Mueller's obsessive vision.

Side B opens more calmly with percussive tinklings of various exotic kinds and a low-pitched, single-voiced drone before the pace amps up and the energy intensifies. Similar to the opening piece, the second gradually grows denser as glossolalic utterances pour forth in ever increasing number, the drums pound without pause, and Fritch's sarangi rises to the surface. Not surprisingly, the word vertiginous repeatedly comes to mind when the dazed mass stokes its rolling thunder, and at such moments, it's hard not to think of Tongues as an extended fever dream whose vortex constantly threatens to suck the listener in.

May 2016