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Tuner: MUUT

John Kelman By

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The ability to build expansive sound worlds—referencing a broad continuum spanning time, genre and sonics—has never been greater. With sampling, looping and sound processing, it's possible for just two people to build soundscapes based on the past but with a clear view of the future. Improvisation, when incorporating these advancements with conventional instruments, becomes as much a matter of knowing the technology as instrumental facility. Tuner, the forward-thinking duo of touch guitarist/keyboardist Markus Reuter and drummer/electronics whiz Pat Mastelotto, has been forging a strange, otherworldly identity since its 2005 debut, Totem (Unsung).

While Tuner began as a studio concept that evolved further with the vocal-centric Pole (Unsung, 2007)—the two often collaborating via the internet between Mastelotto's Austin, Texas home and Reuters' apartment in Innsbruck, Austria—MÜÜT proves Tuner to be a surprisingly powerful performing unit when the two actually find themselves in a room together. Recorded live during a 2007 tour of Estonia, MÜÜT is clear evidence that it's now possible to surpass the more controlled context of the recording studio and create music that's just as cinematic, but also more extended and scopious.

Still, a live album from Tuner doesn't necessarily represent what was actually heard in the concert halls, with post-production and editing almost a third member of the band. And with "virtual" appearances (i.e. sampled) by a host of guests including singer Toyah Wilcox—wife of Robert Fripp, co-founder and de facto leader of King Crimson, of which Mastelotto is a member—it becomes nearly impossible to discern what is real and what is Memorex. Traces of Crimson run throughout MÜÜT, although with the interspersion of real drumming and what Mastelotto calls "buttons," it's legitimate to question whether it sounds like Crimson or is it simply what Mastelotto has been bringing to various incarnations of that group since 1994?

The music ranges from ethereal to grounded, oftentimes within the same song. "IMUR" begins in the same ambient space as Fripp soundscape discs like At the End of Time (DGM Live, 2007), but gradually takes on greater forward motion from Mastelotto's subtle sampled and real percussion. Still, it's a gentle contrast to the fierier "Tied into a Phrase," where Reuter's touch guitar and Mastelotto's kit are more dominant, orbiting around a cued focal point from which the two expand into freer territory. "Slow Cabaret" sounds like exit music for a film, anthemic and with a firm backbeat that's rarely heard elsewhere on the disc; Tuner at, perhaps, its most stripped down and real.

Tinges of techno and hip hop show up on "On Bass," which fades gently into "Rocky Looks Like a Flower," where Mastelotto's blend of electronic and acoustic percussion creates a firm pulse for Reuter's massively overdriven lines. Like much of MÜÜT, it possesses an ongoing feeling that what was happening was as unexpected for Mastelotto and Reuter as it was for the audience. It's the sound of surprise that makes MÜÜT such a strong listen, and the best music from the duo to date.

Track Listing: Bells of Tartu; Tied into Phrase; Slow Cabaret; On Bass; Rocky Looks Like a Flower; MÜÜT; Viljandi Presidential Suite; IMUR; Ühesõrmelise Leirkastimehe Seiklused and the Organ Grinder's Addiction.

Personnel: Pat Mastelotto: traps and buttons; Markus Reuter: touch guitar, keyboard, live looping, laptop. Virtual appearances by: Michael Peters, Sirenée, Fabrice DeGraef, Toyah Wilcox, Margus Laidre, Chrysta Bell, Bill Munyon, Laura Scarborough, Samili Kosminen, Jerry Marotta, Bill Rieflin, Chris Wong.

Title: MUUT | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Unsung Records


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