Percussionist Jon Mueller finds a new way of working by digging through his past | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Percussionist Jon Mueller finds a new way of working by digging through his past 

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click to enlarge Jon Mueller

Jon Mueller

Stephan Anderson

When COVID-19 shut down live music last March, Jon Mueller was among the many musicians who found himself with an empty schedule. The Wisconsin-based percussionist found some time during lockdown to clean out his closet, where he found a box of unmarked CD-Rs that bore recorded evidence of music he’d made in the past and long forgotten. After listening to these artifacts, he started editing their best parts into new tracks, which he donated to a couple of compilation albums, including Pandemic Response Division (on local label Spectral Electric) and We Hovered With Short Wings (on UK label Gizeh). Over the past decade, Mueller’s albums have documented his performance concepts, so it was a freeing paradigm shift for him to construct music with no thought as to whether he could play it live when he was done. He’s carried that practice into the new album Family Secret, created using recordings of gongs and singing bowls he made in 2020 at his Door County home; its four pieces of music are simultaneously dense and ethereal. Sometimes the ringing of struck metal brings to mind the centering sounds of Harry Bertoia’s metal sculptures, and elsewhere the album’s long, layered passages of sustained reverberations seem less like music than a translation of refracted light rays into sound. The album’s name evokes another aspect of cleaning out your closet—that of being lost in uneasy reverie after being confronted anew with parts of your life that you’ve tucked away. While Family Secret doesn’t sound like anything else that Mueller’s done, it shares similarities with his previous work in its uncanny ability to use sounds to stir nameless emotions.   v

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