So many words associated with the process of patination have such negative connotations: the act is a tarnishing, a corrosion, a corruption. Yet in certain circumstances, the formation of a patina is welcomed, sought after, even encouraged. Just down the road from where I sit right now, there are some new houses which have been there barely a couple of years, but their roofs are a bright green, copper having been used with the clear intention that it would oxidise this quickly. Likewise, new timber structures are designed to change in appearance prematurely, to silver, or to attract moss; as well as providing additional layers of protection, or even insulation, there is an implied message that the buildings are working with, as opposed to usurping, nature. But more than anything it is the age, or the desire to set the young in the context of the aged that is prized. Indeed, inside those homes, brand new furniture will have been made from reclaimed, pre-patinised, or even, to use another word which doesn’t sound like it should be a good thing, distressed materials.
And so it is with music too. The patina of vinyl crackle, and the repurposing of music’s past, have been the calling cards of the hauntological genre, a canon of records which very much put the geist back into the zeitgeist. Patina, the second release from the pairing of the Netherlands’ Rutger Zuyderfelt, aka Machinefabriek, and Tim Catlin from Australia, isn’t necessarily one that always feels like it belongs in that spectral body of work, but there is that same deliberate temporal disconnect, the joins between the new and the old being visible, the patina being welcomed, encouraged and facilitated. From the materials that were provided to him by Catlin, Zuyderfelt has produced something that is at once novel and ancient: a modern piece which has that much sought-after sense of provenance.
You may have gathered that this is not one of Zuyderfelt’s improvised collaborations, such as the particularly productive one with clarinetist Gareth Davis (which has just yielded some more fruit in the Grower CD), but rather something approached from the perspective of architect or engineer. Catlin specified the materials, a collection of electric guitar and sitar recordings, which Zuyderfelt has patiently spliced together, adding historical features, and then aging the end result. Though it is released by Low Point on (pretty white) vinyl only, much of the crackle that you will hear is the product of the design, rather than of the reproduction. The first side in fact begins with a looped section of hissing surface texture noise, into which creeps the slowly evolving drones of the source material.
Catlin is a guitarist (much like his countryman Oren Ambarchi or, indeed, like Zuyderfelt himself) who is less interested with the conventional applications of his instrument than with its sonic possibilities. What the embellishments do is make you think of an alternative history for the guitar, one in which the more experimental urges of the pioneering likes of Les Paul were the ones that took root; you find yourself imagining what might have happened if, for example, Hendrix hadn’t died before getting his hands on an e-bow. This desire to connect to (or rather, to show a disconnect from) music’s linear history asserts itself most strongly when a ghostly choir emerges from amidst the static, a classical music LP being mined for its nostalgic mood much as Philip Jeck would do, before it is supplanted once more by more contemporary-sounding ebbing and flowing tones.
The warm and natural sounding drones of the second side, in which the pulsations of Catlin’s guitar take on the character of a field of crickets on a balmy evening, are increasingly sand-blasted, the surface becoming pock-marked, the underlying detail indistinct. After a section of echoing, panning rhythm (the uncanniest of all dub revivals, in a sense), it closes with a hazy fragment of improvisatory guitar, spinning and fading like the last dying notes of a mechanical music box, or like a distantly-remembered tune evaporating from memory. And that last layer, the one that is formed in the mind of the listener, is perhaps the most important patina of all. It is those positive connotations of that word you’ll be left with, of that sense of reinforcement, and of just how powerful those juxtapositions of past and present can be.