Machinefabriek - Veldwerk [Cold Spring Records - 2011]Machinefabriek is Rutger Zuydervelt, an eclectic Dutch sound artist who combines avant garde and minimalist classical composition with field recordings. The result is fragile but powerfully immersive sound environments that pay tribute to the world around us, natural and artificial, and inspire its re-examination. Intensely personal sound choices (and juxtapositions) render his pieces true sonic diaries, as well. This Cold Spring release, "Veldwerk", is a compilation of tracks previously released individually as short, highly limited 7" vinyls and 3" CDrs. Contrasted in sound but similar in mood and pacing, these tracks seem to naturally belong together.
The winding, collaged narratives of these tracks provide emotional descriptions of the events of Zuydervelt's life on the road. His liner notes briefly describe where and when the sound materials for each piece, and from this one begins to understand that contained in each of these 6 tracks are literally thousands of stories. Each sound recorded in the field had its context, from the snippets of broadcasted Russian dialogue which dance at the edges of hearing in "Rusland" (Zuydervelt's 17 minute ode to a tour in Russia), to the resonant, strained metallic rattle that comprises the last 3 or 4 minutes of "Slovensko II", and closes the record.
Listening to "Veldwerk", it is Machinefabriek's attitude, his approach to music making which most strikes me. His work has a perfect grasp of dynamics, and a deliberate quality which can make other music feel heavyhanded and excessive. If music making were painting, Machinefabriek would wield the finest, most exact brush. He has the rare patience to make music in which each new movement has been carefully considered, and it seems he understands that sometimes, living life means quietude, the appearance of silence or unevent, but furthermore that any perceived silence is an illusion: always, infinitely complex sounds lie just beneath the threshold of hearing. He is not afraid to allow his tracks to dissipate into emptiness.
In fact, sonic events exist largely as gestural islands on a placid sea of near-silence. Every few minutes, we get a pitch stretched piano chord, a sudden thunderous rustling, or a thick bass tone which engulfs the mix only to drop suddenly away, and then we return to soft murmers of sound, sparser field recordings complimented by hints of guitar and synthesizer, which often form a vague chordal framework that lends vital emotional coloring to each track. During these subdued moments, the listener remains keenly aware that a larger sound space is present, but feels that it has simply become dormant. I have rarely heard this effect achieved on a recording.
I admire Zuydervelt's appreciation for the every day, the mundane... Or rather, it seems he does not believe in the 'mundane': his work reveals the extraordinatry sonic possiblities of common objects, most notably in the shortest piece here, "Floor & Radio", which, as one could guess from the title, marvellously exploits some creaking boards, and captures a particularly otherworldly emission from a malfunctioning radio.
The aforementioned "Rusland", as well as "The Breaking Water" (based on recordings of a bridge and its accompanying river) are somber and resigned in feeling. "Rusland" actually builds, over 7 minutes or so, to a recognizable keyboard melody, and the effect is not unlike the apocalyptic ambience of Half Makeshift, or Godspeed You Black Emperor in their quieter moments. "The Breaking Water" is the more beautiful and listenable piece: Zuydervelt lets a single ghostly chord ring out over the soothing and constant lapping of waves.
The 22 minute "Apollo" is surely worth mentioning. With this massive track, Machinefabriek schools artists like Lustmord and Phaenon at their own space ambient game. Similar to Lustmord's "Arecibo" project, this track uses actual radio correspondance from space missions. The atmosphere is deep and perfect, and the track functions wonderfully as a narrative journey, as well. As one might expect, Zuydervelt uses more synthetic tones and reverberations here to create the cold, free-floating feel of the track.
If there's one issue I have with this compilation, it's that I would have loved to hear the counterpart track to "The Breaking Water", "The Breathing Bridge", which accompanied it on the original 3" Cdr release. This album is already 67 minutes, but at 10 minutes the track would have fit.
Conclusively, after hearing this magnificent compilation I'm surely going to delve deeper into Machinefabriek's massive catalogue. I recommend this beautiful, emotional piece of work to anyone who has even a bit of patience for deep listening music. This man is one of the true masters of 'new music', and each of these 6 compositions is not to be missed!Josh Landry