Peter Broderick and Machinefabriek - Mort Aux Vaches [Staalplaat - 2011]Once more Staalplaat release a further session recorded for VPRO, the Dutch national radio station, in an impressive series that has featured artists as diverse as Pan Sonic & Charlemagne Palestine, Stilluppsteypa and CoH. For this session, recorded in the Autumn of 2009, Oregon’s up-and-coming multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick is joined by Rotterdam’s experimental guitarist/sound artist Machinefabriek, AKA Rutger Zuydervelt. The two had previously collaborated remotely on the album ‘Blank Grey Canvas Sky’ but had never performed together ‘in the flesh’, so this opportunity afforded the chance to explore the results of an apparently unprepared improv session face-to-face.
‘Session I’ places the listener outdoors with a field recording full of bird calls and the odd distant voice, while what could be keys rattle loose and expectantly. Low, glowing guitar embers warm the fresh air as a beautiful but sad refrain is built on Broderick’s violin. The playing is hesitant but grows slowly into a kind of lament reminding of the more ambient, drum-less passages often found on the roster of Chicago’s Kranky label, before a sympathetic piano lends a shoulder and then strides boldly into the limelight. The now introspective atmosphere is occasionally intruded on by the rattling and ripping of Machinefabriek’s “objects”, as the piece turns into a questing march of multi-layered violin pulsing and extending, while guitar textures fizz and soar around a proud piano leading us over gently surging sounds of the natural environment.
The second piece, anachronistically from ‘Session III’, continues the mood as the duo are joined by Nils Frahm on piano (who was touring with Broderick at the time) and the trio of Kleefstra/Bakker/Kleefstra (referred to as ‘Wink’ on the radio station’s website) who form the group Piiptsjilling with Zuydervelt and here provide words, more guitar and effects to the proceedings. Despite the increase in players the piece feels pared back compared to the previous track and all the better for it. A solemn piano elegantly introduces wafts of delayed guitar tones before Broderick’s violin once again pleads forlornly, stirring the growing pool of simmering guitar tones but never bringing them to boil. By surprise a distorted voice from what sounds like a police radio briefly injects a bit of crime drama into the grieving as the smoothest tones from a bowed saw give rise to vocal tones increasingly layered and looped to form a rich melodic aura that extends stealthily to the end of the track where small crackles and pops suggest a campfire.
At over 25 minutes, the closing track, ‘Session II’, is almost twice the length of the preceding ones and finds the duo stretching out their instrumentation to form a floating soundtrack occasionally supporting narration (presumably in Dutch) from Broderick. The first half stubbornly stays with the sad ‘n’ gentle vibe: fingers and bows barely brushing their strings as the piano sings a lullaby; but, the midway point finally allows Machinefabriek’s abstruse noises to break out from the background filling the room with scratches, scrapes and rumbles slung forward and backwards until calmed by the reappearance of the romantic piano and strings.
Although featuring exquisitely melodic passages that evolve to allow each instrument to reveal its subtle nuances, each piece (and, therefore, the disk as a whole) often feels too meandering and loose to sustain engagement from beginning to end and is perhaps better taken as background ambience than a focal point. One can easily imagine the musicians wrapt in their moment as they carefully wind and layer their sounds around each other, but, for the listener it can sometimes feel like a soundtrack that needs its film to feel fully formed.Russell Cuzner