1. I (with Terence Hannum)
2. II (with Chantal Acda)
3. III (with Peter Broderick)
4. IV (with Marianne Oldenburg)
5. V (with Zero Years Kid)
6. VI (with Richard Youngs)
7. VII (with Wei-Yun Chen)
8. VIII (with Marissa Nadler)
lp/cd/download on Western Vinyl, January 2019
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With Voices is the newest recording by Dutch composer Rutger Zuydervelt under the moniker Machinefabriek. True to its title, the album’s eight pieces exhibit Zuydervelt’s use of cassette recorders, tone generators, radios, synths, and other hifi curio to construct bewildering aural architecture around vocal contributions from Peter Broderick, Marissa Nadler, Richard Youngs, Chantal Acda, Terence Hannum (of Locrian) and others. These human voices are featured as musical instruments rather than mere vehicles of lyrical content, resulting in a sub-linguistic mosaic of primordially stirring moods.
The initial spark of With Voices was kindled while Zuydervelt was in Taipei creating music for a dance company. In the final days of his trip, a dancer named Wei-Yun Chen caught Zuydervelt’s ear with an instagram video featuring a voice that turned out to be Wei-Yun’s own (she would end up on the album’s seventh movement, a piece that features dissected bits of Taiwanese poetry amid low-pitched murmurs and whispering fogbanks of static). The encounter stirred Zuydervelt to create a single 35 minute soundscape upon which each vocalist on With Voices was encouraged to improvise, be it talking, reading, singing, or wordless, guttural intoning. Such vocal smatterings were then used to determine how the other tonal elements should be arranged, dictating where each musical passage would ultimately lead. “The idea was for everyone to just do what came naturally” he recalls, “the element of unpredictability was important to me.”
Indicative of this approach “III” (the tracks are simply titled with Roman numerals) slowly winds like ivy through staccato phrases spoken by Zuydervelt’s peer Peter Broderick, whose micro-incantations skip along mechanically only to telescope into monastic grandeur at the track’s midpoint; the vibrations of vocal cords are often stretched to a seismic hum to form the heavy implements in Zuydervelt’s toolkit. On “V”, tape recordings of Berlin electronic artist Zero Years Kid (aka Joachim Badenhorst) sputter with their own apparent intelligence like a faulty AI attempting to interpret reels of human speech in some ruinous library of the distant future. Finally, a siren-like Marissa Nadler leads the suite to its lullabic endpoint with overlapping wisps of harmony devoid of accompaniment ending the album on an angelic note.
In these moments, like much of With Voices, warm-blooded arteries seem to have grown around bits of well-designed artifice to form something warmly alien, soberly futuristic, and inherently satisfying. More than simply an album of collaborative features, With Voices is a mutating collage of modern minimalism that challenges as often as it comforts. There is an alchemical, metallurgical quality that arises from Zuydervelt’s unique way of merging humanness with abstraction, harshness with beauty, and unintelligibility with familiarity on what may be the most affecting Machinefabriek release to date.
For this record, Rutger Zuydervelt invited a number of musicians to be recorded taling, singing or making any other vocal noises. “The idea was for everyone to just do what came naturally,” he says. He then took the recordings and edited, distorted and otherwise shaped them and put them in a setting of largely untempered electronics.
Whereas glitch based electronica is largely produced my maltreated or malfunctioning hardware, to hear the voice, the most used form of human communication, broken down like this always provokes a stronger response to the listener. Jan Jelinek’s ‘Swischen’ LP of 2018 consisted of nonverbal noises made during speech from recordings of different people being interviewed, a droll idea with quite humorous results. But Zuydervelt’s approach draws the listener in to invevitably trying to reconcile speech that has become disintegrated, even though it is impossible.
On “III” the talker is Peter Broderick, who also sings and makes some tongue clicks. This has been turned into a fractured recitation, which includes notes sung and then stacked up and underpinned by ominous electric chords.
Zuydervelt got the initial idea for this project while working with a dance company in Taipei - specifically from watching a video made by dancer Wei-Yun Chen - and here on “VII” she is reciting Taiwanese poetry that in its edited form sounds like incomprehensible whispered confidences. But there is also a strong musicality to ‘With Voices’. Dutch singer Marianne Oldenburg’s sweet intoning is reshaped, complete with harmonies, into a succinct, song-like structure that clocks in at under two minutes. The lengthier “II” employs translucent electronic washes and sporadic punctuation by synthetic percussion, while her compatriot Chantal Acda’s vocals sound vulnerable and oddly melancholic.
On “I”, the voice of Terence Hannum (from avant metal group Locrian) floats in a series of long held notes with a reverb-laden ecclesiastical vibe, and the album closes with the most ambitious piece, the 11 minute “VIII”. Here, Marissa Nadler’s vocal lines are reshaped into a slowly morphing drift with subtle electronics coloring.
Scene Point Blank
What at first seems like a standard ambient album becomes something else once Machinefabriek introduces snippets of recorded speech and vocal exclamations into the mix. While some pieces here are pretty straight-forward, some even playing like word association spoken word, others are a tapestry of unfamiliar sounds: word segments, foreign language, pops, gasps, hisses, sighs, and moans, all over a vaguely mysterious backdrop of synth and tape loops. It's an interesting work of sound art that frequently has an appealingly earthy feel and strong sense of space in the audio mix.
Rutger Zuydervelt, the man behind the Machinefabriek moniker, has been traversing the far edges of ambient, drone, and noise domains, producing minimalistic works of electro-acoustic experimentation. Since 2004, these sound design explorations have resulted in a rich discography, and Zuydervelt's return now in With Voices, sees him further expand on this path, but with a slight twist. On his new album, Zuydervelt once more implements his sound crafting techniques to produce his trademark soundscapes. However, this time around these are used to surround vocal performances from an array of esteemed guests, which include Peter Broderick, Marissa Nadler, Richard Youngs, Chantal Acda, Terrence Hannum, Wei-Yun Chen, Zero Years Kid, and Marianne Oldenburg.
There is a subtlety in the core of Zuydervelt's work, and that is apparent in his ambient craftsmanship. The start of "I" sees this vision settle in, with Machinefabriek taking on a serene and yet electrifying form, reminiscent of Ben Frost's tactics. Similar is the subtle approach undertaken in "VI", where the minimalistic touch of Zuydervelt sees electronics and audio effects being left aside, and only the synth strings allowed to mold this ambient realm. This approach provides the resulting atmosphere with an organic touch, making it appear as a living organism that evolves through the various mutations Zuydervelt introduces.
The ambient approach provides a fertile ground for introspection, and Zuydervelt expands on his ritualistic setting to bring forth the more towering manifestations of Machinefabriek. That is the case with the appearance of Peter Broderick in "III", which sees the soundscapes morphing around the spoken word component of the track. The last part of "V" also implements a similar approach, which further exposes the ceremonial-like motif of With Voices.
Still, there is room for experimentation towards a different direction within this work, and it becomes apparent when the heavier editing process comes into view. "II" sees the vocal delivery of Chantal Acda being manipulated to great extent, creating a cut-up motif in impressive fashion. The result is a hazy sonic landscape, granting a further layer of abstraction to this work. "V" takes this mode a step further and produces an almost incoherent exploration of samples and sound design techniques. Still, Zuydervelt reaches the zenith of this approach with "VII", using once more this cut-up technique, merging vocal deliveries and field recordings into an amalgamation of harsh sounds.
Despite this tendency towards the stripped down ambient progression and the heavy editing/processing of vocals, With Voices also provides a counterpart to this endless experimentation. The melodic aspect of this work is powerfully pronounced, making a subtle first appearance in the opening track, when the mood tilts towards the serene. The presence of Marianne Oldenburg takes this a step further, as she unleashes an impressive and beautiful delivery in "IV". Still, even more impressive is the conclusion of the record, where the great Marissa Nadler makes an appearance. Here, Machinefabriek take an even more minimal approach, allowing more space for Nadler's delivery, which results in an ethereal final act that concludes With Voices.
With Voices is a very nice addition to the rich discography of Machinefabriek, one that sees the approach of Zuydervelt alter in order to incorporate these new elements to his project. The result is a strong record with a very nice balance between experimentation and lyricism.
There is an interesting concept at work here: eight people got the same piece of music from Rutger Zuydervelt, the man behind Machinefabriek and were asked to do a vocal response to this music. It started life in Taipei where he worked with Wei-Yun Chen, a dancer but he heard her voice and one thing led to another, with people responding to his music. The eight vocalists are Terence Hannum, Chantal Acda, Peter Broderick, Marianne Oldenburg, Zero Years Kid, Richard Youngs, Marissa Nadler and Chen. After they send in their vocals, Zuydervelt went for another round of treatments, using his tone generators, radios, cassettes, synths and whatever else he has at his disposal. So there is quite some extended working and re-working here and voices are not something that Machinefabriek has used a lot in the past, but listening to you this, you can indeed wonder: why not? There are quite some different approaches here, from the overtly singing voice of Marianne Oldenburg, easily the most melodic piece, to cut-up methods applied by Zero Years Kid (also known as Joachim Badenhorst), captured on cassette or Dictaphone and becoming a busy choir of assorted and apparently unrelated vocals. As said, there is quite some variation in these pieces and it shows the development of Machinefabriek quite clearly. Surely his trademark approach of carefully constructed drones, crackles and buzzes are all over this, such in the piece with Terence Hannum (no titles, everything is 'I', 'II' etc. with between brackets the name of singer), but also with a more musical, melodic approach, with rhythms (in 'II (With Chantal Acda') for instance) and the singing voices, Oldenburg and Acda for instance. But also the more reciting voice of Broderick making the piece he's in a more collage-like piece is a different approach. With Richard Youngs, he reaches for the lowest note possible, singing and music-wise that is. It all ends with 'VIII (With Marissa Nadler)' in an eleven-minute tour de force of tone generators and Nadler being a one-woman choir of angelic proportions, but also mild cut-ups and drones. Like the perfect blend of Machinefabriek's sound so far; quite the mature album and with a release on Western Vinyl surely on his way to something bigger.
Album A Day
Dutchboy weirdotronic Rutger Zuydervelt is one prolific motherfucker. He’s one of these types that seem to finish one project and immediately go, “I’m done. Oh shit … the existential dread is coming. Need something new fast! Okay, what’s next?” He’s an artist that takes pleasure in doing what isn’t supposed to be done. If someone says, “Rutger! You shouldn’t be doing that?!” The guy will fucking do it and smile like a jackal. As soon as you think you’ve defined Rutger, he’ll pop out of the bushes and say, “Gotcha, bitch! I’m this now!” and stab you twice before prancing away in a tutu made out of pixie dreams. Because of this, Rutger is difficult to define. But, here’s a paltry attempt at doing so.
Dude has been making albums since ’04. He generally likes to fuck around with samples and recordings all computer styles and is thrown into that opaque definition of ambient, minimalist, drone, field recording, modern classical shit. There’s a phrase I heard once to define such strange creatures, which is, “He’s an artist’s artist.” Meaning, the motherfucker makes art for those that are already knee-deep in the steez. I don’t think you’ve got to be an artist to enjoy Rutger, but it can still be a pretty useful term. So, it should go without saying, if you’re looking for something that’s easy to digest and without too much seasoning you should run the fuck away and not look back or else you’ll pull a Lot’s wife. Lady got salty as fuck.
This album is what happens when you show Rutger some Instagram. Someone showed him a video of Wei-Yun singing (she’s the singer on track 7 of this album) and he was inspired to make an album. The idea? Find a bunch of singers and tell them to improvise like a comedy troupe on acid jazz night, take that shit and throw it through the Rutger blender, and voilà. You’ve got yourself and album, motherfuckers.
Each track comes with a new singer going all improv. Sometimes they sing, speak, or grunt. Anything they fucking want. The singers on this album are equally as strange and top notch as Rutger. You’ve got: Terence Hannum (from Locrian), Chantal Acda (jazz vocalist that rubs elbows with Bill Frisell often), Peter Broderick (used to be part of Efterklang and now owns shit solo style), Marianne Oldenburg (up and comer), Zero Years Kid (strange, fun, oddly hypnotic), Richard Youngs (experimental, youthful, enjoys the guitar), Wei-Yun Chen (inspired it all), and Marissa Nadler (a folk giant).
There’s an imaginary line in art. One extreme is all about accessibility and popularity and the other end of art is shit so out there it doesn’t matter if the audience exists or not (it usually doesn’t). Because I’m a bit hungry, we’re going to use some food metaphors. In the culinary world, one extreme is like a bag of flour and the other is like a bag of glass. Neither sound too appealing. Machinefabriek is like a high-end restaurant that orders food for you. You don’t get a choice. What comes in front of you can be scary. Sometimes you really don’t want to fucking touch the shit. But, trust the cook, he’s been doing this a long fucking time. Some of this will make you feel uncomfortable at first (more on the ass end of the album), it might even cause you panic. As the album comes to a close, you will have experienced something you never tried before and, once you develop the taste for it, you’ll want more. Hell, this shit might become your new favourite sonic dish. That is, if you’re worth your salt.
Machinefabriek’s With Voices brings Rutger Zuydervelt’s use of cassette recorders, tone generators, radios and other audio ephemera to the front line. In this latest work, the Dutch composer builds a sound world around a set of varying vocals, with contributors being Peter Broderick, Marissa Nadler, Richard Youngs, Chantal Acda (Sleepingdog), and Terence Hannum (Locrian). Using the voice as an instrument instead of ‘a vehicle of lyrical content’ gives the music free reign. This time, along with experimental textures and spluttering electronics, the voice is brought into the experimental arena. The voice is the dominating factor in a pop song (the vocalist is the leader, and they want you to know it), but its prominence is something of a rarity in experimental circles. If lyrics show up at all, they sit in the background, and the overall textures take the limelight.
With Voices sounds weirdly futuristic, but at the same time it’s a very human album, too, thanks to its centralizing concentration on the voice and its impressive range of tones. Sighs, utterings, and the more concrete pronunciations of spoken poetry and verse are all embedded into the album, and the meeting of these two very distinct worlds both divides and connects the music. The short-circuited voices act as a premonition, giving one a sneak peek into the AI of the future, a step on from Alexa or Cortana. The voice shuts down and is in need of a charge, and then it reboots back up, restarting even after the plug’s been pulled. Ever-morphing drones with dark edges pull the vocal into its matrix, but the original output ensures a certain independence from the drone even as the sound-world lingers on in the background.
The voice inflates the piece, and it becomes an expansive, abstract work. And while Zuydervelt’s music has always been sharply creative, it’s even more evident here. Some of the voices sound like they should be human, but something’s missing. Subject and context are meaningless here, and that’s so liberating. Zuydervelt’s intention was to do exactly that: he liberates the voice. The tones became unpredictable, the verse-chorus-verse structure of song revoked. The glitching sounds and smeared drones produce a sentience with two faces; a robot displaying human emotion. Its disjointed, jerking motion of the head and its unblinking gaze somehow feels off, sending the mind into a pit of nausea and unease. Because, for the most part, the background drones don’t entertain sunflowers and unicorns, but are instead lovers of hard rain and the dark, neo-noir of Blade Runner or neon advertising.
The future is a second away from its fruition, and the voices are sometimes obscured in the bubble of technological progress. The stuttering could also represent the disintegration of language and face-to-face social communication. Technology is always advancing, but, as on the London Underground, most commuters glue themselves to their smartphones instead of engaging in conversation. Ironically, these devices bring a kind of connection, but there’s a larger disconnection between people because of them, the voice remaining silent and unused while the fingers do all the work, tapping at a little screen and sending a text as a means of dialogue. The voice, when needed, becomes a stuttering thing thanks to its dependence on social media updates. This record is proof that Machinefabriek has much more to say.
Dutch experimental artist Rutger Zuydervelt has been making hypnotic, slow-burn electronic music as Machinefabriek for 14 years. His dense back catalogue loops gracefully through stuttering bursts of static, shimmering rushes of melody, and plaintive soundtracks and scores for films and other performances. His work is in the same restless, spectral space as artists like Tim Hecker, or Christian Fennesz. Field recordings, sonic abstractions, swooning cyclical motifs – all of these define Machinefabriek’s extensive discography, and most of which are present on With Voices.
So what’s new? The clue’s in the title: in this (relatively) conventional set of songs, Zuydervelt has assembled eight vocalists to lend their voice to his audio stew. The backbone of the album is a 35-minute composition that each of the vocalists were encouraged to improvise around, bringing to mind the gleefully chaotic David Shrigley album Worried Noodles (where dozens of musicians wrote songs based on Shrigley’s oddball scribblings and poems). ‘Using the voice as an instrument’ is one of those well-worn experimental tropes, but Zuydervelt expertly executes it. Peter Broderick’s burbling brook is especially captivating, his single word utterances punctuating Zuydervelt’s menacing meandering. Marianne Oldenburg’s neo-classical lilt creates a temporary moment of melodic concentration before the clanging, discordant contribution of Zero Years Kid, while Marissa Nadler’s 11 minute closing opus is something beautiful to behold, bringing this strange but endearing album to a bittersweet finale.
A Closer Listen
Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek) is one of the most prolific recording artists around, but he’s also one of the finest. With Voices is already his second album of the year. Last year he released an average of an album a month; at the current rate, he’ll hit 40 releases by year’s end. Amazingly, everything is worth hearing.
What’s the secret to Zuydervelt’s success? It’s simple; he’s always experimenting, trying new sounds, moving forward. As one might expect from the cover image and title, With Voices offers a showcase for the human voice. The surprise is that these voices are modulated, time-stretched, and otherwise manipulated until they turn to texture, which is exactly how we like them. But even within these parameters, the album offers great tonal variety, from sonic cloud to spoken word, angelic drone to staccato percussion. The list of collaborators is impressive, ranging from Chantal Acda to Peter Broderick to Marissa Nadler, but Zuydervelt’s invisible hand makes the album shimmer.
The opening piece is downright beautiful, and one would be forgiven for failing to recognize the voice of Locrian’s Terence Hanum. Gender is barely discernible. Extended vowels swirl among electronic tones. But this is only one of the album’s eight approaches. Bleeps and stutters make Chantal Acda’s track a cabinet of curiousities. The listener follows the hints of song down to the final whisper. Then Peter Broderick acts like a drum, and a poet. His story is presented one word at a time: The – house – once – melted – and – sand – landed – everywhere. At first, it’s a shock to hear the unadorned voice, but the shock is followed by fascination, because nothing, including the narrative, is as it seems.
How did this begin? Zuydervelt was recording for a Taipei dance company when a chance encounter with a dancer’s Instagram account inspired him to create a “minimal, low volume” soundscape. This music was then sent to various friends, who were invited “to do what came naturally.” That dancer, Wei-Yun Chen, appears on the seventh track, speaking fragments of poetry over waves of static while children play in the background and a clock ticks quietly, occasionally ceding ground to rumbles of bass. Zuydervelt’s brilliance is apparent not only in the selection of elements, but in their dispersal throughout the sonic field. In other tracks, the artist utilizes cassette manipulation, layering, and in the Zero Years Kid piece, something that sounds like a sampled dog. All of this leads to an 11-minute closer in which Marissa Nadler’s multi-tracked voice is the only instrument. Even those familiar with the last two decades of Nadler’s music may revisit her back catalog to experience more of these lovely, lilting tones. While Nadler is known as an ethereal folk songstress, we’d love to hear an entire album of songs like this; eleven minutes is not enough.
One might think that the variety of artists and styles would produce a fractured whole, but in fact the opposite is true; With Voices has a fine dynamic flow, rising from and descending to tendrils of tone. The final note wraps back around to the first, completing the cycle. While inspired by dance, the set was not written for dance; nevertheless, we can imagine this being tackled by a choreographer. What creative angle will Zuydervelt pursue next? There’s no way to predict the artist’s next album, only the likelihood of its swift appearance.
With a discography that boasts almost 200 titles since 2004, Rutger ‘Machinefabriek’ Zuydervelt may very well be called ‘the hardest working man in electronic show business’. ?But it’s not just the numbers that count: even more impressing is the fact that he manages to stay surprising by constantly shifting his challenges – ánd those of the listeners. Not simply repeating what he already did before, but looking for new creative explorations. ?His output is too numerous to cover everything, so here are two recent releases that show this unique ability.
On With Voices, the human voice is the starting point (as you probably expected from the title). But this doesn’t mean these are ‘songs’. The voices are ‘featured as musical instruments rather than mere vehicles of lyrical content, resulting in a sub-linguistic mosaic of primordially stirring moods.’
The different vocalists were all asked to improvise to the same base track, ‘be it talking, reading, singing, or wordless, guttural intoning.’ ?Contributing vocalists are Peter Broderick, Richard Youngs, Marissa Nadler, Chantal Acda, Marianne Oldenburg, Zero Years Kid (Joachim Badenhorst), Wei-Yun Chen and Terence Hannum. ?Their improvisations were the starting point for Zuydervelt to add musical elements that he seemed fit to complete the piece.
The result is a stunning array of experimental works that are quite unlike anything heard before. Machinefabriek honours his guest vocalists by letting them have the lead role in each piece, but manipulates them into an otherworldly context. To avoid any possible substantive direction, the pieces are simply titled I to VIII.
With Voices demonstrates Zuydervelt’s ability to ‘merge humanness with abstraction, harshness with beauty, and unintelligibility with familiarity.
Dutch sound artist and graphic designer Rutger Zuydervelt is a prolific collaborator. There are nearly two dozen releases on which Zuydervelt, as Machinefabriek, has found himself working, alongside other talented and likeminded artists — Peter Broderick, Stephen Vitiello, Gareth Davis and Celer have been frequent sparring partners, but they're only the tip of the iceberg. While Zuydervelt isn't shy to work on his own — his solo output is fairly bountiful — his collaborative work is certainly a focal point.
With Voices finds the musician working with eight distinct individuals across as many tracks. As the title hints, each of the collaborators provides vocal content for Zuydervelt to manipulate. First, the sound artist crafted a 35-minute ambient soundscape over which the vocalists would improvise, which in turn spurred on further arrangement and manipulation of the outcome, culminating in a series of wildly diverging pieces of music.
Richard Youngs, Terrence Hannum and Marissa Nadler offered drawn-out vocal incantations, and the resulting pieces of music reflect this in their sinuous nature. The other vocalists prepared both spoken/sung passages and arcane utterances — sputters and stutters — that Zuydervelt either melted directly into the music or smashed into a delicate slurry. Both modes captivate the listener, as Zuydervelt's cybernetic compositions are warm and inviting in their humanity. On With Voices, a clever balance between the body and the machine has been struck, to great effect.
With Voices wordt op het internationaal opererende Western Vinyl label uitgebracht. Niet dat hij om bekendheid verlegen zit, maar het boort wellicht een breder publiek aan. De titel verklapt natuurlijk direct dat er hier wel degelijk stemmen in het spel zijn. Het zou echter Zuydervelt niet zijn als hij hier niet op creatieve wijze mee om zou zijn gegaan. De stemmen worden hier namelijk als instrument ingezet. Met cassetterecorders, toongeneratoren, radio’s, synthesizers en andere apparatuur heeft hij één lang soundscape van 35 minuten gemaakt en de diverse vocalisten uitgenodigd daarop te improviseren, waarbij ze mogen praten, lezen, zingen of woordeloze keelachtige klanken produceren. Hun reacties staan in feite aan de basis van hetgeen hier in 8 composities van samen een goede drie kwartier eruit is gerold. Zuydervelt mag hier rekenen op bijdragen van Terence Hannum (The Holy Circle, Locrian), Chantal Acda (Distance Light & Sky, Sleepingdog, Chacda, Stasola, True Bypass), Peter Broderick, Marianne Oldenburg (Ode To The Quiet), Zero Years Kid aka Joachim Badenhorst, Richard Youngs (ILKK, AMOR), Wei-Yun Chen (aanstichtster van dit project) en Marissa Nadler. Een waar sterrenteam. Veel belangrijker is dat het ook bijzondere en fraaie muziek oplevert. De stukken vormen een steeds wisselend patchwork van ambient, noise, veldopnames en experimentele elektronische sounds waar de stemmen of beter gezegd stemgeluid als het ware doorheen gevlochten zijn en de naden aaneen naaien. Bijna nergens wordt er echt gezongen, wat een soort rudimentaire songs oplevert, waarbij de stemgeluiden toch voor een veelzeggende bijdrage zorgen. Hoewel de stukken an sich behoorlijk complex in elkaar steken, blijft het toch overal redelijk doorwaadbaar. Maar dat heeft ook er alles mee te maken dat de muziek je gewoonweg in de houdgreep neemt, zowel door de intrigerende vondsten als de gewoonweg unieke pracht die er vanuit gaat. Denk daarbij aan een mysterieuze combinatie van AGF, Tujiko Noriko, Grouper, Tim Hecker, Jaap Blonk, Art Of Noise en Locust (Mark Van Hoen). Machinefabriek weet opnieuw te verrassen met een ander, maar subliem album. Om 2019 maar eens wonderschoon en stemmig te openen!
The Vinyl District
Machinefabriek, With Voices (Western Vinyl) Dutch composer Rutger Zuydervelt is Machinefabriek, and his work essentially resides in a neighborhood shared by ambient, drone, minimalism, modern classical, noise, field recordings, electronics, and a general spirit of avant-experimentation. The man wields an insanely loaded, completist-defeating discography, but With Voices is destined to be one of the gems in that expansive body of work, in part because it finds him collaborating with a variety of vocalists across eight Roman numeric tracks, including Chantal Acta, Peter Broderick, Marianne Oldenburg, Richard Youngs, and Marissa Nadler. Eschewing lyrics, with a high percentage of the utterances effectively wordless, the results are wildly varied and in the case of the Nadler-sung finale, quite beautiful.
The Thin Air
How much does concept matter? Hackneyed as it may be, it’s a question that comes up while listening to the latest album from prolific Dutch artist Machinefabriek AKA Rutger Zuydervelt. With Voices, as the title suggests, is an album of eight tracks composed around the human voice. Heard blind, it’s a fascinating document filled with fascinating sounds that evoke a host of different moods. Reading into it and things get even more complicated or interesting, depending on your view.
Machinefabriek crafted a 35-minute piece of music that was sent to the eight vocalists involved, each of whom responded in their own way with song, speech, wordless vocal and so on. This was then taken and reformed and refashioned into what we have on With Voices. The album flows beautifully, almost like a mixtape – there is a coherence across these tracks that belies the many voices used.
The painfully short ‘IV’ with Marianne Oldenburg grows out of the preceding track, the closest thing to an outright song here. Perhaps its brevity is a rebuke to this response – there’s more to music than songs, kiddo! Fittingly, it’s followed by a track that opens with screeching tape hiss and builds onward with guttural chanting. This track comes in collaboration with Zero Years Kid, who have an album forthcoming on Eomac’s Eotrax label in March. The penultimate piece features dancer Wei- Yun Chen, whose Instagram video inspired Machinefabriek in the first place. Her softly spoken words meet dark tones and ominous fuzz.
The closing track features singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler and runs for some 11 minutes. Its music is full of yearning, two-note phrases paired with looped vocals, electrical hiss, while her vocals sit alternately atop flowing bass noises and shining beams of sound. The duet of wavering tones and her deliberately delicate vocals makes for something quite beautiful, a heart-breaking close to a gripping piece of work.
So, for the concept – does it add to the experience? It certainly makes one want to dig down into the album, bringing the outside world in as you investigate the artists and contemplate the sounds on offer. That said, you can always just switch off and listen to what’s there. It’s up to you really.
Machinefabriek - known to his many friends as Rutger Zuydervelt - has slowly built up his formidable reputation by seemingly being everywhere these past two decades. This has been in the main an unobtrusive process, mainly done by lending his quiet magic to sound poets, drone enthusiasts, famous pop stars, hell-driven saxophonists and fellow electronica nerds. He’s played in shops, front rooms, in squats and on curated stages in front of many an academic chin stroker. Somehow all of this activity is given a clear “retrospective focus” in this, his latest release; where he is joined by the great and the good of the alternative world such as Chantal Acda, Marissa Nadler and Peter Broderick. Hence the “with voices” title.
Yet it is clear that Machinefabriek’s vision is the primary one here. As ruthlessly focused as ever, Zuijderveld shows an often breathtaking balance of egoless arranging and sensitive appreciation of what his collaborators have brought to the table. The tone is clearly set with the opener 'I', a ghostly collaboration with Locrian’s Terence Hannum. Whatever metal shards [sic] have been brought along by Hannum have been summarily pressed into shape to serve the greater sonic good. Similar with Belgian singer Chantal Acda’s delicate voice on 'II', which sounds like it’s been subjected to all sorts of surgery in an incredibly atmospheric tone poem. ??Peter Broderick fares little better on 'III', his soft soul voice morphing into some strange vessel that starts in places to sound like a clarinet. His (seemingly nonsensical) story is incredibly creepy, too, he sounds drugged and in places like a modern day Hal. As for the duo Zero Years Kid, they become ghosts in a Walkman, creating a disembodied symphony similar to something the great Dick Raaijmakers would have entertained. All tracks are great reappropriations.
Where voices do break through to stake some space, Machinefabriek plays a strong counterpoint, the sounds often menacing and trucculet, almost acting as a challenge to the vocals to do better. Such as the contributions of Marianne Oldenburg and Richard Youngs. Perhaps the most startling take is saved until last with Marissa Nadler’s track, which becomes an ever-revolving vocal pattern that dips and sways, presenting undefined suggestions and emotions, not too far away from an Oramics or White Noise piece.
Zuydervelt has made a brilliant record that creeps up on the listener unawares, which, essentially, is what he has been doing for ages. Hopefully the world will start listening a bit more intently.
Het bewonderenswaardige aan het muzikale werk van Zuydervelt is dat hij zijn creatieve en originele ideeën met gebruik van elektronica vaak weet om te zetten in warmbloedige muziek. Als er één album is dat die stelling bewijst, dan is dat het recentelijk verschenen With Voices. Er ligt een bedacht concept aan ten grondslag, maar het levert muziek op met een hart en een ziel.
In het kort de ontstaansgeschiedenis: Zuydervelt was in Taipei om muziek te maken voor een dansgezelschap. Daar zag hij een video waarin een stem te horen die afkomstig bleek te zijn van de danseres, Wei-Yun Chen. Het bracht de Rotterdamse muzikant ertoe om met cassetterecorders, toongeneratoren, radio’s, synthesizers en andere hifi apparatuur een 35 minuten durende soundscape te creëren waar verschillende vocalisten op konden improviseren, zowel pratend, lezend als zingend, of woordloze keelklanken producerend. De vocalen bijdragen gebruikte Zuydervelt vervolgens om te bepalen hoe de andere tonale elementen zouden worden gearrangeerd. De stembijdragen dicteerden aldus in welke richting elk stuk zich uiteindelijk zou ontwikkelen.
Het definitieve resultaat is neergelegd op With Voices, waarop de stemmen natuurlijk zeer belangrijk zijn, niet zozeer als zangstemmen maar als instrumenten. Het idee alleen al is boeiend, de muzikale uitwerking is fascinerend.
Het album opent met een stuk gebaseerd op de stem van Terence Hannum (van Locrian). Het heeft aanvankelijk iets meditatiefs in zich, maar herbergt te veel spanning voor echte ontspanning. Na een kleine drie minuten doet zich een wending voor, wordt de muziek luider en levendiger, terwijl toch de grondslag wordt gehandhaafd. De stem van Hannum gaat op in de lange klanken of vormt juist de lange klanken. In het tweede stuk wordt de stem van Chantal Acda opgeknipt en net als de elektronica staccato gebruikt, maar we horen haar vooral dromerig flarden tekst zingen. De voorbijtrekkende muziek wordt een paar keer elektronisch ontregeld.
Peter Broderick levert de vocale bijdrage op ‘III’, waarbij Zuydervelt hem tegelijkertijd in verschillende vocale gedaanten laat horen. Broderick reciteert een stuk tekst, wat door de elektronica-muzikant aanvankelijk ongemoeid lijkt te worden gelaten, maar verderop wordt vertraagd en omringd door een veelvoud aan stemmen, wat even later luidruchtige vormen aanneemt. Marianne Oldenburg zingt echt, in het Engels op ‘IV’, terwijl haar eigen stem daar rondom beweegt. Ook bewegen zangmelodieën door elkaar. Het korte stuk maakt en coherente indruk.
‘V’ bevat tape-opnamen van Zero Years Kid, de naam waaronder Joachim Badenhorst zijn bijdrage levert. Het stuk heeft een collage-achtig karakter, iets wat Machinefabriek in de overige stukken weet te voorkomen. Het werkt wel, want de verschillende geluiden en stemmen (waaronder een ongemakkelijk gevoel gevend gefluister) werken vervreemdend en prikkelen de oren en het brein, die naarmate het stuk vordert steeds meer aan de muzikale gekte gaan wennen. Met Richard Youngs stem maakt Zuydervelt lange klanken, die opkomen en wegsterven en weer opnieuw opkomen. Het dynamische effect van de stem wordt gecombineerd met een zware elektronische ondergrond en verschillende hogere geluiden. In het luistervriendelijker tweede gedeelte wordt de stem ook meerstemmig weergegeven.
‘VII’ is het stuk met aanstichtster Wei-Yun Chen (zie ook onderstaande video). Het is abstract, onrustig, staat bol van de spanning en de pratende stem draagt bij aan een mysterieuze sfeer. Marissa Nadler is de vocalist van dienst in de elf minuten durende afsluiter. Haar stem is dominant in het vrijwel tempoloze en soms sacraal aandoende stuk. Die stem wordt op verschillende manieren ingezet: zingend, maar ook als onderdeel van de verder elektronische muziek.
Het is knap hoe Machinefabriek met de verschillende vocalen als uitgangspunt tot meer of minder abstracte maar ook gevoelvolle muziek weet te komen. Het is muziek die je niet onberoerd laat, muziek die het brein niet altijd begrijpt maar die het hart wel voelt. Prachtig.