with Anne Bakker and Edita Kartkoschka
1. Crumble (34:05)
cd/download, September 2016
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Machinefabriek’s new album, ‘Crumble’, is full of dramatic turns, immersive drones, glitchy electronics and intimate gestures. The long form piece was made by having violin player Anne Bakker and vocalist Edita Karkoschka improvise on an electronic track, and using these recordings (and added electronics and field recordings) to sculpt the 34 minute ‘Crumble’.
Rutger Zuydervelt started doing music as Machinefabriek in 2004, and has released a slew of albums since. Besides operating solo (from his homebase Rotterdam or live on stages worldwide), he’s a keen collaborator, working with (electronic, jazz or classical) musicians, film makers as well as choreographers. Rutger didn’t study music, but graduated as a graphic designer.
Anne Bakker studied jazz and improvised music at conservatories in Arnhem and Rotterdam, where she graduated in 2011. She regularly works for theater and dance; with John Buijsman, Kalterflug, Theatergroup DNA and Internationaal Danstheater, amongst others. Besides performing solo, Anne is also a member of the Turkish music group Goskel Yilmaz Ensemble and even performs with former Iron Maiden vocalist Blaze Bayley.
Edita Karkoscha was born in Poland and studied Music & Education in The Netherlands. She works in the fields of music, performance and sound art, and is the lead singer of art pop band Nausica, the electonica/neo-classical group Cast Glass, and the live-cinema performance act Koschka & Heimprofi. Edita also performs and records solo as Koschka.
We Need No Swords
Obsolete laserdiscs, glitching CD ROMs, corrupted hard disks – despite the myths of eternal, always-on algorithmic immortality fed to us by our tech overlords it is sometimes easy to forget that digital technology decays too. The cloud, however intangible it seems, is always rooted in the physical, and that electrical reality of data centres, servers and trans-oceanic cables- not to mention the screens in our hands and on our desks – is always subject to the irrevocable processes of decay and malfunction that governs all our lives. Computer says no. 404 error. Blue screen of death.
Crumble is a meditation on this process of destruction, coming across like some windswept lost Portishead track having its molecular bonds worn away until the component atoms disperse on the breeze. Combining hypnotic violin snatches from Anne Bakker and Edita Karkoschka’s ghostly vocal fragments with field recordings and Rutger Zuydervelt’s own electronic textures, it reframes Basinski’s Disintegration Loops for the iPhone age to form one of the most compelling artefacts from Machinefabriek’s recent oeuvre.
The first half of Crumble is an exquisite simulacrum of dissolution. Tantalising snatches of violin are enveloped in clouds of white noise, thousands of glistening spores drowning out everything else in fuzzy, enveloping wave.
Despite the dissonance this is a far cry from the familiar, scouring aggression of the harsh noise wall, despite the tempestuous field recording Zuydervelt weaves in. Instead, the glitching scree is soft and luminous, a digital ruin lust that’s more comforting blanket than a crushing weight. The endless fug of this soothing tempests exerts such a hefty gravitational pull that Zuydervelt’s fade around a third of way through seems much more abrupt than it actually is. The blizzard vanishes and we’re left drifting in a chilly, wide open space in which Bakker’s minimal violin swipes duet with Karkoschka’s similarly pared down snippets of melancholic lyricism, punctuated by stabs of electronic interference in a beautiful, sub-zero dance than continues for the next 20 or so minutes.
This switcheroo is drastic in terms of style, true, but it kind of makes sense if you think of it as a variation in perspective, relocating the first half’s obsessive documenting of disintegration to the vast virtual spaces of the matrix and dramatizing that link between virtual and physical to which we’re wilfully blind. Just as those legions of tape artists hunt through obsolete physical media in a nostalgic quest for the ghost in the machine, Machinefabriek seeks the spectres hidden in gradually fading motherboards and burnt out memory cards. Crumble’s violin and vocal phrases are created to seem deliberately incomplete, evoking songs and symphonies eaten away by the nanopests of data glitch.
Think of those old family tapes and photos uploaded to the home PC in a vain effort to annul the entropy and counteract the ongoing fade to grey of our own memories, only to be locked out forever as the creaking hard drive fails. Children’s lullabies replayed forever as silent screams behind a silicon wall. Old holiday snaps unseeable behind permanently blacked out Windows. Your content streamed live to a digital heaven, a nowhere of data from which we are forever exiled.
The single 34 minute piece making up Crumble finds Rutger Zuydervalt aka Machinefabriek creating a compelling, slowly mutating sonic narrative from edited improvisations by Anne Bakker on violin and vocalist Edita Karkoschka, and his own field recordings and electronics. Initially the piece gradually builds up and morphs through electronics delays in a way that reminds of Nurse With Wound’s seemingly static but ever changing ‘Salt Marie Celeste’, the multitracked drone pieces on Murcof’s ‘Cosmos’ and Chris Watson’s condensed environmental recordings.
What is disorientating is the difference in energy level inherent in the sounds, so that, for example, you get synthetic electronic glitches and crackles in the foreground, while the physical sound of a violin being bowed has dropped down to the backgruond and what sounds like fiercly buffeting wind is vying for a place with white noise, wih a niggling buzz and disembodied heartbeats. After a slow crescendo, at just after 11 minutes, the piece dissolves spectacularly into a sparse, hushed drift, puncuated by substantial blocks of overdubbed sound, and the hint of a song from Karkoschka. Distant siren-like notes and a lengthy rising drone of resiny violins suddenly cut out, leaving a barely audible oscillation to fade.
Long-term inhabitants of damper latitudes are familiar with the signs of an incoming rainstorm — the tension and heaviness in the air, the colour of the sky, the taste on the breeze. The opening of Machinefabriek’s “Crumble”, though calm, contains such warning signs, and sure enough the deluge soon arrives. At first it’s not clear whether rain or a waterfall is heard, but eventually the water is falling so fast and hard from the sky that the microphone seems to be crackling and peaking, the recording itself disintegrating under the weight of the downpour.
A musical evocation of the power of nature, realised with help from violinist Anne Bakker and vocalist Edita Karkoschka — a straightforward enough concept, right? After all, artists have been revelling in the elemental sublime since the time of Caspar David Friedrich and earlier. And yet the rainstorm endures for only a short space of time, leaving in its wake feverish singing, tense rumbles, and uncertain crackle and hum. Huge crushing bass pulses are cut off suddenly with a razor-sharp blade. The violin plays rapid, agitated arpeggios. Karkoschka murmurs, her spoken words broken by hesitation or editing. The music flits from figure to figure, unable to gather momentum, seemingly listless like a ship in the eye of a storm.
What is crumbling here? What deluge is being remembered, being anticipated, being feared? In the Netherlands, home of the man behind the Machinefabriek moniker, one Rutger Zuydervelt, the thought of inundation leads naturally to the thought of the crumbling of the land (much of which was reclaimed from the sea and sits below sea level); to say the word stormvloed is both to invoke the memory of the terrible North Sea flood of 1953, and to anticipate the dangers posed to the nation by rapidly rising sea levels. Any attempt to depict this tension would not succeed if it limited itself to depiction; the ghosts of past, present, and future, the grief and fear and hope, must also make their presence known, at least as shadows in the background. Accordingly, Zuydervelt brackets his storm evocation with more expressive passages.
And he doesn’t forget about the beauty that can be experienced on a walk through such a collapsing landscape. Towards the end, as more violin parts are added and the water returns again, the tone shifts from tense and anxious to calm and bright, the low sun reflected dazzlingly in pools of water. Perhaps a rainbow appears. I’d like to place “Crumble” alongside “Sneeuwstorm” in a category of the vast Machinefabriek discography that concerns natural phenomena, yet there is something both more personal and somehow more real about the former that makes me puzzle, that makes me wonder — how does such an instability as the landscape of the Netherlands resolve itself?
A Closer Listen
Many of Machinefabriek’s greatest works are long-form pieces, and the 34-minute Crumble is Rutger Zuydervelt’s finest release since last year’s Sneeuwstorm. We recall that album because it seems that a piece of that work has snuck into this one: the howl & crunch of a digital storm. As field recordings are credited as part of the composition, we wouldn’t be surprised to learn that these sound samples were caught at the same time.
Tempest aside, this is a different and unpredictable work, tumbling from segment to segment like a wild symphony. Anne Bakker contributes violin and viola and Edita Karkoscha (Nausica) lyrical voice, although neither element grows prominent until the storm has subsided. Until then, take shelter. The winds are too loud for any voice to be heard, the swirling electronics a camouflage for the strings. Yet as soon as the maelstrom secedes, one realizes that Bakker has been there all along; and once she establishes a foothold, Karkoscha follows her guided cord. The tone turns from harsh to sweet, the danger batted away. But then it keeps coming: relentless, uncowed.
What exactly is crumbling? It may be a foothold on sanity, a world view, a relationship, a concept of composition. The cover suggests degraded data, time abrading the edges of code. When read in linear fashion, the white lines begin to break down almost immediately, eventually becoming echoes of their former selves. Even when Karkoscha sings directly, her words are stolen away, swallowed by surges of strings. In the pantheon of Machinefabriek collaborations, she operates as the opposite of Kleefstra, enigmatic in vocal abstraction. Her presence is more important than her presentation, as her original renditions are looped, churned and otherwise modified.
Bakker’s work is mournful and dramatic in equal turns. Something is falling apart, and her strings provide both warning and elegy. As the track begins to wind down, she provides an opposing force: building rather than breaking down. It’s a hopeful finale, backed by literal and metaphorical melting: an attitude, a snowdrift, a heart. Then a plunge into near-silence, allowing room for contemplation. Look how far we have come. Consider all that has crumbled. Yet still we stand.
Perhaps because he's a bit more into on-site installations and concerts these days, there are, so it seems, a little bit less releases from Rutger Zuydervelt's Machinefabriek; I might be wrong and there might be a different reason but it seems as if his hectic schedule in that department slowed down a bit. There are more changes to be noted. These days he works more and more with other musicians, sampling their playing and incorporating them into the overall composition. On 'Crumble' these musicians are Anne Bakker, who plays viola and violin (she also played on last week's release by Quibus) and Edita Karkowschka who supplies voice and lyrics. A third change, but that's been going on for some time already, is that Machinefabriek is more and more into creating sound collages, moving between the very loud and very quiet. Also the guitar is less prominent in his current pieces, and Machinefabriek shifts towards using electro-acoustic means. Maybe we have to understand the title 'Crumble' as the crumbling of paper, metal sheets, tin foil or such like, which is treated by a fair amount of sound effects, along which we hear, not all the time of course, the strings of Bakker and the voice of Karkowschka, which creates another dimension to the music. These players add musicality, or whatever is regarded as such of course, to the crackling world of Machinefabriek, the rumble and crumble of those objects; it creates another world, an intimate one at that, one that quite intense at times, almost in a (post-) rock music context. That may sound bizarre, but that's what I think it is. Machinefabriek taps into many musical sources; musique concrete via the collage form and use of non-musical objects, modern classical with the use of violins and voices, but it's work out as a form of post rock. Plus, then there is the element of improvisation when it comes to recording and playing some of this, even when it is meticulously composed using multi-track editing. This is a very well balanced composition, marking the steady growth of Machinefabriek as a composer.
Prolific constructor and serial collaborator Machinefabriek has produced for you another opus in the form of Crumble, a 34 minute excursion into a fractured world of static-inducing electronics and acoustic touches. Help this time comes from violinist Anne Bakker, who has worked with the acoustic ensemble of Blaze Bayley (of Finnegan fame) (he has an acoustic ensemble??!? jeez), and Edita Karkoschka who provides some super soft vocal segments.
The result flows from emphasis on Rutger Zuydervelt’s crackling fuzz to slight violin phrases with a quiet coo from Karkoschka; each element seems to be going at all times, but sometimes buried deep in the drone, allowed to peep through during big moments. The best moments are actually when the violin goes really quiet, the electronics reach a hissy crackle like a chopped locked groove, and the vocals become their most loud and clear. Luckily there aren’t too many gratuitous droning crescendos, and while the record does drop into blurred mode a lot, it uses the vocal aspect as the centrepiece. If you do nothing else today, listen to this from around 18:30 to find a section of a pop song spliced up into emotional overload.
Sometimes it sounds like something on Erased Tapes, like A Winged Victory for the Sullen heard through a broken radio stuck between Erased Tapes FM and the vocal channel. It doesn’t exist, I know. Maybe you get the picture.
The first few minutes of soft strings and electronic are a misleading introduction. After three minutes the music suddenly turns into a frightening bombardment of noise particles that lasts for more than 10 minutes. Only if you brace yourself you will hear the details within that sonic storm.
At the end of that sequence – almost unheard from the back of the noise wall – a new theme is introduced. The storm dies down, and is followed by a calm section featuring spoken words and poetry by Edita Karkoscha. The piece ends with an even calmer part where violinist Anne Bakker takes the lead.
Rutger ‘Machinefabriek‘ Zuydervelt has worked with Anne Bakker before (memorable releases like Deining and Halfslaap), but Crumble is quite different in nature and concept.
This is not an ‘easy’ piece to listen to; it requires full attention before it releases its rewarding secrets. I have been wondering what Machinefabriek was actually trying to achieve here, with the dramatic turns and the enormous contradictions within one single piece. I felt an unintentional conceptual resemblance with Irreversible, Gaspar Noé‘s unforgettable movie that starts with a shocking climax and from there tells its story in backwards, reverse-chronological, order.The movie’s tagline: “Time destroys everything” – ultimately, everything will start to crumble.
Ooit komt er een dag dat ik bij een nieuwe release van Rutger Zuydervelt ofwel Machinefabriek gewoon enkel zeg: alweer goed, check! Of: luister zelf verdikkeme maar eens! Nee maar echt, als je zoveel kwalitatief hoogwaardig materiaal uitbrengt maak je het een recensent niet gemakkelijk nog woorden te vinden die origineel zijn. Inmiddels zeg ik tegen mijn vrouw ook maar dat we Rutger als logé hebben en dat er heel geen cd’s op de logeerkamer staan. Gelukkig kan ik zeggen dat hij voor zijn nieuwe cd Crumble samenwerkt met (alt)violiste Anne Bakker en zangeres Edita Karkoschka. Is toch weer wat anders. Rutger construeert intrigerende kaders met drones, noises en abstracte elektronica, die soms wel wat van een wervelstorm weg hebben. Daardoor hoor je de geluiden van de viool en stem opduiken, wat een mysterieus en spannend geheel tot resultaat heeft. Het gaat van mistige isolationisme naar haast kakofonische stukken. Normaal gesproken ben ik niet zo’n voorstander van 1 track van 34 minuten, maar hier sta je daar door de houdgreep waarin hij je neemt geen seconde bij stil. Wat een ongrijpbare pracht weer! De snelle besteller, ikke, kreeg er ook nog de fijne live cd IKLECTIK bij, maar laat ik dat niet inwrijven.