Box Music

Machinefabriek + Stephen Vitiello

1. bells, book, tin foil, buttons
2. Crackle box, thumb piano
3. Field recordings, rocks, speakers
4. Broken record, cassettes
5. Chocolate sprinkles, tape, egg cutter, rice, plastic bag

cd on 12K, June 2008

This cd costs 14 euro including worldwide postage

Or buy in digital format, on Bandcamp

You could say this collaboration happened out of nothing, all of a sudden. Just a mail to Stephen regarding the availability of a release of his led to making a full length album, a month or two later! It was a very inspiring and funny process. We decided to sent eachother a box filled with musical- and non-musical object, with the 'assignment' to make musical pieces with those. We both did two long tracks and did the final one together, swapping digital files. Despite the playful making-proces, the music might be the most intimate i did so far...
As extra bonus this album is released on the mighty 12K label! I couldn't be more happy...

Click here for more info and samples


Music Machine

Box music is an rewarding and offten haunting collection of ambient/ experimental and strange sound scapes built with the use of everyday items; with each of the five tracks using a different set of items to create these compelling, haunting and alien sound worlds.

The five tracks here are split between 2 from each artist with the last track been collaboration between the pair, with each track been named after the items that were used to create it. First up is a Machinefabriek track entitled Bells,Book, Tin Foil, Buttons- which enters with a haunting, penetrating and lonely sunrise like drone that shimmers ever so often with sudden tinkling bell tones. The drone is also broken here and there by sudden ripping or scuttling tones too & through
out it stays haunting yet very odd. Latter on with the track Broken record, cassettes; Stephen Vitiello build's up a sort of slurred, muffled and looped sound tapestry of song snippets, stretched and damaged voices, and turntable textures- feeling like a more twitchy and hyperactive take on Willaim Basinski meets Philip Jeck.

The collaborative track entitled Chocolate Sprinkles, Tape, Egg Cutter, Plastic- starts with ushers in a strange wavering harmonic drone which has top of it: doom like plucking tones, distant stereo panning voices, piercing gong tones, along with all manner of atmospheric and strange rustles, slows shakes, settles ect. All in a very creative and rewarding collection of soudworlds; that show's in the right hands highly compelling, bizarre and atmosphericsound scaping can be made with the most ordinary everyday items.


For their postal collaboration, Rutger Zuydervelt and Stephen Vitiello return to a challenge as old as electronic music itself. When using natural sounds, ones not produced electronically or by instruments – how to escape the associations those sounds inevitably suggest? Musique concrete pioneer Pierre Schaeffer explained the challenge as being how to make music that is not compromised by literature. In other words, the music should be non-symbolic, objects are to be turned into 'sound objects.'

Zuydervelt and Vitiello set themselves this challenge in an even more literal way. The two mailed each other boxes of objects, and each was to create a piece of music with what the other provided. Processing was, of course, allowed. Each has two pieces here, and one was a collaborative effort. But just as they show no interest in symbolism, Zuydervelt and Vitiello don't seem to be interested in completely masking their sounds, either. Finding out how they made what sound with what object is part of, but not the whole, idea here.

When they name a piece "Bells, Book, Tin Foil, Buttons," they want you to play cat-and-mouse with the sounds, to think about how much these sounds, in and of themselves, can express. Zuyderfelt turns the crinkle of tin foil into rain and an abruptly-shut book into the rumble of thunder, yet the association is there only for a moment, long enough to engage with a little light humor and a bit of wonder.

For the most part, the duo stay away from these sorts of gestures. Most of the album is a study in intimacy. On "Chocolate Sprinkles, Tape, Egg Cutter, Rice, Plastic Bag," they zoom in on an egg cutter, the kitchen implement becoming a booming metallic low end. Elsewhere, rocks and buttons become gentle beds of percussive texture, bells are transformed into overtone-rich drones and field recordings move in and out, transmission-like.

Where Zuydervelt displays a penchant for dramatic arcs, Vitiello takes a more diffuse approach. In a sign of his extensive background in installation work, he creates pieces that are more environments than compositions, very cellular in organization. His first piece ("Crackle Box, Thumb Piano") shifts directions and morphs constantly. "Broken Record, Cassettes" shows flashes of more structured and more rhythmical development, but that is probably due to Vitiello foregrounding the looping nature of the objects rather than by design. He stays away from the usual notions of decay that tapes and record loops usually suggest, and even lets the strains of a tune take center stage, giving the piece a natural conclusion.

Throughout Box Music, the sounds are abstracted, but not given any extra meaning. This return to one of electronic music's founding principles is refreshingly old-fashioned, if we can apply that term to electronic music without too much irony. No high-concept digital futurism or forced social commentary here. Instead, they come close to Tod Dockstader's craftsman-like ideal of "organized sound," in which sounds are created and juxtaposed for the simple reason that they fascinate and charm the ear.


Another new Machinefabriek, this one a collaboration with American musician, Stephen Vitiello, and this is a record where the concept is so genius, the music would be hard pressed to live up to the expectations. For this collaboration, with Machinefabriek in the Netherlands and Vitiello in the US, instead of sending files back and forth as is typical with long distance projects, the duo came up with a clever idea. Each picked a handful of objects, and sent the objects to the other with instructions to use nothing but those objects to craft a piece of music. Which seems simple enough until you see the list of items: bells, book, tin foil, buttons, crackle box (?), thumb piano, field recordings, rocks, speakers, broken record and cassettes. Each of them created two songs on their own, and would team up for a final piece using another box, full of even less obviously musical items, which we'll discuss in a second.

First, the two Machinefabriek pieces, number one, using just bells and tin foil and buttons, Machinefabriek, aka Rutger Zuydervelt, managed to craft a piece not all that different than stuff he's done in the past, bells being the main sound it seems, sometimes recognizable, other times blurred into warm fuzzy tones, super minimal, by the end the tones seem to have blossomed, expanded, the notes deep and resonant, the bells a distant shimmer. For his second piece, Zuydervelt, using field recordings rocks and speakers, crafted a very Jewelled Antler sounding soundscape of staticky crackle, muted scrape, distant hum, all very rough and raw, but partway through they transform into something much more clinical and cold, the field recordings taking center stage, an intense buzz, almost felt more than heard, bits of high end squiggle, distant voices, all over a deep dark shimmering whir. Quite nice. Like a more musical Ryoji Ikeda during the second half.

The first of Vitiello's pieces, using just a crackle box whatever that is and a thumb piano, is all sine waves and dog whistle tones, crackle and buzz, clipped clicks and processed static, the thumb piano, only audible now and again way off in the background, a mournful almost melody, drifting in a field of glitch and crackle. Vitiello's second track, utilizing broken record and cassettes (seems like he got the easier part of the bargain, as most of his items were sound oriented or sound makers), is a gorgeously blurred and woozy field of electronically altered voices and snippets of music, bits of crackle and pop, skipping looped fragments, all smeared into what sounds like fractured short wave broadcasts, chunks of glitchy buzz, muted melodic whirs, strange effects, by now I think we can safely assume that the objects sent weren't the only items used, as there seems to be much processing and loads of effects. Still gorgeous and abstract, but would have been neat too to see what these two guys could have done without a computer and all those effects. But it's a good thing, they were allowed to use effects and computers and things, cuz not sure what the last track would sound like without em, considering the objects for the final track, the collaboration, are chocolate sprinkles, tape, egg cutter, rice and a plastic bag. Listening to it now, hard to believe even with all that technology at their disposal, that these guys could conjure up something so musical, but they did, and it's fantastic, deep resonant tones, disembodied voices, shimmering chimes, deep swells of low end, plenty of crinkle and crackle and static, but all very warm, and haunting, dark and mysterious and most surprising of all, melodic. Easily the prettiest song on the disc. But now matter how hard we listen, we just can't seem to hear the chocolate sprinkles...

Cyclic Defrost

For 'Box Music' Stephen Vitiello and Rutger Zuydervelt stray from their respective pet musical obsessions and show that they can create dazzling work out of any raw material. As though straw into gold, plain old everyday objects of various sorts - egg cutters, chocolate sprinkles, broken records, etc - are rendered aesthetically pleasing in their hands. But despite this fact, they aren't exactly treated in an eclectic, permissive manner, nor are they progressively weakened or complicated by levels of excess. The ensuing tracks therefore manage to go without sounding like a cry for adult supervision. Vitiello and Zuydervelt display a very clear and complementary manner in the handling of these sounds. In their combination of openness and refined technical ability they not only provide sophisticated interpretations of these trace sounds but they also show themselves to be imaginative programmers in the ways in which they distance these skewed sounds from their respective naturalobjects. Now and again a chiming bell or thumb piano retains its distinctive voice, punctuating and vivifying the proceedings, but even then they interact in animated chatter, quarrelsome exchanges or reverberant accord.

Oftentimes it is their almost complete disappearance that makes this album so becoming. The consistent potentialization of the everyday turns it into something really real, and thus surreal. A different sort of unknown region is therefore opened up; and the mysteriousness of the recordings sets in motion a search for identities and meaningful correlations. Insofar as this is maintained, 'Box Music' progresses well beyond its intriguing concept - it uses it to spur on an ingenious work of surprising gaiety.


If you were under the impression that the postman always rings twice, you will have to think again: Stephen Vitiello and Rudger Zuydervelt made the poor guy carry heavy boxes from one side of the Atlantic to the other for a full five times. For months, they sent objects such as books, tin foil, a thumb piano, broken records and old tapes, chocolate sprinkles, an egg cutter and a plastic bag from Zuydervelt's home in the Netherlands to Vitiello's house in the USA and the other way round. Needless to say, neither of the two was looking for a penpal. Rather, their activities were as pleasant as they were serious - and part of a both unusual and highly enjoyable collaborational procedure.

The end result has now been released on 12k records under the name of 'Box Music'. The album contains five tracks (two solo pieces by each participant and a joint composition) with descriptive titles such as 'Crackle Box, Thumb Piano' and 'Chocolate Sprinkles, Tape, Egg Cutter, Rice, Plastic Bag' and it is easily one this year's most surprising and loveable efforts in the field of Sound Art. Instead of cluttering air waves with yet another stern and academic treatise, the duo has rediscovered its love for squeezing sound from everyday items. It is an album that, for once, feels as though everything simply fell into place instead of having to be carved out of dour debates and endless discussions.

"As for our solo tracks, we both found we did a great job, so it was easy evaluating the material we created", Zuydervelt, who releases under his nom de plui Machinefabriek, confirms the impression of this record being a spontaneous affair. Vitiello agrees, adding how both sides were intuitively sure that the abovementioned creative process was exactly what they were looking for at the time: "I don't remember exactly how the discussion developed but I'm guessing we started discussing exchanging sound files and field recordings and then Rutger suggested the idea of a box of stuff. He said we should "dare" each other to make something with the objects. I thought it was a great idea. It felt more Fluxus than the expected electronic music formula of long distance collaboration."

It was certainly more instinctive and relaxed than 99% of experimental compositions out there. Throughout, you can distinctly feel the fun it was to create 'Box Music'. This is a record which could bridge the divide between the experimental niche and a wider audience, because it doesn't use its inventive concept as an excuse but merely as a point of departure for sympathically daring aural adventures.

As the project progressed, the process itself got decreasingly important. None of the two cared much for establishing a new school of any kind or for creating music with haptic qualities. Even Vitiello, whose teaching position as an "Assistant Professor of Kinetic Imaging" and his work for exhibitions mark him as an audiovisual artist, stresses that it was never part of their intention to get overly conceptual on the object-issue: "I don't think it's a flip since our ultimate goal was still to produce sounds and hopefully to make interesting ones", he stresses, "The issue of visual hierarchy is much more related to my gallery life. I have been making more photographs and drawings lately and some of those have been exhibited. But the photos and drawings too come out of the process of listening and/or recording. With Box Music, sound and idea are closely linked but I don't think anyone needs to see the objects."

On a similar note, the objects did not need to remain timbrally recognisable after reworking their sounds in the studio. The main philosophy of the project was that "the end result is what counts" (Zuydervelt) and that including the tools used for producing the music in the titles was enough to evoke diverse associations in the audience. The album proves this creed right, as you're constantly on the prowl for evidence of their existence. Even though you tell yourself that you clearly heard a bell here and the rain-like qualities of chocolate sprinkles being sprayed on a smooth surface there, you can never quite be sure whether what you found is a fragment of reality or a figment of your imagination.

In the end, even the artists weren't quite sure anymore about what got placed where - or whether it was used at all. "I must confess that the book, some cheap pocket, was an object I couldn't connect with an idea right away. But it ended up somewhere in the mix I believe", Zuydervelt rather vaguely intimates, while Vitiello mentions that he thought "there may be a moment where you hear someone reading from that book and laughing." After listening to the particular piece for a couple of times, I can't quite make it out either - even though there seem to be a lot of other noises present, including wind and some distant rumbling, which were never mentioned in the first place.

At the moment, both artists are already persuing their own projects again. Zuydervelt has just published an album of melancholically scraping metal and autumnal guitar strings ('Dauw' on Dekorder), while Vitiello documented his work for an installation in Houston on a 12''. But their shared feelings of having discovered a like-minded musical partner and friend have definitely made them want to meet in person sometime in the future: Their next collaboration may therefore well happen face to face. The postman will be sighing with relief.


It's not unusual for geographically separated electronic musicians to collaborate via digital file-sharing but Machinefabriek (Rotterdam resident Rutger Zuydervelt, infamously known for the prodigious number of home-made, 3-inch CDRs he's issued since 2004) and Stephen Vitiello (the Richmond, Virginia-based sound and media artist) cross the Atlantic in a way that's probably never been done before. In place of swapping files via the web, the two hit upon the idea of swapping objects and adhering to a single key guideline to go with it. Each sent the other a box of recordings and largely non-musical objects, things like bells, tin foil, buttons, thumb piano, rocks, speakers, chocolate sprinkles, tape, egg cutter, rice, plastic bag, with the proviso that they be the only materials with which material could be generated. 'Box Music', a five-track disc with each contributing two solo pieces and the fifth a collaboration where Zuydervelt completed the work begun by Vitiello, documents the result.

No one familiar with the artists' output should be too surprised that they eschew cheap novelty treatments of the working materials. Instead, the two exploit the objects' sound-generating potential and transmute the generated material into settings that dovetail rather seamlessly with the kind of material one normally expects from practitioners operating in the experimental electronic field. Though bells are heard during Zuydervelt's crystalline drone "Bells, Book, Tin Foil, Buttons," for example, the other materials are used to produce a wide range of percussive textures (e.g., rumbles, crackle, etc.), and certainly the sounds generated during Vitiello's 'Crackle Box, Thumb Piano', a thirteen-minute field of grainy rustlings, spacey whoops and glissandi, and thumb piano plucks, extend far beyond the titular tools. Zuydervelt's 'Broken Record, Cassettes' comes as close to conventional music-making as the album gets, though—in keeping with the title's "broken" detail, it's music-making of a particularly sickly sort that in the wooziness of its crippled vinyl loops calls to mind Philip Jeck. All praise to Zuydervelt and Stephen Vitiello for making good on their inspired idea's promise.


Fewer and fewer CD-Rs seem to be coming our way from the Machinefabriek camp nowadays, but perhaps that's because Rutger Zuydervelt has taken his place among the ranks of the most established, household names of the microsound genre. Being published by 12k generally means you're in the club. If there is any one label at the top of the tree in terms of its profile and all-round creative accomplishment, 12k would be it, and so this new collaboration between Zuydervelt and the sound artist Stephen Vitiello might be seen as a handing over of the key to the executive washroom, so to speak. The concept behind Box Music is that each artist would send the other a package filled with (usually non-musical) objects with which to start a composition - it's certainly a neat way around that time-tested collaboration mechanism: file-swapping; something that to the outsider has embodied the dehumanised, solitary processes of electronic music making. The first piece showcases the results of Machinefabriek's treatments of materials, namely bells, books, tin foil and buttons. Cards on the table though, people: Vitiello could have FedExed Zuydervelt an Ostrich and this would still have ended up sounding utterly lovely.

The excellent third exercise 'Field Recordings, Rocks, Speakers' makes hints towards melodies, establishing a charged up atmosphere that bursts into life once that low end starts moving around in the second half. Perhaps the real revelation here is Stephen Vitiello: his solo pieces are grounded in a more academic mindset, operating via the language that widely informs acousmatic music and sound art, exploring a wider variety of timbral properties innate to his sources rather than leaning towards the sculpting of out-and-out drone tapestries. The real triumph of Box Music is the album's incredible closing piece, a direct collaboration between both artists using chocolate sprinkles, rice, plastic bags, tape and an egg cutter. That doesn't sound like an especially convincing way of starting the compositional process, but in fact, the end result is quite marvellous, culminating in a crescendo of activity and grain texture. Exemplary work from both parties - Essential Purchase.

Vital Weekly

Noted before: following his fly start career with a vast output of 3"CDR releases, leading to 'proper' releases, 2008 will be the year in which Machinefabriek's Rutger Zuydervelt expands to working with others. Steinbruchel, Freiband and Jan Kleefstra paved the way, now it's time for Stephen Vitiello. He ordered some CDs from Rutger and one thing lead to another. But it was not a matter of simply sending each other some sound files over the mail: in stead they mailed eachother boxes of objects to create music with. The titles of the pieces tell us what was in there: bells, book, tin foil, buttons, crackle box, thumb piano, egg cutter, rice, plastic bag and so forth. Its not easy to recognize these sounds in the music presented here. The treatments are wide and extensive. There are two solo piece by Rutger, two by Stephen and one collaborative, started by Rutger, finished by Stephen. I haven't kept up with Vitiello's work, so it's a bit hard to say wether his pieces are like his other music, but this is a great collaboration. Very delicate sound processing going on here, subtle crackling of sound, the best of ambient glitch music. Machinefabriek has found a sound of his own, but that he did for more than a year ago, and now it's time to deepen that sound. This is certainly a highlight in his career.