1. Stillness #6 (Lemaire Channel, Antarctica)
2. Stillness #7 (Antarctic Sound, Antarctica)
3. Stillness #8 (Labeuf Fjord, Antarctica)
4. Stillness #9 (Hanusse Bay, Antarctica)
5. Stillness #10 (Antarctic Sound, Antarctica)
cd/dl/stream on Glacial Movements, January 2020
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Soundtrack for Sillness - Brash IcePack Ice, Growlers, Bergy Bits and Icebergs, a series of cinematic landscapes by Esther Kokmeijer.
The cd comes in a digipack with 16 page photo booklet.
When Esther Kokmeijer asked Rutger Zuydervelt (aka Machinefabriek) to score the second installment of her ‘Stillness’ video series, he didn’t have to think twice. After all, when working on its first volume, the duo found out soon enough that the images of floating icebergs and desolate sea scapes were a perfect fit with Rutger’s glacial sounds (as heard on ‘Stillness Soundtracks’). For that first set, the score was quite lively and layered, as if the music was adding a narrative to the static imagery, suggesting that things were unfolding outside of the screen. For the second ‘Stillness’ installment, the focus is more on what can be seen within the frame – an attempt to capture the solemness of the images – to find beauty, but also sadness in the mesmerizing quality of Esther’s films. This makes ‘Stillness Soundtracks II’ a more sombre and subdued album and one that’s a fitting soundtrack to these alarming times with climate change being a more serious threat than ever.
Esther Kokmeijer: “Stillness” depicts tranquil, gliding images of icescapes from the North and South Pole. I filmed these landscapes during my biannual visits to Antarctica as an expedition photographer. The meditative images invite reflection on the unparalleled beauty of this glacial ecology, which appears both vulnerable and resilient.”
A Closer Listen
When we talk about movie sequels, the consensus is that few are as good as the original. Here’s one that is: Esther Kokmeijer’s Stillness – Brash Ice, Pack Ice, Growlers, Bergy Bits and Icebergs. This stunning film is a marvel of cinematography, and makes a silent witness on climate change ~ silent, that is, save for the gentle drama of Machinefabriek‘s score. These two artists teamed up for the first installment as well, and the release on the Glacial Movements label is ideal.
Perhaps an equally fitting title for the project would be Slowness. Neither music nor image are still; each possesses a subtle, inexorable forward motion. The principle applies not only to the determined cutter ship of “#1 – Lemaire Channel, Antarctica 2014” but to the acceleration of climate change. As the ship plows a path through snow and ice, it unleashes surprising splashes of azure and rust. Finally it breaks through to open water. It’s tempting to view this opening segment as a parable of hope, although it lends itself equally to the opposite reading. In contrast, the word stillness speaks of a feeling, an impression when faced with the great expanse of blue and white: the great majesty of the Antarctic, so important to our future yet so often unseen. And although neither artist suggests this reading, stillness may also be seen as the human reaction to glacial melt; few contemporary issues have been the subject of so many words and so little meaningful action.
One is able to push such thoughts away while enjoying the music and the visuals. Machinefabriek introduces the project with low, slow drones and hydrophonic bubbles, signifying weight, volume and mass. The sense of scale is enormous. Swirling tones, like an awakening orchestra, surge forth at the end of the opening track, as if rallying behind a cause. Midway through the second movement, a larger bubble seems to break the surface from the abyss, along with a suggestion of tonal wobble which one may interpret as the distortion of a crucial message. But with sudden clarity, the sound of running water leaps to the foreground, like truth slicing through a lie.
A cold wind blows through the middle piece, a reminder of the harshness of conditions at either pole. Meanwhile, Kokmeijer reminds us of other phenomena as well: the fact that there are waves in the region (we tend to think of everything as frozen), and the similarity of snowy landscapes to billowing clouds. The teaming of sight and sound seems so instinctive that one feels a great unity of design. She calls the landscape “vulnerable and resilient,” a curious dichotomy, but one in which we participate. Together, Kokmeijer and Zuydervelt remind us of an under-publicized angle: that the natural world is itself great art. And no cohesive argument can be made for its destruction.
What’s left to say? Stillness Soundtracks the suggestion that there may be a whole left undiscovered, hinting at something beneath the surface that isn’t instantaneously recognisable. Rutger Zuydervelt’s journey into the remote landscapes of sound is far from a solitary one as the music, mysterious as it is, invites you into its imagination as expectations reveal themselves. Sometimes blissful, sometimes altogether darker in temptation. This soundtrack to the visual artist Esther Kokmeijer’s exploration of Antarctica terrain is also an intensely private affair between you and what springs from the speakers. Five pieces form the moments and although it would be unfair to highlight one in particular the warm rushes of emotion and melodic textures emanating from Stillness #9 (Hanusse Bay, Antarctica) are very appealing. Leaving you with the concluding Stillness #10 (Antarctic Sound, Antarctica) by also equalling the charm, this time via choir-like poignancy which is quite breath-taking, the score completes. The accompanying artwork is typically striking, likewise from Glacial Movements, which is incidentally just as well as Rutger Zuydervelt designs them all.
In 2014, Esther Kokmeijer and Machinefabriek released their multimedia project Stillness: a 5-part video documenting Kokmeijer’s trip to the Arctic and the Antarctic. The original USB (video-)release was later followed by the audio-only release of the soundtrack: Stillness Soundtracks.
Stillness “depicts tranquil, gliding images of icescapes from the North and South Pole” Kokmeijer “filmed these landscapes during my biannual visits to Antarctica as an expedition photographer. The meditative images invite reflection on the unparalleled beauty of this glacial ecology, which appears both vulnerable and resilient.”
Six years later, the story of this journey is retold from a somewhat different perspective. This time, five different locations from Antarctica are pictured. Stillness Soundtracks II is, of course, the audio-only version of their collaboration: for those that want to enjoy the video versions, there’s a USB-version still available from Esther Kokmeijer‘s website.
Compared to the first soundtrack, Machinefabriek (Rutger Zuydervelt)‘s soundtrack feels somewhat more emotional, possibly due to “these alarming times with climate change being a more serious threat than ever.”
For sounds as ‘glacial’ like this, there could not be a more fitting label than Glacial Movements, the label that also released the first soundtrack edition. This is indeed a chilling soundtrack. Literally.
Op de nieuwe cd Stillness Soundtracks II gaat Machinefabriek verder met het scheppen van soundtracks voor het beeldmateriaal van Esther Kokmeijer. De cd bevat 5 tracks, die samen een goede 35 minuten duren. Ditmaal zijn de verstilde beelden enkel afkomstig uit Antarctica, die tussen 2014 en 2017 door Kokmeijer geschoten zijn. En zoals het ijs geleidelijk over elkaar schuift, wisselt de muziek ook op een langzaam glijdende schaal van karakter. De kruisbestuiving hier van neoklassiek, drones en ambient is enerzijds isolationistisch en koud, maar anderzijds ook hartverwarmend mooi. Alles staat in het teken van de kou, al wikkelt de muziek zich als een warme deken om je heen. Ook in het boekje vind je werkelijk schitterende foto’s terug van de ijs- en sneeuwlandschappen, die je niet koud zullen laten. De muziek staat wederom ook los van de beelden als een iglo overeind. Ik denk dat liefhebbers van Thomas Köner, Netherworld, Biosphere, Svarte Greiner, Jacaszek, Olan Mill en Ben Frost (hihi) hier gewoonweg van zullen smelten. Het is dan kennelijk ook een ijskoud kunstje voor Zuydervelt geworden om hier wederom een meesterwerk van te maken.
1208 Fuller Ave
Our visit to the vast snowbound southern continent known as Antarctica begins when we sail into ‘Stillness #6’ and, as soon as you step on board the deck of your ship of the imagination, you’re greeted with chillingly cold winds that threaten to freeze you to the spot. Ice crackles create the sounds the movement our virtual vessels makes through the channel, and sonorous drones and a mournful howling paint a vivid picture of the steep cliffs that line each bank of the Lemaire Channel. It is truly an inhuman landscape here, beautiful yet ultimately inhospitable, a place where the human animal is unfit to be a part of and unwelcome. It isn’t any wonder that HP Lovecraft set his seminal tale ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ on Antarctica – only the truly alien could fit in and call it home, plus the cyclopean nature of the natural features instantly separates the two scales of human and inhuman definitively. It is a place to admire from a safe vantage point, but not one to get too intimate with.
‘Stillness #7’ opens out widely, just like the Antarctic Sound itself, a hovering upper register drone floating almost serenely and hauntingly in the frigid air, a platform perhaps for the reverberations and echoes that appear to reach out from a cocoon of quietude, the sounds and emanations remnants of a distant past frozen into the very atmosphere. Unlike the previous track, we feel unbounded and unfettered, an endlessly slow progression of miniscule movements and events that eventually accumulate and shape the very continent itself. Simultaneously it feels fragile, ephemeral, and ghostly, as if possessing qualities that we humans continually fail to grasp both physically and metaphorically. But stillness here is an illusion, as the sounds of running water remind us – in spite of apparent stasis, this vast place is always moving, on both the micro and macro scales.
Venturing further, we find ourselves in Laubeuf Fjord, the subject of ‘Stillness #8’. This is another one of those open spaces like that referred to in the previous ‘Stillness’, but judging from photographs it appears to be a feature that could be classed as being one that is very open yet still bounded, sitting in between the Lemaire Channel and Antarctic Sound in topography and size. A keening, whistling high-borne wind swirls around us, a spectral sound that seeps into our bones and mind. It appears not to have one specific source; instead it exists everywhere within this particular space, a presiding spirit if you like firmly and irrevocably tied to this location. In some respects this serves as a species of prelude to ‘Stillness #9’, This track, I think, is the most traditional-sounding ambient piece so far, with sweeping uplifting chords and drones combining to lift one up on subtle currents of air, propelling us into the rarefied regions of the atmosphere where the dancing sprites of the aurora dwell. Indeed, it feels more descriptive of the sky than the earth – one can very easily imagine an uninterrupted and unclouded arch of heaven above, sprinkled with the glittering sequins of the cosmos providing tiny spotlights for the colourful veils of light wafting across it. This feels cold, bright, and distant, but simultaneously warm and inviting. We are graciously being allowed to share in the dance and the bounty.
For our last port of call we find ourselves back in Antarctic Sound for ‘Stillness #10’ – this time, however, we are treated to an even more spacious portrait of this place. Warm celestial drones wash over us gently, reminding us perhaps that all places, no matter how familiar they may appear, have different moods in the same way we do. It feels as if this is the last lonely place on our planet, a place of staggering beauty that’s ever-evolving and moving, and that it will continue to do so well after we’ve disappeared from the face of the earth, until the time the sun turns against its own children and engulfs them in flame and destruction. The continent’s very isolation hopefully ensures that our depredations will be non-existent, and that we will see the light and leave it alone. A useless hope perhaps, but this still emphasises that as vast as this tract of ice-bound land at the southern end of the world may be it is still fragile and worthy of our protection.
This is a beautiful album, gracing us with a gamut of atmospheres ranging from the frigid and unwelcoming to the warm and embracing. Furthermore, it also speaks of the continent’s contradictory solidity and fragility, as well as its movements and evolution on both the micro- and macroscopic scale. It encompasses all of its facets, bringing with it reminders that not only is it an awe-inspiring place but also dangerous, often for the very same reasons. It’s a continent that very few of us will ever get the chance to physically visit but, if you’re like me, albums like this do more than enough to take me there in spirit, where I can observe in safety and warmth. Given the climatic state of our planet at present, this is about as close as I wish to go. As far as I’m concerned this is another winner from Glacial Movements.
I am not sure if Zuydervelt uses some of the sounds that were no doubt also captured in the music, save for the water sounds in 'Stillness #7'. We do not know what Zuydervelt's primary instrument is these days, other than the studio. In the olde days it was the guitar and effects and listening to these pieces I can easily see that is still the case, but I might not be surprised if he also uses (software) synthesizers and computer-processed field recordings for his music as well. This seems to be the week of ambient music (see also AKB and William St Hugh elsewhere) and Machinefabriek is in particular ambient mood here. I can't replicate the volume of the cinema at home (again: sadly!) but I can imagine in combination with the images (beautiful colour photos in the booklet) on screen, no doubt slow-moving camera work upon mighty white and blue landscapes, this is the only possible soundtrack and it works well. It also works as a standalone release, but with that note that, just like AKB and St Hugh elsewhere, this is the sort of ambient music that we know quite well. The slow, glacier-like (no pun intended) movement of icey sounds moving about through the use of synthesizers, guitars, effects, processed field recordings, is, of course, something that has been done before; Zuydervelt is someone who is particularly good in doing a superb job and he doesn't fail to deliver.
Another Green Kitchen
Nothing prepared me for this new work. Kokmeijer’s footage is eerie, astonishing, and horripilating – active and fully engaged – and Zuydervelt’s music is right in sync with it. I’ve been listening to this for days now and loving it, reveling in its depths and textures, losing myself in the speculative soundscapes it conjures for me. And when I need grounding, I pore over the booklet of moody, mystifying, emotive images that comes with the download.
As I’ve been looking and listening, I’ve also been reading. On February 13th, 2020, the temperature at Seymour Island, Antarctica, was 20 degrees Celsius, or 68 degrees. One week prior to that, a temperature of 64.9 degrees was recorded at Esperanza Island, Antarctica. Elsewhere, it’s been pointed out that January of this year was the hottest January on record for the planet. All of which has added a poignant new element to my experience of this work. Icebergs and arctic regions are melting down. Will they disappear? And if they do, are we prepared to face what comes next?
With Stillness II, Kokmeijer and Zuydervelt have opened a portal to a part of the world that most people will never get to but that everyone will be affected by as it disappears. Step through and look around. And if you find yourself at some point in the future trying to describe what ice was like to someone who’s never seen or felt it, Stillness II might be the place to start.