eau

Mariska Baars / Rutger Zuydervelt

eau (30:10)

cd/dl/stream, May 2019

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Mariska Baars and Rutger Zuydervelt go way back. And although they regularly work together in the quartet Piiptsjilling, their last effort as a duo stems from 2008, the album Drawn (on Foxy Digitalis/Morc).

But now eau is here. eau (pronounced “oh”) means ‘water’ in French, and that’s how it sounds; like gently rocking waves of sound, or like a babbling sonic stream of fractured audio debris. It also sounds a bit like the equivalent of sunlight dancing on the ripples of a lake’s surface.

eau is not really a song, or a composition. Well, technically it is, but it functions more like an atmosphere that fills the space. Just let it play (on repeat…) and let the sounds hang in the room - let them co-excist with any other sound that’s there. Open a window if you wish! Or, experience the trip on headphones, let these soft tones, gentle voices, buzzes and crackles tickle the inside of your skull.

eau was mastered by the one and only Stephan Mathieu, who made this carefully crafted audio patchwork shine even more.


Reviews

Touching Extremes

Already a prolific creative specimen when he acts alone, Rutger Zuydervelt (aka Machinefabriek) reminds us of his collaborative potential in this joint venture with vocalist Mariska Baars, the pair having been working for a long time in diverse contexts. Baars is the owner of a sweet timbre, between an angelic soprano and a singer of hypnotic lullabies. And, in fact, “mesmerizing” is the adjective to accurately depict the essence of Eau.

Besides the voice, the acoustic palette comprises an electric guitar – some of its components presumably enhanced with preparations – plus small percussive sources (a mbira, or equivalent African instrument, materializes in places to add pinches of tangibleness) and, just maybe, an electronic keyboard for further degrees of luminescence. All in all, the merely instrumental matters range from cleanly picked/plucked tones and harmonics to mild rattles, gently crackling noises and subsurface hums. Zuydervelt subjected the mix to a looping process, in which Baars’ cantillated particles appear, disappear and superimpose upon themselves.

The textural wholeness often fluctuates, a perfectly tonal segment turning into its very image reflected on a liquefied surface, the contours imprecise and trembling. Those are the junctures where the music becomes genuinely charming, its cuddling traits fully functional. For a vague idea, imagine a blend of Akira Rabelais’ Spellewauerynsherde and the most ethereal imagery elicited by the Andy Moor/Yannis Kyriakides interaction, the whole slightly altered by a set of colored lenses.

As recommended by the artists, this single 30-minute piece needs the “repeat” mode for best results. It’s simply constructed and bewitchingly graceful, its reiterative sonority appearing as a natural phenomenon with calming properties.

Just Outside

A dreamy half-hour spent floating with Baars and Zuydervelt. Baars' lovely voice is overlaid, enhanced and manipulated in, I imagine, many ways--though never losing its essential "song" sound - sometimes seeming to be singing in some imaginary language and woven among (appropriately) liquid electronic textures, what sounds like backward guitars and doubtless much more. Given the title and cover image, the result is almost a kind of program music, as one easily imagines diaphanous water spirits wafting through the azure, drifting slowly down into the ever-darkening blue. A few surprising and mysteriously sharp clicks transpire later in the piece--sonar pings, perhaps. Distant voices? Boat motors? Hard to tell as one's senses have numbed somewhat. Ambient done right, well worth a listen.

Fluid Radio

Mariska Baars and Rutger Zuydervelt go way back. Although they regularly work together in the quartet Piiptsjilling, their last collaboration was 2008’s Drawn, an incredible eleven years ago. ‘Eau’ means ‘water’ in French, so the theme of the record quickly reveals itself, turning into a natural liquid thanks to its stream of watery song and its currents of light, looping texture, choosing to go downriver and advancing in a single direction. A feminine voice spools outwards, occupying every inch of the record but never feeling like a drag.

Like ripples on a lucid cyan pool, solar flares mirroring light, eau reflects the lag of an afternoon sun on a summer vacation, forever young, unchanging. The glinting voice is susceptible to a few glitches and stutters along the way, as if it were being grazed by the sandpaper of sediment along the way, but it’s imbued with a fascinating flexibility, the voice building transparent arenas for aural gymnasts.

It escapes out of the palm – like water – and it easily slips out of its hiding place – like water. The electric guitar melody evokes a past era,ala Velvet Underground, with its crisp and clean melodic lines returning to the psychedelic era. The neon melody is a sun-burnt mirage, awash in psychedelia, glimpsing a taste of Miami or California while drenched in the stifling heat of August. The voice continues to swirl – it can and wants to sing in a brighter, alternative timeline, where her voice is gently bent and left to echo in the background. Other sounds flit and scrunch against the speakers, making for perfect background music and music for your immediate attention. It can switch between the two.

A deeper bass enters through a window left open for a spring breeze, and the sound rumbles against higher trinkets and clanging instrumentation. That bass never threatens the piercing light of the album, because a bright, exotic guitar returns again and again, reminiscing over paradise and reincarnating its palm trees from time to time, as a photograph will bring it all back in a flood of remembrance, acting as carer and babysitter, keeping watch and ensuring that the sun still gets through.

There’s no hurrying or any pressure to get to the finish line, despite its condensed running time of half an hour. Because of that, eau floats, untethered of any rigid expectation and choosing to part with the dangers of musical autopilot. It’s as fresh as a mountain stream. Like young hearts, its water runs free.

Drifting, Almost Falling

The thirty minute single piece “eau” feels like it could be part of a live interpretive dance piece, sound installation or soundtrack to a silent film. “Eau” has a free flowing feel that has motifs that reappear throughout without being repetitive or predictable. Musically it transcends genre clarifications slipping in jazz sounds, ambient tones, experimental guitar works, chimes, haunted female torch song singing, gritty and granular soundscapes move through winding territories taking the listener on a journey that is map less. The name and its meaning described in the press release above is fitting as the piece has a very fluid feel (and if you look closer it slightly hinted in the blue tones of the artwork and the video below).

The piece’s opening is where the abstraction starts (with the same vocal snippets also closing the piece), from this point it gets as conventional as it ever will be with the faintest hint of ambience being created with buzzing tones. Around the half way mark the piece goes through a debris section which changes its completion by introducing a collection of disparate sounds that give it a grittiness and also highlight the excellent mastering job of Stephen Mathieu which gives the section a real depth of sound and textures for the listener to feel in a physical sense. A note should be made about the angelic and manipulated vocals of Baars that find their way winding in an out, sometimes singularly, others as a choir through sections of the piece. The pace of the piece is part of its success as it never rushes through its course. Sure, some sections are more sonicly dense than others, but all are consistent in the way that they let the sounds reveal themselves naturally. This is a piece of music that reveals more of its character with each listen and is a welcome addition to both artists catalogs.

Avant Music News

This short album (or long EP) features Mariska Baars on vocals, guitar, and kalimba, with Rutger Zuydervelt on guitars and sound processing. But that simple description does not capture the essence of Eau, which is French for “water”. And that title is apt, as the music ebbs and flows like a stream of consciousness.

Baars' vocals are heavily processed with echo and delay. She both lilts and lulls, navigating through a haunting and alien soundscape. Her words are not as important as the timbres and melodies of her voice. The closest analogy is perhaps to Eastern European folk music with a post-modern approach. The guitar playing features cleanly picked or sustained electric notes that compliment Baars more than accompany her.

Consisting of a single 30-minute track with generous studio manipulation, Eau is a gentle yet unconventional dream sequence laden with minimalistic effects, crackling elements and a bassy rumble or two. Overall, while too busy to be considered “ambient” in the traditional sense, the album is best listened to as a member of that loose genre. An unusual and highly compelling release.

Opduvel

In de begeleidende tekst bij eau staat dat het niet echt een lied of een compositie is. Technisch gezien is het dat wel, maar het functioneert meer als een atmosfeer die de ruimte vult. Daar valt weinig op af te dingen. In een half uur glijdt de muziek in golven over je heen, in een gelijkmatige sfeer en zonder naar een bepaald punt toe te werken. Het stuk begint en het eindigt een half uur later.

Daarmee is echter niet alles gezegd, want onderweg is het stuk wel degelijk aan verandering onderhevig, zijn verschillende bewegingen hoorbaar en is allerminst sprake van een statisch geheel. Zoals iedere golf van water verschillend is, zo is ook de muziek niet steeds hetzelfde. De stem van Baars is elektronisch bewerkt en haar zang is opgeknipt in ultrakorte fragmenten, waardoor een haperend effect ontstaat. Daaronder klinkt de stem nogmaals, maar dan lange tonen zingend. Na een paar minuten worden de korte fragmenten spaarzamer, totdat ze verdwijnen. Ondertussen horen we Baars verschillende lijnen door elkaar zingen.

Een licht melancholieke sfeer ontstaat die wordt versterkt door subtiel ingebrachte elektronische elementen die aanvankelijk dienen als ondersteuning van de stemmen, niet als instrumenten op de voorgrond. Wel is het geluid van een gitaar te herkennen dat uit de golven van stemmen tevoorschijn komt en er weer in verdwijnt. Zuydervelts kenmerkende kraakgeluidjes vormen ook een onderdeel van de elektronische ondergrond, net als langere klanken, die nooit echt als een drone fungeren maar ook in golven bewegen.

Alles bij elkaar ontstaat een soundscape waar je als luisteraar rustig op mee kunt deinen. Er is geen haast en er is geen doel, er is alleen de muziek die je meevoert en die je, door zijn verschillende details en nuanceringen, bij de les houdt. Zo verdwijnen na ruim tien minuten de vertrouwde stemmen naar de achtergrond, om plaats te maken voor hoge lange tonen van Baars die nu de achtergrond vormen voor ritselende en knisperende geluiden, zachte percussieve elektronica en heldere gitaarklanken.

De golven zijn kalm, maar langzaam doemt in de diepte een zwaardere en donkerder klank op, waardoor de kalme muziek van een lichte dreiging wordt voorzien. De stemmen keren terug, de draad oppakkend alsof ze nooit weggeweest zijn. Toch is er wat veranderd, want het stuk heeft onmiskenbaar een ontwikkeling doorgemaakt. Oppervlakkig beluisterd mag het gelijkmatig overkomen, er is steeds iets aan de hand, soms als een zachte rimpeling in het water en soms als een duidelijk waarneembare stroom. In het laatste gedeelte komen de donkere klanken soms aan de oppervlakte drijven, niet als naderend onheil, maar voortkabbelend over de andere geluidsgolven.

Uiteindelijk beginnen de stemmen van Baars weer te haperen, waardoor het einde van het stuk goed aansluit op het begin. De neiging om direct op repeat te drukken, is groot. Naar eau valt met gemak een hele middag of avond te luisteren. Je kunt er geconcentreerd naar luisteren, maar het stuk leent zich er ook voor om het gedachteloos te ondergaan. De muziek klinkt bijna bescheiden, maar is rijk aan details en subliem van opzet.

Ambientblog

Mariska Baars and Rutger Zuydervelt (a.k.a. Machinefabriek) have been working together for many years, in different projects. Piiptsjilling comes to mind first, along with many other occasional projects featuring the Kleefstra Brothers, such as Fean, Seeljocht, and numerous other collaborations with various artist such as Drifts, Clay, Gris Gris and Zeeg. ?This is not the first collaborative album from the duo (Drawn, Thole) – but it may very well be their most ‘experimental’.

Eau means ‘water’: the 30-minute composition paints a fractal aural picture of tiny waves moving on their own but also building larger waves together, using short fragments of Mariska‘s singing and rearranging them, or stacking them onto waves of musical tones, buzzes and crackles and lingering guitar sounds. ‘Like a babbling sonic stream of fractured audio debris. Or the equivalent of sunlight dancing on the ripples of a lake’s surface.’ ?Mariska does not only contribute her singing, by the way: she also plays guitar, kalimba and added field recordings.

The duos advise is to play this album on repeat, and ‘let the sounds hang in the room – let them co-exist with any other sound that’s there. Open a window if you wish’.?The structure and composition are quite unusual, ‘it functions more like an atmosphere that fills the space’. Mariska Baars voice is cut up to vocal punctuations that drift through the air in a way reminding me of Akira Rabelais’ reconstructed tape fragments on his Spellewauerynsherde masterpiece. The lo-fi stripped-down folk songs of her Soccer Committee releases (2005-2006) are long left behind. ??‘Never look back’ seems to be the motto that connects these two artists: always exploring new territories, experimenting beyond expectations (even though there’s the risk that that in itself becomes the expectation).

Eau-mockup-site

Eau-mockup-site