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
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.
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.