cd on Nuun, April 2012
Stroomtoon can be translated as ‘the sound of electricity’. The album was constructed with hours of material I recorded while experimenting with a new live setup, using an analogue tone generator and some looper pedals. The pure sines of the generator and the static and crackling sounds of that old and dusty machine gave me a nice myriad of sounds to work with, creating endless loops and textures. The original idea was to use parts of these recordings in unedited form, but playing around with these soundfiles, the end result became much more layered and detailed, while still keeping the raw energy of the original material intact.
A full on new release by Machinefabriek, solo and in the conventional format of a real CD. It seemed a rarity recently. Rutger Zuydervelt uses his trusted set of effect pedals, field recordings, mixer, computer but leaves away the guitar in favor of an analogue tone generator, radio and korg monotron, which you see everywhere these days. With this relatively easy set up Zuydervelt creates fine electronic mood music. I would like to add ‘as only he can do’ but that’s not the case. He creates fine electronic mood music as various people can do, and Zuydervelt belongs to the top league of the genre. That much I can say, and this new album, with four shorter pieces and one long one (LP length, perhaps a LP version is imminent somewhere?) is a pretty strong affair. Moving away from the ambient atmospheres of his earlier work, he now has some very nice pieces of sustaining tones, crackles, hiss, static and puts them together in a lovely collage of sound. Not through rapid editing, but slow fading into new worlds all the time. These five pieces flow in natural way into each other, especially since the first piece is the longest, and already moving through various phases here. Altogether a great album, and surely one of the best of Machinefabriek in recent times. Changing the menu slightly, which is always good in my book, while staying close to what he normally does. Excellent all around.
For Stroomtoon (which can be translated as “the sound of electricity”) we find Rutger produce a totally electronic piece (as opposed to organic ambient), creating textured drones from an analog tone generator and loop pedals. Beginning with an auditory illusion of a descending Shepard glissando (a superposition of sine waves that appears to continuously pitch down ad infinitum), the 18-minute synthetic chant is superimposed with Machinefabriek‘s staple static, crackling sounds, and echoing field recordings (Mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi). Additional pulsating sequences are added beneath the high pitched piercing frequency (my dog ran away), to further explore the possibilities of sine waves and filtered harmonics. “The original idea was to use parts of these recordings in unedited form, but playing around with these soundfiles, the end result became much more layered and detailed, while still keeping the raw energy of the original material intact.” This is unlike the poised and moderate Machinefabriek you’re used to. At times the bass ramps up in volume and begins to vibrate the dust beneath the wooden frame of my house, until the hiding insects die from bursting little hearts (they do have hearts, don’t they?). This is indeed the sound of gigantic thermal power plants, dynamo electric generators, and high voltage power lines. For fans of buzzing minimalism and analog tones.
Have you ever encountered the buzzing sound of a street lamp at night when everything else around it is quiet? Or the low-frequency drone of a seemingly idle washing machine? Sure you have, and while the concept might be very alienating, Rotterdam-based Drone musician Rutger Zuydervelt aka Machinefabriek has nonetheless created a Glitch-heavy Dark Ambient album about the flowing juice of life for our power consumption-hungry society. Stroomtoon is the name of his latest album which can be roughly translated as the sound of electric current, and it provides a great synergy between the artist’s moniker and the album title. Melodies are almost impalpable, and if they are, the sounds are rudimentary and vestigial. In exchange, Zuydervelt integrates shedloads of Glitch fragments such as icy clicks, crackling sizzles and gloomy static noise figments. As the artist notes, the album is also traversed by field recordings, but it is, at least to me, never clear which buzzing sound derives from electric appliances and which are completely artificial, created with the help of synthesizers. The interplay between the various drones and the liquid sparkles makes up the vast majority of the album, but there are a few surprises and mood shifts scattered in-between the five tracks. If the listener is able to not only digest most of the album, but to really dive into it, becoming one with the flowing power stream, he or she will feel really creeped out at times, but then there are various moments where one is encapsulated with soothing sweeps and pitch-black bass drones that aren’t as scary inasmuch they are positively warming. It’s moments like these that make it hard to coin a proper genre term subordinate to the ubiquitous Ambient tag. But these genre categorizations are only of minor importance to me, as this release is very intriguing. And it already starts with a blast and one of the strangest, most extraordinary tracks that I’ve ever encountered…
Eén is the centerpiece of over 18 minutes and the initial point of the aural journey through various stages of energetic flows, particles and molecules. But first, there isn’t much whirring and swirling going on; in fact, a daunting uncanniness resides, as a fragile AM transmitter-like drone is pitched down over a very long course. Depending on its current stage and tone pitch, the same drone – or rather electric string – sounds like shredded radio frequencies, howling wind gusts that waft around a building or the perfect accentuation of a horrifying ancient castle on the cliffs – magnificently minimal! Even though the drone is flowing downwards incessantly, the listener adjusts quickly to the slow changes and perceives them as consistency. But changes there are aplenty in here: The drone starts to quaver and tremble, several textures appear that have been there from the start, but weren’t audible for the human ear due to the high-rise point of departure. These textures consist of sine waves, contain square lead-esque traits and inherit the appalling feeling of horror. After almost four and a half minutes, additional curlicues arise in the forms of rustily squeaking pulses and whitewashed buzzes that both become clearer the deeper the drone gets. By the sixth minute, the drone is so deep that it loses a lot of its threatening nature. It’s still giving the creeps, but its much mellower and blurrier. After nine and a half minutes, an additional bass drone enters, adding plasticity and abyssal vibrancy to the mix. This phase is the most successful part of Eén, as the unison feels corpulent and soporifically entrancing. Around the thirteen-minute mark, this long piece is rounded off by the buzzing sustain of static noise strings which inject an icy dose of Glitch into the circuit. They take over the track in the end, pulsating harshly and towering incisively over the gorgeously rapturous but ghostly accentuated bloom of luminescent synth crystals in the background. The closing phase of Eén is all the more surprising, for Machinefabriek does not create a parabola. The track doesn’t end the way it began, there is no vicious cycle implied. No, the finish of this long composition is so surprising because the ingredients are forced apart and widened to the maximum: the most beautiful and mellifluous backing synths are perturbed by unvarnished buzzes of nastiness and adjacent glacial sine waves that dissent even stronger with the emerald-shimmering protuberances in the distance. And so ends a terrific piece that is at first minimal, but then slowly expanding its scope of both the eeriness and a certain amount of warmth and pompous power reflected by the bass drones. It’s a totally different setup that harks back big time to the album title. The threefold signature track of this album in length, opulence and concept-wise.
After the epic Eén, the remaining four tracks might seem like an afterthought on paper. Let me assure you that they are not. They carve out the current carrying capacity tests and various blueprints of the opening track even further. Twee presents an electrographically warbled seven-note loop as its base frame that is underlined by three dubby pulses. A gelid drone of the highest humanly perceptible kilohertz range is added while the oscillating analogue warmth of AM radio waves blusters in the background. Further buzzes, clicks and frizzles are grouped in swarms around the warbled loop that becomes more and more filtered and overdriven, but moves into the distance quite abruptly, thus making room for crunchy crackles and a shimmering claustrophobia-evoking tremolo of a sustained pulse. In contrast to Eén, this is definitely a more rustic track. Despite its reliance on a clear-cut loop, the energetic buzzes demand a skilled listener who is willed to exchange cozy melodies for eminently evocative calamities. Drie is another spectral track of the ferocious kind, but its nostalgia-suggesting scintillae may cause a sore eye or two. The introductory buzzes are echoey and very dry, but they remind of the C64’s MOS processor output, so if you’ve encountered this computer one way or the other, or even enjoyed it during your childhood, then these aforementioned buzzes will definitely trigger memories in your head. The track isn’t dependent on nostalgia alone, for hazy synth fragments, surprisingly hollow beat accompaniments, pumping bass eruptions and gleaming-white synth streams are intermingled, torn apart and reunited, allowing a crafty interplay of space and sound that is bridged via Clicks & Cuts remnants and fragments of the misty and insistent kinds: sparkles, laser sounds, sizzles and zipper-like entities float around and create a bustling diorama of circuitous, err, circuits.
Vier starts in an unexpectedly warm and mild-mannered late-70’s fashion, with an entanglement of stereo-panned analogue pulses, gentle synth sweeps and belly-massaging bass drone drops. This is a pitch-perfect mimicry of early Krautrock works and can even be distantly related to Brian Eno’s albums of the same era. The middle section of Vier is almost phantasmagoric and shelter-giving in contrast to the previous offerings. The sounds of the electric current are depicted via two layers of monotonous buzzes, but this time they aren’t mean-spirited rather than balmy; for a short fraction, they even sound like a muffled recording of a humming male choir. The mind is playing tricks on the listener, naturally, but this aural fata morgana illustrates the warmth and benevolence of Vier. The analogue sound and the cavernous but sizzling-hot bass drones make this a superb track that is suitable for Ambient listeners of the 70’s. Their ears might not even be able to hear the track’s only malaise, a high-pitched glinting string that is placed in the last 15 seconds, so it’s negligible anyway. No, this arrangement remains in cozily padded territories. Vijf, the closing track, brings back the portentous aura in a fulminant manner. A mixture of abysmally low electric drones and sweeping cymbals make the listener positively drowsy, as the track is another poignant example of the album title. The monotonous lawnmower-like buzzes are powerful and bulging, thus letting the room shake on proper volume levels. However, Vijf consists in fact of two diverse parts. During the last 90 seconds, the track is morphed to a pernicious degree: a dark Synth Pop-like reverberated beat is accompanied by trembling buzzes and clicks that sound like liquid droplets. The beat resembles staggering footsteps in a dark vault, augmenting the apocalyptic mood and adding a strong portion of a cinematic scope to the album. It’s another terrific track that is less experimental and piercingly glittering than Twee and Drie.
It’s hard to pinpoint the genre of Stroomtoon, even though it’s consistent and harmonious in displaying the setting that Zuydervelt wants to achieve. The raw power and elemental force of the scentless stream of life that provides illumination and literally makes the world go round is skillfully presented here. From the haunting Eén over the Glitch-heavy fragility of Twee and Drie to the resplendent thermal heat of Vier and the iniquitous cinematography of Vijf, Stroomtoon shuttles between various moods, molecular landscapes and traversing pulses. The rough synths and electric parts that are withdrawn into themselves are the unique selling point of this album. However, it’s still not easy to find a catchy genre categorization. It’s probably Glitch-heavy Dark Ambient, but it could be something entirely different. In comparison to Glitch albums like Microstoria’s Snd that depicts a similar topos of the modem-reliant society of 1996 or the various albums by Michael Santos, the viewpoint of Machinefabriek is much more intimate and microscopic. The concept of electric current and circuits is a rather abstract one despite every modern society being reliant on an uninterruptible power supply. And yet, as stated before, does Zuydervelt’s infinitesimally tiny gaze unveil a plausible and credible interpretation of the various buzzes and drones that show us the strength and oomph of electric energy. Stroomtoon is not for everyone, though. I tend to believe that the listener has to be open-minded about the rough, rustic, hard-to-access nature of this release. Even the signature tune Eén – from an aesthetic viewpoint – might be so intimidating that many people would give up already due to its dusky solemnity. If you’ve encountered many Glitch Ambient albums or Dark Ambient offerings before, you already have a legitimate knowledge about the genre and know what to expect. Stroomtoon is dark and mean, the listener is often out on a limb, and by the very nature of electricity, that’s what it’s all about: we depend on it, not vice versa.
Prolific composer, artist and performer Rutger Zuydervelt (known as Machinefabriek) has written that the intent of this short-format album is to experiment with the sound of electricity using a new live set-up tone of analogue tone generators, effect and loop pedals. As I have noted in a recent review, I also keenly appreciate his background in graphic design—the quality of the visual aspects of his work, the design, layout and presentation of a given album’s artwork. Perhaps unintentionally, Machinefabriek has evoked some historic sound explorations in a similar vein to those made by Kraftwerk in their 1975 album Radio Activity (though without the seminal electro-pop sound).
The first time I listened to Stroomtoon, I immediately thought of the Kraftwerk track The Voice of Energy. The overall feel of the album is like touring a large industrial building late at night, passing through mechanical rooms or an electrical generation station. The recording is sharp, with piercing clarity at times and the visceral depths at others. This is not a conventional music album; it is experiential and visual ambience. Stroomtoon consists of one long format piece, followed by four shorter glimpses.
Eén is an industrial-strength ambient world. It is like a tour through a power station with turbines winding and cranes moving equipment overhead. This track starts with a sound akin to the long wind-down of electric motors. It is hypnotizing, and the layering gives the sense of descending while remaining in suspension. Ascent begins at about 8:00 as other incidental sounds enter the scene. It has some shades of the opening titles of Louis and Bebe Barron’s soundtrack to Forbidden Planet. At about 14:00 it is as if we have moved into an electrical switchgear room. A high-pitch whine permeates the space and the clicking, beeping and thuds here are like the systems within a building (even the sound of high pressure steam passing through pipes above). The piece builds almost to the point of the threshold of pain, and suddenly at the close there is an expansive low frequency cluster and the large switch is thrown—OFF.
Twee pulses and pumps, like a heart. This track builds slowly with a sharp clicking edginess of static electricity. Low frequencies push in, switches are thrown, and adjustments made then… click into a quieter zone, yet with radio interference. Drie opens with low frequencies and a sense of building tension; an ominous rhythm shadows and there is a sudden deep buzz like passing through an energy field. Gradually, chaos builds as radio interference overtakes and builds to a sudden full stop.
Avant Music News
The seeming incorporeality of digital technology has sparked a kind of new Arts and Crafts movement among artists working in clay, wood, paint, metal and so on, emphasizing the tangible, physical stuff, artworks whose meaning and essence are revealed through the materials from which they are made. In art circles, it´s called the “New Materiality”. Some electronic composers have been addressing their machines as material, being after all as corporeal as canvas or stone, bespeaking the hands-on craft of the art. No-input samplers, especially in the hands of Sachiko M and Toshimaru Nakamura, test out frequency and texture with austere but affecting results.
Stroomtoon, “the sound of electricity”, is Machinefabriek, the prolific Rutger Zuydervelt, experimenting with an analogue tone generator and some pedal gear, out of whose “pure sines…and the static and crackling sounds” he created endless loops and multiple textures. Layered but raw, Machinefabriek succeeds by exploring the “material” – including a Korg Monotrone synthesizer and a radio – without lessing the emotional impact of any of the five pieces. The lengthy “Eén” moves from outer space to very inner space with fluid grace. It is followed by four more numbered (in Dutch) tracks, each spending an average of four minutes exploring an idea – elliptical orbiting, static mosaic, submersion and surfacing, and a formless rumble that just ups and walks away.
Stroomtoon is unlike anything Rutger Zuydervelt has done previously and it is a fresh new success. He marries the innocence of pioneering electronic experiment with the ambient drone aesthetic and digital detailing, exploring the space within the boxes and the space without in which they vibrate.
Rutger Zuydervelt aus den Niederlanden ist Machinefabriek. Seit fast einem Jahrzehnt beschäftigt sich er sich nunmehr mit elektronischen Sounds, Field Recordings und manipulierten Gitarrenklängen und erfindet sich dabei immer wieder aufs Neue, sowohl solo als auch in diversen Zusammenarbeiten mit anderen namhaften Experimentalmusikern.
An dieser Stelle wollen wir euch sein aktuelles Album “Stroomtoon” vorstellen, das Machinefabriek mit Hilfe von einem Korg Monotron, Field Recordings, Radiosounds, Effektgeräten und einem analogen Tongenerator aufgenommen hat. Das Ergebnis sind fünf elektronische Songs, die mit ihrer anziehenden Kälte direkt überzeugen. Das 18minütige “Eén” eröffnet das Album wie eine Art schleichender Sirenensound, lullt den Hörer unterschwellig ein und taucht ihn immer weiter in diese von Elektronik umgebene Welt. “Twee” zirpt vor sich her und legt die Grundlage für ein Elektroriff, das wie ein sehr schweres Metal klingt, das unter Wasser gegen etwas anderes schweres trifft. “Drie” dagegen klingt wie ein Sonar, das den Rhythmus vorgibt, während Field Recordings seinen Weg kreuzen. “Vier” konzentriert sich auf den Ton. Der Ton als Welle. Der Ton als Träger, von Informationen und Gefühlen und von Strom. Der Stromton halt. Ein minimalistisches Kraftstück und Highlight des Albums. “Vijf” setzt Akzente, ist basslastig, klingt bedrohlich und erhaben und überrascht zum Ende mit einem Beat. “Stroomtoon” ist die perfekte Demonstration minimalistischer Elektroniksounds, mit großer Wirkung.
Ondanks een stagnerende economie draait de Machinefabriek gewoon op volle toeren. Dit project van de inmiddels in Rotterdam gevestigde muzikant Rutger Zuydervelt weet productie, kwaliteit en diversiteit naadloos aan elkaar te koppelen. Kritische tongen beweren wel eens dat zoveel releases niet goed kunnen zijn, maar ik durf dat stellig te bestrijden. Zeker omdat er uit de gitaar- dan wel elektronische muziek of combinaties ervan telkens weer andere, hoogwaardige releases volgen die dikwijls toonaangevend zijn. Creativiteit moet je niet beteugelen maar omarmen! Zijn nieuwste album Stroomtoon, de discografie loopt al dik in de honderd, verschijnt in de “Climax” serie van het Franse label Nuun. In 5 tracks, simpelweg “Eén”, “Twee”, “Drie”, “Vier” en “Vijf” geheten, brengt hij 36 minuten vol elektronische klanken, die hoofdzakelijk sfeervol zijn en af en toe juist heel duister. Je zou het kunnen bestempelen als minimal musique concrète of iets dergelijks. Het materiaal is tot stand gekomen toen Rutger aan de slag is gegaan om een live optreden voor te bereiden. De klanken komen van analoge apparatuur en enkele loop-pedalen. Het is voor een deel white noise van de apparatuur, hetgeen ook door bijvoorbeeld Bruce Gilbert (Wire) nog wel eens gehanteerd wordt. Net als deze artiest brengt Machinefabriek de klanken hier rauw, zij het dat ze toch redelijk warm, ritmisch en harmonieus naar voren komen. Diverse drones, kraakjes, piepjes en pulserende ritmes kronkelen door en om elkaar waardoor er een consistent geheel uitrolt. De tot de verbeelding sprekende tracks zijn gelaagd en weten mede daardoor te intrigeren en voor diepgang te zorgen. Het geluid uit stroom gestroomlijnd tot geweldig, genietbare geluidsstromen.