Machinefabriek with Anne Bakker
cd/download, self released, November 2015
Stream or order Deining at
Bandcamp (also in digital format)
The Dutch word 'deining' (pronounced "dining") translates to 'heave' and also 'commotion'. For Deining, I asked violinist Anne Bakker to bow each string of her instrument while sliding slowly from the lowest note to the highest, in exactly five minutes, as fluently as possible. Obviously, it turned out nearly impossible to do this really smoothly, but the unavoidable irregularities are a welcomed bonus. Anne also recorded the same procedure in reverse, following the strings from the edge of the fingerboard to the top nut of the instrument.
The piece is divided in four sections, each focusing on one string, and layering its recordings. The upward and downward glissandi form constantly fluctuating, complex combinations of tones, emphasized by manually-controlled sine waves that follow the pitches of the instrument. In the middle of each five minute section, the violins and sines hit the same note, which is then ‘frozen’ and continues as a separate, constant drone for the duration of the piece. The final low notes of each part are also held, adding an extra layer and playing a calm, minute-long drone before the next section begins.
Some subtle radio static and pitched-down viola recordings were added to the mix for extra flavor. The taste is still a tad bitter though.
Rutger Zuydervelt, aka Machinefabriek, asked violinist Anne Bakker to bow smooth, slow sliding tones on each string of her instrument. Then in Rotterdam, in 2015, he realized Deining, a continuous 26 minute composition in four sections, with each part derived from on of the violin’s strings. Zuydervelt added sine waves to shadow the rise and fall of glissandi and held droning tones at points of intersection. He also added touches of radio static and viola flourishes to enhance the texture of the piece. The title translates into English as either ‘Heave’ or ‘Commotion’, yet the music follows a seemingly effortless course and never sounds ragged or cluttered.
When described in words, the piece seems very simple and straightforward in its composition, as if it could be visually represented with just a handful of straight lines. But this doesn’t really capture what it’s like to listen to 'Deining', because the pitches and harmonics produced by the instruments interact to cause all sorts of fluctuations, consonances and dissonances, interference patterns, and so on. The movement of the piece is hence not merely a progression through two continuous series of pitches. In actuality, it’s more like an entire rolling landscape of tone and harmony, or like a continuously panning film camera affixed to the top of a vehicle cruising through the city. (Someone should make this film, if it hasn’t already been made. Someone other than Google, I mean.)
The ‘freezing’ brings a sense of conclusion and completion to the end of each ‘string’, but it’s only a provisional conclusion, before the piece moves on to the next section/string. It’s possible to imagine an infinite number of strings continuing above and below the four strings of Bakker’s violin. Though relatively short in duration, simple in design, and clear in structure, “Deining” contains a wealth of sonic riches, a sort of index of possibilities offered by a particular way of playing a particular instrument. The index is incomplete, but hints at its potential vastness. Another fine effort from Machinefabriek, and impeccable playing by Bakker.
Rutger ‘Machinefabriek‘ Zuydervelt and violinist Anne Bakker have previously worked together on Halfslaap II – a piece that aimed to ‘pull the listener into some sort of dreamstate’.
On Deining (‘heave’, or ‘commotion’), the effect is about the opposite: the listener is increasingly alarmed and forced to stay alert. For this 26 minute piece, Anne Bakker played a series of upward and downward glissandi: ‘I asked Anne Bakker to bow each string of her instrument while sliding slowly from the lowest note to the highest, for exactly five minutes, as fluent as possible. Anne also recorded the same procedure in reverse, following the strings from the edge of the fingerboard to the top nut of the instrument.’ Rutger then assembled different layers into four sections, each focusing on one string, also adding sine waves and radio static.
The result is as beautiful as it is frightening (or, in Rutger’s own words: ‘the taste is a tad bitter’). A clear demonstration of the effect that a specific arrangements of sounds can have on an emotional level. It is hypnotizing too, and so it may still pull you into a dream state… but I don’t think anyone be able to sleep quietly with sounds like this playing.
Just as Halfslaap II was the duo’s reworking of Rutger’s original Halfslaap, Deining can be seen as a string reincarnation of Stroomtoon Eén, on which created the down- and upward glissandi using tone generators.
Here is more music from the ever so prolific Machinefabriek, who recorded this
twenty-six minute work with Anne Bakker, a violin player from Perth, Australia.
Rutger Zuydervelt, the Machinefabriek himself, asked to "bow each string of her
instrument, while sliding slowly from the lowest note to the highest, for exactly
five minutes, as fluently as possible". That may sound easy, but wasn't the easiest thing to do; Bakker also recorded the whole thing in reverse. Zuydervelt then divided the piece into four sections, each for one string and adding a bit of subtle radio statics, pitched down viola and a bit of sine waves for some extra 'flavour'. When the sine waves and viola hit the same pitch, he freezes them and starts working with another set of notes; the whole thing has an interesting 'swelling' character, to stay in touch with the title of the piece. Sounds are accumulated over the course of this piece (a graphic representation of the piece is enclosed as well), and it sounds perhaps a bit familiar of an Alvin Lucier piece for sine waves and strings and/or a piece by Phill Niblock, then with a lot more happening over the course of the entire piece; and that perhaps goes for both these references. Machinefabriek taps here into the world of modern classical music, which is something he does more and more nowadays it seems, but this is one obvious point for a new direction. It captures the main interest of Machinefabriek, playing atmospherically, drone-like music, but moving it more into something that uses more and more acoustic instruments; played by others but with Zuydervelt as the conductor/composer of the piece. Quite a refined piece - I may have used these words before when discussing Machinefabriek, but this one certainly is very refined.
We Need No Swords
Deining takes recordings from violinist Anne Bakker and transmutes them into a 25-minute unspooling of astringent, woody drones. Zuydervelt’s brief to Bakker was to bow each string for five minutes, while sliding from the highest to the lowest note. He then layered the recordings, and overdubbed parallel sine tones as well as odds and ends of static and additional viola. The result is something akin to minimalist counterpoint, the rising and falling tones like lines on a graph, moving in opposite directions and only occasionally intersecting. The piece has a curious slow motion effect, a perpetual falling, as if in a frozen dream – remember Christopher Nolan’s Inception? – even when those long bowed tones are rising. Of course, focusing on each string in turn gives the recording plenty of dynamic range, with the production helping to make those transitions seamless. Some of the later, higher-pitched sections are particularly effective, with the keening whines at around 16:50 channelling the massed clusters of Ligeti’s Atmospheres. It’s good, immerse stuff, nicely textural and packing a dissonant wallop.
This collaborative EP with violinist Anne Bakker is a unique entry in Rutger Zuydervelt’s vast discography, as it is a 26-minute tour de force of nerve-jangling tension and sliding dissonance. Deining (translating as "heave" or "commotion") definitely falls quite unambiguously and unapologetically into the "this is art, not entertainment" category. That probably will make it a hard sell for most people (Rutger himself understatedly observed that the piece is "a tad bitter"), but it is nevertheless quite a fascinating piece for those of us with an appreciation (and high tolerance) for shifting, uncomfortably close harmonies (there are a lot of those here). Also, it is very hard not to admire the beautiful symmetry and simplicity of this uncompromising experiment.
When I first heard Deining, I had not yet read anything about it and was somewhat mystified by the seemingly minimal role played by Machinefabriek. Aside from the subtle pulse of a sine wave, the piece seems to be entirely about Bakker and her violin. Which it definitely is, in one way. In a much more significant way, however, this is very much Rutger Zuydervelt's experiment, as his concept and behind-the-scenes machinations are why Deining is such a singular entity rather than any kind of expected or "normal" collaboration. The project is rooted in a very simple idea: Zuyderveldt asked Bakker to slowly slide from the lowest note to the highest note for five minutes on each string of her violin. She gamely obliged and also threw in some corresponding downward slides as a bonus. Structurally, Deining is little more than five minutes of Bakker slowly sliding up the lowest string of her violin, a brief resolution into a pleasant drone, Bakker slowly sliding up the second lowest string of her violin, another brief resolution, and so on. There is not any larger compositional arc other than a series of four increasingly high-pitched, uncomfortable, and painfully slow slides up the neck of a violin interspersed with a few welcome oases of calm.
While such a nakedly segmented, time-based, and purposely restricted composition does not yield much in the way of a cumulative reward, there is quite a lot of pleasure to be found in the details (if "pleasure" is the right word). Zuydervelt did quite an expert and impressively nuanced job of layering multiple tracks together to evoke a constantly escalating intensity and pitch even while other tracks are sliding downwards. Also, the two opposing sliding pitches, coupled with the underlying sine wave tone, yield a vibrant and constantly shifting world of complex harmonies and oscillations. As an experiment in sustaining simmering, squirm-inducing tension for an uncomfortable period of time, Deining is quite an unqualified success. Also, the structure of escalating, sharpening plateaus of unease is a clever and effective way of presenting such an (almost) unrelentingly dissonant theme.
There are also few other tricks and enhancements happening in the background of Deining, like the fact that Rutger’s sine waves manually follow the pitch of the violin, then freeze into a drone when they reach the same pitch (always at the midpoint of a section). The piece is not nearly as aggressively minimal as it initially seems. I also enjoyed the transitional moments when the warmly beautiful passages of interstitial calm suddenly blossom into a fresh surge of quavering upward glissando. The real show, however, remains the rich and wonderfully textural plunge into almost half an hour of shifting dissonance and close harmonies. All of the conceptual and structural underpinnings are neat, but they are primarily intellectual pleasures that pale beside the far more visceral and immediate power of the piece itself. There is certainly no shortage of harsh music in the world, but it truly rare for anyone to achieve that end through harmony alone and to do it so immersively and so effectively (especially outside the realm of modern classical music). Obviously, a release like Deining is fundamentally destined to appeal to a very limited audience, but it is hard to imagine any way in which Rutger could have achieved his objective any more perfectly than he did here. Deining fills a niche that almost never gets explored and does it masterfully.