Steve Roden & Machinefabriek
2. Ice Strings
3. Birds Plucks Stones
5. Ice Bow
6. Snow Bellsnow
7. Floor Radio
8. Some Things Within
Cd on Eat, Sleep, Repeat, April 2012
Steve Roden and I made the soundtrack for 'Lichtung', an installatino in collaboration with video atist Sabine Buerger. For this cd release, the tracks have been edited and mixed, and complemented with a recording of the live performance I did in the gallery, at the exhibition's opening, using sounds provided by Steve Roden. The jewelcase comes with an 8 page booklet with photos by Sabine.
This cd is available for 13 euro including postage
Buy it at Bandcamp (with immediate download)
This album documents the collaboration between Steve Roden and Rutger Zuydervelt, bka Machinefabriek. Thematically based around the German concept of heimat – the area or location of one’s early formative experiences – the collaboration involved Machinefabriek’s recordings from a lake near the gallery in which the installation took place. Roden’s recordings, made in the U.S., responded to same.
This strategy the label describes as creating a “temporary heimat,” whose actually quite deep consequence is that the artists are constructing memories of an imagined past that’s only linked to a certain degree to their actual ones. Therefore the distinctive lack of concreteness present when contemplating formative experiences is actually a refracted, reconstructed one, differing in subtle, perhaps unknowable ways from a reconstruction of an actual or “authentic” past.
Musically, then, the installation is perhaps predictably made up of mostly very quiet, even tentative pieces; flittering cello and rounded synth tones abet field recordings of the hushed semi-rural environments. “Ice Bow,” featuring the cello of Machinefabriek collaborator Aaron Martin, ramps up the intensity with dark bowed drone swells and physical events, creating a deeply ambiguous sonic image. Creaking and tense arpeggios give the impression of a soundtrack to a decaying cabin in the woods, a sense of drama that wanes in the other tracks.
Machinefabriek’s “Radio Floor” contains an appealing physicality and intriguing suspense, while Roden’s “Snow Bellsnow” is a more pleasant, reassuring look back at the past. Far more striking is the clattering bells on Roden’s “Some Things Within,” a comparatively small gesture that evokes a cascade of images. “Vayhinger,” the final track and the only one credited to both artists, lends a hauntingly human presence with a barely-perceived vocal loop, like an enchained ghost endlessly wandering through his past life in search of re-experience.
Overall, the installation’s concept itself is an intriguing one, playing into the strengths of these artists (especially Machinefabriek, who is a master at this kind of hushed, non-directive, semi-musical work). Mostly, though, the collaboration suggests, perhaps unknowingly, that the remoteness of the past is absolute, the transcendent feelings of heimat remaining just beyond grasp of expression.
'Lichtung' may sound like a familiar title (not just the German label Licht Ung) in the vast catalogue of works by Rutger Zuydervelt's Machinefabriek, and indeed such a thing was reviewed before, in Vital Weekly 756, but then it had the form of a DVD-R. Now we just have the music. The original work was an audio-visual installation, "a collaborative effort of Rutger Zuydervelt and Steve Roden, both responsible for the music an Sabina Burger, who did the visual component for this work. The later shows reflection of trees in water, or rain drops falling in water. The music is a duet between Roden and Zuydervelt and seems to be combining the best of both ends: the acoustic sounds of Roden (chimes, bells, cups) and Zuydervelt's careful electronic manipulation thereof. The music and film go together really well, I'd say. Poetic, silent and light. An excellent three way combination", I wrote back then. The new 'version' of 'Lichtung' is not the piece as such but rather various edits of the sound material used in the installation. Both Roden and Machinefabriek have four pieces here and the ninth piece is an edit of the concert they played at the opening of this exhibition. Its quite interesting to see what each of them brings to the table.
Machinefabriek's slightly processed electronic sounds versus Roden's acoustic approach to the sound material of water, leaves and twigs, but in 'Ice Strings' perhaps also with some electronic sounds. In his pieces its less easy to hear what is going on/being done. The overall atmosphere is 'winter' and 'cold', with sounds that seem to be derived from 'cold' matter, ice, snow and such like. It makes altogether a fine addition to the previous version of 'Lichtung', this time entirely an auditive experience.
Inevitably, Lichtung has to undergo comparison with its original installation context. Let's get it out of the way first. Initially devised as a four-channel audio/visual presentation and completed by a floor covered with leaves, the audio aspect of this work is just that an aspect and therefore the listener is stripped of much of the sensory experience involved in the final product: feeling the brittle crunch of dry leaves, observing the images that bring definition to the sonic abstraction. But equally, it's good to remember that Steve Roden and Machinefabriek (aka Rutger Zuydervelt) are two proven talents in audio evocation; their work presents sound in such intense detail that the imagery projected onto the imagination can almost be as vivid as the imagery projected into any physical space, and they toy with enigma and familiarity in equal part.
This is Lichtung with the lights off, a 'feel your way' journey with a singular point of sensory contact, and while I unfortunately wasn't able to view the installation itself, I feel confident in considering the audio to be its own distinct experience rather than a compromise of its intended setting.
Structurally, this Lichtung edit is neatly arranged. It drifts seamlessly between the two artists, blurring locational boundaries so that the listener is deep within Machinefabriek territory long after they realise they'd even departed from Roden's soundscapes (and vice versa). The autumnal crunch of Zuydervelt's 'Leaves' floats gracefully into the path of Roden's 'Ice Strings',the latter of which sounds like the oceanic bubbles of disturbance surrounding a glacier in motion, while Roden's 'Birds Plucks Stones' and Zuydervelt's 'Wind' find their point of transition in a mutual sense of desolate wintery chill.
And while Lichtung is impressive for the way in handles its own motion, it's also a delight during the times it settles, at which points those intricate details can be best observed. The aforementioned 'Birds Plucks Stones' is Roden's own highlight, mingling staccato birdsong chirps (that ping between each ear like a tennis match) with an eerie metallic creak on loop, bringing to mind the ghostly rotations of a disused children's roundabout. Meanwhile, Machinefabriek excels most prominently during 'Floor Radio'; high-frequency drones linger like dust particles turned into audio, while thumps and clatters echo like a ball bounced and rolled across aged wooden floorboards. As expected, the album collates engrossing audio from both parties, and is immersive enough to eradicate the shadow of Lichtung's installation roots.
What do we remember of those few days spent near this lake, in this village, by this mountain or in this house? After coming back to our 'normal' way of life, memories slowly erode, colours fade away, time collapses into singular frames until only an essence of those places remain, an essence often condensed into a few images and sounds. What we saw, what happened there, what we said or how we felt, everything is slowly transformed by the work of time to become more and more abstract. Years later, remembering a place we once visited will trigger that essence, those images, those sounds, as they all resonate inside us, but because of this abstraction they won't be bound to reality as much as we imagine. Upon returning to those places, the feeling is always unsettling as things appear so different from what we seemed to remember. With some distance, a place will always be the product of our own interpretation, filtered by our emotions, our awareness and our sensibility, an interpretation that always departs from the place itself. In a way, a place is always dual, remembered and forgotten, physical and psychological, visceral and emotional.
It's the very concept of place that collaborative project Lichtung proposed to explore in the form of an audio-visual installation organized in a small German village located near Konstanz in November 2010. At the time, Rutger Zuydervelt and German visual artist Sabine BÃ¼rger were on site for a week to capture audio and video recordings of their immediate surroundings, around the village and the nearby small Mindelsee lake, to create the foundation of the installation to which Steve Roden responded with material inspired by his own local area in the US. This body of work was then arranged as a four-channel audio-visual presentation in a gallery space from which a DVD was released.
The present CD is a collection of eight edits (equally divided between Zuydervelt and Roden) from the original Lichtung installation, plus a collaborative track recorded by the artists at the opening of the exhibition.
Even if field recordings are prominent, they only contribute to half of the story throughout the record. They function as signifiers of those 'eroded memories', often identifiable and rooted to sound typically heard around woods and solitary surroundings â€“ the wind, the sound of leaves, some birds, a river. But what could be an overused cliche is here thoroughly explored by Zuydervelt and Roden, who never resort to use those environmental sound samples as cheap post/sound-cards. In fact, everything is treated with uttermost care and delicacy, and often very light but precise processing techniques give those field recordings the necessary distance to depart from the real and embrace imaginary territories. Take opener Leaves for instance, where the sound of someone walking on leaves is quite recognisable but throughout the track the necessary sound manipulations give those sounds eerie resonances that really conjure up a disquieting atmosphere. The processing work used by both artist doesn't just act as a filter but give also an incredible tactility and sensibility to the tracks. In Snow Bellsnow, the field recording is so altered it's not identifiable anymore, but in the process it has acquired such a vivid texture that it's even more imbued with human fragility. Or in Birds Plucks Stones, Roden layers and processes the sparse sounds of birds, wind and metal fence to make a strangely abstract piece that is very removed from the tangibility of its elemental components but at the same time couldn't evoke any better the feelings that one could have in a woodland at dusk.
The whole album creates a very strong impression in the way the field recordings interact with the melodic and harmonic elements that accompanies them throughout. By creating the right interplay between music and environmental sounds, Zuydervelt and Roden make the story complete, a story always at the liminal point between the remembered and the forgotten. There's always an ambiguity about what's being said, what's being shown, what's being felt and what's being imagined. Middle track Ice Bow embodies to the perfection this ambiguity and never settles for tangible memories but is suffused with emotional turmoil. If the field recordings give a certain impression of the place (a river, some birds and maybe some human activity), the drones and cello motifs underpinning the track cast a darken light on the atmosphere and detach it from reality while at the same time staying anchored to the essence of the place. In 'Floor Radio', someone is walking on a creaking wooden floor, and there's a slight artificial reverberation that gives the recording a delicate yet unreal quality. A droning cluster is playing throughout but mixed in such a way that it put the emphasis on the field recordings alone and make it very filmic â€“ the music being only here as a sort of soundtrack. In the end, it's more the feeling of a place than the place itself that is evoked in a very simple and powerful way â€“ a place not real anymore and seen through the veil of an imaginary film.
The album develops with remarkable coherence, each track flowing into the next, Rutger Zuydervelt and Steve Roden clearly moving in their own respective ways but with such grace and harmony that their different contributions cast a beautiful balance of light and shadow and make the record a truly engulfing experience. In the end, the places evoked in Lichtung remain elusive at best, never fully revealed by the numerous field recordings that inhabit the album. The music is always there, floating nearby, trying to capture threads of fragility and remnants of memories but never crystallising into more tangible forms. By deliberately blurring the surface of music with treated environmental sounds, and attaching tactile emotions to abstract images, Zuydervelt and Roden have shown that places are always more than what they appear to be. They've shown that in their duality, places are often both real and imaginary.