2. Stillness #1 (The FRAM, Greenland)
3. Stillness #2 (Ilulissat, Greenland)
4. Stillness #3 (The Protector, Antarctica)
6. Stillness #4 (Yalour Islands, Antarctica)
7. Stillness #5 (Lemair Channel, Antarctica)
cd/download on Glacial Movements, June 2014
Order the album at
Bandcamp (also in digital format)
Soundtracks for Stillness, a series of cinematic landscapes by Esther Kokmeijer, filmed in the Arctic and Antarctic, 2013.
When Esther Kokmeijer approached me with the idea of making the scores for a series of short films she was working on, I didn't hesitate. Having seen a lot of her photography, I immediately knew how inspiring the footage she shot in Antarctica and Greenland would be. And this expectation proved to be correct. In quite a short period (we had set a deadline, to show the result at an open studio date) we swapped sketches and edits of the videos and audio, until the combinations felt perfect.
The 'Stillness' films aren't documentaries in the sense that they tell a clear story. We're seeing the Arctic through Esther's eyes, slowly passing giant icebergs and simply being amazed be the impressive and seemingly endless landscape.
While in other films it's mostly the other way around, in 'Stillness' the narrative, if there is any, comes from the music. When making these soundtracks, the idea was to guide the viewer through the images with a sense of abstract story telling. Instead of the original first thought of making dark, cold soundscapes, the bleak mountains of ice are now colored by lush arrangements and even quite romantic themes.
Esther and I released the videos on a usb-stick, in a limited edition of 100, that was sold out in no time. Now the scores are presented on 'Stillness Soundtracks', including two exclusive tracks.
This release collects some tracks composed for a series of short films by Esther Kokmeijer and are focused on a more narrative musical forms than previous releases from Rutger Zuydervelt. Even if based of the usual elements, notably a focused melodic instinct, the underlying soundscape is methodically based upon drone and field recordings, perhaps original records of the movie, so it's more evocative.
The quiet melodic lines of "(Chinstrap)" open this release forcing to understand the term stillness as tranquillity rather than boredom. Stillness #1 (The FRAM, Greenland) is an hypnotic track based on a drone and an almost martial beat. "Stillness #2 (Ilulissat, Greenland)" reworks the lines of the first track using a more subtly constructed soundscape while "Stillness #3 (The Protector, Antarctica)" recalls the drone of the second track focusing on the musical impact. "(Chinstrap)", it's not a fault but another track with the same name, acts as an interlude to the second part of this release formed by two long tracks: "Stillness #4 (Yalour Islands, Antarctica)" based upon a simple melodic line but developed for the construction of a quiet and evocative soundscape that is the picture of the places of the title. "Stillness #5 (Lemair Channel, Antarctica)" closes this release with a sad melodic line based upon string instruments.
With his blend of field recordings, synth lines and careful production this is one of the best release of this artist and one of the most evocative and beautiful release of the year. It creates a desire to see the movie. Highly recommended.
This material is a series of soundtracks that Rutger Zuydervelt composed to complement Esther Kokmeijer's short films of Antarctica and Greenland, thus fitting in well with this Italian label's frigid, isolationist aesthetic. Rather than overemphasizing minimalism and emptiness, Zuydervelt instead works in subtle and understated conventional electronic moments in, giving the album a unique feel rather than by-the-book sparseness that could have been.
The two "(Chinstrap)" pieces are the ones that most closely resemble traditional soundtrack compositions. The first version balances marimba like melodies over simple electronics, and soon the piece is fleshed out via the addition of droning, expanding string sounds. The second features piano and nature sounds in addition to the strings and also has a very standard "opening credits" feel.
The five remaining pieces, however, are not as easily classified. An ominous hum features heavily in "Stillness #1", which would fit in easily on one of the isolationist compilations of the mid 1990s. When a simple, but forceful, pulsing kick drum comes in, however, the piece sets itself apart from other similar ones. "Stillness #2" also has Zuydervelt mixing in a fuzzy drum-like track with a vinyl crackle to give a sense of rhythm, balancing out the especially hushed second half.
"Stillness #4" turns the volume up somewhat, having a more traditional electronic sound amid deep bass pulses and echoing reverberations. The more conventional approach is paired with a dissonant, fuzzy texture and crackling layers to balance out the normalcy, resulting in a strong stylistic pairing.
"Stillness #5" also is a bit more tied to convention in its overall instrumentation. Gliding bass tones give it a rich, heavy low end, but synth strings make for another more traditional soundtrack approach as a whole.
I was expecting more of a standard ultra-minimalist isolationist sound to Stillness Soundtracks, and I was pleasantly surprised how Zuydervelt mixed in some more conventional elements and rhythms that keep it from being too stagnant or predictable. The overarching glacial feel is clearly present in these recordings, but through the variation injected into them, it is anything but off-putting.
Though I haven't heard all of Rutger Zuydervelt's Machinefabriek output (is such a thing even possible, given the staggering number of Machinefabriek recordings he's issued since 2004 on labels such as 12K, Staalpaat, Important, Experimedia, Type, Home Normal, and Dekorder?), I'd be willing to wager Stillness Soundtracks is one of his most accessible outings. It's an uncharacteristically melodic and even sometimes pretty collection whose contents were designed by Zuydervelt to accompany short films by Esther Kokmeijer but engage satisfyingly on purely musical terms. The videos initially were made available to the public on a USB stick that Kokmeijer and Zuydervelt prepared in a limited edition of 100 (now sold out); the Glacial Movements release supplements the project's five scores with two exclusive tracks that for whatever reason Zuydervelt has titled “(Chinstrap).”
While the music was scored in accordance with footage of Antarctica and Greenland and of icebergs and sprawling vistas, Stillness Soundtracks also stands out in stark contrast to a number of other recordings on the Glacial Movements label for eschewing icy soundscaping for something far less severe. It turns out that this was a deliberate choice, as Zuydervelt rejected the idea of wedding images of bleak mountains of ice to dark, cold soundscapes in favour of, in his words, “lush arrangements and … romantic themes.”
The warmth in the music comes from its instrumentation, pastoral character, and laid-back feel. Given that it's a Machinefabriek recording, electronics naturally figure prominently into the sound design but so too do acoustic instruments such as marimba, piano, strings, and organ. A beat pattern does lend some degree of slow-motion animation to “Stillness #2 (The FRAM, Greenland),” but for the most part the settings make good on the promise of their “Stillness” titles, with “Stillness #2 (Ilulissat, Greenland),” a quiet and austere exercise in micro-sound, a good illustration.
In the absence of visuals (the CD package's imagery aside), pieces like “Stillness #3 (The Protector, Antarctica)” and “Stillness #4 (Yalour Islands, Antarctica)” suggest the grandeur of the physical settings through their slow-motion ambient-drone design. So peaceful, in fact, is the music in the latter that its slow crawl begins to seem veritably entropic. Elsewhere, nature-based field recordings of bird and water sounds mingle with delicate acoustic expressions in such a way as to make “(Chinstrap)” stylistically blend with the video-related material. Any listener coming to the Machinefabriek discography for the first time might find the prospect daunting and be at a loss as to where to begin. With that in mind, Stillness Soundtracks would seem to offer an ideal entry point, given its comparatively accessible nature.
DMC Worls Live
'Stillness Soundtracks' is music for films shot in Greenland and Antarctica by director Esther Kokmeijer, and it finds Machinefabriek – aka Rotterdam's Rutger Zuydervelt – working with both acoustic and digital means, as though he were using analogue and digital cameras. The music has the required glacial chill that keenly evokes the remote locations, and by using suspended chords that move ever so slowly Zuydervelt creates an unusual kind of tension. The live instrumentation used in the introduction (the curiously titled ('Chinstrap')) has some gorgeous colours, while the first of five 'Stillness' tracks, depicting The FRAM in Greenland, is quite stern, suggesting darker elements – which 'The Protector (Antarctica)' picks up with more than a hint of menace. This is another of those Glacial Movements releases that seems suspended in time and space, and if you give it the right amount of room and listen closely it really does take you to a different state of mind through its sheer musical beauty.
Het Italiaanse Glacial Movements label heeft een glasheldere en ijzige filosofie en daardoor identiteit, want het richt zich zonder uitzondering op de ijzige en isolationistische ambient, die altijd op experimentele wijze aan de man gebracht wordt. Ze omarmen uiteenlopende artiesten als Rapoon, Aidan Baker, Oophoi, Lull, Francisco López, Bvdub, Loscil, Pjusk, Retina.it en Celer, maar ze weten allemaal het ijzige verschil te maken met de releases op dit label. De oprichter achter deze succesformule is de muzikant Alessandro Tedeschi, zelf actief in Netherworld en Liquid Ghosts. Nu duikt ook het legendarische Machinefabriek hier op, wat op voorhand al voor enthousiasme zorgt hier.
Machinefabriek is al jarenlang de succesformatie van de uit Apeldoorn afkomstige en inmiddels in Rotterdam gevestigde artiest Rutger Zuydervelt, die een discografie heeft die je vanaf de maan kunt zien. Hij laat ook van zich horen in de groepen CMMK, Piiptsjilling en Cloud Ensemble en werkt met een waslijst aan artiesten samen. Normaal gesproken zeg ik altijd dat een Machinefabriek release nooit alleen komt en dat klopt ook nu, maar ten dele, want een album met hem van de groep Shivers is aanstaande. Nu dus "enkel" Stillness Soundracks van zijn hand, die geheel terecht op dit label is uitgebracht. De muziek vormt namelijk de soundtracks voor een serie van cineastische landschappen die door Esther Kokmeijer gemaakt zijn in het Arctisch gebied (vooral Groenland) en Antarctica. Een aantal van deze beelden heb ik gezien en alleen die weten je al zonder de muziek (zet maar eens uit) compleet te overrompelen. Kijk om jezelf te overtuigen onder zelf ook maar eens. Prachtig kristalhelder geschoten en met heel fraai ijzige kleuren. Zonder de beelden mag de muziek er ook wezen. Sterker nog, Machinefabriek brengt een ijzige maar wonderschone en intrigerende mix van isolationistische ambient, drones en neoklassiek. De klassieke instrumenten komen van samples en midi instrumenten. De rest wordt op de gebruikelijke wijze gefabriceerd. Nog niet eerder is er een release geweest die zo goed voldoet aan de doelstellingen van het label. Normaal gesproken zou ik zeggen: ogen dicht en genieten. Maar als beeld en geluid samenkomen, dan ontneemt eerst Kokmeijer je de adem en vervolgens slaat Machinefabriek nog de grond onder je voeten vandaan. Ervoor vallen zal je! Qua muziek moet je het ergens zoeken in een ijzige versmelting van Jacaszek, Stefan Weso?owski, Simon Scott, Olan Mill, Richard Skelton, Svarte Greiner, Netherworld en Thomas Köner. Het is (alweer) een onmiskenbaar meesterwerk geworden!