The Measures Taken
2. Part I
3. Part II
4. Part III
5. Part IV
cd on Zoharum, February 2015
The score for a dance performance by choreographer Alexander Whitley and visual artists Marshmallow Laser Feast.
The spectacular performance involves alot of hi-tech interactivity between dancers and projected visuals. The theme of man vs/with machine is magnified by the music, which combines warm melodic pads with glitchy white noise and (more than on any other Machinefabriek release) propulsive rhythms.
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About the performance:
Visually striking and kinetically charged, The Measures Taken explores our interdependent relationship with technology. With the choreographic process rooted in the digital collaboration, the work is both a dialogue and a duet between human movement and the digital world.
Rutger Zuydervelt has been recording as Machinefabriek since 2004 and has a rich and varied discography that veers from sound collage to ambient to field recordings and beyond. On The Measures Taken (Zoharum, 2015), he has created a score for a dance production by the Alexander Whitley Dance Company, based in London. The production also included interactive visual projections created by the renowned Marshmallow Laser Feast studio, also based in London. The production had its debut in France in April 2014 and premiered in London at the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, one month later.
The composition itself features a brief introduction and is subsequently divided into four continuous parts. A minimal ticking begins the proceedings, and as reverberation is added, so too is a fixed counterpoint within the stereo image. The effect is simple yet effective, and immediately pulls one’s attention into focus.
The sections that follow display a balanced palette of drone, rhythm, ambience, and—the likes of which most surprised and impressed me on this recording—musicality. There are sections that are purely kosmische here, both in terms of atmosphere and emotion.
But before things get too comfortable or predictable, Zuydervelt is not shy to lean on elements of haze and feedback to challenge his audience into other sonic realms. He displays an innate sense of mindfulness in terms of the overall pacing of these elements, so that they never become overbearing or grating, yet they play an important part in the dramatic effect of this score. Of course, questions come to mind regarding the effectiveness of a score to a dance production in terms of how it stands on its own. Without the benefit of seeing the performance itself, of witnessing the beams of laser lights or the choreography of the dancers, how does the recording fare on its own? The easy answer, in this particular case, is extremely well.
The forty-three-minute duration is just the perfect length for this piece, as it is structured with measured timing and sinuous, thematic movements. The thread that ties the beginning and end of the score is that single, solitary ticking—a reminder of the simplicity inherent in the piece, and that all sound generates from a specific yet unknown source. Zuydervelt has crafted a highly effective work of great capacity and composition.
It seemed 'quiet' lately when it came to Machinefabriek. It might have been not since Vital Weekly 925 that we last reviewed something - which, in the world of Machinefabriek, not equals: didn't release anything - but I do know he's busy with on-site pieces, installations and in the case of 'The Measure Taken', music for a choreography by Alexander Whitley and also, at the same time, visual artists Marshmallow Laser Feast. This piece was commissioned by The Royal Ballett Studio programme and premiered in April 2014 in France and also performed in London. There's a short introduction piece, followed by the four parts of the piece. Obviously I haven't seen the dance piece, or the visuals, but judging by the music, there has been a shift in Machinefabriek's music. Some of the 'old' Machinefabriek is still present here, the long ambientesque soundscapes is of course something that is still present, but it seems as if Machinefabriek now handles the form of sound collage more and more, building towards crescendo's and then drops out radically. Another important addition is the use of rhythm in 'Part II'. A kind of click 'n cut rhythm that is not unlike that of, say, Carsten Nicolai. It's quite surprising but it works out very well. Topped with some noise bits here and there, this is surely on the more varied releases by Machinefabriek in quite some time. If you aren't the biggest fan of Machinefabriek but like to check out a release every once in a while, then make sure you check out this one.
The Measures Taken is the name for a “dance performance” performed by the Alexander Whitley Dance Company. It was commissioned by the Royal Opera House in London, and Rutger Zuydervelt, the dutch sound artist working under the moniker Machinefabriek, composed the score for this event. An already appealing figure in the acoustic music underground, Rutger has scored quite a number of soundtracks for films, dance representations or video installations.
As mentioned above, this time his work reached London at the famous Royal Opera House. The choreography signed by Alexander Whitley engages five dancers sharing the stage with projected geometrically designed visuals constructed by the digital artist Marshmallow Laser Feast. The visual projections interact with the performers’ movements in real time. If somebody missed this show (as certainly most of us did), the site alexanderwhitley.com gives an ample insight into The Measures Taken’s approach and desideratum.
The music is expressly designed to articulate the balance between the dynamic of the human movements and their inferential reflection into computer-generated projections. The result is close to an innovative hybrid sound capturing, with an incredibly plausible vitality; the graceful, muscular and anatomically unpredictable motions of the flesh on a background of static, automatic and pulsating counter-reactions generated by these threedimensional visuals.
The introduction and the four parts of the disc display different sound algorithms revealed along this human-digital interaction. Part I evokes a sort of accepted discord, tamed and controlled by the digital sound and endowed with the sensitivity of classical music. On Part II, the winning melody presented before turns into an abrasive discourse, revolving around the negative effects of over-used technology, this praised field of logos that seems to have replaced the ancient messianic philosophies. The modern pace of life no longer adapts to the solutions offered by theology or psychology (or vice-versa). Technology not only has condensed and reduced human sciences to formal and syncretic fit-to-live brochures, but has lured man into infinite possibilities, altogether false and impotent to accomplish what one is truly looking for: “a deliverance from the conditions that make us human”( John Grey, quoted from the program of the dance performance). This Part II goes on a playful tribal rhythm, concocting the idea that the future will once have its own internaut tribes, lost and forgotten in some deserted space on the web. Slowing down the pace, the tone becomes relaxing, insisting not on melody, but seeking perfection in terms of quality of sound.
Fair enough; this duality, sensitivity or sentimentalism by means of melody on the one hand, and ideal quality of form or structure on the other. Such duality reflects the similar dichotomy between human and human-controlled machine. Rutger Z. said in a video related to this soundtrack, that he is “much more interested in the quality of sound itself than in something like melody or instruments”. However he reached an equilibrium in the idea that sound (his sound sources being mostly field recordings and computer generated sounds) attains an exceptional quality and thus it is inherently melodious. Listen to this graceful suite for minimal digitalized harmonies that are presented on Part III: the space that takes form around you, changes alongside the rhythms you receive.
This dialogue that Rutger has established with the environment sometimes achieves a dramatic modulation, as if he were trying to regain spontaneity and composure of music by using the very arms of modern technology. In this idea, Part IV takes a slow turn back and reaches again, on the tune of a tragic aria, the debut pattern from the Introduction.
Machinefabriek is a musique concrete/avant garde composer that I already hold in high esteem. He is highly prolific, and yet his work is splendidly rich with detail, gestures layered beneath gestures, variety and precision of sound texture. His latest work "The Measures Taken" is a score designed to accompany a choreographed stage performance.
While his work is quiet, there is enough change, enough constant introduction of new sonic material, that I wouldn't call it 'minimalist'. That said, it is designed for the attention spans of those already familiar with musique concrete. His work contains freeform elements like rustling, wind and static, domestic feeling field recordings ambiguous in origin, and generally takes place in a drifting arrhythmic emptiness.
Gentle, liquified swaths of melodic tone are added as compliment to this, providing a more poetic, emotive and overtly musical dimension to his pieces. These tones and chords are not dissimilar to the textured e-bow drones and labyrinthine loop pedal symphonies of post rock bands like Larsen. I would guess they are created by processing real instruments such as guitar, piano and strings, though these timbres rarely become obvious.
The gentle, warm crackle of analog electronics are the focus here. This particular album shows greater emphasis on loops than other Machinefabriek I've heard, with resonant consonant chords iterating in reassuringly regular squares and grids, embellished with beautiful harmonics through feedback. It's not unlike some of Biosphere's loop based ambient works, with the same sense of calm predictability found on "N-Plants", like watching a tape of clouds moving in fast forward. This is pretty great as a chillout album.
The album is divided into 5 songs, but they transition so seamlessly that the transitions between them are totally unnoticable. The 2 minute "Introduction" is notably sparser than the rest of what we have here, with the remaining 4 tracks, titled "Part I - IV", which are essentially an unbroken swelling drone, continuously evolving but never dissipating, and actually reaching a surprising density in its latter half.
A precise understanding of orchestration and hierarchies of instrumental tone allows Machinefabriek to layer the drone to great effect. The presence of synthesizers and organs becomes apparent later in the album, and a sense of intense cinematic drama is achieved, a bold sound that is highly contrasted to the introverted musique concrete I have heard on other Machinefabriek albums. A soft, understated trip hop rhythm even appears at one point, the drum hits sounding like they could have once been accidental breaths into a microphone.
Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised by this album, primarily a work of sequenced electronics and textured melodic drones, building with a patient poignancy and dramatic flair into a gushingly emotional climax. Being that this artist is hugely prolific, he has quite likely explored some of the sounds found here in the past, but I had never heard him do something quite so structured or richly tonal. Fans of post rock may find this sort of album a great entry point to musique concrete. Fans of Machinefabriek should not be let down, as his characteristic sophisticated composition style is here in abundance. I highly recommend this album.