Machinefabriek – a year-end round-up

Have I actually written about any Machinefabriek releases this year? He is having a relatively quiet year, I guess. According to Discogs he has only had 14 releases this year, including CDs, mp3s, a DVD, cassettes, and the format he has done most to single-handedly keep alive, the 3″ CD. To put that figure into context, there were 21 in 2007. As ever, some are only fleetingly available, and I’ve probably missed out on a reasonable number of good ones as a result (such things are inevitable with the Machinefabriek catalogue), but there are a few I’ve managed to get my hands on towards the end of this year which I’m actually very keen on, which show Rutger Zuyderfelt in a variety of different settings, with a number of excellent collaborators.

There are a fine pair of pairings. The pairing with English clarinetist Gareth Davis is one that I know works, having seen them perform together at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam earlier in the year. It works because Davis is such a fine improviser, such a good exponent of the instrument’s quieter possibilities as well as its more conventional ones (and can therefore meet Zuyderfelt head-on across the full dynamic range), and because he gives Zuyderfelt such a wide array of sounds to work with. The four tracks were spontaneously composed, with Zuyderfelt on a guitar and electronics set-up. For the most part on Drape they are operating at a quiet level, sometimes barely perceptible even. They are unafraid to play nothing, content to listen and contribute only where they can add something; there is an audible tension. It begins with just the sound of breath, Davis blowing through his instrument, while ebows are gently held to strings, while on Part 2, a dark and shifting assortment of sine waves and deep tones is met with occasional growl and whine. Only on the last track does an ominously vibrating string cause Drape to actually begin to rise above a forceful whisper. Drape is out now on Home Normal.

A similar hushed intensity can be perceived on his pairing with Ithaca Trio. Oliver Thurley from Leeds is all three members of the Ithaca Trio, and he, or should I say they, wrote a nice letter suggesting they collaborate on a split CD, which emerged a few months ago on Experimedia. I sometimes feel like doing similar myself; asking Zuyderfelt just to follow me around, and provide some sort of ambient electronic soundtrack, perhaps. Or to remix my life. Again, this may be some very quiet music, but there is a lot going on. The Ithaca Trio tracks manage to combine droning and glitchy electronics with live instrumentation (double bass, piano, sax, percussion) and field recordings (bird song, barely-there chatter), leading to something at times quite dense, and always atmospheric. The ever-shifting nature, combined with a background of echo and unidentifiable small sounds, make this music that blurs the boundaries between the real world and the recorded. Perhaps the unintended is in fact one of the other members of the Trio. Machinefabriek’s side opens in more expansive fashion, before the gently pulsing atmospherics of “The Desolate Delay” lead into the harsh “The Harmed Harp”. In the latter I can only assume that Zuyderfelt is actually subjecting a harp to a number of practices which may contravene the Geneva Convention as unsettling scraping, splintering, cracking, and creaking noises puncture the deep rumbling drone and oscillations. I’ve never been a fan of the split CD format, as unlike the split LP, the transition between artists can jar. But here the Ithaca Trio side just bleeds into the Machinefabriek side, as the album highlight “For Ailing Health” almost sounds like one of his slow-building pieces (I’m sure he, or, they, would take that as a compliment) as it collects breath, cymbal, skronk, and lots of coughing as it winds its way up to the plateau.

Piiptsjilling is the quartet of Machinefabriek with Jan and Romke Kleefstra, and Mariska Baars. Like his collaborations with Baars’s Soccer Committee, this is a Machinefabriek album with words. Albeit words in (West) Frisian, a language spoken only in the north of the Netherlands, by around half a million people. The law of probability suggests you aren’t one of them. In fact, Jan Kleefstra contributes poetry to Wurdskrieme, while the others add mainly processed guitar. Like the Machinefabriek/Davis record, this was recorded pretty spontaneously over a couple of days, and it has a very pleasing ebb and flow to it. Sections of near-song, with semi-diaphonous vocals from Baars, drift into wordless drone, then into spoken word, and into extended periods of improvised guitar (the outro to “Tsjustere Leaten” actually reminds me of one of the darker sections from Fahey’s Red Cross). For something recorded so quickly it sounds remarkable cohesive, and never less than compelling; possibly even my favourite Machinefabriek of the year. There is a whole other album culled from the same sessions (of course there was), released on Spekk, but I haven’t heard it. Law of probability suggests it is likely to be very good.

Another release explodes this collaboration apart, as both Machinefabriek and the two Kleefstras also feature, on separate tracks on a limited edition White Box CD called That It Stays Winter Forever, along with White Box’s Liondialer. It gets increasingly less opaque as it goes along, the sound of instruments, primarily guitars, appearing out of the haze. The Machinefabriek comes in at around twenty minutes (or, in Machinefabriek measures, three inches), twenty lovely minutes of shimmering tones, deep bass notes, and popping electronics, a combination which reminds me of that other student of the guitar’s extended sonic potential, Oren Ambarchi. The Kleefstras combine with Anne Chris Bakker to chop out some sparse echoing guitar into an increasingly biting wind of static and hiss. I’ve no idea what Jan is muttering about, but here he sounds as portentous as a Dutch David Tibet. The contribution of Liondialer (the duo of White Box boss Danny Saul with Greg Haines) begins with unadorned, unprocessed guitar, the first time I’ve heard such a thing in many hours now. Such a state can’t last, obviously, and it all gets sucked down into a deep echoing chasm, before being eroded to nothing in an abrasive second half.

And so there ends another Machinefabriek year. Given that the quality of his solo work seemed to be peaking in 2009 with Dauw, it is commendable that he has continued to push himself by continuing to seek new situations and new approaches – in particular, I’m impressed by the quality of his improvisation in collaborative settings. The fact that everything (it seems) is released means that there is nowhere for him to hide anything substandard; the fact that there appears to be nothing substandard, is truly remarkable.

*Postscript: I’ve just received an email from Machinefabriek which suggests that “early 2011″ will include 4 CDs, one 12″ piece of vinyl, one 10″ piece of vinyl, one 5″ piece of vinyl, a cassette and, of course, a 3” CD-R*

Photo by Scott McMillan

4 thoughts on “Machinefabriek – a year-end round-up

  1. Drape is great indeed. I also loved the tiny bombs of Toendra, the scrapy cinema of Slovensko, the studious notes of Nerf, the elongated hum of Music For Studies, the all-star poptasticness of Daas, the sweet lullaby of Halfslaap, the retrospective goof of De Jonge Jaren, the mutated bleets of the Hilary Jeffery Tape and the quiet strangeness of The Breathing Bridge. All hail King Rutger!

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