Double-Take: Engel by Machinefabriek

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DOUBLE-TAKE: This review/s is a slight left turn from our usual format. Most recently myself and Kevin Press connected regarding music criticism in the age of Yelp, Reddit and the endless blog loop. We agreed that much of what both Toneshift.net and Toronto-based Badd Press have in common, down to the selection of what we both have been reviewing of late, are records mostly way off the typical beaten track – so we agreed to pair up for our first-ever, Double-Take column. Kevin picked the record this time (though I’ve reviewed several of this artist’s works in the past), and I’ll pick the next one. The way this will work is we will each write a full review about a new release and run them simultaneously  on both sites. We dedicate this introductory column to none other than the prolific Machinefabriek (Dutch sound artist Rutger Zuydervelt) and his latest Engel. I hope you like what we’ve done here, so your feedback is welcome.

TAKE I:
review by Kevin Press, Badd Press

There is a school of thought that says music composed for dance should never be presented on its own. To remove music from its intended context is to strip it of its purpose and meaning. It is a puritanical argument at a time when the world could do with a great deal more pragmatism.

So let’s enjoy this new work from Rutger Zuydervelt for what it is: a delicate, at times mysterious recording that will either leave you curious about the dance performance it was scored for or inspire you to make up your own. Zuydervelt first wrote “As Much As It Is Worth” for a short piece by Marta Alstadsæter and Kim-Jomi Fischer. That led to an invitation to score their full-length work Engel. Described as being “about inner struggle, decision-making and the metaphysical,” the dancers move together like a single multilimbed performer.

Engel’s combination of contemporary dance and circus acrobatics won’t be immediately obvious to listeners of this new Machinefabriek album. Zuydervelt describes the performance as a “transportive performance.” The same can be said for the recording itself. It opens with a searching, slow-moving drone piece called “Hanging.” About three minutes in, Zuydervelt introduces quiet electronic noise elements that in turn give way to a natural soundscape in “Two High.” Water falls in the distance, birds call. These two pieces open the album quietly. If their role is to draw us in, they succeed. “Cradle” is the album’s longest work, at eight-plus minutes. It opens with similarly soft tones, but a more foreboding sense has begun to creep into the work. It’s at this stage that the album begins to take form as a work that can be appreciated either with or without the dance performance.

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Zuydervelt delivers a variety of deeply evocative sounds. Some are pleasant, others disconcerting. There is nothing specific in “Cradle” that can fairly be described as difficult, but it is certainly ominous. As its volume increases in the second half, the piece’s title begins to take on a foreboding tone. The found sound recording at the beginning of “Waltzing” only adds to the mood. These middle pieces have a lot to do with the success of Engel as a strictly musical presentation. They are richly suggestive and
at the same time they are whatever you want them to be. Two additional highlights: “Kim’s Fall” opens with an onslaught of electronic noise that hits like a lightning bolt. It then dissolves into a low-intensity rumble that continues into the next piece, “Walking.” Norway’s Paal Nilssen-Love contributes a previously recorded drum performance on “Two High Running.” It is the album’s most organic contribution, and it breaks the tension beautifully. Zuydervelt can always be counted on to produce thoughtful, richly produced work. Engel is another success.


 

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TAKE II:
review by TJ Norris, Toneshift.net

The record (due August 15th) consists of nine reasonably short tracks, and is Zuydervelt’s score for Marta Alstadsæter and Kim-Jomi Fischer‘s dance/circus performance which just recently made its debut in Norway. The artist shared “It’s the second time I’ve worked with Marta & Kim, after the short piece (and 7-inch single) As Much As It Is Worth.” Hanging is an intriguing ambient piece for the opener, that materializes rather slowly as if winding through a dark cave.

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It’s got a nice balance of faintly rumbling drone and tiny cragged effects that fade into birds singing in the distance, a brilliant bridge into Two High, as airy as fragile nature can be. There are incredible delicate silences throughout and especially on Cradle, and I’d recommend headphones for this one. It sort of lulls into and from the middle ground, with tiny flapping and illuminated chimes that evolve into a shivering harmony. The micro-static waltz, like a wind-up carousel looms like a horror movie in the making on Waltzing, the most bewitching track here. It’s softened edges and crackle takes you to a hidden place.

Kim’s Fall is a shock to the system on an otherwise graceful continuum to this point, but after it’s initial noise blurt the track evens into a relatively low frequency, elusive industrial track. It’s also the shortest track here, so it’s the midway breaking point that seamlessly flows into the gorgeous trickling, layered Walking. So much atmosphere, so lil’ time, and so it goes right into Not Last. Really, this is among some of this artist’s best work, filled with passionate emotive atmospheres that range in physicality and tension. Two High Running features celebrated Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, and it’s avant jazz flair reminds me some of the sassy prowess of early Max Roach, except here, he definitely flies way outside the lines and perimeter, delicately undulating into the bleary-eyed Rolling, the concluding track on Engel. Here you are on a wide open patio swinging gently in a creaky rocking chair. The open air is pixelated by an underlying magical theme that whispers between the wooden slats. A dreamy finish.

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