Artist website: http://www.machinefabriek.nu
Label: Nuun Climax #Nuun 11 CD: http://www.nuun-records.com/?page_id=718
CD Time: 35:51 Tracks: 1) Eén; 2) Twee; 3) Drie; 4) Vier; 5) Vijf
Prolific composer, artist and performer Rutger Zuydervelt (known as Machinefabriek) has written that the intent of this short-format album is to experiment with the sound of electricity using a new live set-up tone of analogue tone generators, effect and loop pedals. As I have noted in a recent review, I also keenly appreciate his background in graphic design—the quality of the visual aspects of his work, the design, layout and presentation of a given album’s artwork. Perhaps unintentionally, Machinefabriek has evoked some historic sound explorations in a similar vein to those made by Kraftwerk in their 1975 album Radio Activity (though without the seminal electro-pop sound).
The first time I listened to Stroomtoon, I immediately thought of the Kraftwerk track The Voice of Energy. The overall feel of the album is like touring a large industrial building late at night, passing through mechanical rooms or an electrical generation station. The recording is sharp, with piercing clarity at times and the visceral depths at others. This is not a conventional music album; it is experiential and visual ambience. Stroomtoon consists of one long format piece, followed by four shorter glimpses.
Eén is an industrial-strength ambient world. It is like a tour through a power station with turbines winding and cranes moving equipment overhead. This track starts with a sound akin to the long wind-down of electric motors. It is hypnotizing, and the layering gives the sense of descending while remaining in suspension. Ascent begins at about 8:00 as other incidental sounds enter the scene. It has some shades of the opening titles of Louis and Bebe Barron’s soundtrack to Forbidden Planet. At about 14:00 it is as if we have moved into an electrical switchgear room. A high-pitch whine permeates the space and the clicking, beeping and thuds here are like the systems within a building (even the sound of high pressure steam passing through pipes above). The piece builds almost to the point of the threshold of pain, and suddenly at the close there is an expansive low frequency cluster and the large switch is thrown—OFF.
Twee pulses and pumps, like a heart. This track builds slowly with a sharp clicking edginess of static electricity. Low frequencies push in, switches are thrown, and adjustments made then…click into a quieter zone, yet with radio interference. Drie opens with low frequencies and a sense of building tension; an ominous rhythm shadows and there is a sudden deep buzz like passing through an energy field. Gradually, chaos builds as radio interference overtakes and builds to a sudden full stop.
Vier is pure tones; high, low, blending and slowly warping. There is tranquility in it. It is more the sound of systems at rest, on stand-by, and monitoring. Vijf is the sound of perhaps the giant transformers at the heart of this power station. Here there is deep humming with blending harmonics, as if moving between enormous pieces of electrical distribution equipment. As the track continues a door seems to be opened and the listener is transported into a vast room of pulsing energy; made me think of scenes of the long abandoned outpost of The Krell.
At first, I was concerned that I would have a hard time relating to a recording like this; I tend to gravitate to more musical works. Yet the intent of the recording is quite compelling and the results very effective—a cinematic journey through a densely energized realm, a really fascinating work. One last note: Because of the wide range of frequencies and the great clarity of the recording, be aware that Stroomtoon may challenge some audio systems. It could even be considered a reference recording for audio system evaluations.
Photo of Rutger Zuydervelt by Michel Mees
This was a solicited review.