Chosen One: Machinefabriek
Interview with Rutger Zuydervelt.
“I see the sound more as a part of the space it’s played in. Just like the walls, the smell and the temperature, the sound is “just there”, continuously.”
Words: Mark Carry
Machinefabriek is the alias of Dutch musician and sound artist, Rutger Zuydervelt. Having begun recording under Machinefabriek ten years ago (with the subsequent cd-r debut release of ‘Marijn’ in 2006), Zuydervelt has constantly explored new sonic terrain, encompassing elements of ambient, noise experiments, drone, field recordings, minimalism and electro-acoustic experiments. A wide array of labels have been home to these series of captivating releases, including Type, Important, Home Normal, 12K, Entr’acte, Dekorder, Digitalis, Experimedia, and Staalplaat. The rich collaborative aspect of the Rotterdam-based artist is yet another striking facet to Machinefabriek’s colossal discography, having collaborated with fellow-luminaries such as Peter Broderick, Aaron Martin, Mats Gustafsson, Steve Roden, Tim Catlin, Gareth Davis, amongst many others.
2014 alone has seen several essential new releases and projects unveiled by Zuydervelt. Last April saw the eagerly awaited release of ‘Stillness Soundtracks’ – score work based on a series of cinematic landscapes by Esther Kokmeijer, filmed in the Arctic and Antarctic during 2013. In ‘Stillness’, the narrative comes from the music. In the words of Zudervelt: “The idea was to guide the viewer through the images with a sense of abstract story telling.”
The Miasmah release of Shivers – the trio of Rutger Zudervelt, Gareth Davis and Leo Fabriek – which is named after David Cronenberg’s first film. Last month, the trio of Zuydervelt, Otto Kokke, and René Aquarius (aka Dead Neanderthals) under the moniker of DNMF.
Interview with Rutger Zuydervelt.
Congratulations on the sublime ‘Stillness Soundtracks’ release, Rutger. It’s a truly captivating journey that effortlessly fuses the worlds of ambient, drone and modern-classical. Can you please take me back to the inception of this particular project when director Esther Kokmeijer approached you? I can imagine a synergistic effect was born between the music sketches you were composing and the edits of film footage that you were being sent?
Rutger Zuydervelt: I knew Esther for some time, and was aware of her previous projects, which I like a lot. So when she asked me if I wanted to score her film shot in Antarctica and Greenland, I immediately said yes. It wasn’t hard to imagine my music with slow-moving images of giant icebergs, the idea already sounded like a marriage in heaven. The actual process was quite quick. Esther had some rough edits of the films, and I just started, without too much discussion beforehand. Well, I might have said that I would like to make a very minimal, abstract and static score, but quickly it turned out that doing more orchestrated, melodic stuff worked really well. And once I did the first film, it dictated a bit how the others would turn out. In the meantime, we interchanged audio and video until the combination was perfect.
I think you perfectly summed up the music of ‘Stillness Soundtracks’ when you previously explained that the idea was to guide the viewer through the images with a sense of abstract storytelling. The sonic canvas gradually unfolds new meaning and significance as the pieces of music evolve and metamorphose. Having previously collaborated with an array of film-makers (Mike Hoolboom, John Price), is this sense of abstract storytelling deep in your consciousness as you compose music for film? I would love to gain an insight into the creative process and indeed the relationship between sight and sound from your perspective?
RZ: In a way, the story telling aspect is heard in my non-film music as well I guess… maybe even more than in my other soundtrack work, cause normally there’s some narrative in the film. So I would say that in other scores, the music is supporting the narrative of the movie, but in the case of ‘Stillness’, there was no narrative, which gave the music much more room, being just as important as the images.
The final two pieces of music, ‘Stillness #4 (Yalour Islands, Antartica)’ and ‘Stillness #5 (Lemair Channel, Antartica)’ serves the gorgeous climax to the Arctic journey. I feel the ebb and flow of the strings and electronic textures is closely interwoven with the ocean waves of the Antarctica where a vivid sense of stillness is wonderfully captured. Can you talk me through these closing sections please, Rutger? I was interested to read how fast the recording process took place; I imagine due to highly prolific nature of your artistic output, does a certain amount of improvisation lie at the heart of your music?
RZ: The recording process was ridiculously fast. I was super inspired by the images, and simply reacted on them on the fly, and started building the tracks from there. So yeah, it’s all done very intuitively, spontaneous and for a great part improvised. A lot of the “instruments” you hear are just me playing a midi keyboard, sounding like strings or reeds organ. It’s quite cheesy actually, but it did allow me to work fast and grab the inspiration as it was there in the moment. Quite simply put, it’s just me filling in what the images dictated me to do… Which sounds like it was hardly an effort, but what I want to say is that I was actually surprised about how quick it all went. I did spend some time working on details, but getting the overall pieces structured was really easy.
Can you recount for me your earliest musical memories? What records served your gateway into music-making? Can you trace how and where your fascination with sound developed and was subsequently nurtured?
RZ: In broad strokes, it started with the compilation ‘Synthesizer Greatest’ when I was about 13, then to grunge (Alice in Chains, Nirvana) when I was 15, soon going into death and doom-metal (Morbid Angel, Napalm Death, My Dying Bride, etc) and then into gothic (Field of the Nephelim, Sisters of Mercy) and from there to trip-hop and drum ‘n’ bass (Howie B, Roni Size, Photek, Tricky), slowly moving to Warp-territory (Autechre, Aphex Twin) to where I am now.
I think the most important event for me was getting a simple musical software program when I was about 17. I played in a band before that, which was fun, but also a bit frustrating. With the computer program I was able to make music all by myself, with much more freedom then having to stick to the band-idiom. Then a bit later, probably around 1999, I got a mixing desk and a multichannel recorder from someone (as a trade for a graphic design job), and I started experimenting with my guitar, field recordings and what not.
You asked me about the albums that served as gate-ways… some that have definitely been really important were ‘Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada’ by Godspeed, ‘Turn Off the Dark’ by Howie B, ‘Modus Operandi’ by Photek, ‘Richard D. James’ by Aphex Twin, ‘Endless Summer’ by Fennesz and ‘I Could Live in Hope’ by Low.
I love your collaboration with Peter Broderick in the not-too-distant past. Can you reminisce for me please the recording sessions that took place for this truly beautiful work of art? Like much of your other collaborative works, a lovely sense of inner-vision and musical telepathy exists between you and Peter on ‘Black Grey Canvas Sky’.
RZ: Funny, because this collaboration actually does feel like a long time ago for me… I had discovered Peter’s music, I think through John Twells of Type Records, because it was about the time that he released ‘Float’ on that label. Peter and I got in contact via e-mail, exchanged records, and came up with the idea to collaborate. We didn’t actually get together for that, but made the album by file-sharing. Basically, he came with melodic ideas, recorded on guitar, violin and vocals. And I added some grain and noise to the thing. The combination worked quite good I guess. Working like this is a matter of trust in each other. It wasn’t before a gig in The Netherlands that we actually played together in the same room for the first time. Which was actually quite amazing… we had decided to play stuff from the album, but just before getting on stage we said “fuck it, we’re going to improvise everything”. And it was quite amazing.
You have also continually been involved in installation work. Can you please discuss this area of your work and indeed how dialogue with the environment plays an important role?
RZ: One of the most interesting aspects of installation pieces as that it doesn’t (have to) have the structure of a musical piece, so there’s a very different approach. I see the sound more as a part of the space it’s played in. Just like the walls, the smell and the temperature, the sound is “just there”, continuously. And instead of letting the sound guide the audience through a specific duration in time, as with a concert or recording, listeners decide for themselves how long to experience the installation, and how to move through the wall. In that respect, it gives them a more important, responsible role. I love that sense of giving away some of the control and let the sound lead its own life.
What is next for you, Rutger? Also, what albums and artists are you currently listening to the most these days?
RZ: I buy way too much music, so if you would ask me a week later, I would answer differently, but at this moment I’m listening a lot to Tim Olive, who releases collaborative CDs on his own 845 Audio label. It’s all great, very rough. And there’s two albums from Jean-Luc Guionnet which I’ve been listening to a lot, which are Stones Air Axioms (with Thomas Tilly) and Maps (with Toshimaru Nakamura). Especially that last one is one of the most exciting improv albums I’ve heard. I’m also listening to some recent releases on Another Timbre, who are also on a roll.
As for my own music… there’s an app that I’m doing the sound for, and I’m scoring a documentary about electro-shock therapy. Then in November I’ll start another collaboration with choreographer Iván Pérez, which I’m really looking forward to. There are also a few interesting gigs planned, such as one at Ars electronica and two gigs with DNMF, my collaboration with sax/drums duo Dead Neanderthals.
‘Stillness Soundtracks’ by Machinefabriek is available now on Glacial Movements Records.
DNMF (Dead Neanderthals & Machinefabriek) is available now on Moving Furniture Records.
Shivers (Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek), Gareth Davis and Leo Fabriek) is available now on Miasmah.