Machinefabriek: Stillness Soundtracks
Though I haven't heard all of Rutger Zuydervelt's Machinefabriek output (is such a thing even possible, given the staggering number of Machinefabriek recordings he's issued since 2004 on labels such as 12K, Staalpaat, Important, Experimedia, Type, Home Normal, and Dekorder?), I'd be willing to wager Stillness Soundtracks is one of his most accessible outings. It's an uncharacteristically melodic and even sometimes pretty collection whose contents were designed by Zuydervelt to accompany short films by Esther Kokmeijer but engage satisfyingly on purely musical terms. The videos initially were made available to the public on a USB stick that Kokmeijer and Zuydervelt prepared in a limited edition of 100 (now sold out); the Glacial Movements release supplements the project's five scores with two exclusive tracks that for whatever reason Zuydervelt has titled “(Chinstrap).”
While the music was scored in accordance with footage of Antarctica and Greenland and of icebergs and sprawling vistas, Stillness Soundtracks also stands out in stark contrast to a number of other recordings on the Glacial Movements label for eschewing icy soundscaping for something far less severe. It turns out that this was a deliberate choice, as Zuydervelt rejected the idea of wedding images of bleak mountains of ice to dark, cold soundscapes in favour of, in his words, “lush arrangements and … romantic themes.”
The warmth in the music comes from its instrumentation, pastoral character, and laid-back feel. Given that it's a Machinefabriek recording, electronics naturally figure prominently into the sound design but so too do acoustic instruments such as marimba, piano, strings, and organ. A beat pattern does lend some degree of slow-motion animation to “Stillness #2 (The FRAM, Greenland),” but for the most part the settings make good on the promise of their “Stillness” titles, with “Stillness #2 (Ilulissat, Greenland),” a quiet and austere exercise in micro-sound, a good illustration.
In the absence of visuals (the CD package's imagery aside), pieces like “Stillness #3 (The Protector, Antarctica)” and “Stillness #4 (Yalour Islands, Antarctica)” suggest the grandeur of the physical settings through their slow-motion ambient-drone design. So peaceful, in fact, is the music in the latter that its slow crawl begins to seem veritably entropic. Elsewhere, nature-based field recordings of bird and water sounds mingle with delicate acoustic expressions in such a way as to make “(Chinstrap)” stylistically blend with the video-related material. Any listener coming to the Machinefabriek discography for the first time might find the prospect daunting and be at a loss as to where to begin. With that in mind, Stillness Soundtracks would seem to offer an ideal entry point, given its comparatively accessible nature.