Machinefabriek + Stephen Vitiello: Box Music

It's not unusual for geographically separated electronic musicians to collaborate via digital file-sharing but Machinefabriek (Rotterdam resident Rutger Zuydervelt, infamously known for the prodigious number of home-made, 3-inch CDRs he's issued since 2004) and Stephen Vitiello (the Richmond, Virginia-based sound and media artist) cross the Atlantic in a way that's probably never been done before. In place of swapping files via the web, the two hit upon the idea of swapping objects and adhering to a single key guideline to go with it. Each sent the other a box of recordings and largely non-musical objects—things like bells, tin foil, buttons, thumb piano, rocks, speakers, chocolate sprinkles, tape, egg cutter, rice, plastic bag—with the proviso that they be the only materials with which material could be generated. Box Music, a five-track disc with each contributing two solo pieces and the fifth a collaboration where Zuydervelt completed the work begun by Vitiello, documents the result.

No one familiar with the artists' output should be too surprised that they eschew cheap novelty treatments of the working materials. Instead, the two exploit the objects' sound-generating potential and transmute the generated material into settings that dovetail rather seamlessly with the kind of material one normally expects from practitioners operating in the experimental electronic field. Though bells are heard during Zuydervelt's crystalline drone “Bells, Book, Tin Foil, Buttons,” for example, the other materials are used to produce a wide range of percussive textures (e.g., rumbles, crackle, etc.), and certainly the sounds generated during Vitiello's “Crackle Box, Thumb Piano,” a thirteen-minute field of grainy rustlings, spacey whoops and glissandi, and thumb piano plucks, extend far beyond the titular tools. Zuydervelt's “Broken Record, Cassettes” comes as close to conventional music-making as the album gets, though—in keeping with the title's “broken” detail—it's music-making of a particularly sickly sort that in the wooziness of its crippled vinyl loops calls to mind Philip Jeck. All praise to Zuydervelt and Stephen Vitiello for making good on their inspired idea's promise.

August 2008