BECOMING by Machinefabriek

Release date: October 25, 2017
Label: Self Released

I like Machinefabriek (Rutger Zuydervelt), he makes consistently interesting stuff, but it can at times be hard to love and he produces so much of it that it can be even harder to keep up with. BECOMING, it turns out, is his the fourth collaboration with Dutch/Spanish choreographer Iván Pérez. The previous three have passed me by but this time they made a change by developing both the choreography and music together creating to an overall structure that allowed for improvisation between Zuydervelt and the three dancers during the performances.

The album is a version edited from recordings during the last rehearsals but there’s also a bonus live recording from the prèmiere. To be fair, two versions of a 40 minute long drone score for a contemporary dance piece might not be the easiest way in to that extensive discography if you’re new to him, but as a palate cleansing break from combing through Taylor Swift’s new record for celeb gossip and blatant illuminati signalling I can guarantee it is at least effective.

The obvious big question for a project like this is – does it work as a piece of music outside of the performance? I think it does, as much as any long form drone type piece can be said to hold your attention it’ll leap out and grab it at times if you wander away. It’s not an especially easy listening or soothing piece. Starting in near silence, a drone slowly builds and grows in complexity and volume until about 8 minutes in brighter, bolder sounds start swooping across in waves that hover and wobble before a grittier industrial drone rolls forward consuming everything in its path. It seems to wipe the slate and we settle back to a low analogue hum which recedes to something even more fragile. There are static glitches and a ghostly choral voice begins far off in the distance coming nearer on soft distorted synth waves.

Around the 25 minute mark a circling, plunking, pocket piano line collapses in a crunching eruption of noise and plunges us into darkness, whistles of feedback and rough textured scraping make for a period of unsettling distress before rolling back again to a throb. The eerie lost vocals come back, like a choir girl in a well, and wash away on soft, soft tones so pale and gentle you’d think the dancers’ footsteps would surely drown them out. Machinefabriek is presumably somewhere in the shadows bent over his table of gadgets, the intriguing list of which for this piece includes: pocket piano, pre-recorded cassettes, coil pick-up mic, contact mic, slinky spring, radio, dictaphone, tuning fork, scourer, micro amp, looper pedals and effects pedals.

Trying to imagine what the dancers are up to is unnecessary and seems a little fruitless (I get an incongruous image of them shuffling at a lively pace with their chins on their chests and their arms at their sides – which says more about my limited conception of contemporary dance than anything I’m hearing). The sound design and attention to detail is absolutely masterful throughout and while the two versions are essentially quite close to each other I’d go for the live premiere version as it has just a slight, pleasing roughness that’s unusual for Machinefabriek’s fastidious soundscapes.

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