Saturday, February 21, 2009

Machinefabriek: The Engineer

In December last year I said that Machinefabriek’s magnificent ‘Dauw’ was one of my favourite ambient albums of 2008. Looking back now I realize that it’s actually an equal first for me (alongside Ezekiel Honig’s ‘Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band’) – yes, it really is that good. But for those new to Rutger Zuydervelt’s Machinefabriek project, ‘Dauw’ is just the tip of the iceberg. And what an iceberg it is – since he started releasing music in 2004 the Dutch artist has rapidly built up an enormous body of work (just check his discogs entry and you’ll see what I mean) spread across several full-length albums, 12”s, 7”s, cassettes, and his preferred format of limited edition self-released 3” CDRs (most of which are thankfully available for download from Boomkat).

This constant stream of releases has seen Zuydervelt developing a unique voice in experimental/electronic music, one that ranges comfortably across genres and sounds, from warm gentle drones to delicately plucked guitar strings to almost oceanic roars of intense noise. His music is by turns soothing, disconcerting, melancholic, bracing – and above all, absolutely compelling.

Zuydervelt kindly answered some questions for us, along with providing a link to a 24-minute live track recorded in October of 2008.

Tell us a little about your musical development: what were you listening to when you were you a child, a teenager, and a university student?

My first cd was a compilation called 'Synthesizer Greatest', given to me by my dad, for my birthday. At that time (I must have been 10 or so), my little brother and I were completely into that stuff. The Miami Vice theme, Night Rider theme, etc. Not much later I found about hiphop. Not really underground stuff, but populr acts like LL Cool J and De La Soul. As soon as I got into high school i found out there was way more music and I got into Nirvana, Alice in Chains, etc. Quickly followed by Metallica and Pantera.

In the (I believe) second grade we went on a sailing camp with school, and I saw this extremely cool dude there, with long red hair and a jacket full with metal-band patches. I had never heard of the names on his jacket, but i thought it had to be cool, so i wrote all those names down (Morbid Angel, Death, Carcass, etc) and hired the cds from the library. That's how i got into extreme metal. After that it went from dark ambient to triphop to idm....

How have all of these sounds and styles shaped the development of your musical perspective? And which of these do you think has had the greatest influence on the music you make now?

I actually think the music that i listen to at the period when I'm making an album is the biggest influence. Of course the stuff i listened to in the past was important, but it's hard to point out specific elements of my music that can actually prove that... 

When did you decide to start making music, and why?

It started because my parents thought it was a good idea to send me to piano lessons. And it was. After some years of piano playing I wanted to take lessons for guitar. Of course, in the 'grunge period' i wanted to play like Cobain. Everyone of my age wanted that. I bit later I was in a metal band, played one gig and after a month or three the band had quit. That's when i got a simple music program fro a classmate, and that's when i started doing solo music.... 

Something that I find really exciting about your work are the constant contrasts, the different sounds and moods … sometimes tranquil and meditative, sometimes intense and noisy. What attracts you to these contrasts?

The one makes the other stronger. Something beautiful becomes extra beautiful when it's combined with something 'ugly', if you know what i mean. These contrasts work really well i think, and it keeps the music from being to 'ambient' or 'new age'... 

How would you describe your style? What do other people tell you about your music?

Other people mostly call my music 'experimental electronica' i guess. If someone asks me i say that 'it's film-music, but without film'. Listeners that usually don't listen to experimental music can'r really relate to it most of the time, though sometimes at a gig a get nice reactions from 'newcomers'. And that's actually the biggest compliment. 

Tell us a little about your composition process: (typically) where and how does a track begin, how long do you work on it, and when does it feel 'finished'?

I work fast, so I don't work on a track for a very long time. For me, a couple of weeks feels like way too long. It has to stay fresh...
I start by recording some basic material. That can be improvised guitar, field recordings, or a live performance. After having that done i start messing around on my computer. Cutting and pasting, using the source material as building blocks. 

Do you think your preferred release format, 3" CDRs, influences your approach to composition? And why did you settle on self-released 3" CDRs as your primary means of delivering music?

The 3-inch format didn't change my way of making music. How i make my music is the reason that i started with 3-inches. It just turned out the 20 minutes is a super nice length for me to work on... It seems to be the perfect time span to tell a story without being boring or too quick. 

I have to say I'm astounded by your release rate! Why are you so prolific? Are you ever worried about releasing too much?

I'm a bit worried sometimes, but as soon as i notice that people keep being interested it's alright. It just happens. I'm a nervous guy who wants to do a lot of things, in a short period. It's the way i think. I have so many ideas, why not try them out, and why not release them? It's so nice to design sleeves as well, so it's a good excuse for that also! 

What equipment do you use? Is the kind of equipment you use important to you?

My major 'tool' is SoundEdit, a pretty old Mac program. Very simple, amateuristic editing in sound. It doesn't even run on modern Macs anymore. I was excited to hear that Janek Schaefer uses it as well! 

What makes a great track for you?

It's a cliche answer... but if it's feels right, it is right. I think it has to be hypnotic and dynamic at the same time. And i like to be surprised by myself. Sometimes trying out combinations can lead to great results, without being intended. That's the great part of making music myself... 

Which of your own tracks is your favourite, and why?

I'll go for 'Engineer' then, a track on my 'Dauw' album. It was actually the first track i made, before i decided to continue with tracks to make an album. I had been asked by a guy to make a track for his art school graduation project. I agreed, but only if he could supply me some percussion/drum sounds (he's a drummer). It was the first time i worked with (scraped and bowed) percussion, and it was such a joy to work with. It was rawer then my average output, but it's a great combination with long (over)tones.
Two other I'm really fond of are 'Huiswerk 1' and '2', from the (duh!) 'Huiswerk' 7-inch. I made that music in two days, to try out my newly bought sampler. It's very spontaneous, and i can still listen to those tracks with great joy. 

What music are you really excited about at the moment?

I listen to so much music. As soon as this is published I will listen to other stuff, but right now my favorites are Giuseppe Ielasi's 'Aix' and the demos for a new cd by German pianist 'Nils Frahm'. That one is astonishing. 

Can you tell us a little about what you have planned for 2009?

There's a cd coming out on a Greece label, with edited material of a gig i did in Athens. Also in the making, a collaboration with Peter Broderick. Nice droney piano stuff. There will be a short tour through the UK in may. For the rest... plenty of releases, i guess.... ;-) 

What's something that music has taught you about life? And what is something that life has taught you about music?

Probably making music had a positive impact on my shy personality. I think it helped me to become more self-conscious. So that's what music taught me about life, to be self assured. And what life taught me about music? That's a difficult one.... i have no idea. 

Finally, can you tell us a little about your live piece "Vrijhaven"? You said that "it pretty much sums up what [you] want in a good performance". What is it that you attempt to achieve when you perform live?

This recording was made as part of a short tour i did with Mark Templeton. I hadn't played a show for a month or two and i wanted to try out new stuff. Better stuff. Not just the cliché e-bowed guitar drones. More space, and more rawness especially. Without practicing (i barely do that) it worked out superfine. Sometimes, if a gig goes well, you can have the feeling of totally being in some sort of state where everything goes right. 'The vibe' is there, so to speak. Hearing the recording back proofed me right. The building of tension, the nostalgic feeling, the minimalism (with maximum results), it's all there. This probably sounds like bragging, but i just feel that i barely played a better show....

You can hear more of Machinefabriek’s over at his Myspace, and his own website (which has a rather large downloads section that includes the track “Zucht 2”, one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful pieces of drone/ambient I have ever heard).


  1. so glad you've publicised him - been into his work for a while now and I think he's the ambient producer around at the moment. and yes, indeed, Zucht 2 is devastating - my favourite track. so understated. Sometimes ambient music can feel either boring and predictable, or like its pulling on your hearstrings in a really obvious way. zucht 2 epitomises the perfect balancing of the two.

    I bought his maakt bergen muziek recently, and got an amazing poster with it. his does the whole genuine/personal connection thing very well.

  2. I'll be seeing Machinefabriek next weekend at Resonance in Ghent, very looking forward to it!

  3. Thanks for the wonderful writing. I just found out about him yesterday, and can't believe I didn't know about him sooner. Just purchased a bunch of his music from Boomkat, which is a great site for their 14 tracks they sell at a time.

    Thanks and I must say...Fantastic Blog bro.


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