When you’re familiar with the surprising Dead Neanderthals release Life from april this year, ánd know the two artists have always been closely related, this collaboration of Rutger ‘Machinefabriek‘ Zuydervelt and René Aquarius will hardly surprise you. The duo does not spend much words explaining this album: they just refer to it as their ‘third collaboration in 2018’ (after The Red Soul and Smelter).
Glass Palace feels like a logical step after Life: a 34 minute drone piece that hardly seems to change on a first listen but where a lot of things are going on actually.
It feels as a recording of processes inside a cyborg-like life form that is slowly retreating from activity.
Or like watching a fascinating organic activity through a microscope at first, but gradually increasing the viewing distance.
Or earthly observations starting from a clear viewpoint but then retreating, like an astronaut watching Earthly struggles, putting all irrelevant global worries into a cosmic perspective.
With increasing distance, details become unimportant.
Oh well, just forget these desperate descriptions. While I’m writing this I realise that it is impossible to describe a sound like this with words.
I understand now why Zuydervelt and Aquarius did not even try to describe the sound of their Glass Palace: don’t over think it, just go with the experience.
I had never heard about the Siberian trio Presidiomodelo until this release, and was surprised to find out that they released a split cassette release with Machinefabriek earlier this year on Tandem Tapes. The Inner Empire is also released on tape, with a 15 minute part of the soundscape on each side. Of course there’s a digital download option, too.
With related concepts like the Shaman (‘priest of the devil’), permafrost, Soviet labour camps and other worlds (to which the Shaman has access) the context of this soundscape is rather dark. “Misty atmospheres infused with a murky, industrial aesthetic – a meditation on themes of self confinement and interior exile.”
“Rumbling synths oscillate amongst delicate beds of chimes whilst ghostly chants and guttural tones vibrate around the sound of handmade instruments and hypnotic drums.”
The original music for this set was composed for theatre, so the different sections merge into each other like changing scenes. A soundscape full of suspense and inescapability, like a compelling horror movie.
For his score for ArrivalJóhann Jóhannssontakes a surprising step away from the neo-classical composition such as recently displayed on his Orphéealbum, venturing into more ominous abstract territory matching the movie’s subject.
The difficulty of translating alien communication is reflected in the music by the singers using no text, only vowels. The tension can be felt in every detail of every track.
For his score, Jóhannsson was able to work with some well-respected artists like the Theatre of Voices (conducted by Paul Hillier), Hildur Gudnadóttir and Robert Aiki Audrey Lowe (aka Lichens).
I haven’t seen the movie (yet), and based on the description the story will probably be incomparable to that of 2013’s Under The Skin, but there are many moments in the soundtrack that I find the music is equally intense and has the same chilling effect Mica Levi’s score had. Mysterious, Eerie, Ominous… After hearing the soundtrack, you’ll probably want to go to see the movie too.
But even without having seen the movie, this is a soundtrack that is pushing the boundaries of movie score traditions.
Considering the strength of this soundtrack, it seems a weird choice to feature a Max Richter composition (In the Nature of Daylight)as the movie’s signature piece. Not because it’s not a beautiful piece, but it feels a bit secondhand after originally appearing on The Blue Notebooks (2004) and having been used in at least four other movies (such as Shutter Island, 2010).
Definitely a very, very bad decision, because the inclusion of the Max Richter track in the score resulted in the soundtrack’s disqualification for an Oscar nomination, according to the Academy Awards’ guidelines.
The Richter track is not included in the soundtrack album, which -deservedly- focuses on Jóhannsson‘s score.
But in the end it doesn’t really matter: even without the Oscar nomination, this is simple one of the best soundtracks of 2016 (and a large part of 2017) you’ll find!
With the video game becoming a big industry, the attention that goes into their soundtracks has grown too. Soundtracks are no longer scored strictly for movies. The sound design for interactive video-games has become as important as its graphics design.
Composing for an interactive video game has some extra challenges, since the story isn’t linear in most cases: there are different routes a player can take, but the continuity must not be broken.
Samorost 3is a game created by Amanita Design, creators of the award-winning Machinarium. I’m not a gamer myself, so I cannot tell you about the ins and outs of the gameplay (other websites can do that), but from the short game preview (below) one can tell that Amanita has gone through great lengths to create a beautifully detailed fantasy world:
The same can be said about the soundtrack, composed by Tomáš Dvořák (aka Floex) – clarinettist, composer, producer and multimedia artist from Prague (Czech Republic). He claims to have spent at least two-and-a-half years on this project, creating the sound design, sounds and expression of the characters, the environment as well as the musical dramaturgy.
And this shows in the quality as well as the quantity: with 23 tracks and 77 minutes the album fills up and entire CD (or double LP).
“Floex’s favourite and leading instrument – the clarinet – appears, as does the flitting between the genres – experimental levels that easily sail into the ambient or the downtempo.”
The music is as diverse as the seven different planets the story takes place on; it’s an engaging collection to listen to even without having played the game. It draws from many sources and manages to be refreshingly original and to avoid the cliché’s of contemporary modern classical soundtrack composing.
The objective of Samorost 3 may be largely the same as that of System Era’s Astroneer: both games are about travelling to unknown planets and discover alien worlds.
But the design choices are fundamentally different, as can be seen from both introduction previews.
Whichever style you prefer is simply a matter of taste. You can even like both of course, each for his own quality.
The soundtrack of these games are perfectly aligned with these design choices.
(Music Track: Gameplay 5)
Astroneeris Rutger Zuydervelt‘s first game soundtrack and will probably come as a surprise for those following his earlier work. Using his own name instead of his Machinefabriekalias often (but not always) indicates a difference in music, too: somewhat less abstract, more ‘formally composed’ new music. The closing track, Starting Scene, is an exception to this since it is an adaption of the Machinefabriek track Wold. Also, the fact that this is a collection of short, pointy compositions is one of the surprises of this 26-track album (16 on CD, 10 extra tracks with the additional download because they were finished later).
In line with the game graphics, Rutger chose to use a relatively basic, synth sound palette for his compositions. It’s not 8-bit music – that would have been a few steps too far in relation to the visual design – but the overall sound is definitely ‘retro’. No full-scale string ensembles here, no wide-screen symphonic cinematics, but a sound design firmly supporting the game physics.
The collection features the game’s main themes as well as a lot of atmospheric soundscapes with titles like Danger, Exploration, Gathering indicating their context.
Rutger ‘Machinefabriek‘ Zuydervelt, one of the most prolific artists in the world of experimental electronics, never fails to amaze with every new direction.
“And now for something completely different…” must be his basic life motto.
I don’t think that Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie needs any further introduction, but for those new to his name: he is one of the driving forces behind The Stars of the Lid and A Winged Victory Of The Sullen – one of the founding fathers of ‘orchestral ambient’.
The music of the Stars of the Lid and – even more- AWVftS has always been extremely cinematic, so it was only a matter of time before there would be an ‘official’ soundtrack releases based on their way of composing.
Mike Plunkett’s Salerotells the story of a young ‘salt gatherer’ in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, who becomes ‘the last link between the old world and the new’. For that description alone, the music of Adam Wiltzie is a perfect choice: his music also is a link between the old world and the new.
Stars of the Lid always presented the most abstract minimalist version of the acoustic ambient music. Compared to their work A Winged Victory For The Sullen always was more accessible. Saleroeven takes this a step further and will feel familiar to those familiar with the works of Max Richter, Johann Johannsson and the likes.
But the musical ingredients that make up for the specific ‘Adam Wiltzie sound’ are easily recognisable: the string ensemble, the guitar, the electronic dub background effects.
In 2010, Wiltzie’s Stars of the Lid partner Brian McBride scored a (beautiful) soundtrack for the Effective Disconnectdocumentary, but if my memory serves me correctly, Salerois the first ‘full’ soundtrack scored by Adam Wiltzie (please correct me if I’m wrong).
It certainly won’t be the last: apart from A Winged Victory For The Sullen’s soundtrack for Iris, the beginning of 2017 will also premiere Alexandre Moors’ ‘The Yellow Birds’ , with another score by AdamWiltzie.
A WINGED VICTORY FOR THE SULLEN – IRIS release date: jan 13, 2017
While Salero is Adam Wiltzie’s solo score, the soundtrack for Irisis scored by A Winged Victory For The Sullen which means it is written by Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran. When director Jalil Lespert heardthe music of AWVftS, he immediately knew that that was the music he wanted for his new film. And so, Wiltzie and O’Halloran got the opportunity to “explore more analogue electronic experiments as well as working with a large string ensemble (a 40-piece string ensemble), to create something that felt very modern and still cinematic”.
The first sessions for this recordings were some modular synth sessions recorded in Berlin. The combination of these modular sounds with a full scale string ensemble is a perfect match for a “script with tension, sexuality and darkness”.
If you’re familiar with their previous recordings you will hear the AWVftS sound trademarks all through the score. Their music has always been more accessible than the extreme minimalism of Stars of the Lid.
But even compared to their own previous albums (AWVftSand Atomos), Iristakes this a few steps further. Which brings this soundtrack somewhat closer to the many other modern classical soundtracks that are currently released.
The physical release of the album presents a set of 41 minutes (selected from the original 60 minute soundtrack); the digital download has some interesting extra bonus tracks: Part 2 and 3 of Adam Wiltzie’s The Endless Battle of the Maudlin Ballade (originally featured on the Travels in Constants series #24),and four tracks by Petite Noir, dOP, DJ Pone and The Shoes feat Thomas Azier that are featured in the film.
A few days ago, Wouter van Veldhoven mentioned his praise for Soccer Committee‘s albumsC (2007). ‘It’s almost ten years old now’, he wrote, ‘It is also probably the best minimal album ever made, regardless of subgenre. The album would likely be labeled minimal folk/songwritery music, but please give it a good listen, because this is way way more than just songs.’
I remember seeing (and hearing) Mariska Baars (Soccer Committee) for the very first time when she played support for a Stars of the Lid show in Utrecht in 2007, and I remember feeling the same way: these are not ‘just songs’ – there’s something more to them, something that is hard to grasp and explain.
Around that time (december 2007), I made a mix from Soccer Committee‘s music paired to that of Machinefabriek. This mix was never published here before, because it was made for the NPS-Folio radio show broadcast.
The Folio shows are archived in this Mixcloud profile, but I don’t usually mention them here. Time to make an exception to that rule: Wouter van Veldhoven’s post made me decide it was time to dust off the 2007 mix and publish it again. Because it’s still as powerful now as it was back then, almost 10 years ago.
Connecting Soccer Committee‘s acoustic, minimalist and pure songs to Machinefabriek‘s experimental electronics may seem like a strange conjunction of opposites, but it works very well (at least, for me it does): it seems to bring out a somewhat hidden, ‘peaceful and true’ emotional layer to their music.
And it’s not such a strange combination as it seems to be: Mariska and Rutger have been working and performing together for many years in projects like Piiptsjilling and various other combinations.
A lot has happened since 2007. Machinefabriek‘s musical career (and his discography) has exploded to worldwide acclaim, and while Mariska Baars is still incidentally performing music in various projects, Soccer Committee is not active anymore: she now expresses herself through her paintings mainly.
LOOPED EXODUS – SOULS HAVE MACHINES The third self-released full album (not counting the initial two EP’s) from Looped Exodus (Geerard Labeur, from Amsterdam).
The music for this album was inspired by summer visits to sea and dunes, and reflects ‘the landscape, some theory and the act of escaping the hyper-reality…’. Escaping the hyper-reality can be a deeply religious thing it seems; there are more than one references to religion in the titles: Psalm 88 <in Morsecode>, Monastic Piracy, Psalm 62, Techno for Sacred Spaces… (and in the hidden track Religion in the Age of Digital Reproduction, created with ‘digitally reproduced’ fragments of prayers).
There are many surprises embedded in the drone-based electronics: the combination with the operatic vocals (from a Bach piece) in Mein Hz works out very well, as does the morse-code text in Psalm 88 (I am not capable to check the code but I suppose it’s correct morse), the environmental recordings, the string loops, the FM radio signals, the slowed down jazz rhythm sample…
All these details add up to more than the sum of its parts…which is what makes this album sound so very inspired – and inspiring.
MICHEL BANABILA – FEEDBACK + MODULAR + RADIOWAVES III FMR IIIis the third and final (?) release in Michel Banabila‘s series of experiments in combining the three sound sources from the title. It opens in quite a radical way with a loud synthetic gong that immediately draws full attention, followed by a minimal machinelike noise – an industrial meditation. Modular synths are very fashionable, but too often the musical results only interesting for the nerdy buttonfreaks using them – there’s too much of ‘what does thís button do??’. But not in Banabila‘shands.
By using clever combinations of different sources, and by careful manipulation, his compositions – even the most minimal ones – get a fascinating cinematic tension.
In Banabila‘s diversely branched discography, the FMR series is connected to his electronic works (like The department of Electric Engineering releases) and thus quite a lot more experimental than his works for theatre, his jazz-related outings or his crossovers with world-music. Michel Banabila still manages to combine the best of a lot of musical worlds in his rapidly growing discography, and there’s no sign of slowing down!
MACHINEFABRIEK – DWAAL / WOLD Speaking of ‘no sign of slowing down’: Rutger ‘Machinefabriek‘ Zuydervelt only seems to increase his speed of releasing new albums: blink twice and his catalogue has changed. But even more impressive is that he is able to retain a very high quality level on all of his work.
Belgium based label Dauwreleased a cassette edition of two new works, both around 18 minutes. (The cassette edition has sold out fast, so you’ll have to do with the digital edition). Dwaal refers to ‘getting lost’, and I’m not sure about Wold but I guess it could be local dialect for ‘forest‘.
So there you have it: the best description these soundscapes can get.
Imagine a fog so thick that you cannot see your own hand when you stretch it out in front of you. Then imagine you’re walking through that fog in an unfamiliar landscape. (It’s a flawed comparision, I know, since this weather condition usually means complete silence and abscence of wind. Still: it is precisely that kind of feeling the multiple layers of white noise, distorted hiss and weird subtle details evokes).
[Edit April, 2018]
The cassette release on Dauw has sold out long ago, but Dwaal/Wold is re-released by Moving Furniture Records on CD and as a digital download. This re-release also contains two additional re-works of the tracks, by Nicola Ratti and Benoît Pioulard.
MACHINEFABRIEK – WENDINGEN As if his own output was not enough to convince us of his musical genius, Zoharum releases a compilation of remixes that Rutger ‘Machinefabriek‘ Zuydervelt has done for others. Almost all of the tracks of this compilation have been previously released, but most of them are hard to find now.
I am not sure whether to call this a ‘various artists compilation with tracks by different artists all remixed by Machinefabriek, or a Machinefabriek album with sound sources from different artists. These are remixes, created for different occasions, but all of them have the Machinefabriek trademark pouring out of every detail. So in the end, this definitely is a Machinefabriek album – with a lot of different guest artists.
Some of the collaborating artists are familiar: Wouter van Veldhoven, Aaron Martin, Fieldhead, Gareth Hardwick. But there are also some surprising names: such as Djivan Gasparyan (!) and Amon Tobin. Special props, by the way, to the cover (and inner) image, which perfectly captures the spirit Machinefabriek’s music!
ORPHAX – TIME WAVES With every new release, Sietse van der Erve (Orphax)‘s drones seem to go deeper and deeper. Time Wavesis a combination of a live recording and additional home recordings, inspired by his geology study – ‘when I learned a lot about the various eons, eras and periods, ages and what’s more used to describe time on the geological scale. While at one side it was always different on the other side some things never changed.’
However, as Sietse puts it: “if geologic time is too abstract for you, you can also just think of cat hair, just like you see in the pictures in this artwork.”
MATTHEW FLORIANZ – WASTELAND SIGNALS His earliest albums were released as Liquid Morphine, but soon Matthew Florianz released his music under his own name. There was a steady flow of releases – some of which gained a certain cult status among ambient music fans: titles like Grijsgebied and Molenstraat – before Florianz shifted focus to (game) sound design.
Though he continuously worked on soundscapes and soundtracks, there was a period of relative silence (no album releases) since 2011. In 2015 he released Tauernand Nocturne (Soundtrack for Science Briefings – which is exactly what they are: soundtracks for a video series about science unsolved mysteries).
(check below for free promo codes for this album)
And now there’s his new full album: ‘Wasteland Signals‘. Florianz has a personal sound, a musical style that is somewhat different from most other artists – or at least from those mentioned above.
With its lush use of synth-pads, it could perhaps be described as somewhat more ‘classical ambient’. The atmospheric background soundscapes, the kind that could’ve been written for a game soundtrack, are never far away. But perhaps most significant is that – in spite of its title – this album conveys hope, a sense of light that overcomes darkness.
Florianz used to live in The Hague, but followed his work to England. “While still living in The Hague, I started working on music that has followed me around to three different cities and another country entirely when I moved to the United Kingdom. The music has changed, but the underlying themes have always been travel and what to be let go of, to move on.”
The official Bandcamp release shows the nine tracks that make up Wasteland Signals, but the download adds another 42 minutes of bonus tracks!
PROMO CODES for ‘NOCTURNE’: Want to have a free copy of Matthew Florianz’ 93 minute album Nocturne – Soundtracks for Science Briefings? Matthew has kindly donated six giveaway promo-codes to download the full album!
Just leave a comment below! (Don’t forget to include the right e-mail address – and give thanks to Matthew later)