Can a saxophone sound like snow (sneeuw)? In the hands of Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek), the answer is yes. On this album, Otto Kokke (soprano saxophone) and Colin Webster (tenor saxophone) find their contributions rumpled, looped, and otherwise manipulated in the service of a higher cause. Guitar and field recordings add even greater texture. As a result, the album works on two levels: as a sonic echo of an imagined storm, and as an engaging art piece.
Knowing the inspiration behind the recording, one is prepped to listen for weather-based reflections. The quiet beginning and end are givens: the origin and denouement of the storm. In the early minutes, light field recordings of wind and static snow set the stage for the saxophone’s first drone-like notes. These notes bear a light sense of foreboding. The storm isn’t bad yet, but conditions may worsen. And worsen they do, with sleet and then squall (7:25), sending hats flying and chapping the skin. This initial build, which collapses at 8:19, provides an extraordinary lesson in restraint, bearing both the sound of the storm and its emotion. After this, all bets are off; notes fly like frightened birds while fragments of melody fall to the earth like broken tree limbs.
Halfway through, one realizes that the timbres have turned from reflective to metaphorical. This is a wise move on Zuydervelt’s part, as it helps the recording to transcend its subject. Sure, one might interpret the buzzes of the 13th minute as chainsaws clearing the fallen branches, but one might also hear them as live wires or factory engineers. Likewise the saxophones coming out to play in the 15th; they may be interpreted as citizens venturing outside after the storm, or clouds gathering for a final surge. The recording serves as a tabula rasa, allowing the listener to make their own associations.
Given its sources, the most remarkable aspect of Sneeuwstorm is the range of its dynamic contrast. The piece is 31 minutes long, yet no two minutes are the same. As such, the composition not only operates as a reflection of nature, it is a force of nature, one of Zuydervelt’s best long works to date. Kudos to all involved. (Richard Allen)