Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek) is one of the most prolific recording artists around, but he’s also one of the finest. With Voices is already his second album of the year. Last year he released an average of an album a month; at the current rate, he’ll hit 40 releases by year’s end. Amazingly, everything is worth hearing.
What’s the secret to Zuydervelt’s success? It’s simple; he’s always experimenting, trying new sounds, moving forward. As one might expect from the cover image and title, With Voices offers a showcase for the human voice. The surprise is that these voices are modulated, time-stretched, and otherwise manipulated until they turn to texture, which is exactly how we like them. But even within these parameters, the album offers great tonal variety, from sonic cloud to spoken word, angelic drone to staccato percussion. The list of collaborators is impressive, ranging from Chantal Acda to Peter Broderick to Marissa Nadler, but Zuydervelt’s invisible hand makes the album shimmer.
The opening piece is downright beautiful, and one would be forgiven for failing to recognize the voice of Locrian’s Terence Hanum. Gender is barely discernible. Extended vowels swirl among electronic tones. But this is only one of the album’s eight approaches. Bleeps and stutters make Chantal Acda’s track a cabinet of curiousities. The listener follows the hints of song down to the final whisper. Then Peter Broderick acts like a drum, and a poet. His story is presented one word at a time: The – house – once – melted – and – sand – landed – everywhere. At first, it’s a shock to hear the unadorned voice, but the shock is followed by fascination, because nothing, including the narrative, is as it seems.
How did this begin? Zuydervelt was recording for a Taipei dance company when a chance encounter with a dancer’s Instagram account inspired him to create a “minimal, low volume” soundscape. This music was then sent to various friends, who were invited “to do what came naturally.” That dancer, Wei-Yun Chen, appears on the seventh track, speaking fragments of poetry over waves of static while children play in the background and a clock ticks quietly, occasionally ceding ground to rumbles of bass. Zuydervelt’s brilliance is apparent not only in the selection of elements, but in their dispersal throughout the sonic field. In other tracks, the artist utilizes cassette manipulation, layering, and in the Zero Years Kid piece, something that sounds like a sampled dog. All of this leads to an 11-minute closer in which Marissa Nadler’s multi-tracked voice is the main instrument, treated with gentle electronics. Even those familiar with the last two decades of Nadler’s music may revisit her back catalog to experience more of these lovely, lilting tones. While Nadler is known as an ethereal folk songstress, we’d love to hear an entire album of songs like this; eleven minutes is not enough.
One might think that the variety of artists and styles would produce a fractured whole, but in fact the opposite is true; With Voices has a fine dynamic flow, rising from and descending to tendrils of tone. The final note wraps back around to the first, completing the cycle. While inspired by dance, the set was not written for dance; nevertheless, we can imagine this being tackled by a choreographer. What creative angle will Zuydervelt pursue next? There’s no way to predict the artist’s next album, only the likelihood of its swift appearance. (Richard Allen)