Machinefabriek ~ Stillness Soundtracks II

When we talk about movie sequels, the consensus is that few are as good as the original.  Here’s one that is: Esther Kokmeijer’s Stillness – Brash Ice, Pack Ice, Growlers, Bergy Bits and Icebergs.  This stunning film is a marvel of cinematography, and makes a silent witness on climate change ~ silent, that is, save for the gentle drama of Machinefabriek‘s score.  These two artists teamed up for the first installment as well, and the release on the Glacial Movements label is ideal.

Perhaps an equally fitting title for the project would be Slowness.  Neither music nor image are still; each possesses a subtle, inexorable forward motion.  The principle applies not only to the determined cutter ship of “#1 – Lemaire Channel, Antarctica 2014” but to the acceleration of climate change.  As the ship plows a path through snow and ice, it unleashes surprising splashes of azure and rust.  Finally it breaks through to open water.  It’s tempting to view this opening segment as a parable of hope, although it lends itself equally to the opposite reading.  In contrast, the word stillness speaks of a feeling, an impression when faced with the great expanse of blue and white: the great majesty of the Antarctic, so important to our future yet so often unseen.  And although neither artist suggests this reading, stillness may also be seen as the human reaction to glacial melt; few contemporary issues have been the subject of so many words and so little meaningful action.

One is able to push such thoughts away while enjoying the music and the visuals.  Machinefabriek introduces the project with low, slow drones and hydrophonic bubbles, signifying weight, volume and mass.  The sense of scale is enormous.  Swirling tones, like an awakening orchestra, surge forth at the end of the opening track, as if rallying behind a cause.  Midway through the second movement, a larger bubble seems to break the surface from the abyss, along with a suggestion of tonal wobble which one may interpret as the distortion of a crucial message.  But with sudden clarity, the sound of running water leaps to the foreground, like truth slicing through a lie.

A cold wind blows through the middle piece, a reminder of the harshness of conditions at either pole.  Meanwhile, Kokmeijer reminds us of other phenomena as well:  the fact that there are waves in the region (we tend to think of everything as frozen), and the similarity of snowy landscapes to billowing clouds.  The teaming of sight and sound seems so instinctive that one feels a great unity of design.  She calls the landscape “vulnerable and resilient,” a curious dichotomy, but one in which we participate. Together, Kokmeijer and Zuydervelt remind us of an under-publicized angle: that the natural world is itself great art.  And no cohesive argument can be made for its destruction.  (Richard Allen)

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