“Today is a great day to buy music,” writes Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek). “Not only mine.” Not only is Bandcamp waiving their normal fees today, but many artists and labels are donating their own proceeds. If you purchase any Machinefabriek release today, you will aid the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and receive some excellent music. And two weeks from today, Bandcamp will also donate their proceeds to the same cause.
Again and again, we learn that the entire musical community represented by A Closer Listen and similar sites is anti-Trump, anti-Brexit, pro-human rights, and pro-environment. We’re talking about tens of thousands of artists, without a single stated exception. The odds against such unanimity are near-infinite, and yet here we are: united. This is what makes being part of this industry such a joy. We are surrounded by support, empathy and encouragement, and some days we need this reminder to keep us going.
Oehoe is a collaboration with Anne Bakker, whose viola, violin and wordless vocals are woven throughout the tapestry. The album’s title is translated “eagle-owl,” which seems appropriate as the owl is a symbol of wisdom, a gift sorely needed right now. Other titles are translated penny (good for making wishes in a fountain), gesture and forward. From these we can glean the positive nature of the release, which possesses an otherworldly timbre, bordering on sci-fi (you’re welcome, Rutger!). One can imagine drifting in space, coming into contact with an alien species whose language is akin to that of “Sirene.” The only difference: as a siren, Bakker is benign. There are no rocks to crash upon, only soft lights and permission to dock. The lasers and taps of this track seem like cautious attempts at communication; one early sound (00:28-00:40) even seems like a meow. We hope the captain has brought fish.
The combination of strings, voice and electronics also recalls This Mortal Coil, whose triptych of releases from 1984-91 still manages to sound timeless. The three-part title track offers an ongoing chorus of sorts, a unifying glue. But the beauty of the release is that it comforts as it disorients, a curious combination. In “Harrewar” (no Dutch translation; Hausa for “The Harrowing”), sudden string passages topple head-first into hungry gears. The halting tone is akin to that of “Barker,” an excellent Machinefabriek track released earlier this year. The culmination is “Voorwaarts,” which develops a pulse, inviting newfound friends to swivel across the dance floor.
It’s interesting to see the preponderance of female voices in A.I. depictions; perhaps one can blame HAL 9000 for ruining it for men. Bakker’s voice is combined with electronics in order to sound alien. In other projects, electronic voices are fed through computers in order to sound human. There’s no telling where Bakker ends and Machinefabriek begins; one would need a Turing Test to untangle the threads. But comfort is comfort, no matter the source. The cyborg nature of this release is an example of the positive melding of humanity and technology, a sign that maybe, just maybe, we’re moving in the right direction after all. (Richard Allen)