Machine Rooms is an audio/visual collaboration by renowned musician and sound artist Machinefabriek, and the photographer, Sanja Harris. The premise of the collaboration is that Harris photographed two old machine rooms from a former press building in Amsterdam, and Machinefabriek accompanied those images with audio (This release is also accompanied by movie files of a photographic slideshow, alongside the audio tracks).
What this results in is a subtly stirring, but perfectly emotive journey through the life cycle of precision. Whilst the machines themselves are set to deliver a perfect product every time (indeed, the constant motif of parallels, and exact angles repeated through the images seems to accentuate this), the wear over time has taken its toll. As you progress through the images, (they are split into two sections, one for each room photographed) there is more evidence of degradation and disuse. The music very much echoes these nuances, both pieces starting out with fairly regular melodic pulses. Though the sounds are exact, the surrounding noises seem to flicker like a faulty light bulb, really giving a sense of developed inexactitude, a product of neglect.
The sounds themselves are stunning, polyphonic chimes intersperse with heady whirs, underpinned by grounding sub-bass. These are truly minimal classic pieces shrouded behind a certain automated feel, orchestral swells are replaced with crescendoed whirs and clicks, and bass strings are replaced with warm pulses. Throughout each of the pieces on offer here, there is a definite sense of space, of warmth (though almost oxymoronically, it still feels clinical) and a devout sense of decay. Through this degradation though, comes variation, and it is the variation that really lies at the heart of the pieces. It is somehow stirring, and exciting to hear the sounds become less rigid, to simultaneously lose their structure, and develop a soul.
This difference is most pronounced in the second track. It feels as though the second ‘room’ is dealing with a different process, the sounds themselves maintain less rigidity and warmth, the constant static gives the impression of some sort of expulsion, a purging of something. The high drone sounds like extraction of sorts, dealing with the product of the first piece. The whole collection has a flow to it, a development, and listened to in whole, it is entirely beautiful.
There are two more pieces on offer here, both are remixes of the first two tracks. The first piece is a remix by the hugely talented 12k artist, Marcus Fisher. This piece is not as much a reinterpretation of the first track, but feels a lot more like an extension of it. It seems to echo the feeling of the first piece, but show a different side to it. The sounds feel more raw, like they are representative of the inside of the machinery, they are the more visceral processes hidden behind the decaying functionality of the machines themselves. There is still a sense of slowly breaking down, and again, the sentiments shown in this piece (regarding the melodic progression through rhythmic decay) echo beautifully the track it is a remix of.
The second remix is by the American sound designer and visual artist Steve Roden. This piece itself has a very different feel, and works fantastically well to encapsulate what could be seen as the ambient noise created as a by-product of all the industrious processes of the previous parts. There are panned swells, unbalanced gurgles and atonal drones, building up to the moment where some acoustic instrumentation shows itself. Though it is in the form of (what sounds like) guitar strings being hammered onto, it gives a respite from the overtly mechanical nature of the rest of the collection. This soon breaks into some almost melodic string arrangement in the form of a high pitched (periodically squeaking) violin section, this is then accompanied by further strings covering the low end, and a rhythmic accompaniment in the form of stringed bass, before fading out again to nothing. As a closing track, it is perfectly fitting, and really goes to show what a firm grasp both artists had of the source material, and more importantly, what the source material is setting out to achieve.
Through the sublimely shot images and the stunning and engrossing audio material, ‘Machine Rooms’ really does set the bar for a conceptual album, with both aspects of this beautiful looking package really complimenting the other, and enhancing the synesthetic vision of the whole entity.