Stroomtoon II

When the seemingly endless creative possibilities offered by technology invites paralysis, keeping things simple and limited can provide a way forward...

Dutch artist Machinefabriek has covered a vast sonic territory across countless releases for labels such as Champion Version, Important Records, Cold Spring, and Keshhhhhh, not to mention his collaborative ventures with the likes of Stephen Vitiello, Celer, the Kleefstras, Gareth Davies, and Steve Roden. However, last year’s album “Stroomtoon” saw him pare things down and focus on a deliberately restrained selection of sound sources chosen with live performance in mind, based around an old Phillips analogue tone generator and a handful of effects units. “Stroomtoon II” continues with the same setup, providing a consistent sonic character across the whole album while leaving plenty of room for variation.

Imagine looking out to sea on a clear day. A shape tracks across the edge of the horizon, sometimes coalescing into the clear image of a ship, at others vanishing in a shimmer of haze. Elsewhere a dot appears, blossoming quickly into a ferry heading straight for shore. “Stroomtoon II” has tracks that hover on the threshold of harmonic and rhythmic clarity, gathering themselves into clearly defined form before dissipating like steam into rumble and whirr; it also has tracks that start off far and loom in closer and closer, pressing themselves against the senses with increasing weight. Whatever the strategy, each piece develops organically, like a sheet of paper turning fold by fold now into a crane, now into some amorphous shape, now into a boat. The tone generator offers a surprising variety of timbres, from ragged and rasping to delicate and chime-like, while retaining a distinctive warm hum that sonifies the flow of electrons coursing through its circuits. Putting aside the eclectic mix of sound sources often found on other Machinefabriek releases allows considerations of form and harmony to come to the fore, but there are still plenty of individual sounds here that I could listen to for hours without getting bored.

“Stroomtoon II” feels like a cohesive and coherent album in the traditional sense, covering a full range of moods from the eerily atmospheric “Kreupelhout” to the calm and pastoral “Toendra”, and from the weirdly wonderful “Stroomtoon Zes” to the dark and brooding “Stroomtoon Negen”. Machinefabriek continues to hone his sound into a more refined and ‘musical’ shape, developing his mastery of form and structure while retaining the penchant for striking, beautiful and often humourously deadpan tonal juxtapositions that makes his earlier works so enduringly appealing. The sleeve of the CD version released by Herbal International also features some very nice origami-like paintings by US artist Rebecca Norton. This is another top-quality release from Machinefabriek, and well worth checking out for long-time devotees and new listeners alike.

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