Review of Box Music [12k1048]

Squid’s Ear (.COM)

Rutger Zuydervelt, aka Machinefabriek, epitomizes the consummate artist — or the persistent overachiever. To date (and in a scant four years), he has realized a staggering groundswell of 40-plus recordings, many of them self-released CDRs on his own imprint, many more a bevy of 3-inchers infiltrating your shelves like viral proteins. From his Netherlands confines he’s found himself ensnared by labels as diverse as Lampse, Type, Digitalis and Staalplaat, eked out an adventurist niche, and been remixed by the best and brightest (courtesy of his self-released Kruimeldief double-disc set); apparently there’s no stopping him, and more tellingly, no one wants to, thankfully. Mr. Vitiello, partnering up on their 12k debut, operates at a different maxim. With only a handful of (albeit excellent) recordings to his credit, Vitiello’s catalog pales in comparison to his colleague’s — instead he’s made his bones organizing and hosting numerous art/sound installations across the globe, working with folks like Pauline Oliveros and being the last artist to elicit recordings out of the World Trade Center towers pre-9/11.

Being prolific has become something of a dirty word in electronic/experimental circles; to what advantage no one knows. Positioning Vitiello and Zuydervelt on that particular playing field, talent correctly, evenly, deservedly balanced, nonetheless levels out the terrain — naturally, it makes little difference whose back catalog is bigger than whose. More vexing still is how the two complement and augment their individual styles so well on Box Music, a recording realized through that most serendipitous of means: accidental email exchange. From those fiber-optic beginnings a collaboration ensues, each artist deciding to swap a box of randomly chosen items and sundry noisemakers rather than pedestrian data files. Hence, track titles are signified by their raw materials — bells, book, tin foil, buttons; crackle box, thumb piano —objets musique d’art, if you will. Two pieces are attributed to each as “solo” works (the closing track containing later sonic additions by Zuydervelt, finalizing a Vitiello-wrought composition), but despite new working orthodoxies, here lies a unique collaboration that was enabled both figuratively and literally.

Aesthetically, both artists have minted of 12k’s boldest releases. Musically, it’s an extraordinary textbook example of the means justifying the ends — as well as the ends justifying the means. The opening gambit — all eleven minutes of bells, book, tin foil & buttons — shows its hand in the opening seconds: chimes ache, reverb beckons, but Machinefabriek isn’t interested in naked field recordings. Process is the key throughout, so resonances are stretched to accommodate big fists of steel drone, its membrane pierced by errant tears, crinkles, static discharges. Vitiello’s wringing of Zuydervelt’s supplied “Crackle Box, Thumb Piano” makes those base elements all but unrecognizable: the resultant sound clash resembles nothing less than a return to the Barron’s Forbidden Planet soundtrack and its id-monster “tonalities”; out-of-this-world exotica for the new space age. On the flipside, “Broken Record, Cassettes” finds Vitiello in Christian Marclay mode, still attendant to crepuscular noises, but now frozen in sample-time, clicking, spazzing, and ringing across flared twilight zones.

Naming the final piece after utilized “Chocolate Sprinkles, Tape, Egg Cutter, Rice, Plastic Bag” will probably fail to rock the foundations of anyone save connoisseurs of colorful metaphors; scrambled in the bowels of Zuydervelt and Vitiello’s nimble processors, burnt beyond recognition, it becomes a nine-minute raga of aural sensation, drone to the bone, itchy and crispy, reeking of dark and light. A dynamic duo transmuting dualities, warping objects foreign and otherwise, thinking music outside the Box. – Darren Bergstein

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