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Chocolate Sprinkle Sounds

img  Tobias
If you were under the impression that the postman always rings twice, you will have to think again: Stephen Vitiello and Rudger Zuydervelt made the poor guy carry heavy boxes from one side of the Atlantic to the other for a full five times. For months, they sent objects such as books, tin foil, a thumb piano, broken records and old tapes, chocolate sprinkles, an egg cutter and a plastic bag from Zuydervelt’s home in the Netherlands to Vitiello’s house in the USA and the other way round. Needless to say, neither of the two was looking for a penpal. Rather, their activities were as pleasant as they were serious – and part of a both unusual and highly enjoyable collaborational procedure.

The end result has now been released on 12k records under the name of “Box Music”. The album contains five tracks (two solo pieces by each participant and a joint composition) with descriptive titles such as “Crackle Box, Thumb Piano” and “Chocolate Sprinkles, Tape, Egg Cutter, Rice, Plastic Bag” and it is easily one this year’s most surprising and loveable efforts in the field of Sound Art. Instead of cluttering air waves with yet another stern and academic treatise, the duo has rediscovered its love for squeezing sound from everyday items. It is an album that, for once, feels as though everything simply fell into place instead of having to be carved out of dour debates and endless discussions.

“As for our solo tracks, we both found we did a great job, so it was easy evaluating the material we created”, Zuydervelt, who releases under his nom de plui Machinefabriek, confirms the impression of this record being a spontaneous affair. Vitiello agrees, adding how both sides were intuitively sure that the abovementioned creative process was exactly what they were looking for at the time: “I don’t remember exactly how the discussion developed but I’m guessing we started discussing exchanging sound files and field recordings and then Rutger suggested the idea of a box of stuff. He said we should “dare” each other to make something with the objects. I thought it was a great idea. It felt more Fluxus than the expected electronic music formula of long distance collaboration.”

It was certainly more instinctive and relaxed than 99% of experimental compositions out there. Throughout, you can distinctly feel the fun it was to create “Box Music”. This is a record which could bridge the divide between the experimental niche and a wider audience, because it doesn’t use its inventive concept as an excuse but merely as a point of departure for sympathically daring aural adventures.

As the project progressed, the process itself got decreasingly important. None of the two cared much for establishing a new school of any kind or for creating music with haptic qualities. Even Vitiello, whose teaching position as an “Assistant Professor of Kinetic Imaging” and his work for exhibitions mark him as an audiovisual artist, stresses that it was never part of their intention to get overly conceptual on the object-issue: “I don’t think it’s a flip since our ultimate goal was still to produce sounds and hopefully to make interesting ones”, he stresses, “The issue of visual hierarchy is much more related to my gallery life. I have been making more photographs and drawings lately and some of those have been exhibited. But the photos and drawings too come out of the process of listening and/or recording. With Box Music, sound and idea are closely linked but I don’t think anyone needs to see the objects.”

On a similar note, the objects did not need to remain timbrally recognisable after reworking their sounds in the studio. The main philosophy of the project was that “the end result is what counts” (Zuydervelt) and that including the tools used for producing the music in the titles was enough to evoke diverse associations in the audience. The album proves this creed right, as you’re constantly on the prowl for evidence of their existence. Even though you tell yourself that you clearly heard a bell here and the rain-like qualities of chocolate sprinkles being sprayed on a smooth surface there, you can never quite be sure whether what you found is a fragment of reality or a figment of your imagination.

In the end, even the artists weren’t quite sure anymore about what got placed where – or whether it was used at all. “I must confess that the book, some cheap pocket, was an object I couldn’t connect with an idea right away. But it ended up somewhere in the mix I believe”, Zuydervelt rather vaguely intimates, while Vitiello mentions that he thought “there may be a moment where you hear someone reading from that book and laughing.” After listening to the particular piece for a couple of times, I can’t quite make it out either – even though there seem to be a lot of other noises present, including wind and some distant rumbling, which were never mentioned in the first place.

At the moment, both artists are already persuing their own projects again. Zuydervelt has just published an album of melancholically scraping metal and autumnal guitar strings (“Dauw” on Dekorder), while Vitiello documented his work for an installation in Houston on a 12’’. But their shared feelings of having discovered a like-minded musical partner and friend have definitely made them want to meet in person sometime in the future: Their next collaboration may therefore well happen face to face. The postman will be sighing with relief.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Stephen Vitiello
Homepage: Machinefabriek
Homepage: 12k Records

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