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Machinefabriek: Sol Sketches

img  Tobias Fischer

In 2009, director Chris Teerink asked experimental composer Rutger Zuydervelt, who operates under the moniker Machinefabriek, to score a documentary he was making about mid-20th Century artist Sol LeWitt. LeWitt, who died in 2007, created patterned, deceptively simple paintings largely built around geometric shapes and patterns. A seminal figure of the 1960’s Conceptual Art and Minimalist movements, LeWitt’s work often used repetitive, intersecting lines and empty planes of bold, solid colors to create hypnotic visual spaces. His repetitions—particularly in his famous use of sculptures constructed of various sized cubes—demonstrated a master of crafting variations from limited source material.

It’s appropriate then that Zuydervelt’s score for Teerink’s film is constructed of restrained, largely minimalist piano pieces built on simplicities of form and melodic idea. Single note repetitions ping between the speakers over faint resonances. Each unique musical idea is repeated slowly, transferred to a new key, and then delicately returned to a resting point. Quiet trills sound over faintly beating dissonances. The music of Sol Sketches was largely improvised and the songs sound as much concerned with process as they are by outcome. One can detect a sort of real-time fascination on the part of the composer as he manipulates sparse material through repetitions, often leaving the sketches mid-thought.

As the album progresses, the pieces become subtly more complex. The underlying, sustained resonances that were barely audible in the record’s earlier pieces swell closer to the forefront, their dissonances harsher. Track 20, for instance, opens with an eerie cloud of shimmering electronics that serves as a launching point for a repetitive classical piano figure. Track 13 is built around shifting, sustained chords of reversed piano notes, creating a vacuum-like effect. Track 15 brings in touches of antiphonal organ to paint a mesmerizing picture not unlike LeWitt’s quiet, minimalist images.

Just as Sol LeWitt did with his visual art, Zuydervelt accomplishes a lot with very little. The music of Sol Sketches is imbued with a haunting vacancy that despite its seeming stagnancy makes for a thoroughly engaging and evocative listen. The 21 compositions, most of which last for about two minutes, float fragmented in space, dissecting a moment or a method before moving on unresolved, much the way one might blur past paintings in a gallery. The effect is a powerful one, creating a pensive, intriguing set of miniatures that leave you mesmerized by their simplicity.

By Hannis Brown

Sol Sketches has been released as a CD (available directly from the Machinefabriek site) and a vinyl set (on Champion Version, now sold out).

Homepage: Machinefabriek
Homepage: Champion Version Recordings

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