Interview: Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek)

Rutger Zuydervelt

1. You have described your new album, Amalgaam as raw and unpolished. What exactly does that mean?

The album has an unpolished, edgy sound to it (I think). It’s one that comes close to my live performances, with a lot of the material created in real-time.

2. To what degree does this album reflect the sound that you are interested in? What kind of music do you want to compose at this moment of time?

That’s a hard question. I guess that stuff I’m listening to at that moment, and things that are on my mind, somehow manifest in my music-making, but most of that is unconscious. What an album will sound like is "determined" at a very early stage. It starts with trying things out impulsively. I will have some ideas, but they will be vague, a very open starting point. Once I’ve managed to create something that ‘clicks’, that dictates the rest of the album.

So it’s hard to pin down what music I want to compose… a pure ambient or drone record isn’t too interesting for me (to make), but what else? It might be some kind of playfulness that I’m looking for, combined with something austere. If that makes any sense.

3. What kind of novelty would you like to introduce into music?

I like to see my compositions as attempts to create sonic spaces. I know this might sound a bit vague, but I hope listening to my music transports the listener to some abstract world - to create spaces that are immersive, as either a way of escapism or as a room for thought.

4. Tell us how you got to know the Staalplaat label! Had you listened to their releases prior to that? What is your take on the music that they release?

That was a long time ago! But the story isn’t spectacular at all. I mostly knew the label because of their beautiful sleeves. The Dutch broadcasting agency VPRO organized live sessions, and beside being broadcasted, these sessions were releases on Staalplaat, as a part of their Mort Aux Vaches series. At some point, the VPRO approached me and inquired if I’d be interested in doing a session too. Back then, I really wasn’t comfortable with playing live yet, and they agreed that I could record my session at home. That became my Mort Aux Vaches album. A second one followed when they asked me again, to do a session with Peter Broderick (this time in the studio).

5. You recorded a live for Mort Aux Vaches. Were you presented with any particular requirements or did you have a full creative freedom? What was the concept behind that work?

Normally, the Mort Aux Vaches albums are recorded live at the VPRO studio, but with my limited live experience at the time, they agreed that I could record mine at home. And yes, I had complete freedom. Like with all my albums, there was a framework of limitations to work with. In a way, the sound-world is always very restricted, but I try to find my freedom within that. In this case, the album was made with guitar, an a limited amount of effects.

6. Is there any difference between what is released under the name of Machinefabriek and what you've been playing on lives recently?

When performing live, I always improvise. I don’t perform existing tracks, but start with a clean slate. When working at my home studio, there is still a fair amount of improvisation at play, but in a live situation, everything happens in the moment, while when working at home, a lot of my music comes to life through organizing sounds, manipulating them and doing a lot of editing.

7. What is going on with the Dutch experimental electronic scene at the moment? How could you describe the current situation? Are there any new names or projects worth of mentioning?

Not sure if I’m aware of everything fresh and new, but there are loads of great artists and some great labels from the Netherlands. Orphax, and his label Moving Furniture are a must to mention, and of course there are veterans (meant as a compliment) like Frans de Waard, Jos Smolders, Roel Meelkop, Michel Banabila and Reinier van Houdt. As of ‘new’ names… Fani Konstantinidou released a great album on Moving Furniture recently, and Zeno van den Broek and René Aquarius are doing great things too.

8. Could you tell us more about your collaboration with Peter Broderick and what it is like to work with him? What motivated you guys to work together?

Again, that was a long time ago! And there’s been multiple collaborations with him. You’re probably talking about Blank Canvas Sky though… I think I’ve discovered Peter’s work through Type, the record label he was on at the moment. We got in contact and sent each other music. It didn’t take long before we decided to make an album together, which was done through file sharing. As far as I can remember, it was a very nice easy-going process.

And I’m glad that our friendship still stands today; I’ve been reworking recordings Peter has made with his Beacon Sound Choir project, and he contributed some amazing vocal recordings to my With Voices album (Western Vinyl, 2019).

9. What are some factors you consider before doing a collaboration with another artist?

First and foremost I obviously have to admire his/her music, and have the idea that we could enhance each other’s style. And I appreciate it when I get to know a collaborator a bit better, making the work we do together more personal. It’s a joy to have regular collaborators/friends like Aaron Martin, Chantal Acda, Mariska Baars, Michel Banabila, etc.

10. Are the musical ideas for your albums born before or during their creation?

Both. Like I said in an earlier answer, the basic ideas for an album are there before I start, but roughly. Then when I begin making music, the overal concept or sound-world for an album is developed quite quickly. Once that framework is established, the work mostly goes quite fast.

11. How has the direction of your music been changing with the passing of time?

I think it has. When I started, I was deep into Fennesz, Oren Ambarchi, and other Touch artists. Listening to my older music now, it sounds to me like I was copying these artists. I don’t think I did an aweful job, but nowadays the influences are less apparent, and my music-making feels more free and playful.

12. Numerous musicians really struggle with maintaining their signature level of quality in terms of material that they release due to the sheer amount of it. What do you do to avoid this issue?

To be honest I don’t think about this issue. I don’t find it important to work on a ‘signature sound’… whatever I make will have my signature anyway, I think. I would hate it to not do whatever I want to do, simply because it wouldn’t fit a certain preconception. So I’m avoiding the issue by not being bothered with it. Regarding the quality: of course I only release something when I’m satisfied with it. But I also avoid over-working on things, to maintain a certain spontaneity. That’s why I work quite fast.

Rutger Zuydervelt

13. What qualities do you aim to improve about yourself as a musician?

Maybe getting more skilled and versatile when doing live improvisation (solo or with others). That’s something that I’m always working on, but it’s not easy to perform in a way an instrumentalist can: with a really direct link to the instrument, without getting the feeling of "just pushing buttons". It’s a mixture of knowing my equipment well, and finding a way to engage with it emotionally. But I also need to keep trying out new things (and new gear) to keep things fresh. I tend to fall back on a setup that I've used for years now, but I feel that it’s time for a next step… no idea what that should be though…

14. Which of your albums would you recommend to listen to before the other ones, if one was to start getting acquainted with your discography?

One that I’m still particularly proud of is Sneeuwstorm, released on Glistening Examples in 2015. I think the combination of saxophone (by Colin Webster and Otto Kokke) with electronics, and the layered sound of the piece worked out nicely. It really felt like an accomplishment when I finished this one.

I did a second volume, but the first Stillness Soundtracks is more accessible I think. It’s a series of soundtracks for films by Esther Kokmeijer. The videos are very austere, minimal images of icebergs, while the music has a narrative quality to it. 

And a very new one, and also an album that I’m very very proud of, is my new one with violinist/vocalist Anne Bakker, called Oehoe, released on Where To Now? Records. The music is a strange mixture of old and new sounds, but I love how it turned out. It’s short, but very sweet.

15. Do you have a favorite cover, one that would be especially dear to your heart, and if so, why is it that way?

I think my favorite cover is the one I did for my piece Deining (with Anne Bakker). It’s a simple one, but it perfectly reflects the clearly structured yet disorienting nature of the music.

16. Does your music reflect the current events in the world?

Not in a direct way. But I do think that whatever I do, wherever I go, and whatever I feel will have an effect on the music. However in most cases I don’t see my music as a commentary on the state of the world. I really consider my tracks as self-contained "things"…

Questions: Ilya Kudrin/Krib