Have you ever encountered the buzzing sound of a street lamp at night when everything else around it is quiet? Or the low-frequency drone of a seemingly idle washing machine? Sure you have, and while the concept might be very alienating, Rotterdam-based Drone musician Rutger Zuydervelt aka Machinefabriek has nonetheless created a Glitch-heavy Dark Ambient album about the flowing juice of life for our power consumption-hungry society. Stroomtoon is the name of his latest album which can be roughly translated as the sound of electric current, and it provides a great synergy between the artist's moniker and the album title. Melodies are almost impalpable, and if they are, the sounds are rudimentary and vestigial. In exchange, Zuydervelt integrates shedloads of Glitch fragments such as icy clicks, crackling sizzles and gloomy static noise figments. As the artist notes, the album is also traversed by field recordings, but it is, at least to me, never clear which buzzing sound derives from electric appliances and which are completely artificial, created with the help of synthesizers. The interplay between the various drones and the liquid sparkles makes up the vast majority of the album, but there are a few surprises and mood shifts scattered in-between the five tracks. If the listener is able to not only digest most of the album, but to really dive into it, becoming one with the flowing power stream, he or she will feel really creeped out at times, but then there are various moments where one is encapsulated with soothing sweeps and pitch-black bass drones that aren’t as scary inasmuch they are positively warming. It’s moments like these that make it hard to coin a proper genre term subordinate to the ubiquitous Ambient tag. But these genre categorizations are only of minor importance to me, as this release is very intriguing. And it already starts with a blast and one of the strangest, most extraordinary tracks that I’ve ever encountered…


Eén is the centerpiece of over 18 minutes and the initial point of the aural journey through various stages of energetic flows, particles and molecules. But first, there isn’t much whirring and swirling going on; in fact, a daunting uncanniness resides, as a fragile AM transmitter-like drone is pitched down over a very long course. Depending on its current stage and tone pitch, the same drone – or rather electric string – sounds like shredded radio frequencies, howling wind gusts that waft around a building or the perfect accentuation of a horrifying ancient castle on the cliffs – magnificently minimal! Even though the drone is flowing downwards incessantly, the listener adjusts quickly to the slow changes and perceives them as consistency. But changes there are aplenty in here: The drone starts to quaver and tremble, several textures appear that have been there from the start, but weren’t audible for the human ear due to the high-rise point of departure. These textures consist of sine waves, contain square lead-esque traits and inherit the appalling feeling of horror. After almost four and a half minutes, additional curlicues arise in the forms of rustily squeaking pulses and whitewashed buzzes that both become clearer the deeper the drone gets. By the sixth minute, the drone is so deep that it loses a lot of its threatening nature. It’s still giving the creeps, but its much mellower and blurrier. After nine and a half minutes, an additional bass drone enters, adding plasticity and abyssal vibrancy to the mix. This phase is the most successful part of Eén, as the unison feels corpulent and soporifically entrancing. Around the thirteen-minute mark, this long piece is rounded off by the buzzing sustain of static noise strings which inject an icy dose of Glitch into the circuit. They take over the track in the end, pulsating harshly and towering incisively over the gorgeously rapturous but ghostly accentuated bloom of luminescent synth crystals in the background. The closing phase of Eén is all the more surprising, for Machinefabriek does not create a parabola. The track doesn’t end the way it began, there is no vicious cycle implied. No, the finish of this long composition is so surprising because the ingredients are forced apart and widened to the maximum: the most beautiful and mellifluous backing synths are perturbed by unvarnished buzzes of nastiness and adjacent glacial sine waves that dissent even stronger with the emerald-shimmering protuberances in the distance. And so ends a terrific piece that is at first minimal, but then slowly expanding its scope of both the eeriness and a certain amount of warmth and pompous power reflected by the bass drones. It’s a totally different setup that harks back big time to the album title. The threefold signature track of this album in length, opulence and concept-wise.


After the epic Eén, the remaining four tracks might seem like an afterthought on paper. Let me assure you that they are not. They carve out the current carrying capacity tests and various blueprints of the opening track even further. Twee presents an electrographically warbled seven-note loop as its base frame that is underlined by three dubby pulses. A gelid drone of the highest humanly perceptible kilohertz range is added while the oscillating analogue warmth of AM radio waves blusters in the background. Further buzzes, clicks and frizzles are grouped in swarms around the warbled loop that becomes more and more filtered and overdriven, but moves into the distance quite abruptly, thus making room for crunchy crackles and a shimmering claustrophobia-evoking tremolo of a sustained pulse. In contrast to Eén, this is definitely a more rustic track. Despite its reliance on a clear-cut loop, the energetic buzzes demand a skilled listener who is willed to exchange cozy melodies for eminently evocative calamities. Drie is another spectral track of the ferocious kind, but its nostalgia-suggesting scintillae may cause a sore eye or two. The introductory buzzes are echoey and very dry, but they remind of the C64’s MOS processor output, so if you’ve encountered this computer one way or the other, or even enjoyed it during your childhood, then these aforementioned buzzes will definitely trigger memories in your head. The track isn’t dependent on nostalgia alone, for hazy synth fragments, surprisingly hollow beat accompaniments, pumping bass eruptions and gleaming-white synth streams are intermingled, torn apart and reunited, allowing a crafty interplay of space and sound that is bridged via Clicks & Cuts remnants and fragments of the misty and insistent kinds: sparkles, laser sounds, sizzles and zipper-like entities float around and create a bustling diorama of circuitous, err, circuits.


Vier starts in an unexpectedly warm and mild-mannered late-70’s fashion, with an entanglement of stereo-panned analogue pulses, gentle synth sweeps and belly-massaging bass drone drops. This is a pitch-perfect mimicry of early Krautrock works and can even be distantly related to Brian Eno’s albums of the same era. The middle section of Vier is almost phantasmagoric and shelter-giving in contrast to the previous offerings. The sounds of the electric current are depicted via two layers of monotonous buzzes, but this time they aren’t mean-spirited rather than balmy; for a short fraction, they even sound like a muffled recording of a humming male choir. The mind is playing tricks on the listener, naturally, but this aural fata morgana illustrates the warmth and benevolence of Vier. The analogue sound and the cavernous but sizzling-hot bass drones make this a superb track that is suitable for Ambient listeners of the 70’s. Their ears might not even be able to hear the track’s only malaise, a high-pitched glinting string that is placed in the last 15 seconds, so it’s negligible anyway. No, this arrangement remains in cozily padded territories. Vijf, the closing track, brings back the portentous aura in a fulminant manner. A mixture of abysmally low electric drones and sweeping cymbals make the listener positively drowsy, as the track is another poignant example of the album title. The monotonous lawnmower-like buzzes are powerful and bulging, thus letting the room shake on proper volume levels. However, Vijf consists in fact of two diverse parts. During the last 90 seconds, the track is morphed to a pernicious degree: a dark Synth Pop-like reverberated beat is accompanied by trembling buzzes and clicks that sound like liquid droplets. The beat resembles staggering footsteps in a dark vault, augmenting the apocalyptic mood and adding a strong portion of a cinematic scope to the album. It’s another terrific track that is less experimental and piercingly glittering than Twee and Drie.


It’s hard to pinpoint the genre of Stroomtoon, even though it’s consistent and harmonious in displaying the setting that Zuydervelt wants to achieve. The raw power and elemental force of the scentless stream of life that provides illumination and literally makes the world go round is skillfully presented here. From the haunting Eén over the Glitch-heavy fragility of Twee and Drie to the resplendent thermal heat of Vier and the iniquitous cinematography of Vijf, Stroomtoon shuttles between various moods, molecular landscapes and traversing pulses. The rough synths and electric parts that are withdrawn into themselves are the unique selling point of this album. However, it’s still not easy to find a catchy genre categorization. It’s probably Glitch-heavy Dark Ambient, but it could be something entirely different. In comparison to Glitch albums like Microstoria’s Snd that depicts a similar topos of the modem-reliant society of 1996 or the various albums by Michael Santos, the viewpoint of Machinefabriek is much more intimate and microscopic. The concept of electric current and circuits is a rather abstract one despite every modern society being reliant on an uninterruptible power supply. And yet, as stated before, does Zuydervelt’s infinitesimally tiny gaze unveil a plausible and credible interpretation of the various buzzes and drones that show us the strength and oomph of electric energy. Stroomtoon is not for everyone, though. I tend to believe that the listener has to be open-minded about the rough, rustic, hard-to-access nature of this release. Even the signature tune Eén – from an aesthetic viewpoint – might be so intimidating that many people would give up already due to its dusky solemnity. If you’ve encountered many Glitch Ambient albums or Dark Ambient offerings before, you already have a legitimate knowledge about the genre and know what to expect. Stroomtoon is dark and mean, the listener is often out on a limb, and by the very nature of electricity, that’s what it’s all about: we depend on it, not vice versa.



Further listening and reading:

  • Stroomtoon is available on Machinefabriek’s Bandcamp page and on CD.
  • Machinefabriek tweets under the fitting Twitter handle @machinefabriek.




Ambient Review 089: Machinefabriek – Stroomtoon (2012). Originally published on Jun. 27, 2012 at