Jaap Blonk & Machinefabriek
If there wasn't already a – now defunct – Japanese Glitch band called Computer Soup, chances are that the pulse-heavy noise meal of nine courses called Deep Fried by the Dutch composer duo of Jaap Blonk and Machinefabriek aka Rutger Zuydervelt would have earned this assertion as a subtitle, or side dish, if you will. Having played together for the first time in December 2011 at the regular AMP Snacks event run by the Arnhem Music Platform, the duo's work ethics and personalities clicked, as should be the case in regard to every Glitch project. In May 2012, the Dutchmen met again for a much more focused session that even attaches an overarching concept to the album that is released on Blonk's own Kontrans label. Deep Fried, unsurprisingly, is a heavy noise album in the vein of The Orb's Pomme Fritz of 1994. One can apply this thesis in threefold ways: both albums feature gastronomy-related track titles, both feature shedloads and piles of clicks, crackles, fizzles, bursts, you name it, and both interweave downright bizarre and funny vocal snippets related to the pains, devotions and problems of time pressure-harmed tipsy chefs. Deep Fried is also a noisy Glitch album similar to Centrozoon's suggestive Boner and the later works of Oval, but one thing is for sure: even the most acidic noise attacks are always followed or elevated by those aforementioned cheeky voice samples or by surprisingly mellow synth washes, glaringly lessening the bile and portentous approach. The humorous side is as essential an ingredient as the oscillators, flangers and ring modulators that are coupled, stacked and meshed in order to create the weirdest aural dishes that are only for the strong-bellied and culinarily hardened listeners. This is no Drone album. The interplay, entanglement and dependence of the bits and bytes make up the majority of the arrangements. But enough of these observations – dinner is served.
The album launches with the almost ten minutes long liquedous aquascape of Water, quite a mellow start that tries to lure the listener into the chip basket, as the Brits say. Eno-esque soothing synth spirals, the gentlest of all fragile particles, mild electronic buzzes and gelid crystal shards waft around the sine nexus. These molecules altogether provide an almost mesmeric mélange, and indeed can these devices be denominated as the morphogenesis of the album, as the opener features everything that is about to appear in the following arrangements, although in a snugly limewashed form. The cauldron starts to bubble anyway around the four minute mark; Oval-escent jitters, a revved up spectral sawtooth creek and frosty flakes crumble by, but their voluminousness ebbs and leads back to the bit-crushed gastronomic mirage. The right time to spice things up. Peppers transfigures the sizzling-hot piquancy into a capsaicin-fueled tongue-in-cheek ebullience: static noise fragments, Jaap Blonk's gurgling throat noises, additional onomatopoeically spluttering coughs and oscillating Space-Age beams in tandem with 8-bit arcade sounds create the frantic listening experience of a chef who took things too far. It is a stellar maelstrom of swirling flickers, a twinkling claustrophobia of the gargantuan kind. However, the final minute with its piercing sine waves, heavily pulsating warmth and one final static noise downfall is almost poetic and mellifluous. A highly experimental track that does not sound harsh despite its unleashed quirkiness. The chopped nature of the gasping near-death-rattles provides a truly funny listening experience – The Orb’s We’re Pastie To Be Grill You off Pomme Fritz comes to mind on several occasions.
Up next is Air, and it seems to be the hibernal kind of air, at least that is what the quiescent breezes, mild-mannered sizzles and iridescent glacial streams evoke, the latter being particularly delicate. Blonk and Zuydervelt surprise with a reduced New Age setting in the first 150 seconds, but soon enough do glittering polar lights appear. The ensuing hodgepodge reminds of clarinetist Tony Scott’s astral-meditative experiments on his alienating 1988 opus Voyage Into A Black Hole, especially so his pieces Prince Of Power and Prince Of Peace come to mind. In comparison, the Dutch duo’s digital ditty called Air can be considered a lush wind gust, as the plasticity of the high-pitched scatters proves to be less spiky and hazardous as presumed. Pickles then reacts to that icy-blue diorama by unleashing swarms of mosquitoes, electric noise buzzes akin to Machinefabriek’s Stroomtoon (2012), agent thriller-like humming alarms and the sounds of good old-fashioned walloping grease. The second half of the tune returns to the galactic climes with retro-futuristic sine waves and admixes Blonk's quacking bleat of an old geezer impression. Recipes is the 13+ minutes long centerpiece of the album, and such a long piece is indeed a questionable choice, as the bewildering noise collages work best in smaller portions, I believe. Gastronomically speaking, Recipes is the whole wok that is thrown at the dining table, right in front of the guest who at first might be delighted due to the prospect of killing his healthy appetite, but then encounters an indigestion sooner or later due to the stereo-panned bucking, the zipper-like creaking, the incessant interplay of shallow space, harsh sound bursts and a potentially balmy sustain phase. On the plus side, both audio cooks tell the guest the eponymous recipe in the middle of the track. They are even unperturbed by the increasingly baneful atmosphere and the green flames caused by the melting plastic. The final phase of Recipes offers an unexpectedly, wonderfully analogue-sounding ecclesial hymn, with truly gently cherubic chimes and gleaming synth washes. It is the equivalent to the out-of-body-experience of the slowly dying guest who hears the spine-tingling acridity of the emergency siren which closes off this monstrous track.
Nettles is an equally important ingredient of the duo’s deep fried dish, as the woodpecker staccato of steaming lithium pearls is juxtaposed to cylonic droplets, whirling pink noise waffles and the nettle-evoking high frequency oscillations which, poignantly enough, cause the same humanoid reaction as on Peppers, leading to a magnanimous amount of Gollum-esque screams, swearing and stammers. While the listener is probably still bedazzled by the dry drones, Ice is already approaching with its crushed plinks, snarling frizzles and whispering voices in-between the mechanical helicopter rotors and galactosamine croaks. Living up to its title, there is literally no dulcet element interwoven, just harshness supreme. However, Jaap Bonk and Machinefabriek don't succumb to Merzbow territories, so in the end, the skilled Ambient listener with a fetish for experimental vignettes will relate. The penultimate ingredient of the concoction is fittingly called Oil, for without oil there would be no deep fried food. And believe me, Oil is a real treat and closely related to the opener Water, at least from an aesthetics-related viewpoint. Launching with freezing-cold electric piano plinks and deep-throated mumblings, the metropolitan piecefulness is akin to the albums of Microstoria, especially so their work Snd of 1996. The tone sequences are fragile, but wondrous and full of enigmatic traits. No acid or bile is injected apart from the occasional bit-crushed snare drum and wonky laser beams. We are still not talking about the Pop Ambient subgenre here, but the duo is closer as ever to the enthralling realms of rapture. Instead of thick synth washes, it is the constant clicks, croaks and pops in front of the lullaby melodies that make this a highly intriguing and boldly accessible tune. The final ingredient is called Ants, and indeed does this short closer consist of many critters, with their antennae sending incessant bleeps that remind of robotic malfunctions as depicted in movies of the golden Hollywood era. These nerve-racking sonic bangs clash with the sounds of many crawling feet, there is always something clicking. The album ends with one final bass burp. Bon appétit.
Deep Fried is a crispy-rustic artifact for Glitch fans that literally places the listener in close proximity to the frying pan where the ingredients unfold their magic in the form of several high-pitched noises and deeply rumbling bass protuberances. There is always something unexpected going on. The depth of field is remarkable, ranging from the usual stereo-panned effect orgies over detailed plastic phantasmagorias to the careful adjustment of the various noise levels. Don't beg for carved-out melodies, you won't get them. Blonk and Zuydervelt don't even serve you a delicate stew – the analogy to a warm legato Drone gallimaufry – rather than a deep fried rice dish with several alcoves and spaces through which the Glitch particles elbow their ways. The most euphonious, balmy pieces are Water and Oil, although their titles seem to oppose each other. But these ingredients dash/clash/mesh well together. The remaining seven ingredients cater to fans of icy synthscapes, mechanical noise gourmets and followers of sine wave beeps. Whether this crackling festivity is nutritious depends on the listener. The appearance of Jaap Blonk as a permanently coughing and grumbling chef who appears time and again in many of the featured takes may give you a hint that it isn't that easy to fall in love with the album. Too many Peppers and Nettles are hazardous to one's health. But the album is highly enjoyable for globetrotters of the Ambient genre who have seen and experienced all subgenres and are hungry for more. Deep Fried provides a feast for Glitch followers. Drone friends, beware. Ambient fans, be patient. Rockers, stay out.
Ambient Review 136: Jaap Blonk & Machinefabriek – Deep Fried (2012). Originally published on Oct. 17, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.