Stroomtoon II






Stroomtoon II is the second installment of Rotterdam-based designer and sound artist Rutger Zuydervelt aka Machinefabriek’s electricity-related otherworldly spaces, released in May 2013 on the Herbal International label and available to purchase and listen to in full at Bandcamp. The first Stroomtoon (2012) featured five harsh and glitchy tracks where only a magnifying glass could sharpen and uncover the hidden beauty in the gnarled frequency gallimaufry. Stroomtoon II, on the other hand, was never meant to exist as an album and is hence pieced together by three rare seven-inch works previously released on three different labels. These obscure cloak-and-dagger release tactics caused Zuydervelt to rethink this approach and make all of the tunes available on one single album for a much broader public to enjoy. Since Stroomtoon II is an accidental album, so to speak, is it torn between different states or even torn apart by the maelstroms of electric current? No, not at all. In fact, Stroomtoon II adds a new mood to the table that seems de trop, but ultimately fitting: gentleness. Instead of harsh, bone-destructing sonic sine waves, Machinefabriek decides to lessen their forceful impetus in each of the nine tracks, making room for multilayered drone structures, fragile clicks and cuts and genuinely embracing melodies. These synth structures are not catchy per se, but their surfaces and auras are poignantly benign. That said, Stroomtoon II is not exactly an album that lays wide open in front of the listener. Complexity and eclecticism go hand in hand, but since the tempo is usually downbeat, the panorama less furious and hefty rather than laden with protuberances which reside in a rather controlled system, this work feels almost aeriform. It is best enjoyed at home with a good pair of speakers due to the abyssal bass frequencies and the omnipresent plasticity. Read more about an addendum which crosses the path to ethereality while still containing all the electrifying characteristics of the original epitome.


Scrapping the numeral sequence of the tracks in order to create a story (or frequency) arc that is better suited in the given album format, Machinefabriek launches Stroomtoon II with Stroomtoon Tien, and the reason for this very track to be the initial gateway is comparably easy to carve out. Low sonic frequencies in the 30-40hz range slowly rise as the song progresses, highly dependent on the listener’s hi-fi equipment. This belly-massaging elemental force is accentuated by siren-like circular saw coils and a staccato shrapnel of dry pulses. These additions make sure that the listener hears at least something while listening with less optimal headphones on the go. Stroomtoon Tien is quite austere and unembellished, only reaching a more aggressive state in the second half with a cornucopia of electric current, foggy background drones and an increasingly tense oscillation overall. Stroomtoon Zeven draws from a similar array of tonalities, but appears more bubbling and swift-moving. Faux ship horns, acidic frizzles and blue-tinted pulsars in front of a black background remind of Zuydervelt’s collaboration with Jaap Blonk and their hodgepodge of spoiled dishes called Deep Fried (2012). In addition, spectral apparitions and Dark Ambient-oid whispers twirl within the boundaries, only to be regularly perturbed by zappy electric shocks of the clarion kind. Bit-crushed computer sirens lead out of the glitchy wasteland and let Kreupelhout take over the reign, a kind of underbrush and chaparral of low-slung plants. Natural verdure and harsh electricity, do they go together? They do indeed, as Kreupelhout is an unexpectedly melodious and mystical track with thin synth washes of relaxation and nostalgia. Everything seems pristine, only the reappearance of the stunning sough in the first half adds a kind of energy in adjacency to the ever-present diffuse blebs and clicks. Without any mean-spirited splinter in sight, Kreupelhout is the interim oasis of yore, drowned in melancholia, but flourishing.


Machinefabriek seemingly neglects the paradisal intermission and moves on to Stroomtoon Elf, a crooked abode weathering a nefarious storm. The miasmatic neon-lit screeches and gales are in place right from the get-go, their rising brazen three-note scheme is intertwined with electric glitters and an enigmatic drone structure in the second half which covers the blackness of the background only to present a new kind of shadiness thanks to its galactic reciprocation. Despite the crestfallen elements, Stroomtoon Elf is, I believe, designedly accessible, no matter how bad the aftertaste of this assertion may be. It feels stormy alright, but never overmasters the listening subject. This is more of an alkaline liquid than an acidic test tube. The same can be said about Stroomtoon Negen. There is indeed a reason Rutger Zuydervelt places these tracks in this fashion, as the sub-theme of mellowness continues with the album's first proper Drone track. Of course this kind of mellow prospect is still a polyfaceted one, draped in arcaneness, but nevertheless weirdly soothing. Swelling storms of electricity float in a riverbed of bass streams and related vesicles, and while there are no graspable melodies, the sound layers clearly morph and coalesce, fathom out the nuances and shades in-between their apexes and cusps. The accompanying sizzles and buzzes are lightweight and figuratively lofty, allowing the drone layers to unfold and fluctuate without floating around obstacles or barriers. The quasi-snugly string of Kreupelhoet, Stroomtoon Elf and Stroomtoon Negen is completed with the self-explanatorily titled Toendra. Residing between the realms of electricity, Tetsu Inoue’s whitewashed worlds and Thomas Köner’s glacial gloom, Toendra is delicately fragile and draws from a lot of interplays. The formerly energetic pops turn to icy crackles (or crackling icicles?), hints of reverberation paint an infinitesimal wideness, short gusts resemble the blurred sound of snorting, and blimey, the whole atmosphere is anything but dulcet. Avoiding a blazing brightness, Toendra’s twilight state still gleams as much as it relies on murkiness. And so ends a mellow hybrid phase of four Glitch-Drone critters in a row.


Stroomtoon Acht breaks the maudlin lachrymosity with a blizzard-esque exhalation captured in huge reverberation capsules that widen the depth of field decidedly, lessening the dryness in favor of a moist-vaulted cavity. Threnodic lamentos of specters echo in the distance, the atmosphere is almost New Age-like, Stroomtoon Acht is dead-serious about its physiognomy and unveils this tendency after roundabout 90 seconds when crystalline shards rupture and unleash aqueous globs of bile. The atmosphere is still comparatively laid-back, but the reason I do not count this track to the preceding Ambient gang of four is found in the hectic frenzy and rash disturbances, a curious remark given the otherwise splendidly transcendental, concealed dreamscape. Stroomtoon Acht might well be the most dichotomous track: focused yet stumbling, mild yet aggressive, echoey yet jejune. These constant conflicts ennoble its complexion. Stroomtoon Zes takes this incalculability one step further and reintroduces the listener to an almighty power that has only been featured in the opener, but was since then decidedly reduced and silkened: deep frequencies. They stomp and bubble hazily below the chiming sine tones and the incisive iridescence. Resembling the quirky scabbing of insects, the soundscape is hued in stereo-panned crackles, metallic dark matter pads and supercilious hisses. The finale is called Stroop and presents itself in the limelight with abysmally low bass drones and slowly oscillating 80’s synth effects that are prolonged for the whole runtime of over five minutes. A Shoegaze composition which unleashes power drones and big doses of oomph, Stroop is not in the slightest bit camouflaged, does not appear in a dualistic way. It is a simple-minded – but not simplistic – source of evil, adamantly dark, mercilessly rough and omnipotent. Its super-perspicuous existence ends with a downwards cascading buzzing whistle. No afterglow, no sustain or polymorph finish, Stroop ends all of a sudden.


Stroomtoon II confronts the listener with its own harsh reality that is obviously hyper-related to its next of kin and predecessor Stroomtoon, but the hypothetical question of whether Machinefabriek really had to come back to the formula of unleashing high energy volts, vaults and waltzs can safely be answered with a loud “yes!” Although there is no long centerpiece on this album as has been the case with Stroomtoon Eén, the patchwork origins of the material are perfectly masked. If I did not know about the limited releases gathered on this album, I would have sensed them nonetheless due to the progressive arcs and stylistically grouped units, but had drawn the wrong conclusion. Stroomtoon II is indeed soothing and silky to the trained ear of Glitch-perturbed Drone washes and lightens up over its course, although this could well be a psychoacoustic effect. After millions of – thankfully allegorical – volts blasted through the body, the listener is in a trancelike state, possibly even hypnotized to a minor degree. This work offers a wonderful collection of vignettes which still feels like a dedicated album, and this is a great achievement. Whether the tracks become lass baneful or the listener adjusts to the layers is not easy to answer, but regardless of the perceived temperature and turbulence of a respective track, Stroomtoon II feels cohesive and varied. Even the tracks that lack the term Stroom in their title can be smoothly linked to the energetic leitmotif. Favorites of mine are the aforementioned quartet of Kreupelhout, Stroomtoon Elf, Stroomtoon Negen and the momentary closer of that string of tracks, Toendra. Delicately glacial, with crunchy cracks and celestial crackles, melodies and affability, these tracks neglect the raucous rawness of the topic and weave it into a transcendental helix. Even if Roman numerals leave a stale aftertaste in music-related works, Machinefabriek’s Stroomtoon II is definitely devoid of such trains of thoughts. Recommended even to those listeners who were put off by the elemental steeliness of the first Stroomtoon artifact.



Further listening and reading: 




Ambient Review 228: Machinefabriek – Stroomtoon II (2013). Originally published on Jun. 12, 2013 at