Banabila & Machinefabriek






Travelog is the second collaboration of film scorer and sound artist Michel Banabila with Ambient musician as well as designer Rutger Zuydervelt aka Machinefabriek, joint-released in the middle of September 2013 on Tapu Recordings and Lumberton Trading Company. The album is available on CD, enclosed in a technicolor digipak graced by a paradisiac photograph taken from Banabila’s collection, and in a download version which can be purchased and fully streamed at Bandcamp. Both gentlemen hail from the Netherlands and are known for their saturated Drone works supercharged with raspy-raucous surfaces and eclectic patterns. Given these backgrounds, Travelog, which was recorded in June and July 2013, is an enormously laid-back work full of tropical pastel layers, sunlit beach sceneries and diffuse avenues. However, it is not a convenient picayune nicety, for there are contravening structures embedded which spice and rev up the mellifluous mirages and prevent them from becoming overly somnolent and thus hammock-friendly. Soft rhythms are sometimes attached as well, but as can be expected by the names of the producers, no straight 4/4 beat is ever dropped. Stylistically and tonality-wise, the nine tracks off Travelog synergize the Mediterranean loftiness with an earthbound Middle Eastern timbre which contains those archetypically half-pentatonic tones and oud-like textures. The most essential instrument is a surprisingly transparent guitar which is altered by certain filters, but retains its characteristic traits most of the time. Field recordings and an African breeze round off the life-affirming and glorifying but also lonely view onto the phenomena of tourism and wanderlust. These deserve a deeper inspection, especially so since travelog is one of my favorite words which probably appears one too many times in my reviews, albeit the Exotica ones. But anyway, the plane lifts off, and the first destination is already a very poignant one…


Michel Banabila & Rutger Zuydervelt skeptically looking at the paragraph. Or they missed their flight.


Is the opener Spin ’n Puke dedicated to all those German tourists who visit certain infamous destinations in Mallorca? This could be the case if one solely studies the track title. The attached soundscape, however, is eminently diffuse and warmhearted, as if the crazy alcohol-fueled sceneries are watched from afar and with a great understanding. The track’s anacrusis consists of anything but punchy breakbeats in front of a black backdrop, only very slowly is the figurative sunshine let in which comes in the shape of castanet-accompanied spheroidal cherubims. The complete scope of the front artwork finally appears before the inner eye when Glitch vestiges and frequency wooshes lead to the sun-dappled, seemingly guitar-accentuated base frame. The simultaneity of the Mediterranean aura and the Oriental counterparts in the shapes of sitar twangs reminds of the playful tohubohu of electronic music as created in the 90’s, where presumably alatoric and highly incompatible ingredients were meshed together in order to create a futuristic take on Exotica. Despite the uplifting vibe, Machinefabriek manages to inject electrically buzzing remnants of his albums Stroomtoon (2012) and Stroomtoon II (2013) into the beach vista which then turns into a bit-crushed partly poisonous parallax panorama. Follow-up Narita is a beatless Ambient track of the droning kind but with gently whitewashed guitar protrusions and stylophonic stardust specks akin to a slightly cacophonous oud. Once frizzling static noise runlets float through the contentment-filled valley, the duality of erbacious euphony and hedonistic harshness is again firmly in place. The song ends on an emaciated, designedly thin note.


Antennas is a track whose title suggests a plinking diorama of static noise artifacts, but in fact turns out to ameliorate these bubbling vesiculations with field recordings of frolicking children, glitchy-millennial blebs and an intertwinement of acoustic guitar scents with paradisiacal alto flute melodies. The plasticity of this fissured piece is enchanting, everything sizzles and sparkles in a rotor-like fashion. After the jocular destruction via alkaline splinters, the progressive centerpiece Rain Painting of more than seven minutes injects the first doses of melancholia. Michel Banabila’s reversely played guitar globs conflate with tenor singer-evoking wisps and thinly clinging chimes, but after approximately two minutes, the base flumes of the arrangement are revved up via earth-shattering yet soothingly strolling beats, their droning foils and ominously dusky, downwards spiraling electric guitar chords. Chirping frequencies evoke the notion of faux-birds which emanate a playfulness that is further fueled by the aeriform synth gales which waft in the distance; lofty and pristine, the conclusion of Rain Painting propitiates the listener with the comparably crepuscular middle part. Whereas Rain Painting was oddly dry despite its title, the short interlude Yarra feels much more saturated and wide as the duo of Banabila & Machinefabriek drops field recordings of real birds and unites them with spectral choirs, nocturnal creatures and pulsating guitar glints. The stereo effect of the field recording induces that certain holiday feeling and hence lives up to the depicted concept.


One of the quirkiest movies about traveling is the oddball 60’s travelog (!) called If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium, and whether Banabila & Machinefabriek’s Dinsdag is a distant homage to this flick or not, it is a strikingly dreamy and cavernous Drone track, spiced with exotic beats, screeching laser sounds and 8-bit bleeps. Its signature element, however, is the mellow legato placenta which floats through the track and hails from the distance, creating a wondrous effect of depth: the beats and spacey spirals are dry and clearly in the foreground while the mystified but euphonious luminescence shimmers through an opalescent barrier. Energetic buzzes round off the dreamscape and lead to Runner, a staccato-fied electric piano river full of translucently crystalline structures which become legato-ized later on and turn into strangely hibernal glacial creeks, very intense and frosty. Machinefabriek then finishes the layer entwinement with susurrant buzzes gyrating around the pumping blebs. While the penultimate Debris takes the nervous tension of Runner and amplifies it further by placing shedloads of AM frequency jitters, sine sinews and gunmetal prongs in a pot of acidic asbestus liquids, the eponymous Travelog is the vacation-insinuating quasi-Funk apotheosis loaded with sleazy guitar licks, loungey zitkamer organs and half-ligneous shakers. The long fade-out phase turns this sleazy critter into a shimmering but irresolute Ambient gem of colder structures before it closes both the trip and thus the album for good.


I admit to being a fan of carefully carved out liner notes and press blurbs that reveal the feeling and atmosphere of the respective work, regardless of the stylistic language they contain, whether they are prosaic, technical or witty. Hey, I'm a writer. Or something like that. In terms of truthful remarks, the liner notes of Travelog are particularly successful, for they mention that “all in all, this album clearly radiates the joy of its creative process and sees Banabila and Machinefabriek on the top of their game.” There is one important implication found in this sentence, and that is the duo’s tendency of creating some kind of an aural retrogressive vacation that returns back to the middle of the 90’s when analogue synth washes meshed with increasingly more complex beats, resulting in an amalgamation of benignly brazen concoctions one files away under the generally hated terms like IDM or Electronica. It is the tiny word joy that is so astutely omnipresent in this release, notwithstanding the tendency of all freely formed collaborations as being joyful and productive. Travelog has its fair share of melancholia and semi-threnodic undercurrents, especially so in tracks like Rain Painting or the portentously named Debris, but even these instances seem to function as minor cloudlets during a beautiful holiday. The art of vacationing is a divisive one, but I strongly believe that Michel Banabila and Rutger Zuydervelt grafted their contemplative observations onto the collection of tracks, for even in those cases where beats and bass-heavy blebs appear, they emit placidity and erudition rather than vicissitudes or hedonism. It is a strongly introverted work that will only appeal to a certain clientele of tourists: the lonely stroller who hopes to forget sorrows or nagging thoughts and gives in to the dreamy synth cascades… and the buzzing Stroomtoon vestiges. Sail ho, and have a pleasant flight!



Further listening and reading:



Ambient Review 261: Banabila & Machinefabriek – Travelog (2013). Originally published on Sep. 11, 2013 at