Review: Steve Roden + Machinefabriek - Lichtung

Inevitably, Lichtung has to undergo comparison with its original installation context. Let’s get it out of the way first. Initially devised as a four-channel audio/visual presentation and completed by a floor covered with leaves, the audio aspect of this work is just that – an aspect – and therefore the listener is stripped of much of the sensory experience involved in the final product: feeling the brittle crunch of dry leaves, observing the images that bring definition to the sonic abstraction. But equally, it’s good to remember that Steve Roden and Machinefabriek (aka Rutger Zuydervelt) are two proven talents in audio evocation; their work presents sound in such intense detail that the imagery projected onto the imagination can almost be as vivid as the imagery projected into any physical space, and they toy with enigma and familiarity in equal part. This is Lichtung with the lights off – a “feel your way” journey with a singular point of sensory contact, and while I unfortunately wasn’t able to view the installation itself, I feel confident in considering the audio to be its own distinct experience rather than a compromise of its intended setting.

Structurally, this Lichtung edit is neatly arranged. It drifts seamlessly between the two artists, blurring locational boundaries so that the listener is deep within Machinefabriek territory long after they realise they’d even departed from Roden’s soundscapes (and vice versa). The autumnal crunch of Zuydervelt’s “Leaves” floats gracefully into the path of Roden’s “Ice Strings” – the latter of which sounds like the oceanic bubbles of disturbance surrounding a glacier in motion – while Roden’s “Birds Plucks Stones” and Zuydervelt’s “Wind” find their point of transition in a mutual sense of desolate wintery chill.

And while Lichtung is impressive for the way in handles its own motion, it’s also a delight during the times it settles, at which points those intricate details can be best observed. The aforementioned “Birds Plucks Stones” is Roden’s own highlight, mingling staccato birdsong chirps (that ping between each ear like a tennis match) with an eerie metallic creak on loop, bringing to mind the ghostly rotations of a disused children’s roundabout. Meanwhile, Machinefabriek excels most prominently during “Floor Radio”; high-frequency drones linger like dust particles turned into audio, while thumps and clatters echo like a ball bounced and rolled across aged wooden floorboards. As expected, the album collates engrossing audio from both parties, and is immersive enough to eradicate the shadow of Lichtung’s installation roots.