To say Rutger Zuydervelt, aka Machinefabriek, is prolific would be a total understatement, but I can say with some confidence that he consistently creates interesting and compelling music. This album, which is meant to represent a series of colors musically, is no exception. While saying something along the lines of, “I can hear the colors,” almost seems like a lame Cheech and Chong joke, that’s what Zuydervelt asks the listener to do with “Colour Tones.” And all kidding aside, the results are better than you might think.
In reality, the music on this album was designed for an exhibition and based on a series of color-themed short stories by the Latvian writer Imants Ziedonis. For the album, Zuydervelt gives us his interpretations of Green, Red, Grey, Brown, Blue, and the intriguingly named Mosaic. (Naturally, these are also the names of the tracks.) Musically, he weaves together his own mosaic of sounds with guitars, memo recorders, tape loops, test records, a Korg Monotron, pedals, a computer, and various live instrument samples. While it is interesting to note the instruments, the overall sound of the album really shines beyond its individual parts.
“Colour Tones” opens up with “Green,” which begins as a wall of static and builds into rumbling electronic drone. This eventually gives way and the song closes with melancholy tones from saxophone and bass clarinet. In the noisier parts, there are sound that sound they came from the outdoors, which might account for the whole green idea, here. “Red” comes next and continues the mix of noise with gentler instrumental sounds. Parts of this are certainly loud and abrasive, but are still tempered by lighter background noises. Seeing as red can symbolize both love and violence, this is seems strangely appropriate. Following this is “Grey,” which is appropriately hazy and mysterious, not unlike the muffled feeling of being lost in a fog, with musical sounds only periodically peeking through in this sound soup.
The deceptively titled “Brown” is really anything but dull and dirt-like, as one might expect. Instead, you get an odd bit of wild electronic jazz with propulsive drum rolls and riffs along with errant xylophone notes. Following that is “Blue,” which is as soothing as “Brown” was hectic. It flows along with a light, slow keyboard riff accompanied by the ghostly fluttering of a Philip Glass style organ trill. Honestly, this song evokes an oceany quality, and for that reason feels like it gets as close to source color as anything on the album, not to knock the other pieces, of course. The closer, “Mosaic,” lives up to its names, as it brings in the emotional highs and lows of the preceding tracks. Opening with glitchy samples of keyboard, it builds to include other instrument sounds and staticy tape noise. With touches of saxophone, bass clarinet, and cello, this song has an odd feel of chamber music to it, albeit chamber music awash in bursts of analog hiss. From there, it evolves even further, bringing a slow acoustic guitar riff to the forefront.
In the end, it might have been a mental stretch to force my own concepts of color onto the music, and that could just be years of mental conditioning to separate the senses or a lack of imagination (though my pride refuses to allow for the latter). Still, our senses are our own, so can anything really be wrong here? Whether or not you can detect your own ideas of color in this music, it is a beautiful collection of well-crafted pieces that’s a joy to listen to no matter what it brings to mind.