Composer Profile: Rutger Zuydervelt a/k/a Machinefabriek

Rutger Zuydervelt



Machinefabriek is the alias of Rutger Zuydervelt. Rutger’s music combines elements of ambient, noise, minimalism, drone, field recordings and electro-acoustic experiments. His pieces can be heard as an attempt to create sonic environments for the listener to dwell in. Finding tension in texture, tone and timing, the result can be very minimalistic at first glance, but reveals itself upon closer listening. The devil is in the details.

Rutger was born in 1978 in Apeldoorn (The Netherlands) and now resides in Rotterdam. He started recording as Machinefabriek in 2004. After a series of self released cd-rs, his official debut Marijn was issued in 2006, with great critical acclaim. Since then a solid stream of music was released on labels such as Type, Important, Home Normal, 12K, Entr’acte, Dekorder, Digitalis, Experimedia and Staalplaat. He performed all over the globe, from Canada to Israel and from Russia to Japan.

Rutger collaborated (on record and/or live) with numerous artists, such as Steinbrüchel, Jaap Blonk, Aaron Martin, Peter Broderick, Frans de Waard, Simon Nabatov, Mats Gustafsson, Steve Roden, Gareth Davis, Stephen Vitiello, Michel Banabila, Tim Catlin and Dead Neanderthals, amongst many others.

He also frequently works with film makers, like Makino Takashi, Mike Hoolboom, John Price, Paul Clipson and Chris Teerink, for whom he composed a soundtrack for his documentary about Sol LeWitt. Rutger’s music was also used in Edward Burtynsky’s documentary Watermark.

Besides films, Rutger also composes music for dance pieces, like Alix Eynaudi and Kris Verdonck’s EXIT (premiéred at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin), Ivan Pérez’ Hide And Seek (Ballet Moscow) and Alexander Whitley’s The Measures Taken (for the Royal Opera in London).

Then there’s Rutgers installation work, in which the dialogue with the environment plays an important role. He did projects for Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, NAI (Dutch Architecture Institute), the new Armando Museum MOA, Sounds Like in Saskatoon (Canada), the Into the Great Wide Open Festival and Castrum Peregrini in Amsterdam.

In 2013 Rutger Zuydervelt was on the long-list for the Prix de Rome.



What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?

It’s a bit of a cliché, but it was reading about John Cage’s 4’33” that proved important to me. The idea (at least what I taken from it) that every sound can be listened to as music was quite an eye opener.

But that was actually not such an early memory …  I can’t say for sure, but my love for extreme death- and doom-metal when I was a teenager might also have been influential. That felt as a first real passion, and not something I was listening to because everyone else did. Of course you could think of these “cookie monster vocals” as being a bit silly, but as a genre, it strikes me as honest and authentic. And in the last few years there’s a lot of cross-overs from extreme metal and ambient, drone and noise, so there’s definitely some common ground.

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work? Has this changed over time?

When I just started recording music as Machinefabriek, my biggest influences were Oren Ambarchi and Christian Fennesz. I still find these artists/composers inspiring, but in the last couple of years, I have gotten more inspiration from musicians working in minimalistic improvised music, as heard on labels such as Another Timbre, Confront Recordings and Erstwhile. I find the textural approach commonly heard in their recordings very interesting. The approach is more about sound itself then it is about melody of instruments. It goes beyond that and, in my ears, results in something that sounds more natural and expressive then a lot of music that uses more traditional methods.

Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process? What other technology, if any, do you use?

I’m not a composer in the traditional sense of the word. So I’m not actually writing notes. My pieces are created by working with audio material (either sampled, taken from improvisations or field recordings) and re-shaping it on the computer. Most of the time there’s no set plan, and a piece is evolving within the process. So one moment dictates the next. I sometimes compare it with sculpting, but with sounds instead of stone or clay.  It’s a very intuitive and (for me) natural process.

In the early stages of the process, I might use hardware that I also use for performing live, such as a tone generator, effects pedals, radios and whatnot. But the actual creating of the final composition happens on the computer, mostly in Logic.

Please describe one of your recent compositions and provide a link to an audio clip.

Stay Tuned might not even be called a composition …  It’s a project that’s presented as a multiple speaker installation, a stereo audio piece, a live performance and I’m even working on a workshop/game. The idea is based on the moment when an orchestra gets in tune, and all the instrumentalists play an ‘A’.  I wanted to freeze that moment and be able to walk through the orchestra, from one instrument group to the next, and hear the characteristics of every instrument and player, hidden within this big block of harmonic sound.

I’ve asked more than 150 musicians and singers to record an ‘A’ for me, using whatever technique they wanted. These recordings were looped, grouped per instrument and, for the installation, spread over ten speakers. An impression of how that sounds can be found here:

As said, the next phase of the project is a workshop, for groups of 20 or more people, where (obviously) everyone plays an ‘A’, but in different techniques, in blocks of two minutes, described on ‘action cards’ that they pick blindly. For example, singers must sing an ‘A’ sustained as long as they can, but when stopping to catch breath, always have to continue in another octave. Or trumpets have to play the tone in an imagined Morse code message. Stuff like that. It’s still in an early stage, but in June there’s going to be two performances with it. 

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