Obsolete laserdiscs, glitching CD ROMs, corrupted hard disks – despite the myths of eternal, always-on algorithmic immortality fed to us by our tech overlords it is sometimes easy to forget that digital technology decays too. The cloud, however intangible it seems, is always rooted in the physical, and that electrical reality of data centres, servers and trans-oceanic cables- not to mention the screens in our hands and on our desks – is always subject to the irrevocable processes of decay and malfunction that governs all our lives. Computer says no. 404 error. Blue screen of death.
Crumble is a meditation on this process of destruction, coming across like some windswept lost Portishead track having its molecular bonds worn away until the component atoms disperse on the breeze. Combining hypnotic violin snatches from Anne Bakker and Edita Karkoschka’s ghostly vocal fragments with field recordings and Rutger Zuydervelt’s own electronic textures, it reframes Basinski’s Disintegration Loops for the iPhone age to form one of the most compelling artefacts from Machinefabriek’s recent oeuvre.
The first half of Crumble is an exquisite simulacrum of dissolution. Tantalising snatches of violin are enveloped in clouds of white noise, thousands of glistening spores drowning out everything else in fuzzy, enveloping wave. Despite the dissonance this is a far cry from the familiar, scouring aggression of the harsh noise wall, despite the tempestuous field recording Zuydervelt weaves in. Instead, the glitching scree is soft and luminous, a digital ruin lust that’s more comforting blanket than a crushing weight. The endless fug of this soothing tempests exerts such a hefty gravitational pull that Zuydervelt’s fade around a third of way through seems much more abrupt than it actually is. The blizzard vanishes and we’re left drifting in a chilly, wide open space in which Bakker’s minimal violin swipes duet with Karkoschka’s similarly pared down snippets of melancholic lyricism, punctuated by stabs of electronic interference in a beautiful, sub-zero dance than continues for the next 20 or so minutes.
This switcheroo is drastic in terms of style, true, but it kind of makes sense if you think of it as a variation in perspective, relocating the first half’s obsessive documenting of disintegration to the vast virtual spaces of the matrix and dramatizing that link between virtual and physical to which we’re wilfully blind. Just as those legions of tape artists hunt through obsolete physical media in a nostalgic quest for the ghost in the machine, Machinefabriek seeks the spectres hidden in gradually fading motherboards and burnt out memory cards. Crumble’s violin and vocal phrases are created to seem deliberately incomplete, evoking songs and symphonies eaten away by the nanopests of data glitch. Think of those old family tapes and photos uploaded to the home PC in a vain effort to annul the entropy and counteract the ongoing fade to grey of our own memories, only to be locked out forever as the creaking hard drive fails. Children’s lullabies replayed forever as silent screams behind a silicon wall. Old holiday snaps unseeable behind permanently blacked out Windows. Your content streamed live to a digital heaven, a nowhere of data from which we are forever exiled.