Inspired by the tuning up of an orchestra prior to a performance, Rutger Zuydervelt (AKA Machinefabriek) assembled Stay Tuned first as an installation in Canada and then the Netherlands in 2013. Using 153 musicians from the worldwide avant-garde to each provide a drone in A (or a vocal warm-up), each speaker arranged in the installation played the loops endlessly while visitors wandered among them from sound to sound.That sounds like an intriguing installation; but for the disc version Zuydervelt offers up a 50-minute stereo mix (whether a 5.1 or similar mix was ever considered is an intriguing possibility) which reveals its own take on the concept behind the piece, drawing the listener into a long-form drone which reveals its own particular charms. One fun game is to try and guess who is playing what – is that Aidan Baker‘s electric guitar and John Butcher‘s sax? Maybe it’s Andy Moor and Thomas Ankersmit respectively? How about that trumpet fragment — maybe it’s Andy Diagram or Nate Wooley‘s samples thereof; and is that Julia Kent or Lori Goldston playing cello?It might be Daniel Padden muttering his way through the instructions (or maybe an end-user agreement — the actual content barely matters) for some gadget or other, or perhaps Daniel Bürkner? Someone who knows each musician well and can successfully identify the difference between Anna Rose Carter or Heleen van Haegenborgh can have a field day with their avant-starspotting; and while the list of players and singers runs from Aird and Ambarchi to Yeh and Youngs, it’s probably more relevant to enjoy the performances on instrumentation from accordion to zither and their arrangement instead.
Slipping into the feel and tone of the drone and the procession from each instrument to another, together or layered, Zuydervelt curates his own particular guided tour through the tuning up of what is effectively an immense virtual orchestra in waiting. Waiting for what? As Samuel Beckett might have his characters reply, “Ah, yes…” — for there is not Godot here. Instead, the expectation is the thing itself, the end result is selected by Zuydervelt in a way which the installation visitors could choose for themselves to be different on each visit and to be more or less unique to their own perception, chosen route and time taken to follow it through the speaker arrangements. Mediated as the CD edition is, it’s no more so than any other composition, and the disc is of course as much a different experience as it is an artifact to the installation; but no matter — where the first is (more or less) site-specific, the second is dependent on the listener’s preferred environment; and needless to say, headphones make their usual immersive difference to how this recording is perceived.Listening to Stay Tuned is somewhat like having time put on hold, of motion in abeyance and of anticipation frozen in time, and thanks to the skilful editing and selection of where and when the layered instruments and voices arrive, hold and depart, the piece makes its moves in a gentle swell, procession and unfolding of tones. There’s a ceremonial feel to Stay Tuned, perhaps arising from the associations between droning, chanting and plainsong with religious rituals worldwide; but whether secular or sacred at heart, the music Rutger Zuydervelt and his many friends and collaborators offer up here is often also serenely blissful.