I came across the sound world of Michel Banabila about three years ago through the work of Machinefabriek, the moniker of soundsmith and graphic designer Rutger Zuyderveldt. Both artists are based in Rotterdam.

Their series of collaborations are excellent. Rutger also did the layout work on the clear vinyl version of this release – Sound Years – and I would definitely recommend obtaining the reasonably priced physical version. Zuyderveldt also contributes to the closing piece on the record and whilst there’s also a track with composer Oene van Geel on side B, this is Banabila’s solo practice.

It’s always nice to review vinyl, for the usual reasons; the sense of occasion, to get the actual artwork, which is stunning on this record – an aerial shot of who-knows where, with a male shadow that reminds me of LFO’s Frequencies, from visual artist Gerco de Ruijter. But there’s also the fact that on my turntable, vinyl can’t be ignored or left alone. If I want to preserve the needle and record I have to be watching the progress across the platter.

Outside of the packaging, I think the most impressive thing about this release is that it is a compilation of works – but it plays like two very connected suites of music. The source material appears to be from audio visual commissions and the like from 2005 to 2015 – I deliberately didn’t look at the tracklisting first and I wrote what follows in one sitting. I wrote it without much editing and it’s a first thought, best thought kind of approach!

Side A

  1. Electronic drips trickle over a Japanese lament with ornamented clicks and flutters that never take over from the contemplative loop. We unfold into an expansive suite of cinematica with a very subtle, slightly Spanish click-ery field recording. The drips continue – and merge into the start of a lovely piano piece cloaked in what could now be an actual rain field recording. Or static. A cat mews quietly in the background. The lamenting voice returns, but it is now beautifully distressed and dances with the other elements for an extended moment in an impressive display of digital processing that is as alive and seductive. All the time there’s a great musicianship to this mixing of elements that allows the end result to sit very comfortably on the soundtrack of a film like Arrival, and the quality is as high as a Johan Johannsson work.
  2. Next, a Rhodes-like bassline is the clothesline that bubbling vocals are mutated and hung over, but as twisted as they are, there is very clear intention behind the warping of them – a kind of polyglot investigation. There’s almost a song-like craft here, instead of the ‘academic’ tag we often see lazily attributed to electroacoustic music. Here, it’s a warm work, sensitive and conceptual at the same time, an unusual and accomplished mix. If the previous track was Arrival, this would work with a Studio Ghibli storyline about a swamp in rural Japan.
  3. What we used to call the ‘Far East’ is a reasonable description of where we visit. Perhaps the ‘Far-out’ East! Now we are unsure of location. But I’m reminded of a Leaf Label record I used to own. I’m thinking Asa-Chang and Junray – there’s a kind speaking of tongues here, and that seems to be the unifying theme of this side, and it floats in and out of animated, sensitively-drawn landscapes. It feels like early afternoon, I expect to see a large dragonfly and then we go below the waterline to another place, – the drone is forefront here. I didn’t see it coming, so subtle was the development over the last few minutes.
  4. And as we build into a slow choir of vocals before side one draws to an end, I could have this last track never finish. If it’s an edit, I’m ready for more. What will Side B hold for us?

Side B

  1. I feel like we’ve been placed in the centre of an orchestra pit. Instruments are being tuned up. There’s a Cockerel sample that is very like the Orb’s launch into Little Fluffy Clouds, but these clouds are full of static and distant church gongs. It’s like a séance in an old sound archive, tuning in to hear E.V.P. voices, – and perhaps this artist would make an excellent artist in residence at the SETI institute.
  2. A very different journey from Side A, but that’s what side B-s are for. Some lost Estonian orchestra and the sounds of reel to reel machines fight it out. It’s like the memories of an old tape recorder that is being demagnetised – a real play on the signal-to-noise ratio here – you get the sense that that there’s a real investigation between the detritus of archives and the desire to make order.
  3. It’s a kind of reportage, or survey going on here – and whilst not as warm as Side A’s more cinematic emotional syringe, here it’s just as atmospheric but with a more suspicious plot. What’s impressive is that Banabila is very restrained and eclectic in the composition – elements don’t out-stay their welcome and whilst there’s some brutal cut ups of voices – they are heard so briefly that they punctuate the piece perfectly. An incredible amount of source material and editing here.
  4. The spectral voice on side A is back again! I love this treatment here, it’s floating in some dark space – it would sit next to Burial’s work and also retain it’s own identity. I think I recognise some Cycling 74 plug-ins here, or some fantastic MaxMSP work.
  5. I feel like now we’ve moved onto a dank, leaky interior like some warehouse with bits of roof missing. Drips of water and some coming together of spidery life forms coalesce into the basis for a warm yet beguiling closing of the record.

I adored this record and you can get it from Tapu Records  (Chris Dooks)

Sound Years