Within electronic music there is often a close association with the ability to soundtrack or emulate a backdrop to an event, space, place, or experience. Some might say that this is most stereotypically conveyed in the use of music in nightclubs, the sounds are supposed to accompany a party right?
However, many have used electronic music to soundtrack experiences or events of a more sombre nature. Fog Mountain records have just unveiled a new compilation which conceptually soundtracks Rotterdam throughout history. Composed solely through archival recordings the release captures the struggle of the city under the shadow of Amsterdam, it's larger superior neighbour and navigates as far back as through the second world war, Nazi bombings and a town reborn.
The label summarises the release, which is part of the RE:VIVE Initiative from the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, as follows:
"Amsterdam dreams while Rotterdam works is another common expression. With 010 we explore what happens when Rotterdam dares to dream."
Roly Porter - Sint Laurenskerk
Sound forms the basis of some of my strongest memories. I have a poor memory of people and places but often remember a sound. Church bells have a particular ability to mark out a time and place. This may be to do with my peculiar relationship with religion, so when I hear bells I am immediately put into a certain mode of thinking, outside whatever else was supposed to be happening at that moment. Or perhaps because they often ring on a Sunday when I am more likely to be wandering aimlessly around a city. Because the sound travels in such a way you can often hear them from several miles away, across a city, and that draws your attention away from directly in front of you and provides a new perspective over the city.
Working with archive footage and field recording is always fascinating but I tend to be drawn to quickly into a sense of melancholy. To look at the past as something we have lost. In this piece I wanted to portray a perspective, that sense of distance over the city. I began with the bells and then attempted to make them disintegrate as if heard from a distance. Much of the archive material focused on Rotterdam’s fascinating industrial past and the docks, but the bells stood out to me. While all religions and all churches are very different they also share a strange uniformity. No matter which city you are in, you can step inside a church and be immediately removed from the city and transported into whatever personal relationship you have with that particular religion. I used small musical elements from the recording of the Metro along with some track noise to provide a bed for the piece and give the sense of traveling across the city and away from the bells. This is not an industrial piece, but hopefully something that portrays a quieter, introspective relationship with the city.
HOEK - Haven
I mostly used field recordings of the port of Rotterdam. I processed them heavily and molded them into my own expressive material, like I usually do. It was definitely interesting to work with such constrained source material, but I also tried to use the theme conceptually. ’Haven’ is dutch for port and the vast industrial landscape of the port of Rotterdam definitely inspired me for the setting and palette of this track. But it can also mean a safe place, a shelter, as in safe haven. A port is a very poetic and imaginative place to me. The imagination evoked by the water, a gate to the wide sea, the solitude of workers on the ships, a longing for either getting far away, or going back home…
It has become a very personal track as well. I made it during a time while I was far away from home for a long project myself, and I think you could here this solitude and longing for home in it. A few days after I finished this piece my laptop got stolen and I lost lots of projects, including this one. This wav file is all that’s left, which is in a way painful and beautiful at the same time.
Nukubus - Coming From
My first idea was to do something serene, soundscape-ish. Inspired by the idea of the city of Rotterdam in the night or in the early morning. Being quiet, with some distant industrial and harbour sounds. But my real feeling with Rotterdam is most of the time more vibrant and alive. The first sound I heard on the first morning I woke up in Rotterdam in 1997, when I moved here, was the sound of a pile. And I thought: “wow, it’s really true, they are always building here”. I guess that’s still true. Rotterdam is constantly building and working. So this dynamic gave me the inspiration.
Rotterdam being a true techno/hardcore city I wanted to make a 4/4 track with an oldskool vibe and arrangement, including a looping voicesample, which actually can’t be more Rotterdam than it is right now. Also lots of breaks, building up, dropping of the kick. Pretty straightforward stuff on the surface, but because of the detail in the samples there’s this whole world that comes alive. My idea was to make something with a distant gabber-ish feel to it, but with a sonic texture that captures the diverse vibe of the city.
Consulate - Nieuw Maas Terreur
This project presented two major challenges:
First finding percussion sounds I felt comfortable using that could be extracted from the sample pack; and secondly constructing a track around the theme of a city - and country - I have never visited.
Constructing a usable palette of percussion sounds from the samples was quite difficult for me - I usually begin a track with a kick drum, or at least attempt to work the track around it. After frustrating hours of manipulating and processing what I thought I could turn into a decent kick-drum, I finally (and accidentally) happened upon a pop of static at the beginning of a sample titled "Nieuw Orgel in De St. Laurenskerk". After some processing and chopping, I had a punchy kick sound that I layered on top of a bassier sample I'd processed earlier.
Deciding not to focus on Rotterdam's obvious musical legacy, Gabber, I aimed to create a war-like atmosphere through the use of air-raid sirens and other samples which I felt evoked the sound of distant shelling. The title Niewe Maas Terreur is a reference to the Battle of Rotterdam during 1940, in particular the strategic position that the river held as German forces invaded Rotterdam.
The opportunity to create a track using limited resources within a theme is not something I've ever attempted; as such it encouraged me to work outside my comfort zone and finish with something I couldn't have made otherwise.
Bas Mooy - Maashaven
It's hard to capture the city in a track, probably impossible, but it was really interesting to go through the immense database of available samples. Kind of a luxury problem so to say. In the end I tried to find a certain mood that shows how I see my beloved Rotterdam, a city that experienced a lot of pain, but got up every time it was beaten down, a true Phoenix. I don't like to describe my own music to be honest, but I guess I was aiming for a heavy, kind of industrial filthy harbor soundtrack. I'll let others judge if that makes sense or not. It was definitely a great project to be involved in, also with the additional photo selections. I selected some pictures that in my opinion are important for Rotterdam, all for different reasons. Nothing but love for my hometown!
Drvg Cvltvre - Glass, Steel and Skulls
I had a large collection of samples to my disposal for this project, so the very first thing was just to listen to everything and find something that struck me. Thats the way I always work, really. My grandfather was from Feijenoord, Rotterdam and told me many stories about his old neighbourhood. I found listening to the ambience of the recordings so soothing and it made me imagine a different time in the city. Before the high risers took over, before the bombing. So I started layering parts of ambient sounds to make 'blankets' of city sounds and then let my mind wonder over a melody to pull it all together. It was important at that point to have the synths be off-beat and off-back beat, so I gained a bit more room in the mix. It was great to mix my melancholy memories of the city and try to create a song out of it, and I hope I made my Roffa fam proud!
Mill Burray - Bring It In
I focused on the harbour as a factory and exchange point with the rest of the world.
In the past, Rotterdam harbour was full of cranes and same as today, full of ships. The ships were bringing new stuff to the country and taking others out of it. The cranes loaded large weights in and out. Also the new ships, made in Rotterdam, were exploring the whole world.
I choose this title and this metaphor, cause the track I made is a bit different then my previous work, a new experience for me, and as this crane I want to ‘bring it in’.
Lemontrip - Middelland
Middelland is a multicultural area near the city center of Rotterdam. I've spent 2 years there, from 2008 til' 2010, and it has played a big part in the early stages of Lemontrip. 'Middelland' is me reminiscing about that emotional period.
Fis - Drain Torch
I wanted this track to feel like it's actually coming from the same time/place as one particular streetscape recording ('Lijnbaan_pedestrians_Rotterdam_GA-25047'). As you'll note in the intro especially, I've tried to retroactively alter the original recorded situation by injecting some of the fucked up samples and sound design into the setting, as if it were actually being played from speakers on the street at the time. It ended up sounding as though the person who recorded this hypothetical moment had climbed down a stormwater drain to hide and record the street from there (maybe because in this parallel Rotterdam reality, public recording is a criminal offense). This whole idea came towards the end of the process, having almost completed the basic progression and identity of the track, it still didn't feel fully couched in the context. I decided to try add another layer of relationship to the time and location of this material, so here's Drain Torch :)
Meta - Eva
When i first listened to the sample pack I became interested in how far I could bring these sounds from the past into the future. I wanted to create futuristic complexity from the old machine recordings and the industrial work force of Rotterdam. I wanted to create something that sounded like an origin story for an extremely powerful force. The name "Eva" is based off of a technological prototype that’s the first of its kind.
I took inspiration from the given photos of Rotterdam that showed the inner complexity of structures being built and the patterns that came out of them. I used many different recordings to create textures such as the elevator of Maastunnel and the traffic of Rotterdam. The best feature of the track in my opinion, is the stream engine shunting being used as an accelerating and resetting percussion like sound. To give it a touch of life and humanity, i created melodic tones that came from a clock tower and also a church organ sample of the Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk.
I faced a few struggles while trying to produce the track like building the arrangement but mainly it came down to time. Between work, school, and having to purchase a new laptop during the creation process I only had about 5 free days to work on the track. I love the result and that "Eva" was completely made up of sounds from over 50 years ago but it sounds beyond our technological reach at the moment. I think that shows how powerful music and especially field recordings can be.
After completing this track and being a part of this compilation I want to continue to work closely with field recordings, especially those not of my own. I will definitely be following Re:vive closely since they release free archive sample packs often. I’m currently finishing up a film class, which has been opening my eyes to the subtext of films and the art of film quite a bit more. I’ve come to realize that I have a hidden passion for many southern and southern-gothic themes. The culture is quite different from what I’ve experienced and a decent quantity of excellent content originates from there. I think films, TV shows like True Detective and 60’s-70’s pop, such as "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals is going to play a major influence as well. So I want to combine the futuristic style of "Eva" and that cultural influence together. It’s definitely going to be a challenge, but will produce very interesting results nonetheless.
BZGRL - Koppelen
The process for composing my track KOPPELEN was challenging and for me unconventional. In general I have fond sonic memories of the Rotterdam music scene, but I was not so familiar with the specific soundmarks found in the archives I received. I began by listening closely to a few of the sounds I responded to the most, for example the recordings of church organs and bells and started processing those and experimenting without any concrete plan and saving material for later. After that listened back to what I had saved and began constructing a track, and then I was able to find more raw material in the archive to complement the ongoing composition. I found that through processing and chopping the sounds there were new similarities and hooks I could latch on to and exploit to move the composition forward. Processing and folding the sounds on top of each other became like folding a ball of putty - after a while you find that two distant points or 'sounds' in the ball are suddenly next to one another and can be used together, and I could find sounds which at the same time reminded me of a steam engine, or a kind of abstracted ravey saw wave synth sound. I eventually found many more things that could connect to my musical influences but were actually just old recordings of ships, trains, ambient sounds of tunnels, and I enjoyed finding these correspondences.
Anik - Maastunnel
As I have been living in Rotterdam for over 10 years now, the RE:VIVE Rotterdam sample pack stirred up memories and recognition. It feels really close to me. One particular memory it ignited was from about 5 years ago. I would often visit a friend in the south of Rotterdam, and slightly dazed by alcohol I would cycle back late at night through the Maastunnel. At this time of day it was deserted there. To get downstairs you’d have to put your bike on the wooden escalator and hold on tight and you could hear the grating and creaking of the old machinery. But when you cycle through the tunnel itself there is a beautiful long echo on even the tiniest of noises. Every time it would scare me and fascinate me at the same time and it felt so lonely and melancholic.
I created the track with Ableton Live using various samples from the sample pack. The synths are created from a ship horn, the arpeggiated sound is created from the Metro bleep and the melody synth sound was made using a steam tram sample. For the deep bass I used buzzing from the Maastunnel. The kick was created using a motortram horn and the other drums were created using various sounds from the Maastunnel machineroom and the sound of unloading coal at the Port of Rotterdam. The Maastunnel, an airplane flying over on Bevrijdingsdag and some crowd noise from the Coolsingel were used to create fx and background noise.
Oaktree - The City Is A Jungle
I have kind of love/hate relationship with cities. They can be so nice, generous and addictive but at the same time (typically when things get a bit colder and darker), a totally different face might be revealed. I guess i'm more of a village-person in some way, I find it easier to keep up with the pace and opportunities when things are a bit slower and smaller. On the other hand, the inspiration i get from these big, honest and varied places is endless.
This track is inspired by this sometimes uncomfortable honesty and, in a way, at the same time, beauty.
After I created a rough sketch with some of the samples that inspired me I tried to find some kind of rhythm where I could build the structure of the track around but it seemed hopeless to do that, i just did not find the right pace so i kept everything free, just like cities are: they’re is no fixed tempo when you walk through a city. A city is out of tune, full of sudden encounters, unpredictable, beautiful, haunting..
LWA - View From The Euromast
This piece is looking at the transference from the sacred to the secular in public spaces, from cathedral to commerce tower. Using only sounds sourced from the various ringing bell of Rotterdam's churches, recorded and re-recorded onto reel-to-reel and then sampled and processed using a SP 303. By slowing and warming up the tones via tape manipulation provided the core of the track, the inspiration of which was Dutch artist Wouter van Veldhoven. Also the drilling, distorted bell process were also a wink to the snares of Rotterdam gabber group, Rotterdam Terror Corps.
Grab the release HERE.