CD Reviews

Friday 30th December

December 31, 2011

I am lucky enough to be able to call Patrick Farmer a good friend, and so, as always I ask you to take this into consideration whenever I write about his music. His new album of field recordings on the Consumer Waste label though, titled Like falling out of trees into collectors’ albums takes me right back to a time when I didn’t know him personally but first came in touch with his music. I don’t remember exactly where I first came across his work, but my first exposure, some years back now, was certainly through his field recordings, and I remember contacting him, and sending some money for three CDrs of such recordings. When the discs arrived, they came in beautiful, recycled card sleeves with my name carefully typed onto each of them, with little pieces of poetic text slipped inside on faded pieces of paper. Even before hearing the music on the discs, which I enjoyed a great deal, the attention to detail, the personal touch and the connection between these found (sought out?) sounds and the written word impressed me a lot. Wind forward however many years and this new disc arrives on letterpress printed recycled card, without the personal dedication but with an enclosed, beautifully descriptive text. The recordings here are equally captivating. Selected from what is probably many hours of field recordings made in 2009 and 2010, just before a year in the noisy city of Oxford rendered such activities close to impossible, the three unedited recordings here are each very different and yet all involve that secret ingredient required of great field recording- the ability to find subtle, detailed, intricate combinations of sounds at once that perhaps we may not have known were there.

As a closing conundrum to the text enclosed with the disc, Farmer asks;

“What does a CD of three flattened auditory replications of three environments bring?”

Here then lies one of the classic questions attached to field recording. What does the recorded sound become once it has been lifted, via whatever flawed device from its environment and supplanted, via a CD and a stereo system that will have its own impact on that same sound, into a completely new environment again, replete with its own aural content. Farmer suggests that the CD’s three tracks serve as comments upon the original environments, filtered through his own preferences and methodology as a recordist. I would go so far again as to say that the sounds are again treated differently once played back, again heard differently, dependent on the playback ability, degree of paid attention and external aural environment of each listener. The wonder of good field recording for me then comes when sounds come through all of these processes and still sound invigorating and exciting. A bubbling river recorded perfectly might still sound great once replayed over my stereo system, but the human input, both in the original decisions made to place a microphone down in the first place, and in the selection and editing process that follows matters so much.

The pieces here then are Stood for thirty minutes, before the picture without moving, a half hour long capture of a slowly melting frozen surface of a pool in deepest Wales, Still this is not, of air and hours – fifteen minutes of overheard power lines heard (somehow) through a nearby wire fence and You through all things I hear, the kindness of chance, which is (incredibly in my opinion) the sound of a wasp stripping out the inside of a bamboo cane so as to build a nest, a scenario farmer came across by chance. The first is a minutely detailed soundscape of rustling, gently hissing cracklings set against  a backdrop of occasional passing birdlife and the roar of a passing aircraft. this track for me is a joy to just absorb without distraction. Like taking in a favourite painting in a gallery, as the track’s title suggests, listening to this piece slowly evolve, gradually change, and yet, not actually change that much, highlights how close listening amplifies tiny details, and throws us completely when something as innocuous as a passing airplane crashes into this newly found world. The second piece is very different, droning in form but created using entirely found phenomena, and so therefore  again full of small shifts in detail. Here we seem to find rhythms in the warm, honeyed stream of sound, patterns emerge, waveforms seem to be there, but how much is in our heads, the detritus of what we expect to hear when we listen to manmade music projected onto naturally occurring events remains to be seen. The final closing piece is very subtle, a cloudy, murmuring noise floor punctuated every so often by tiny knocks and reverberations through the bamboo cane and the telling little buzzes of our wasp friend. This piece may not have the same spectacularly exciting sonic impact of the other two, but it contains a sense of mystery and intrigue, and the sense of the the find, the discovery of this tiny event in nature’s huge garden of fun is no doubt what drove Farmer in part to include it here, perhaps indeed found through the kindness of chance, but then captured and represented through the creativity of a perceptive, prepared ear.

Just about everything I have written about Patrick’s music this year (and yes I have written a lot about it) has focussed on his improvised or composed music. There has been little sight of his field recording in recent years, but this new release sits alongside his other work as a the output of a remarkably focussed ear, and these field recordings for me, reaffirm his place me up there alongside Lee Patterson and Toshiya Tsunoda at the lead of the field, (pun intended). Consumer Waste.


Comments (6)

  • simon reynell

    December 31, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Some thoughts for the end of the year – apologies for their length & a certain lack of clarity:

    (1) yes this is a lovely disc. I’m not usually that patient with ‘pure’ field recordings (whatever that means), but this one has enough of both musicality and variety to hold my interest throughout. Excellent.

    (2) I too have spent a lot of 2011 listening to (and recording) Patrick Farmer, and I hope that 2012 is the same because I’ve learnt a good deal in the process. He is a musician who is developing fast in several directions – all of which are fascinating. And he’s a musician who is – in the nicest possible way – always wanting to push things, and is prepared to take risks and fail sometimes. Which makes it particularly interesting to hear him, because you really can’t predict what’s going to happen.

    (3) At the same time I don’t want to single Patrick out; he is an unusually interesting musician, but is also just one of several bright young things around at the moment. (the Consumer Waste roster features several others, for starters). So much for improvised music (whatever that means) being at death’s door….

    (4) It’s particularly pleasing to pick up on young musicians as they are undergoing a rapid process of development – and this kind of accelerated evolution does occur more often amongst young musicians than older, more established figures (though there are of course exceptions).

    (5) But part of me is suspicious of the pleasure I take in this. There’s a kind of competitive hunger at play; I want to be in there at the start before X becomes a ‘star’, partly so that I can feel special, part of an exclusive vanguard. And I can then bask in reflected glory when the young prodigy does become more widely recognised (though perhaps the same stupid competitive impulse will make my enthusiasm more tepid at that point, and I’ll be hungry to move on to other things).

    (6) But then again, whatever my motives, I am finding myself increasingly drawn to the work of younger musicians who are not yet established (again with lots of exceptions). So, for example, I haven’t yet ordered the new Rowe / Tilbury disc on Potlatch. I’m sure I will do, and I’m sure it will be lovely, but I’m just not as excited about it as I am about the work of younger players such as Patrick whose work is currently going through this process of accelerated development. Of course this is not to say that Patrick’s music is ‘better’ than Keith or John’s (whatever that means).

    (7) I can’t decide whether this sharp interest in the work of younger musicians is a temporary thing, a personal quirk, or if it reflects something about the ‘scene’ at the moment. I know that you, Richard, have expressed similar feelings in conversation, but I can’t think of any reason as to why I should feel this more now than, say, 5 or even 3 years ago.

    (8) One thing that it certainly doesn’t help in is selling CDs. When I started Another Timbre, I had an unwritten rule that pretty much every disc had to feature a star name, and that younger musicians would have to pair up with more established players. It was a very sensible rule, but I no longer follow it. Which means that AT releases are now less likely to get reviewed in The Wire and elsewhere, and sell fewer copies than they used to (though I can’t quantify how much this is due to the continuing decline in CD sales generally).

    (9) But then – though I think they do still have a place – CDs feel less and less relevant to what’s going on and how the music is developing. Which has given me much pause for thought through 2011, that is when I haven’t been busy listening to or recording Patrick Farmer.

    Happy new year.

  • Dan Warburton

    December 31, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Fine disc, Patrick (my favourite of the three CW discs by far), fine write-up Richard and fine set of comments there from Simon. Thanks to all of you for your work this year, look forward to more good stuff in 2012.

  • Richard Pinnell

    December 31, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Simon, thank you for your beautifully numbered thoughts…! I agree that there does seem to be a new wave of younger musicians coming through again, internationally. I guess this has always been the way, but it does feel like they come in waves rather than one or two at a time.

    (You do realise we just sound really old here don’t you?)

    Happy new year Simon, and Dan

  • michael feydieu

    January 10, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    Jez, i appreciate and agree with some of what you say but you ‘frame’ your comment as a criticism from the outset “i hope you’ll forgive what i have to say” and thus everything from then on is read with a negative tone – im not sure if this was your intention? Your comment reads as what the practice of field recording should be, surley such a proposition is as guilty of ego as those who lead in their field? I’m not too familiar with any body involved in field recording or improvised music on a personal level – but having read richard’s blog for a year or so it is evident that his response to a disc or performance is very much influence by his relationship to the musician, this isnt always the case and in all honesty i do find it irritating sometimes, but it is also what makes TWE unique and a far cry from reviews one finds in The Wire, even those by Richard himself. From this review i get that Richard holds Patrick Farmer (amongst others) in high regard – and lets face it Patrick is quite prolific, and his output is generally very good – there will naturally be ebbs and flows in personal taste and popularity, the ‘lead’ is always shifting, but perhaps it is natural that one will surface.

  • Richard Pinnell

    January 11, 2012 at 12:38 am

    Please note that Michael’s above comment responds to a comment made by Jez riley French that he has since asked to be removed, along with my own personal responses.

  • JrF

    January 11, 2012 at 12:53 am

    thanks Richard. All i’ll say to replace all of that is that, no – I wasn’t critical Michael & that I also wasn’t saying what the practice of field recording should be – I was actually saying the opposite – that ‘we’ don’t control what it is in the same ways as we do with other forms of music & sound & thats what makes it so fascinating & so able to enrich our relationship to listening.

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