Friday 30th DecemberDecember 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 Â 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 Â 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.