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Like falling out of trees into collectors’ albums. PATRICK FARMER
(Consumer Waste 2011) 

Three imaginary approaches to Patrick Farmer’s  triptych ‘Like falling out of trees into collectors’ albums’:

1.  Sound

The first track is a recording of ice melting and moving on the surface of a pool in Wales. Immediately the temperature drops and the thermometer registers zero. A cold breeze bites and the trees are without leaves. The rustling, crackling nature of the predominant sounds brings to mind frozen grass and the sharpness of frost.

Personally it takes me back to a pool in North Yorkshire where I stood on a small jetty looking over the ice and listening. I can’t hear this now without recalling that day, with no one else around and the ice gently quaking along its fracture lines. It was a time for standing and absorbing.

This seems to be an unadulterated document of the actual scene as it unfolded before Farmer. If there is any editing or enhancing it has been very well disguised and there are no departures of focus. Due to its near 30 minute duration we are given the opportunity to locate ourselves deeper and deeper in the core of this acoustic universe. Hard edges of sound shards rub together, the effect being spread over a large surface area delivering a sense of distance.

A couple of planes fly over, but then you’d be hard pressed to record for half an hour anywhere in the UK without planes flying over. Every now and then a water bird calls and occasionally the wind buffets the microphone slightly. The wind is probably the engine that drives this piece, the agent that moves the ice, that and the water beneath.

The second track is an electrical field, a manifestation of the manmade. Like an Alan Lamb exploration of the taut wires stretching across the Australian outback, or a Jukka Vakkinen-Kannonen  trip around the power facilities and generators of Finland, this is a flow of electrons rendered palpable as a river of vibration.

Thrilling undulations occur. Deep bass notes emerge every now and then and intensity eddies and ebbs along the course. This was made from a recording of overhead power lines through a wire fence, so it carries the taste of metal in its throat and resonates industrially. Dense fluctuations of the field create the sense that at any time this humming plasma could untether itself and split into a billion flying particles.

The third track is extremely quiet and requires some auditory readjustment after the barely contained thrum of pure energy that goes before it. It involves sound occurring on an almost microscopic scale. A wasp is working to strip the inside from a bamboo cane against the gentle hum of distant traffic. This event is captured with no attempt to filter out the infiltrating sounds of the surrounding environment, which grounds the wasp’s effort to build a nest firmly in the real world. Farmer has not presented us with a pared down reality, he has given us a totality. We are just closer to one particular event in that totality than any other.

2.  A  portal

‘Like falling out of trees into collectors’ albums’ can be regarded as a portal into the world view of Patrick Farmer, because all his work seems to exist as a continuum. Words play a large part, as the titles of the three tracks on the CD show. Farmer has written a lot, often impressionistically and poetically, sometimes about the processes of phonography.

Even when his writing is not specifically about recording the environment, it is about a way of experiencing things. A slowing down and a true connection with the subject or object seems central to Farmer’s philosophy.

An extract taken from Farmer’s site ‘ideas attached to objects’:
…the pen is a loudspeaker, one of many medians, ears are misplaced as the onlistener talks into what he hears and refutes composition… From ‘full’.

‘Stood for thirty minutes, before the picture without moving’ for example, is clearly centred on spending time without interacting. Inertia before nature allows an opening up, a dilation of possibilities. I didn’t know the work of Farmer before hearing this, although I’d seen his name several times in various places, often linked with others from Oxford who seem to share a vague exploratory aesthetic.

Choices were made in the programming of this disc other than the actual sonic material. Why choose these three unrelated tracks? Why do they last as long as they do before suddenly cutting off completely? Why name them in such a way that an extra impression is layered over them? I like to be left with more questions than answers.

3. A waste of time

1. Stood before the picture for thirty minutes without moving: Nigh on half an hour of ice melting. Crackling sounds. The odd bird call. A bit of wind. 2 x planes.

2. Still this is not, of air and hours: A quarter of an hour of buzzing. The occasional disruption. Electricity in wires.

3. You through all things I hear, the kindness of chance: 17 minutes long. Nothing happens for ages, then a wasp makes a bit of very quiet noise. That’s it really.

All the tracks, and the CD itself, are given pretentious names to make them seem worthy of more artistic merit than they actually are.

Whole chunks of nature and art can be dismissed by reductionism, and that’s what often happens, and everyone is impoverished as a result. It isn’t even always about looking beneath the surface, it’s about looking at the surface properly.

The ways in which I comprehend a landscape lend themselves to a lack of speed, I find myself in protraction, experiencing as much as I can, often spending all day in one small area, ear to the ground.

Patrick Farmer: Writing Sound Symposium essay.

[Patrick Farmer, photo taken from his website]

-Chris Whithead

Patrick Farmer website
Consumer Waste website