Monday, 22 December 2008


Bear Ground.

Review by Jeph Jerman for Squids Ear

Three untitled pieces of object improv from this improvising quartet performed using mostly acoustic sources. Scant information about this one, but I know that these musicians have been playing together for a while. Farmer runs the Compost and Height label which specializes in this kind of improvisation, along with field recordings, processed and not.

Field recordings might be a good referent to these slices of textural sound, as they ebb and flow the way the sounds outside my window do, and surprises pop up just like in "real life". It's difficult to tell just who is making what sound, and even exactly what thing is making them at times. The notes list violin, objects, viola, bamboo, snare drum, voice, breath and drum, but I swear I'm hearing horns or reeds for long stretches of time. The given textures hold one's attention, perhaps because of this "what is it" aspect, but also through well placed transitions into new approaches/sounds. It's quite often on the quiet side, erupting from time to time into scratchy loudness. The CD itself is wrapped in Farmer's beautiful nature photographs, which complement the music nicely and give a referent to those who need one.

But... just what is a bear ground?

Review by Richard Pinnell

'So back to listening to music again today after a bit of a palette cleansing weekend. I played a new release this morning by the UK quartet of Matt Milton, David Thomas, Ryan Jewell and Patrick Farmer, playing violin and objects, viola and bamboo, snare drum and voice and drums and objects respectively. The album, released on Creative Sources is called Bear Ground.

Patrick gave me a copy of the release when I spent a little time with him and his delightful other half Sarah up in Glasgow last weekend. Because I had spent a bit of time in their company, and also because Patrick has a forthcoming release on Cathnor I wanted to put a week or so in between him giving me the CD and me listening to it, to at least try and stay somewhat impartial. It is indeed a very nice little CD though, an itchy, scratchy, breathy, crackly little number.

Of the four musicians on the disc I only really know the music of two of them very well, Farmer and Milton. One real joy of the music though is that I cannot tell who is doing what. Although on occasion its easy to tell strings from a drum (and not as often as you might think) I still couldn’t tell you which of the musicians did what. This isn’t a release that projects forth strong musical voices, rather it showcases the ability of four like minds working together towards one common outcome. I’m not really sure how I am meant to classify the music either. It is all acoustic, and yet rarely are the sounds we hear obviously instrumental. In places it is busy, but in others (like during the charged four minute silence that emerges amidst the final twenty-five minute long third track) the music slips into complete inactivity. I am reminded of the music of Jeph Jerman in improvisational mode, all clicks and scratches and dry whispery sounds as if made with all naturally found objects, as Jerman has been known to do. The sleeve imagery only reinforces this feeling, consisting of a series of Patrick’s natural photography, all leaves and wood and feathers.

Bear Ground is a very restrained, gentle, detailed album. It doesn’t shout and scream at you for your attention, and requires a lot of patience to listen to it carefully enough for it not to slip past virtually unnoticed. Taking the time to listen carefully has its rewards though as immersing yourself in this miniscule soundworld is a rewarding experience. Oh and that silence. It just appears with some eleven minutes remaining in the third track and just stays there for four minutes until a faint crackle, like dried leaves blowing on the wind appears. On other releases the silence might have been edited out, or shortened at least, but here it works well where it is, as if the music was just taking a natural rest to catch its breath, and reaffirming the feeling of honesty that Bear Ground gives me. Maybe not one for everyone, but certainly a release I like a lot.'

Apis Mellifera (moved to and fro)

Taken from the Organised music from Thesaloniki site:

'Patrick Farmer is part of the younger generation of musicians blurring the boundaries between the use of "pure" environmental documentation and the direct involvement with natural materials and situations. As a musician he deals with regular or prepared drums, natural objects, phonography, amplfied drum heads, wood and whisks. He has been curating -together with Sarah Hughes- the Compost & Height music blog and label promoting "work focused upon our responses to the surrounding environment and the development of awareness".

While much of Farmer's recorded work can seem systematic in its presentation, his diversity in approaching sonic material allows him to treat each situation differently, thus staying close to the truer qualities that define each of his subjects. In this recording he presents three views of honey bee hives found at an Apiary in Harpenden, UK. The second track, ”and”, is a straight stereo recording of bee sounds,”fro” consists of sounds picked up by contact microphones attached under the hives, while ”moved to” finds the stereo recordings reprocessed in a way best described by Farmer himself:

A process of indirect diffusion that by means of various materials, bass drums | various cymbals | rocks | and minimal circumstances, attaches to the original Honeybee recording a sense reflected by other objects.

The original inspiration behind this process came from a passage in the book 'Six memos for the new Millenium' by Italo Calvino. Whereupon the author sets out to explain the work of the Italian Poet Giacomo Leopardi:

"For Giacomo Leopardi maintained that the more vague and imprecise language is, the more poetic it becomes. I might mention in passing that as far as I know Italian is the only language in which the word vago (vague) also means 'lovely, attractive'."

As our view of the subject is fragmented, the sounds move freely between what is perceived to be presented as musical and in turn non-musical sound. And while it is never unclear what process is employed each time, our ears are free to approach the recorded material in an open-ended manner.'

From The Watchful Ear

'Patrick recently reissued three of these pieces, with some of them completely reworked, on the Organised Music from Thessaloniki label. Reissued may not be the correct word as I suspect that, besides myself not too many copies of the original disc exist out there. The new release though is titled Apis Mellfera, moved from and to. The first track, titled moved to, (can you guess what the others might be called? ) is a piece made by playing back a field recording of the bees through metals, drums, surfaces, bottle and rocks. It begins with faintly recognisable sounds, as if we are hearing the bees at the other end of a deep glass bottle, and then gradually through the seventeen minute piece the sound becomes more abstract, drifting off into a series of clingy metallic tones as presumably the sound played back through cymbals and other objects caused them to vibrate and resonate. This piece has been put together in post production from an assortment of recordings made in this way with different objects, so here and there we are reminded slightly of the source material, but often all trace is lost. I do find myself asking if I would have guessed I was hearing honey bees had I not been aware from the sleeve notes and I suspect I wouldn’t, The resulting music is very charming all the same, a simple, slow meditation on a nice idea.

and, the second piece is a straight recording of the bees made with a stereo microphone. I once called Patrick the UK’s answer to Jeph Jerman on a radio programme, and quite recently called him it to his face as well. He didn’t seem to mind so I’ll make the comparison here too. Jerman, a percussionist like Farmer is fond of recording bees as well, though the CD of his that I own only contains straight-up field recordings like this second piece on Apis Mellifera The little five minute busy buzzy interlude works well here coming after the wistful chimes of the first piece. The bees actually sound very close by, sometimes giving the impression they are hovering around your ear, making for a slightly unnerving recording if you are of an apiphobic condition.

The third piece, called fro is assembled using recordings made by attaching contact mics to the underside of the hives. The resulting piece is a peculiarly alien soundworld made up of tiny shuffling sounds, the occasional knock and scratch and here and there a deadened buzzing, presumably made when a bee came close to a microphone, albeit the other side of the hive floor. This piece sounds unlike much else I have heard before, vaguely reminiscent of those moments when someone accidentally calls you from their mobile phone, and on answering you get to hear the rustling of the bottom of their pocket for a while, with only tiny distant glimpses of anything else. I really like this piece because of its seemingly otherwordly feel, but also, not unlike the field recording work of Lee Patterson it reveals the hidden musicality of things usually hidden away from the human ear.'

From Bagatellen - Review by Alan Jones.

'On Apis mellifera, moved to and fro, Patrick Farmer filters a simple, exploitable subject (bees and their beehive) into three separate aural experiences. He answers the following in the process: 1) how does the subject sound, au natural, and does it jibe with the memory of the observer, 2) what are the resonant frequencies of the subject itself and in what sonic area does most of the activity take place, and 3) how would (1) and (2) be experienced if random metallic and wooden objects were used as the medium through which the sounds travel?

For the first piece, “moved to”, Farmer amplified raw recordings of the hive through metal scraps, rock, drums, and glass. Gains were employed such that, at choice points through the 17-minute duration, ringing feedbacks were obtained, never allowed to become completely silent, presumably due to the occasional interactions of the insects. Track 2, “and”, is a field recording in the truest sense – stereo microphones positioned to record the hive. Several times I imagined a very satisfied Patrick Farmer, editing the final mix with swollen patches of red about his arms and face, with randomly affixed band-aids. The mechanical conditions for “fro” (track 3) may have been dangerous, too, as contact microphones were placed directly beneath the hive. These contact mics bring the delicate touches of tiny critters and their occasional buzzing into the audible range in a manner that open-air microphones cannot. And we hear the activity of the hive itself, constantly underway as the residents’ workloads increase and then settle.
The contact microphones and surrogate mediums reveal properties not normally ascribed to bees. En masse, they are loud – not only do they “buzz” in the same frequency band, but they scuttle, build, systematize. Like cyclic Feng Shui, but with economic output pertaining to the bee lifestyle. Recorded as Farmer has done, we’re treated to a sense of how a hive affects its surrounding environment, complete with muffled rhythms and atonality. It’s music borne out of an unusual concept, defying categorization, and quite therapeutic.'

From Just Outside - Review by Brian Olewnick.

Yes, honeybees. Recorded three different ways, two of which I find very, very beautiful. These are the pair, the first and third tracks, that sound the least apian; perhaps I should appreciate the basic buzzing more, dunno. The first, "moved to", is virtually in Lucier territory, shimmers of sine-like hum but sounding in irregular waves, like sonic auroras, with almost bell-like tones underneath. Just gorgeous. I guess I prefer my bees de-buzzed as the brief second track causes me to swat at my ears more than listen; perhaps the point. The last, miking the base of a hive, seems to catch all the billions of footfalls, chewings, wax-moldings, etc., with a faint hum behind. Quite different from the first, just as entrancing. Lovely disc. - brian just outside

From In Place - Review by Jez riley French

simply & nicely packaged (as always with this label) we have three pieces based on bee hive recordings. Patrick sent me versions of these pieces awhile ago but it seems to me that a distinct transformation has taken place. At first I wanted to dig out the earlier versions to see if I could work out what exactly has changed (if anything) but then I though better of it & instead I keep sitting back & simply enjoying these new versions.

I have some ideas as to what is going on here - track one I suspect features the core bee recordings being filtered through cymbals, resulting in a shimmering and highly resonant atmosphere - but I think it's important with Patrick's work (& indeed a great deal of music / sound) to stop trying to work it out on those terms. The sound of the bees themselves are obvious for the first 5 or 6 minutes & in a slight return at the very end but most of this track is given over to various tones generated by the filtering methods employed. There's a rough edit at around 4.31 which is a bit of a shame, simply because the piece itself runs an otherwise fluid and engaging path in it's 17 minutes 36 seconds.

The second piece is a dense swarm of conventional bee sounds - recorded in a manner that serves to highlight the fast and fractured nature of thier behavoir patterns. At just 5.08 this track is, as the titles 'and' suggests a bridge between the longer, more abstract pieces.

Track three rumbles and flitters - the sounds here coming from contact mics attached to the hive. There's a strange parallel here with some of the sounds Patrick produces when performing live - with various objects scratching and scraping across snare drum heads and branches moved by small motors. At 14.06 this track is all too brief. However, as he does often in his live performances Patrick plays the part of the entertainer, leaving the audience wanting more.

Impossible to sum up the sound of this disc in words. Buy it, listen to it and be reminded that we can always say a great deal about music & sound & indeed most things, but we simply scratch the surface in doing so.

The Wandering Rhizome

rom The Watchful Ear:

'Well I’ve been out of the house for thirteen hours today thanks to an extra long shift at work. As a result I’ve only really listened to one piece of music all day, the Patrick Farmer piece called The Wandering Rhizome that I mentioned last night. I played it through almost three times today ( I say almost because the second play-through was interrupted five minutes before the end by my arrival at work) and I also played it once last night. So (if my command of mathematics still works when I’m this tired) thats near as damn it four close listens within twenty four hours and I still haven’t much of an idea how the music on the recording is made!

The sleeve note lists Patrick’s instrumentation as bass drum, large bamboo stem, four acoustic guitar pickups, microphone and milk frother. The music is really hard to describe, but I am taking a wild guess that Patrick has miked up the drum and the bamboo and then held the frother (which I am guessing is some kind of fast vibrating kitchen utensil?) against them to create a fast strumming sound not unlike that which Keith Rowe used to make by flicking a spring wedged between two guitar strings. There are many different variations on this sound though, as presumably the frother is applied to different objects, nearer or further away from one of the pickups, sometimes in momentary bursts, sometimes for longer. There are other sounds here too, dirty electronic sounding splurges and scuffs that give the whole recording a very lo-fi, Jeph Jerman styled sound, and some three quarters of the way into the twenty-seven minute disc all hell breaks out as the throbbing sounds coalesce into a rich swarm of vibrations. I’ve no idea how this bit was done, but certainly I don’t think there are any overdubs or post production work involved.

However its made this is a very clever, skilled piece of music that sounds very original and keeps the listener entertained throughout. Patrick is a great musician as well as an inspirational organising force among musicians in the UK right now. A duo of his percussion work alongside Dominic Lash’s bass will appear on Cathnor a bit later this year. He also appears on the one of the two new Compost and Height 3″ releases I have on my desk right now and will hopefully get to play tomorrow'

From Vital Weekly:

'He plays here bass drum, large bamboo stem, four acoustic guitar pickups, microphone and milk frother. Quite a curious piece of electro acoustic sound emerges from the speakers, with occasional rattling sounds and what seems to be lots of lo-fi hiss sound. Lots of silence is built in this piece. But then sound gets sometimes picked up again, and the volume increases substantially. It hovers that fine balance between almost silence and almost noise. Quite a nice piece of what I believe live action music for a few objects.'