AMN Reviews: Patrick Farmer – Like falling out of trees into collectors’ albums

Patrick Farmer: Like falling out of trees into collectors’ albums [consumer waste 04]

“Like falling out of trees into collectors’ albums” is a full-length release of largely unaltered field recordings taken by percussionist and sound artist Patrick Farmer in 2009 and 2010. The title seems to be a wry comment on the phenomenon of field recordings: Like leaves falling directly from the tree into the botanist’s album, these encountered sounds come straight from the environments in which they occurred to be gathered into the recordist’s collection.

This comes through on the first track, “Stood for thirty minutes, before the picture without moving,” which presents nearly half an hour of the sound of a frozen pond or brook melting. The predominant sound here is of moving water. This track, like the event it documents, is a slow unfolding; listening is like watching changes in the angle and intensity of sunlight over the course of a day. The outdoor setting is made explicit by the passing through of two airplanes, the echoes of their jet and piston engines painting a sonic portrait of open skies. One can imagine the bite of cold air on exposed skin.

The denser “Still this is not, of air and hours” follows. Farmer’s source is the hum given off by power lines, which here sound like deliberate electronic music. Subtle changes in overtones and dynamics provide an unexpected variety in the middle of the drone’s overall sameness.

By contrast the final cut, “You through all the things I hear, the kindness of chance,” is a very quiet and sparse soundtrack of vague scratching noises and buzzes. These strange sounds were produced by a wasp hollowing out bamboo – this is eavesdropping taken to a microcosmic level.

Field recordings like these often seem to demand a particular type of listening. In reproducing and re-presenting ambient sounds and making them the objects of attention, the artist invites us to listen in, to borrow a conceit from Salome Voegelin. The kinds of sounds we ordinarily listen through or ignore altogether we now encounter as events in themselves, though still with the flavor of things overheard. By virtue of focusing our attention on the sound alone, field recording lifts one dimension—the aural–from an integrated perceptual gestalt encompassing the visual and tactile modalities as well. With these other modalities neutralized, we can seem to become a transparent ear.

In an impressionistic essay accompanying the CD, Farmer writes about the place of field recording in his own sensibilities. It would seem that field recordings represent excerpts selected from an ongoing infinitude of sounds, the way a line segment represents a finite section of points extending indefinitely in either direction. This is where the artist’s intention reveals itself, in the setting off of some sounds from others, and in capturing a slice of overheard time that can recur with every replay of the disc.