AMN Interviews: Patrick Farmer

13Patrick Farmer is an artist working with composition. He was born in Beckenham, Kent in 1983. His mother bought him his first drum kit when he was twelve and eight years later he spent six months in India studying Hindustani Tabla with Pandit Nayan Ghosh. Still most often referred to as a percussionist, though he hasn’t performed on a drum kit for years, Farmer will commonly enlist the help of a drum or turntable to act as a resonator for natural materials or filtering field recordings. Lately he has been using the motors of a reel to reel player in preparation for his tour with Stephen Cornford.

He is a founding member of the Set Ensemble, a group based in the UK dedicated to the performance of experimental music, especially that of the Wandelweiser group, and co-founded the online record label, Compost and Height, and Wolf Notes journal, with Sarah Hughes in 2008. As of October 2012 patrick began studying towards his Ph.D at Oxford Brookes.

Patrick has performed with artists such as Angharad Davies, Lee Patterson, David Lacey, Matt Davis, Jason Kahn, Christian Munthe, Anders Dahl, Will Guthrie, and Rhodri Davies. He has a long-standing duo with double bassist Dominic Lash, with Sarah Hughes and Daniel Jones he is a member of the improvising trio ‘Loris’, and he is part of, along with Stephen Cornford and Sarah Hughes, ‘The Albion Players’, whom recently performed excerpts of Ben Owen’s ‘Geese’ and George Brecht’s ‘Water Yam’ at the Lost and Found series in Oxford and London. In February 2012 Farmer was part of the exhibition, ‘new works’, with Manfred Werder and Ben Owen, curated by Sarah Hughes, at the Old Fire Station in Oxford.

Patrick took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of our questions.

Your association with the Wandelweiser group is longstanding. What was it about the Wandelweiser aesthetic or ethos that attracted you?

Getting to know certain members, or people associated with the collective, has for me been the most important experience. One that has had quite an affect on how I consider and think about the performances and realisations I have been lucky enough to be part of up until this point, though I wouldn’t call myself a Wandelweiser musician. Neither would I say my association has been particularly longstanding, as I feel like I’m only just beginning to understand what it was I was doing a few years ago with these wonderful people’s compositions. I don’t think anything particularly profound drew me to the group, much as ever it was simply a matter of keeping my eyes and ears open, and luck. Like so many people say, these days I’m not even sure what is and isn’t associated with them directly or indirectly, particularly in the world I am part of, which is much more to do with the live performance of such pieces than any kind of recorded media. I’ve voiced my feelings concerning my thought processes behind the performance of scores, as fundamentally different to my thought process, or lack of, with regards to improvising, so I wont bore you with that here, but I will say that currently, and this is as a direct result of being involved in all these activities over the years, I am writing pieces for instrumentation that is much more fixed. Pieces for electronics primarily, and objects; for processes of specific amplification that may or may not fall away to new events. Without spending so much time with the musics of, for example, Antoine Beuger, Michael Pisaro, and Stefan Thut, over the last few years, I highly doubt I’d be thinking the way I do about such things. I suppose that’s the beautiful thing about such a closely knit yet hugely diverse group, because it’s not only the composers of the group that have had such direct influence on me, but the people with whom I have worked on their music so closely over the last few years. The times spent discussing and realising approaches with Dominic Lash and Sarah Hughes have been just as if not more important than anything else I can think of. And so as ever, it is primarily a social engagement that has drawn me to Wandelweiser, and kept me there.

You’ve been quite involved in producing field recordings. Can you tell us a bit about what got you interested in doing field recordings?

Who knows how many people have heard this story, I apologise to those of you who have, but I don’t think it’s ever been written down. It comes down to luck and attention, once again. I grew up in Wales, thus I spent much of my time out of doors, and I was lucky enough to be in a band with two individuals I still count as very close friends. At that time, about twelve years ago, we were experimenting with our eyes and ears closed, it was really rather wonderful to have no idea what it was we were doing or why on earth we were doing it, but to still feel so utterly compelled and alive whilst doing it. Things like throwing stones at resonant fences with our tape players positioned as close to the source as we could, which never went well, or burying said tape players under mounds of stones and then sliding and jumping down them, which again was the cause of many a hospitalised technology. We weren’t using these recordings for anything, we didn’t have a purpose beyond the activity itself, and I still have many of these recordings, in fact, I probably have about 50 tapes worth of such things, and I’m sure I’m not alone in possessing such an adolescent archive. The first, more conscious field recording, didn’t occur until a wee while later. I seem to remember that at the time I was quite enthralled by Jon Rose‘s bowed fences project, and I’d often drive to the Elan Valley – one of many places in Wales where you can record without interruption, which at the time at least, was what I was after – and stick my contact microphones on the fence, and then basically copy Jon Rose by bowing the wires with all sorts of materials. It sounds a little cloying I admit, but on one occasion, it was a particularly windy day, I stopped bowing the fence but could still hear a tone through my headphones. And it went from there. For years I’d stick a microphone to anything I possibly could, I even stuck a microphone inside a freshly baked cake once.

I’m trying to think of individuals that got me interested however. Very early on I do remember being fascinated by Tom Waits dragging a chair along the ground during one of the songs in SwordFishTrombone, I can’t remember which, but I loved the integration of such seemingly mundane objects and actions into the songwriting process. Waits was somewhat of a diving board for me. Jeph Jerman I’m sure was an influence early on (sorry, I’m really struggling to remember), especially the near absence that technology has in his recordings. Oh, Lee Patterson! Of course, meeting that chap had quite an effect on me, still does, he’s a very kind gentleman who is always willing to chat about experiences, sound and all their digressions. I guess again, in many ways, much of what drew me to field recording, beyond the sound itself, were the people. I’ve never really performed live with field recordings, not really, once or twice perhaps, and early on, much of the reason I spent so much time out of doors, was to gather and collect material for improvisatory performances, recording said material in the place I found it, at the time, was a good way of understanding what I could then do with it back home.

You’ve recently published try i bark, a volume of writing that seems to map a borderland between poetry and prose. I wonder what connection, if any, do you see between your work with language and your work with sound?

I really can’t say I see much of a connection between the two. Beyond an event, me going deaf in my right ear, that caused me to write more and play less. Which if anything creates yet further distance does it not? It’s all part of a balance, as I spend more time outdoors, writing, I spend more time indoors, recording and investigating (right now it’s a reel to reel player.) Perhaps that will shift, it probably will, but I can’t say that I’m all that interested in the possibility of a conjunction. Both processes are part of very different worlds for me, they provide some sort of evidence that sound is a part of as many worlds as the mind is capable of imagining.