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‘Strata’
Exchange between Richard Pinnell and Patrick Farmer

The third part of an ongoing exchange between Patrick Farmer and Richard Pinnell, the first can be found here and the second here

Part III

Patrick:

I get the feeling that they (Haptic) started with almost nothing and then slowly removed what they could, as if rather than adding to Abeyance, they revisited this almost nothing constantly. The transparent architecture fascinates me. It’s not arcs of erasure, but renewal, a renewal of removal, of filling and emptying, like a loop almost, a loop of empty rooms and torn out words.

Being as the surface of Abeyance is almost non-existent, it presents a state of listening to things as if for the first time. All one can hear is the structure being demolished bit by bit whilst everything is gradually taking on a different appearance. One gets the feeling that it doesn’t matter at all how the sounds, and the resultant thoughts of the individual experiencing these sounds in their own particular way, are put together, since in the end nothing is left as it was.

The first time I heard the piano in Abeyance it had a similar effect on me as to the first time I heard the piano enter into Michael Pisaro’s July Mountain. At first I could feel my defences stretching, but I’ve no idea where they went, as in both cases, it feels like the instrument was always already there. After the initial surprise, in the latter more so than the former, it so often feels as much or as little an event as the undulating proportion of the shingle that is slowly displaced by the imperceptible movement. It’s like the piano has always already happened and all we are doing is revisiting it. Moving around the space of the CD itself to hear it from as many angles and under as many layers as possible. It sort of reminds me Robin Blaser’s metaphor for serial poetry. Walking into a room, turning the light switch on and then off, then walking into another room, turning the light switch on and then off. And on. And on. And on.

I’m interested to hear if you consider there to be a similarity in the presented surfaces of Haptic’s Abeyance and Tim Feeney’s Caroline?

Richard:

It is really interesting that we both have strong very similar feelings about Abeyance.  For me there is such a strong feeling of erasure here, almost a form of the self-cancellation investigations that Rhodri Davies and others explored with Gustav Metzger a few years back- a deliberate attempt to remove the musicians from the music, leaving only that piano, the origin of which we have no idea, so increasing its emotive power to the listener.  While you write so poetically about Abeyance though, the curious analyst in me still wants to know how that album physically came about. How did three musicians get from beginning work on the record to its final state? How do three people (and I agree there is clearly a huge amount of trust and understanding between these three) work together to take music to such a state, if indeed some kind of journey did take place? Here my role as a listener/reviewer probably kicks in again as opposed to yours as a listener/musician. I really dislike the notion of something happening that I can’t pin down, though paradoxically I also partly need this kind of mystery to make music interesting to me.

 

Considering Abeyance in relation to Tim Feeney’s Caroline album is an interesting thought. At first I wonder why we would do this. Because both CDs arrived at a similar time and from the same country? Certainly as a reviewer I have a tendency to apply these kind of relationships to music, which clearly often makes no sense at all, but with these two records I can understand why you would do this. As it happens I have spent the last week immersed in Eva-Maria Houben’s 6 Sonatas for piano. The eighteen movements that make up these works (three per sonata) each relate back to a classical sonata from the romantic period, but Houben’s works are very sparse, full of silences, as she seems to have distilled the essence of those classical works down to just the barest elements that give them their character.  I ended up thinking about those works in relation to Abeyance also, and the act of erasing something to be able to make something equally beautiful out of that which remains. Would I have thought this way about Houben’s music if I had not been thinking about Abeyance? Hard to say, but it is interesting how we draw comparisons between completely unrelated releases simply because we hear them soon after one another.

 

So regarding Abeyance and Caroline, well both albums have that sense of greyness to them- colourless fields of texture that seem to remove the indentations of human contact. With Caroline though we are hearing a man with a single (snare?) drum played only with his hands. We are not far away here from about as human a recording as could be imagined, and yet, if you allow yourself to be immersed in the constant motions of the music it is not difficult at all to forget the human contribution to it. Listening here can get like watching ripples on the surface of gently disturbed water- after a while we forget we are watching water, and the repeating colours and shapes we see, sometimes broken up by little imperfections or the glint of the sun become something completely abstract. For me Caroline is indeed perhaps about erasure or reduction, but perhaps more about disguise, though not necessarily openly so. It is related, (to my ears) to extended techniques and the way musicians have long sought to find new ways using their instruments, as if to escape their histories or cancel out their own past relationships with them. Perhaps in this way the grey textures of Caroline can indeed be compared to those on Abeyance. Do you hear a different kind of relationship?

 

We have now wandered far away from the Tarab release…

 

Patrick:

Like you, I see Abeyance as a sort of cancellation, though on reflection, perhaps it’s more like a cycle of repetitions. I’m thinking of experiences whereby I’ve recorded objects into objects, so many times as to erase any possibility of reoccurrence – looping them round and round each other until they can barely breathe, and yet there is still that unavoidable sense of familiarity as one reaches the resonant frequency. Once again we’ve reached that impasse whereby our shared and yet different experiences of the music and its making come into play, commenting on the thing both as similar and as difference. And yes, I suppose I don’t really mind not knowing how it was made. I think the beauty of the album is that it creates many possible scenarios that don’t detract from its steady auditive state. Sometimes I feel like it displays its own processes, or what I consider to be its processes, which is perhaps why I’ve listened to it more times than I can remember these last few weeks.

I prompted the inference between Abeyance and Caroline partly because I feel that they both share a surface, or a plain. If I think back to when Sarah Hughes and I recorded is (a recording that, now that I think about it from the angle of a listener, could also feel quite confusing, how did two people make that recording? But as the one who was involved in the recording, I couldn’t begin to extract either one of us from the proceedings) for the split release series on Compost and Height a number of years ago. It had been around -10c for a couple of weeks, and yet this was not enough to detract us from walking around the local park, which is called Oakmere, looking out for the ducks, coots, mandarins, moorhens, gulls, canada geese etc. I remember how Sarah cottoned on to her hearing before me, noticing that strange elasticity of vibration that was ascending from underneath the thick sheet of ice, falling back into its surface in order to be reabsorbed. We didn’t know it then, but it was the sound, primarily, of the ducks, walking on the other side of the pond, amplified beyond measure, within earshot, a warm sound, quite out of keeping with the inclement weather that was slowing everything down. The next day we came back around 4pm, as the day was beginning to get colder again, which was causing certain amplified shifts and contractions within the material itself, with some equipment, and the two of us set about creating, or influencing, our own conditions by throwing seeds onto the ice, which we would usually do regardless, and placing a hydrophone onto its surface. We started to think that the ice was akin to the surface of a drum, or a microphone, a taut platform of amplification that broke apart certain notions of proximity for a time. So much of is was down to that perception of eradication or distortion of distance, perhaps akin to what you were saying about Houben’s music and sparsity? I find connections between is and Caroline in their analogous yet wholly disparate (if you are of such a nature) methods of amplification. Whilst is focused on ducks and temperature in relation to surface, Caroline focuses on hands, but the surfaces, fundamentally, remain the same. What we’re hearing is the resultant interference, the static and friction between surface and object, and in the case of Abeyance, the object is absent, we are left only with the surface, though perhaps it has been raised in order to allow for a stacking of many duplicates.

In a case of some strange serendipity, which involved coming across the poems of Barbara Guest through certain writings and research methods to do with my PhD, focusing at this point on Juan Gris and William Carlos Williams, led to my revisiting Gertrude Stein’s memoir, entitled, Paris France. Which led me back in a circle to a particular poem by Barbara Guest called Roses, which led me back to a painting by Juan Gris, which was once owned by Gertrude Stein, called Flowers, and painted in 1914, though Stein claims it was 1912, which led me further back to a poem by William Carlos Williams called The Rose, which was published in his book, Spring and all, in 1923, and was in part considered with the aforementioned Gris painting. Now, this leads to an interesting article I read today by Casey Anderson, Faithfully re-presenting the outside world, which begins with that self same quote from Gertrude Stein that I have been thinking about through the poems of Barbara Guest, etc. Casey begins his actual writing thusly:

“One seemingly unresolved issue in the realm of field recordings is the tension between authenticity and abstraction. One can view an artist’s work with “the field” as existing somewhere between these two different, though not mutually exclusive, concerns. On the one hand, some artists strongly adhere to maintaining the perceptible accuracy/authenticity of their location, whereas others simply take elements from it as necessary, unconcerned with the legibility of the source.”

To get back to the point. What’s interesting for me, in relation to all of the releases we have thus far spoken about, in relation to Casey’s article, which is in part in relation to our conversation here, and all these threads – Strata, Abeyance, Exotic Exit, Caroline – is that they all of them, make their own oxygen, they all of them have a life, indeed several lives, of their own. Of course Caroline is the odd one out, the duck in the big hat, because it’s not an edifice of separate recordings. Though with this in mind, Caroline seems to me to not only create its own Oxygen, but to subsume its own creation, it inhales as soon as it exhales. This is a very literal rendering of the image, though a fantastical conclusion, which sticks in my craw a little, but still, the spread of Feeney’s movements seem to be catching the air that is released by and within the movement itself.

With this in mind, it occurred to me today that the tunnelling and clawing of Caroline, of Feeney’s hands, reminds me of the imprisoned Entomologist in Abe Kobo’s Woman in the dunes, trying to climb his way out of the inevitable. It’s almost as if what we are hearing is what he, the entomologist, was hearing; his entire mind and body concentrated on the escape, his anxious mind focused solely on the surface that crumbles underneath his touch, that buckles and then folds under the weight.

It’s a trite observation, but all of this talk of authenticity, whether it be made by the critic or the recordist, in relation to field recording, seem as outmoded as calling an artist a fraud for using their hands to excite a drum rather than a stick, or indeed for an artist to laud their choice as qualitative.

Here’s the Gertrude Stein quote:

“It was then I first realised the difference between a painting and out of doors. I realised that a painting is always a flat surface and out of doors never is, and that out of doors is made up of air and a painting has no air, the air is replaced by a flat surface, and anything in a painting that imitates air is illustration and not art.”

Here’s the Barbara Guest poem:

painting has no air . . .
          —Gertrude Stein

That there should never be air

in a picture surprises me.

It would seem to be only a picture

of a certain kind, a portrait in paper

or glue, somewhere a stickiness

as opposed to a stick-to-it-ness

of another genre. It might be

quite new to do without

that air, or to find oxygen

on the landscape line

like a boat which is an object

or a shoe which never floats

and is stationary.

Still there

are certain illnesses that require

air, lots of it. And there are nervous

people who cannot manufacture

enough air and must seek

for it when they don’t have plants,

in pictures. There is the mysterious

traveling that one does outside

the cube and this takes place

in air.

It is why one develops

an attitude toward roses picked

in the morning air, even roses

without sun shining on them.

The roses of Juan Gris from which

we learn the selflessness of roses

existing perpetually without air,

the lid being down, so to speak,

a 1912 fragrance sifting

to the left corner where we read

“La Merveille” and escape.

(To be continued)

Richard Pinell’s The Watchful Ear
Patrick Farmer website

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