In December last year I interviewed Patrick Farmer about his book try I bark, for a short article commissioned by The Wire. Below you can read the full-length interview. It will be followed in a few weeks’ time by a second instalment, that Patrick and I have decided to add on to our first email exchange, and that will consider other aspects of writing and listening (and responses to more recent texts).
D. One point I’d like to introduce has to do with words as recordings, and specifically your connection of writing with field recording – which forms did it take during your residency in Estonia and how did it result in try I bark?
(Incidentally: one of the first written texts known to mark the passage from Latin to Italian, from the 8th century, addresses ‘writing’ as ‘field’)
P. Arriving in Mooste I had no intention of writing, other than notes to self, aides to memory and my usual habit of scrawling ideas that would later find homes in other mediums, my suitcase was full of my usual, recording devices, booms, various microphones, hydrophones, leaving little room for anything else, I had one empty notepad and one pen.
I grew up in Wales, specifically Powys, which is the largest of the counties yet, and I don’t know if this is still true, has the smallest population, so through a tacit introduction to isolation, I learnt quickly that a lack of human life certainly does not mean you are alone, hiding up trees and watching badgers coming out of their sets at sundown, fish biting at my toes in remote lakes, herons flying out of the ferns that grew well beyond my height, but I wasn’t prepared for the intensity that I found, or found me. Mooste is an environment in which all layers are exposed, possessing minute differences, yet paradoxically this seclusion, it is so incredibly loud, and I would imagine each person would experience this differently, some choosing to gravitate toward the communities there, myself, being as I was not in a good place when I arrived, I went further into that melancholy, I became fixated by it, experiencing it as I did, through the topography of place, which became universal. I was unable to separate the silver birch from aspects of Greek myth, from my own bones, and so I think, from the earth, not the land, I came to rest upon field recording then as a thing in need of its own method, where field, as a concept, does not exist as something that can be tied down. That a recording, a document, a conversation, no matter what form it may eventually take, only pertains a relevance to that moment, and so cannot be considered integral, rather ephemeral, like the scattering of willowherb. And like willowherb, these ideas, they require a lot of day light, and room, to disperse, to change and move their infinitesimal patterns, their veins.
This does not necessarily mean I agree with myself. I think of John Berger’s concept of field, of Charles Olson, William Carlos Williams, Toshiya Tsunoda, Michael Pisaro, William Blake, Benjamin Lee Whorf, and now Meillsasoux, each inspires me as much as in turn they confuse me as I move on to the next in light of the previous. Each is a field, and so bares some resemblance to the other, but upon closer inspection, when one spends time, remains still, or walks round and round the perimeter, in mind of a thousand different things (I find succumbing to multiplicity and losing sight of totality unfortunately quite easy to do). So this book could have easily been a field recording, I don’t know where else it could have come from, there are of course differences, to large to go into here, as the scale of interpretation – I have often thought that as a listening experience, field recording is much more solitary, as a method of interpretation, than say reading prose, or shall I stick to the term poetry, who knows. But if I read only one small section of try I bark, I can see myriad interpretations opening up, an oxbow grafted to an oxbow – the image of walking in circles I think is one of the most regular occurrences in the book – adhering to the circumference – and all this leads me to consider that the ties between writing and recording sound can create more chimera’s, to borrow Baudelaire’s image, than any of us can comfortably carry, where their existence becomes so loud, thus we become so nauseous, their smell overpowering, and as we are bent double, their weight forcing us down, we are of course able to discover a whole new reality, no longer vertical, but this is no good, as we then exist in far too many places, and so this impossibility of a dual existence, for me, leads to over saturation, and the all too easy speculative and comparative misinformation of the ties that bind. This awareness is far from consilient, as I have found that creating these inferences where there need be none, lends itself to what Roland Barthes has called an ‘extreme disparity of structure’, but it goes further than that, as Barthes was referring to the watered down experience of the reader, or the listener, but here I think it refers to the diluted interpretation and perception of the, shall we say creator, or perhaps I should say troublemaker, which no doubt leads to an even less vital, or poignant, experience for those on the other end, and on and on it goes.
D. As I read try I bark I found the text at times drawing me in, at times prompting me to lift my head off the page and consider the environment (sonic, but not only) around – the recording of your field, encountering, inhabiting and affecting my field and my recordings and every time anew. I thought a lot of this and how the words call me in and push me out of the pages. Then I thought of this writing as a mark of impermanence, not total or concluded but prompting other dynamics. The discovery of my being here (in every different here), reading, not in your place but in mine and connected to yours through these words.
P. Yes, try I bark, is certainly not a sonic book, I would like to dismiss such a nonsensical term, if it is to do with field, then it is to do with everything my capacity can contain, consider, relate to, comprehend, whiff, everything I can perceive as I stick my head down the well, occasionally coming up, not for air, but for a reminder, for difference, that neither one pertains a relevance over the other, because they are so different, and should be treated as such.
I have never felt much of a kinship for a writing, in this instance, that tells you what to think, that covers ones eyes, nose, ears, mouth, that binds hands behind backs and ties legs together. With this in mind, I find my book completely ordinary, in every way, and that is what I seem to be striving for, not only in my writing, but when I write prose scores, and more and more, when I perform.
A few years ago I became obsessed with the French naturalists, with Zola, Balzac, and now I find myself drawn to the so-called nouveau roman, to Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet, to Duras stepping out of her door to listen, to exist, and Grillet, sitting in his bath and memorising texts, not to the soup of adjectives of Flaubert – though I will always marvel at the skill and depth of character. I know most would disagree, but I find a lot of similarities in my text to every day life, indeed they are portrayed in a manner specific to me, whatever that is, taking influence as I do from as much the poet Susan Howe as two male squirrels chasing each other round and round the bark of a veteran oak. And like everyday life, they are plurivalent and open to an ever expanding and contracting interpretation and forgetfulness.
This can be nothing but a field, I do not know how to leave, it is not a recording of one, and I would ask, is this a good thing? Adding to the already abundant layers, but everything one adds, does it replace what they remove? And I seem to have been through this before, with microphones, trying to remember to learn from my misgivings, or immaturities, the befuddled conception of a one who struggles to find the merit in what he or she is doing in the world. I realise this is incredibly wooly, and as such, quite suffocating and warm, as I wrote try I bark in July it was so very hot, another atmosphere I wasn’t prepared for, too hot to sleep with the flies buzzing around me, so the last thing I needed was wool. But this restlessness of material, of wool, is inherent in the book, I never stopped moving away from environment, from the Lucretian cobwebs, or in this case the farmyard animals coats, but I always returned to the same place, to the silver birch trees that lined the lake, the jetty that stuck out over its tension and existed amongst the reeds that seemed to want no part of it. I don’t know what that means, all I know is that it continued to happen.
D. try I bark as reading experience, non amplified, no possible synopses or critical points, it’s an encounter, not only of you and the environment but also you with the words you write, sometimes it’s as if you’re meeting them on the page, or marvel at them, you discover an-other in the words (maybe heautoscopy ties in here?) A constant discovery to the point of no longer being safe in knowing: is this, as you say at one point, ‘being part’?
P. Yes, this other is something that both fascinates and horrifies me, I can never get away from the others beating throat, though I can’t see it, or hear it, I know I create it, it is a throat that could not be more different from mine yet when it opens I can hear only myself, and I am lost. One could spend their entire life researching this, manifest as it is in objective reality, as much subjective and metaphysical. The saddening history of the exploitation of twins, of merging. Watching a Beech grow over the years, its branches, if they are not shed, as is so often the case with Beech, merging into each other, folklore is full of this metamorphosis.
Part of me would like to spend as long as it takes now peeling this writing, as if I have a choice, wondering as I strip away, whether I am creating the layers, breathing into them, or whether discovering, or receiving? So this book is wholly exploratory, as is my enjoyment of walking – something I cannot get away from as I write. I wish to move away from field recording, if only to forget for a time, to not be lumbered like Sancho panza by this Don Quixote.
D. There are no page numbers in try I bark, it defies quotation/reference and invites to be in there, in the space of reading (and of poetry as doing). There is also void in these pages: the unheard? There seemed to be nothing to decipher behind the white, no hidden codes other than what is unravelled in my reading and listening and again and again. The book seems to challenge the notion of ‘document’ as something fixed; rather, I’d say document as the changeable trace of the experience that made it – it points at a transience, it constantly re-makes its field – this suggest that there isn’t one prescribed way of being in an environment.
P. I’m not entirely sure what is unheard these days, in our imaginations we hear everything, and we have always felt it. and ecologically speaking, hiding behind the sense of magnificence and awe, there is a softly bleating sadness. Writing, I have said, is a way of exploring the auditory imagination, of hearing that which did not exist until that moment, but I feel no solace in this history, I used to, but it was short lived. I wish to peel away the layers, as I have no wish to go back there, try I bark concerns two weeks in July of 2011, and of course I am the only one who has the imagistic references, the life behind and around the shapes on the page, but when I read again, something I have done a little for this interview, environments merge, not only physical, but geographical, biological, historical, even economical, I try to live vehemently in the ‘real world’, the local, as Williams said, the present that is all we can hope to know. So I do not look at the book to look back, simply to look.
With this in mind, you are right when you say there is nothing to decipher, I have no message for others, it is an open work, I cannot dismiss the thoughts that come to the mind of another, environment is only a word, I would spell it differently every time I put pen to paper if I thought it would make a difference.
D. The introductory text of the book says it is to be read out loud and outside. There are Latin words, rhythmic and visual arrangements throughout these pages: words are not just signifiers but also shapes and sounds. It seems you’re forcing various degrees of transparency and opacity of the words, once more to open up to the actual experience of reading beyond prescriptive interpretation.
P. The Latin was included as, well, as a vague attempt to portray my confusion and joyful bewilderment with the ever expanding boundaries of a flora and fauna beyond my experience, but also because of their beauty of form, regardless of their history, it does not matter to me one bit whether the reader finds the will and inclination to research the meaning around the shapes. And the enjoyment of saying these words out loud, perhaps even in the presence of the very thing they are referring to, is a pastime all to itself, reacting with whatever topography one chooses to be surrounded by, embracing the shapes of a rebounding and disintegrating echo.
D. Thinking of the interplay between words as recordings and words in recalling, how much do you write on site and what happens in the editing process?
P. I would love to answer this, or try to, but I think I would cover pages and pages in the refutal, and yet begrudging acceptation, of the notion, validity and existence of what it is to document.
D. Any particular thoughts you might (or not) want to disclose about/around the title of the book?
P. Ironically, considering its function as a sheath, a coating, protection, my own particular interpretation of bark has differed from most others. Most have leapt to the resounding noun of animals, yet I saw it as the book itself, the cover, the images contained therein – it’s thought that the word bark is derived from birch, which is its own association in the book and sticks out beyond the pages, though perhaps this just expands the page, rather than leaves it. Though funnily, a bark can also be considered as a cry that resembles another, I like to think this interpretation rings true for either noun.