Stephen Cornford & Patrick Farmer · a measure of ground
Although they have worked together for almost four years Stephen Cornford and Patrick Farmer had never worked as a duo until recording this collection of brutalist field recordings at the IN/from the out symposium in Manchester last year. Using a single piezo contact microphone and cassette dictaphone, they scoured the site for materials to produce these recordings in a two day period. The necessary translation of these recordings from cassette to computer and back to cassette has endeavoured to retain the quality of the original recordings, reflecting their interest in the abstraction of source materials through the recording process.
Patrick has been a percussionist since the age of 12 when his mother bought him his first drum kit – eight years later he spent six months studying Hindustani Tabla with Pandit Nayan Ghosh. Ever restless, his current instrumentation of choice is a reel-to-reel player whose motors he hopes will surpass his expectations and objects.
Stephen is a sculptor who reconfigures the mechanical media of old. Active in the fields of both media art and experimental music, he is currently performing with a strictly limited palette of feedback and surface noise sourced from blank mastering dubplates.
A pursue for a form that works on an emotional and intellectual level acquiring some metaphoric and poetic power when effectively mediated. Exploring sounds, exploring the way we hear them, exploring the way we imprint them, exploring the way we forget them, exploring the way we remember them.
This series of random thoughts came to my mind when listening to the Side A of the first tape of a measure of ground. It also came to my mind the sounds of a sword fight on a Wu-Tang Clan album, probably sampled from a dubbed martial arts film…a strangely sounding sword fight. Then I now have nothing to say…and side A is over.
From the liner notes:
“Using a single piezo contact microphone and cassette dictaphone, they scoured the site for materials to produce these recordings in a two day period. The necessary translation of these recordings from cassette to computer and back to cassette has endeavored to retain the quality of the original cassette recordings reflecting their interest in the abstraction of source materials through the recording process.”
Old recording technology opens a complete new sonic universe. Things sound weird, bizarre, different. The recording device becomes part of the process, it does determines in part, the resulting sonorities. By choosing a recording device with its own limitations and features, the composer is taking a defining formal decision, he is giving what he is going to record a sound universe, a formal context.
Sometimes the main role of the composer is methodological. About producing ideas to explore sound in novel, interesting, unlikely and meaningful ways.
I assume that in the field of recording sounds they are two main approaches to technology. One who pursues the most ‘accurate and reliable’ recording. Other that pursues the most unique and interesting sounding capture.
I find both approaches equally relevant but I feel that a measure of ground presents questions and reflections about the action of recordings sounds that are particularly relevant on a contemporary context.
Questions and reflections about the media itself. The media appears as an aspect of strong relevance and not only attached to a high-end approach, but attached to poetic and aesthetic approaches.
..and finally Side B of Tape 2 (Side D), presents a really beautiful fragment that I associate with a train, or a train station. Beautiful soothing break from 3 tape sides of pleasant and accomplished harshness.
a measure of ground is a successful example of how a contemporary sound-capturing artist can respond to the question of what to do to avoid doing what he has been doing knowing that he still will do what he always does.
Sculptor Stephen Cornford and percussionist Patrick Farmer are both associated with Oxford Brookes University’s Sonic Arts Research Unit (SARU), and the Consumer Waste label is their project (ahem). Their first collaboration offers two cassettes in an attractive cardboard box, and here we are in the odd world of conceptual field recording, where the act of recording is itself a big part of the overall story. This particular tale is one of deliberate limitations: just one cheap contact mic, recording to cassette, only two days available, and everything done on one site in Manchester. There’s no attempt to hide the switching on and off, or the tendency of cassette tape to distort loud sounds. The opening track is particularly vivid (and distorted): whipcracking metal sheets, as if fireworks are detonating in a junk yard. The effect is like watching an old film of intense human activity that is completely opaque. Later tracks range from (possibly) metallic garbage in a tumble dryer, to the unexpectedly lovely whistlings of side four, which may have been recorded from inside a pipe. It’s a shock to encounter such beauty in the abrasive world of conceptual sound art.