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Farmers Manual RLA (recent live archive) DVD (Mego)

It can seem like the narrator of Jorge Luis Borges' Library of Babel contemplating the infinite: '..the formless and chaotic nature of almost all the books...' For every line of straightforward statement, there are leagues of senseless cacophonies, verbal jumbles and incoherences.

Borges' story, frequently cited as prescient of the ever-growing networked data store via which you're reading this review, might also be applied to Farmers Manual's DVD, website and other products.

Should strategies be developed to negotiate such volumes of data as FM/RLA provides? Mapless, it's easy to lose one's way. Lost, one is forced to survey the landscape in detail, to pay attention to both the immediate surroundings and the horizon: one becomes an explorer, willing or not.

It's tempting to describe the group's soundscapes in terms of terrain: tundras, screes, forestation or weather patterns: fogbanks, rainsqualls, cloudshapes. If nature is gnomic, is FM too? Trying to find meaning could be like trying to interpret the shapes of sand dunes or waves. Alternatively FM might be viewed as a Rosicrucian-like sect practicing a machine coded gnosis, but it's too lazy to make do with these images. Better to pay attention to a 1998 interview included on this disc which reveals a likeably insouciant attitude; make your own sense of our work, they seem to say:

Interviewer: First of all I'd like you to explain the Farmers Manual method for making sounds and music. Mathias Gmachl: It ís all improvised. Oswald Berthold: No, it ís not. Stefan Possert: What a strange question!

FM claim to work towards as pure a machinic extemporisation as may be attained by a small core of operators. Unbalancing the Kraftwerk equilibrium of man/machine, the spectral traces of the former scarcely trouble the movements of the latter.

FM at times field the ingenuousness of free improvisation, at times the generative output of Confield-era Autechre, the noisescapes of Oval, the dadaisms of V/Vm.

There are sudden interruptions, hums, crackles, static, abrupt changes, developments in geological time, samples interrogated (snatches of 1970s Miles Davis, hardhouse, OMD), exhilarating noise-fests, there are beats and there's beatlessness, sets by fellow travellers such as Pan Sonic, Russell Haswell et al. All available on the DVD or downloadable from their site. There's even some gloriously pointless (or deeply symbolic?) video.

Each FM concert is an experiment. In their playfulness, their dedication to research, their preparedness to walk tightropes without a net and to batter your ears, FM deserve, even demand your attention.

Reviewer: Colin Buttimer


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