Patrick Farmer's Oxford

Original Photo by ajagendorf25 via flickr.com/photos/ajagendorf25/
Original Photo by ajagendorf25 via flickr.com/photos/ajagendorf25/

 

As a new resident, musician and sound artist Patrick Farmer takes us on a peaceful and contemplative dérive through the listening spots of Oxford.

These small writings were written over the course of a cold and still day in November 2010. I had only been living in Oxford for two months and took the opportunity to listen for spaces of an unusual auditory slant. Many of the entries seek to find areas in Oxford that are partially devoid of the typical sounds one would expect to hear in a busy City. I find this can be an intriguing way of actively listening out for quietude, remaining aware that whilst I may often hear spaces in this way, their stillness is something that is commonly taken for granted.

Holywell Street

 

Holywell Street

As you walk further into Holywell Street, you reach a mid-point, where the traffic behind and in front is sufficiently muted to be able to hear what’s going on around you. The soft expanse of New College Chapel’s heating system filling the air, and as you keep walking, snatches of individual generators and various heating pipes are heard. Cars do sometimes pass at this mid-point, but what’s listening without a bit of distraction. All along Holywell Street, as indeed all over Oxford, there are the hugely varied sounds of bicycles, the grating and rasping of some of the more antiquated bikes have to be heard to be believed. As you walk further along towards Broad Street, passing the Holywell Music Theatre, it is as if the pipes of the various terraced houses are singing, the city heard under concrete.

Wellington Square

 

Wellington Sq

Surrounded by the faculty buildings of the University of Oxford, the noise of the city is drawn off here; once again you are able to hear birds singing, and leaves rustling. Due to such quiet, every sound heard seems to be verging on the hyperbolic. 

St Giles Street

 

St Giles Steet

Starting at the south end of St Giles Street at 9:59am, preferably on a Sunday morning, walk northwards. The swaths of traffic make it difficult initially, but not impossible, to discern the bell ringing of St Giles Church that starts at 10:00am. As you continue walking it seems as if the flow of cars are carrying the sound away from you only to bring it back moments later. The Bell stops at 10:05am, by which time, if you walk anything like me, you should be close to the Church, with Little Clarendon street to your left.

Oxford University Parks

 

Oxford University parks

Eyes shut, listening to the trees, walking in from Headington hill park, serene quietude immersed on both sides by water, the Oxford canal and the River Cherwell, myriad ducks, even a wood duck! The potential of every footstep as it resounds on the various bridges that lead into the park, a wonderful way of navigating your way around Oxford whilst avoiding all the hustle. The white noise of the locks intermingling with the honking of Canada Geese, and the gradual encroachment of the horizontal drone of the tyres on the cycle path, still providing an aural backdrop for those that desire one.

Pitt Rivers Museum

Location: South Parks Road, Oxford

Pitt Rivers Museum

Located at the back of the Natural History Museum, the Pitt Rivers is permeated by a muted light, which for me promotes a specifics of listening. The Museum is a vast collection over three floors and is home to a number of rare audio recordings, many of which were made in the early 1900’s. More people should enquire as to the access of their audio archive, in the hope that it becomes more accessible. The museum is also home to a large number of fantastic musical instruments, ranging from gigantic war drums from the hills of Assam, Guguchu voice disguisers from Bihar made out of the casing of a spiders egg, Hardanger fiddles from 19th century Norway, to Fairy bells, a variety of English harp dating back to the early 1900’s. The Museum also posses some incredible Lamellaphones, I feel I could quite happily list all the instruments on display, such is the diversity.

The Top Floor of Blackwells Bookshop

 

Blackwells

This is not to say that the rest of the bookshop isn’t worth any attention, but the top floor, home to a great deal of second hand books, is a shop unto itself. With very little external sound succeeding in penetrating the thin old windows except for the ubiquitous church bells on the hour, the auditory din of the hugely squeaky floorboards provides enough entertainment as to warrant ignoring the books altogether. Sitting down in one of the chairs provided and closing ones eyes, just listening, waiting for the sounds of the floorboards, as if they were communicating with one another, groaning under the weight.

Bodleian Library Courtyard

Location: Broad St, Oxford

Bodleian Library

Upon entering this incredibly sonorous space you are greeted by the rarest of signs, ‘silence please’. Sadly such silence is rarely present, but if you sit on the steps for long enough, it does slowly encroach, the striking contrast between voice and its lack is fantastically apparent. The rumbling of the footsteps on the stone floor leads one to question a sense of space, the echo seeming to stand still, lasting and shrinking the quadrangle. Perhaps the silence is for the various gargoyles that line the walls, and not, as would be inferred, for the diligent readers burrowed within. Regardless of the somewhat predictable lack of quiet, it is still a pleasure to be outdoors in the centre of a busy city and hear very little of what one has come to expect.

Queens Street

 

Queens Street

Again, not much sound is able to penetrate this peaceful part of the city centre. Be still for long enough and of course that which was hidden under your footsteps becomes apparent, but within such stillness the perceptible sound has gained a rounded warmth of penetration that adds to the calm. On occasion I have heard a muted piano emanate from the walls, the music retaining elements of the stone that it has seeped through, disorientating and beautiful simultaneously.

The Thames Footpath

 

Thames Footpath

Accessible from various points in Oxford, walking south along Iffley Road, and turning right at Donnington Bridge Road to be met by the rowing club and Donnington Bridge, from here it is possible to walk back up to the city centre or to walk down to Iffley Lock and even London, if one so wished. I wrote this on a cold and particularly windy November day, the traffic had been somewhat overwhelming in conjunction with the weather and I was pleased to find myself on the river path. The wind and the traffic lose their edge off the road, even becoming somewhat pleasant to experience, intermingled with the sounds of the trees. When my ears adjusted I heard the sounds of the Black Headed Gulls, Coots, etc, washing themselves in the river, and there was stillness, until I heard the warning cries of the various sea birds and water fowl as a canal boat approached, which surprisingly produced a flat and non obtrusive sound.  The Thames footpath is a rich sound environment in such weather, with the melodic clanging of the flagpoles, various pitches resounding alongside rusty gates blowing in the wind and the squeaking and popping of many plants and trees.

Albion Beatnik Bookstore

Location: 34 Walton St, Oxford

Albion Beatnik Bookstore

Having visited this shop several times, I have only been lucky enough to get in once, not due to its popularity you understand, but due to its irregular opening hours and lack of information as to when the shop is actually open. Far from a deterrent, it just made the place more and more appealing, as it is easy to forget the habit of regarding all shops in the same mould as the monopoly of convenience stores that now reside in and around our daily lives. On the one time I have successfully visited the Albion, I was immediately struck by the warmth and individuality of the place, a dramatic conga solo being levelled from the stereo system, a quaint little café in-house, and a lovely array of diverse literature lining the walls. I wish more places like this existed.

Oxford Botanic Gardens

Location: Rose Lane, Oxford

oxford botanic gardens

Standing inside one of the many greenhouses of the botanic gardens, the sound of the city takes on a dramatic hue, it is as if the condensation, making itself known in a series of random almost tonal drips, born of this artificial environment is even louder than the traffic outside. Whilst pinging the needles of a rather large Cactus I realise that what I am hearing is the city through glass and that everything I am hearing has taken on a new form. Back outside, the regular sounds of the cars and the people shift as ones ears adjust.

The Vaults

Location: University Church of St Mary the Virgin, 25 High St, City Centre, Oxford

the vaults

The Vaults is a very popular and ecologically sustainable cafe that sources most of its food from nearby farms, and predominantly serves only what is in season. The stunning ceiling can resound with the mass of voices in the building creating a resonance not unlike that of a swimming pool. I must admit I prefer to sit outside, as on one occasion I was lucky enough to be greeted by the rumpus of the Jackdaws that reside around the church the cafe is attached to.

 


 

Patrick Farmer

 

Patrick Farmer

Patrick Farmer is a musician and sound artist who works within improvisation, scores and composition. Commonly referred to as a percussionist, Farmer will often enlist the help of a drum as a resonator for natural materials or for filtering field recordings.

He has performed throughout Europe and America, including concerts at ICA, Stockholm National Gallery, EyeDrum, The Radiator Festival, Derby Jazz Rhythm A Ning, and many others. He has forthcoming  residencies at Q02 in Brussels and MOKS in Estonia.

In 2008 Farmer co-founded the record label Compost and Height, which focuses on free downloads of improvisation and field recording.

His recordings have been released on Cathnor, Another Timbre, Organised Music from Thessaloniki, amongst others. He is a member of Loris, and frequently performs with Dominic Lash. He has also performed with a number of musicians, including: Helena Gough, Rhodri Davies, Kevin Shea, Gianni Gebbia, Okkyung Lee, and Will Guthrie.

Patrick is currently studying for his Masters in Sonic Arts and Music Composition in Oxford Brookes.

ideasattachedtoobjects.blogspot.com
www.compostandheight.com

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