fm home FmEsoterica > NextLevelArticle ${ Edit }}+-C67

(originally published in dwukropek magazine, 2002)

(originally published in dwukropek magazine, 2002)

farmersmanual Take Futurism to the Next Level

They've been called "media art at its most anarchistic" and "pop music for the year 4000": Who are farmersmanual and what do they want with your IP packet headers?

The Next Step to Attaining Cult Status

This fall Farmers Manual, the formerly Austria-based electronic-music and multimedia collective, take their uniquely bent vision of The Order of Things one step further.

The imminent release of their DVD-Video/ROM will only serve to add to their outré appeal, because they're essentially giving away something for free. Like the Grateful Dead (the ultimate cult band), who not only allowed their fans to tape their shows, but even encouraged them by reserving the best section of the concert hall for those who wanted to do so, FM are not only issuing all of their extant live recordings ? over 100 hours' worth! ? in the form of a DVD, but will be making all of the individual concerts available for download from their website. This gives rise to another parallel with the Dead: since more of the video material will be offered over the Net than on the DVD itself, one can foresee a time when hardcore FM fans will be sending files back and forth to each other in much the same way that Deadheads still exchange tapes of "Tampa '71" for "Tacoma '82".

Busted!

Message: 24

Date
Thu, 16 Mar 2000 23:30:03 -0500
From
XXX
Subject
my cd player was sabotaged by farmers manual

I was doing my regular half-assed remix of farmers manual (for fun) and now my beat transmission software is busted. what can i do to fix it. this has never happened to me. does anyone know anything about this program?

History and Disinformation

The story apparently begins when some first-year students get kicked out of the prestigious Institut für elektroakustik, experimentelle und angewandte Musik, part of Vienna's renowned Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst ("If we had known ahead of time that they were going to apply attendance as a criterion, we would have gone to class.") and then join up with fellow dropouts from other visual arts programs. They spend years holed up in a former motorcycle garage on the edge of Vienna's 5th District, kept company only by a cat named "Wurst" (Austrian dialect for "ma?e piwo", i.e. "no big deal"), later to be joined by mysterious characters from the local underground techno scene who go by names like "Dextro", "Pure", and "Glow".

Late one night, while in the latter stages of a "group biochemical experiment", the lads are listening to techno demigod Jeff Mills' "Live at the Liquid Room, Tokyo". As Mills' loop from "Untitled B" repeats over and over, the secret underlying message eventually takes shape in the mind: "Here's the laptop, Here's the laptop..." The very next day, as though by command, they purchase their first Powerbooks and pledge to abandon their primitive analogue ways and lead an all-digital life. Soon thereafter, they change the name of the group to its present form, "farmersmanual" ? one word, no space, no initial capitals ? "for full Internet compatability".

Also, around this time, FM take their cue from Daniël Baranoff-Rossiné (1888-1942), Dada sculptor and painter, who developed a synaesthetic piano (the "piano optophonique") which projected a different colour onto a screen for each note. Convinced that the visual and auditory parts of the brain are capable of working together in peace and harmony, FM begin applying these advances to their live performances.

Chaos Theory in Action

As late as 1998 in group interviews, farmersmanual were still openly disagreeing as to whether "it's all improvised" or not, and likewise whether their sounds are mostly generated or collected. To this day there has never been any clear consensus as to the number of members actually in the group at any given time. To add to the confusion, the four compatriots who all hail from the ".at" web domain recently added a fifth, from ".au". (cf. the common American question: "Austria ? isn't that where they have the koala bears?") As to his role in FM, this Australian only enigmatically explains, "I help people connect things."

There are persistent rumours that a second Australian has recently joined. If in eight years FM has gone from conventional rock instruments to a full-on techno setup to laptop trio, and in turn added a full-time video artist/web designer and professional Net expert, one shudders to think what this latest person's function might be.

Since "Farmers Manual" has thus far been used as a group name, track title, and album title, the name and concept seem to transcend the individual members. The explanation offered by veteran British noise-improv group AMM about their own "name" might well also apply to FM ? "It was there a few minutes before we thought of it."

Perhaps, in order to avoid an overly didactic interpretation of the name "farmersmanual", instead of "instructions for use", one should think along the lines of "serving suggestions".

Moreover, they've stated their objective in a live situation as being the setting up of a laboratory or workshop situation to be experienced jointly by the group members and the audience. The word "installation" is a useful reminder for those who fail to be thrilled by a "performance" which consists of four or five people staring into computer screens for several hours at a time.

An Ordinary Evening with farmersmanual

The following report from "konfrontationen '99 ? 20th international festival for jazz & improved music" in Nickelsdorf, Austria was posted on "The Wire" mailing list:

[...] 2 a.m. On the left side of stage, a screen with a projected text ("I never used it."); at right, four chairs and a long table holding a bank of laptops and terminals. After many minutes of a Throbbing Gristle-type throb, the quartet of ostensible computer jocks finally files onstage. Visuals evolve into heavily Russian Futurist and Constructivist motifs, numerals (cf. Charles Demuth's "I Saw the Number Five in Gold"), maybe buildings, maybe railroad cars. The equivalent of shortwave numbers stations for the eyes, an eerie, unsettling hyper-technological vibe for the ears; on the level of the Hafler Trio's best. In attempting to determine whether the rhythms of the visuals are coinciding with the rhythms of the cracklings and the shifting drone patterns, the mind is lured along some previously uncharted perceptual interface. The audience begin to behave strangely: people get up to leave, two trip in otherwise adequately lighted areas; bottles clink; someone drops a glass; some begin to eat compulsively or fidget; a drunk starts hollering. In the next 20 minutes, at least ten people will fall asleep. Words on the screen constantly morph into new ones, then the visuals return to images which include (1) strips of film, or are they really insect chromosomes; (2) a highly treated human face, maybe casually taken from a hidden-camera site, morphing slo-mo into a mask of agony, like Munch's famous angst-face as the impact of the nuclear blast hits; (3) motifs seemingly from the band's "Explorers_We" web page; (4) colorful Czech industrial/commercial typography from the 1920s, like from a matchbox or carton of detergent, going by too quickly for the mind to retain; and (5) the German phrases "don't smoke poisonous tobacco ... don't drink poisonous alcohol". When red and black dominate the screen, the atmosphere is non-threatening (cf. Kraftwerk's "Man-Machine"), but when purple "gothic" colors appear, the audience usually somehow reacts badly. A slow but steady stream of departures accompanies the industrial noise and fleeting orange abstract visuals which shift back to black-and-white. Occasional heckling: The Bespectacled Geekish Member (with a really sharp 5-o'clock-shadow goatee!) either heckles back or confidently flashes the Wa??sa sign of victory. The Autistic-Looking Member often lights up cigarettes -- according to one rumour, this usually means that the new subroutine or software or maybe entire operating system that he's been perfecting is working, so he can relax (he's been known to devise new patches even while onstage during group performances). The Tall Goofy-Looking Member occasionally slips offstage to confirm that the video projections are working properly. At times The One With Bad Skin seems to have a hand in both visuals and music, and confers with The Bespectacled Member. All intermittently crack open soft drinks, pull new cigarettes out of packs, eyes glued to VDTs. The music settles down into a loop: the members leave the stage: no applause. Loop continues, but with an occasional glitch where it's interrupted and replaced by a different one, then back to the first. Punters continue to file out, oblivious to the fact that the interruptions that redirect the program to a different loop are becoming more frequent (the band is probably utilizing a weighted random operation here). When the loop glitches reach a critical point, the music suddenly changes. Members return to stage. After their return to approximately twenty audience members, the visuals often tear down the fourth wall, displaying one of the computer screens, and the various pointing-and-clicking is visible for all to see. Hints of a live feed or stream somehow involved. The music now seems to have begun as samples ? but what from? This is jazz improvisation as reconstructed by some future civilization or alien life-form, keeping the spontaneity and fun, but sound-wise reminiscent of David Tudor, Merzbow, even zoviet*france. Always instantaneous variety. After another hour, as pre-dawn deep blue skylight comes through the open portions of the courtyard roof, the music world's answer to a hacker convention quietly adjourns. Tedium factor: "Query undefined -- check your settings." Drug of choice: black Afghan hash, Hawaiian mushrooms, Isostar®

And the above report elicited a humble response from an FM member: > it was the machines. we done no thing.
> just victims in a vacuum

Other Artistic Pranks and Provocations

At the 2001 Venice Bienniale, for two days FM cruised between Giardini and S.Zaccaria in their "Ship of Fools", bombarding, bewildering, and bemusing passing boats and onshore pedestrians with strange sounds that could have come from beneath the water itself, and at night, adding projections to their self-described "esoteric exercise in mobile computing".

This year, at the Biennale Internationale Arte Giovani in Torino, they took their abstruse machinations to a whole new level ? by monitoring the Internet traffic to and from the cybercafé in the same building, and then using that data to generate the music and visuals for their concert. Essentially, the audience in the hall was experiencing a pure "sonification" and "visualization" of the information contained in the headers produced by Internet activity (i.e. websurfing, email) to and from the building ? namely, the Internet protocol numbers, length of packets, and time stamps.

Music as Information and Vice Versa

In the 1970s world of dub and reggae, when King Tubby's records included the sound of tape rewinding, to what extent did this reference the rest of the music? After all, the listener can hear a portion of the tune played at high speed, backwards. Does this sound constitute music, or carry information in any other way?

Similarly, is FM presenting music, or information? Which conceptions of music and of information are presupposed in the question?

Their music thus produces an unsettling quality not only on the basis of sensory stimuli, but on epistemological grounds: it's not just the frequent visceral sense of foreboding, like that moment on the roller-coaster just before it drops and accelerates, but the listener's never being completely sure when the various telegraphic beepings and/or rude rushes of digital noise constitute music, and what input is causing it. In the meantime, the FM people continue to talk to their machines, the machines talk to each other, the machines talk back to the people, and sometimes the people even talk to each other.

And in Torino this view of "information" culminated in their new approach. No longer satisfied with the random processes which produced their last release, "Explorers_We" (which at the time was called "the Sgt. Pepper" and "first masterpiece" of this particular subgenre), FM has now taken the hard line: If a series of digits conveys any information whatsoever, then strictly speaking, it is no longer "random".

Perpetuum Mobile

At their best, FM present both the glee and the glitz of a carousel ? which, come to think of it, also constitutes a machine, was also technologically showy in its own time, can also be set into motion fairly indefinitely, and is also something which must be experienced live rather than via recording.

This machinic aspect also extends to the farmersmanual CDs, which often lead a dual existence as both musical recordings and little machines. At one point, for instance, fsck, their second full release, offers 150 seconds of a harmless noise loop ("dzz ... dz-dzzt!"), divided into 73 tracks. The result? When the CD is played on shuffle, it's as though a harmless mechanized mosquito has been inserted into your CD tray, or even somehow programmed right into the player.

Why the fascination with machines and processes set in motion like automatons? Is it just cybernetics? Well, we are after all in Central Europe; these Golem-like things are expected to occur now and then.

As for human intervention and authorship, what matters are the parameters, the criteria, and the presets. Mark Sinker has written, "As lo-fi electronics improvisor Gordon Mumma once said, 'I consider that my designing and building of circuits is really "composing".' The Xenakis-blueprint for the Doomsday Composing Machine, the global computer-synth with presets for order and chaos, choice and chance, interwove scores as maps with circuits as maps with recordings as maps..."

Fun Facts to Know and Tell

This year, the ever-trendsetting Ars Electronica festival awarded the FM founding member who calls himself the "ostructor" with an Honorable Mention in the category for best computer music. The "artist" listed for the CD in question is "pxp"; its title is "while(p){print"."," "x$p++}".

When they tour Japan, FM often hang out with Polish expatriate composer Zbigniew Karkowski, perhaps the severest of them all!!

One FM member confesses that for the better part of a year, his morning "wake-up music" was Kurt Schwitters' "Ursonate", that famous Dada masterpiece of poetical nonsense.

Each day by email each member of FM receives: a "number of the day" (usually 10 digits to the left of the decimal and 5 digits to the right); a "word of the day" (recent examples include: protowziarwblt; schblsch.iøep; verrömkrömk); and a "gargoyle of the day" which is a random nonsequitur utterance (e.g. "not every problem can be solved with salad") produced by a "virtual papier-maché gargoyle" in a secret game room somewhere on the Internet.

The personal websites of two of them include links to the Surrealist Compliment Generator, the Dada Engine, and various sites related to OuLiPo? and 'pataphysics!

Several of them are reputed to be accomplished amateur mycologists!

All the Specs

"Off the top your head, could you tell me some of the software that you use?" "Oh no! You're not really going to write about that stuff, are you?!" "But someone reading the article will want to know, and that's the only information they'll want." "Well OK, but can I at least send it to you later in electronic form? I really don't want to think about this."

[later:] >Applications (Mac OS 9): Absynth 1.0.2; Acrobat Reader 4.0; Adaptec Jam 3.0; BBEdit 6.0; Digital Performer 3.0; DiskWarrior?®; Fetch 4.0.2; Final Cut Pro; FreeMIDI?; GraphicConverter? US PPC; iTunes; MacArmyKnife?; MOTU Audio/AudioDesk?; niftytelnet-1.1-ssh-r3; Nord Modular; OMS; Peak? DV 3.0; Peak? TDM 2.5; PulsarGenerator2001?.demo; ReCycle?; Reel-Eyes?; SC2.2.11f; SH8888_PPC; SonicWorx? PBundle 2.0.5; sonicWORX Studio 1.51?; SoundAppPPC? 2.7.2; SoundMaker? 1.0.3; SPARKle; Super ResEdit? 2.4; Web Retriever 2.0b3 PPC. Note: this list does not include algorithms like Granular Synthesis, which are included with various software.

[still later] "What about ProTools??" "Everyone starts out with ProTools?. It's still on my machine only because I never bothered to take it off."

Looking to the Mysterious East

As far as intellectual influences are concerned, FM seem to hold a serious appreciation for a certain strain of culture in the Slavic world, as can be seen by the reverence given to Lem, Tarkovsky, and the Strugatskys, as well as contemporary Slovenian "Noordung Zero Gravity Art".

And as the best hint to understanding the group's enterprise in general, one member expresses admiration for the early Soviet "cinema train". These were production facilities which would travel via rail in order to film documentaries of large construction and industrial projects; then while on site, the film crew would also develop and edit the film specifically for the purpose of screening it on the train itself to the workers, for the edification and inspiration of all involved.

One regrets that FM didn't follow the technology all the way through to the vision of Stalin, who ordered the development of a giant projector called "The Rocket": it was to be the size of a railway car, with film reels the size of six-story buildings, and capable of projecting films of didactic worth onto passing clouds.

Or maybe that's the next step for FM.

? John Wójtowicz

some relevant web pages:

Farmers Manual recordings may be ordered from: www.mdos.at

re the upcoming release, check with: www.mego.at

see:

http://www.bushparty.com/htms/ironcurtain02.htm

- -

Friday September 20, 2002

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