By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Recent Live Archive
"On the internet, rumor and fact become as one," argued Le Monde International editor Ignacio Ramonet in a 1999 interview. Four years later, it's still hard to disagree: In an era when Google has become a verb, a search engine is often a subterfuge used to scavenge the personal debris of colleagues and potential significant others. And Ramonet isn't convinced that this is a good thing. "The new ideology of continuous real-time information [produces a] proliferation of information in a form which is more and more diffuse and less and less subject to control," he says. You can almost hear media critic Marshall McLuhan whimpering from his grave as his "global village" is steamrolled to clear extra server space for HotorNot.com.
But don't despair: Viennese experimental laptop group Farmers Manual's new Recent Live Archive DVD (Mego)--an exhaustive and exhilarating collection of live recordings, photos of performances, text interviews and more--is proof that if lack of control is a sign of tomorrow, then it's also the future of rock 'n' roll. Containing a stunning 3 days, 21 hours, 38 minutes, and 3 seconds of music--including, the press release claims, "every locatable live recording and more dating from 1995 to now"--the DVD presents an almost indigestible maelstrom of avant-garde digital signal processing that flickers from sound to sound with a sneering disregard for continuity. Many of these recordings simulate multiple personality schizo-babble--a "proliferation of information" indeed, but one that proves that Farmers Manual themselves are no strangers to information overload.
A loose group of PowerBook manglers whose size has ranged from three to five members, Farmers Manual hyperactively assemble spluttering sonic sinewaves and overloaded computer processing (best showcased on the 60-minute shuffle-mode masterpiece of 1998's Explorers We). Their music may owe some debt to experimental music's exploration of process over product--the insistence on means over ends that drove John Cage's landmark "Imaginary Landscape" or any one of Derek Bailey's restlessly motile guitar manipulations. But in the sheer quantity of material included on their DVD, Farmers Manual's trademark sound feels less like music and more like an intensive accumulation of data (their multilayered and impossible-to-navigate website, http://subnet.web.fm, is much the same). In fact, the dilemma of navigation is central to the incredible aggregation of media on this DVD. Where to begin? How to begin? What to listen to, and what to listen for? One way not to begin, as I discovered, is by watching 20 minutes of home video footage focused on unnamed men who are tearing apart an apartment wall, wandering around, and playing with an anxious looking cat.
Actually, on second thought, maybe that's the perfect way to begin. The aimless meanderings of the men in the DVD's opening sequence offer the perfect metaphor for negotiating several days' worth of recordings: It's better to channel-surf lazily from the slowly evolving loops of Farmers Manual's earliest recorded show (10/13/1995 in Vienna) to the fiercely rapid-fire noise of their appearance at 2001's What Is Music festival in Melbourne than to attempt to plot a salient trajectory through the mess--believe me (I'm nearly 50 hours through this thing, swear to God!), I've looked hard, and there isn't one.
Treating this DVD like any other music release would be a massive mistake. Farmers Manual may bring the noise, they may tease your eardrums, they may even occasionally "rock," but they don't make tracks. They make networks: huge, slobbering, unwieldy accretions of stuff that defies conventional "listening methods." Explorers of modern sounds really have no other choice: Get this DVD, and get lost.