There is something about Pataphysics that is a sign of the times, a voice from within the many winds of change sweeping through our world
When I was asked to meet and write about Pataphysics, I wasn’t sure what a middleaged man out of touch with contemporary music and the arts could possibly have to say about this young Melburnian. Would I be able to do justice to his music and the milieu it comes from? Yet Pataphysics (Patrick Marks) got me interested, both for what his music was trying to say and do, and for the sentiment and experience behind that music.
For those not familiar with the term pataphysics, a famous philosopher’s definition might help: pataphysics rests on the truth of contradictions and exceptions. It is also the science of imaginary solutions. In the world of the arts, pataphyics as a concept, style, a trend that spawned many pataphysicians is easily a few decades old. The College de Pataphysique founded in France in 1948 had for its motto Eadem mutata resurgo (I arise again the same though changed).
Vague though my point might seem to you now, if you’ve watched the youtube video of Pataphysics’ “Cloaked guerrilla” you may sense the elusive nature of what I’m trying to describe. If one wanted to speak in a very matter-of-fact way, one could just sum it up in a few words: “Mark Patricks, the son of immigrants from Sri Lanka, went to school in Australia, was the only South Asian kid in many places he frequented as a boy (school, neighbourhood, parks etc etc), his sensibility almost typical of a generation that grew up in Australia when South Asians were still a minority, ie when their minority status was hard to evade… Pat’s now grown up (some would beg to differ) to be assimilated/comfortable/well-adjusted (what’s the best way to describe it: I mean, there are various ways of being assimilated in Australia, several experiences of integration). Pat now is a 27-year-old aspiring musician, living the life of an artist dedicated to his music and beliefs (this is important: Pat is not particularly keen on a corporate career or a regular job, music is not a weekend hobby or a childhood passion. His life is organised around his music), and he works on his uni thesis: on indigenous resistance to white settlement in western Victoria.” Who but the most boring sort would worry about the prospects of all of this: music, politics, academics… That’s Pataphysics.
Pat’s work is his life, that is to say that his art is not separable from his life, and his life is his work. Being an upcoming musician is not always a financially comfortable situation to be in, Pat admits, but he’d rather give his life to his music than to a regular office-job in the CBD. And his music is not just about making popular or pleasing music. It’s about an experience trying to come to grips with and make sense of the larger world within which its individual existence takes shape.
Does this sound like too much fuss about just another young man with a trumpet, and an attitude. Well, Pat has no attitude, as far as I can tell. And looking at his songs and speaking to him, how could one not feel that this is an artistic sensibility that is only just finding its voice in a world full of contradictions (ie Pat’s world of “growing up brown”, to use his words, in Australia, and now living in a Melbourne where brown is no more a minority, so far as the naked eye can tell the naked eye that does not look through the prism of official statistics and population surveys, and TV and newspaper fictions).
There is definitely something about Pataphysics that is a sign of the times, a voice from within the many winds of change sweeping through our world. And a voice that is trying to be genuine, that cuts through the appearances of difference and speaks of the common. Some would say that Pataphysics has a long way to go, musically, politically, intellectually etc etc. Hey, but he’s still quite young, and working enthusiastically, exploring different avenues and options as he tries to forge a sentiment and a music that could well be unique.
There are many artistic genres and possibilities that are proving increasingly suited for moulding and appropriation by South Asians from all corners of the globe. We all know that there is an international audience and market for aspiring talent from within the South Asian diaspora. In that sense, Pataphysics is in a place and time that could easily prove to be a winning combination. His early interest and training in music, the opportunities and accolades he’s received from the local music loving community, his interest in politics, his Sri Lankan background, and his visits to Sri Lanka to try and learn the language and culture firsthand, and his love and talent for Sri Lankan music are all ingredients full of promise. They are also, in their fragmentary and contradictory nature, exactly the sort of tapestry that could evoke the spirit of a time in a way that few of the most successful and loudest voices in music could possibly hope to render. Regardless of what you might think of Pataphysics, here is a possibility that only the blind could ignore. And that was the point I was trying to make in the beginning of this write-up on Patrick. Pataphysics: the art/science of exceptions, contradictions; a note, a beat that’s still only being formed, that’s still trying to reach out and sound the right chord, the right step with the larger currents and movements of the people and the world; hopeful, confindent, optimistic, yet-to-be…
Time will tell…