The moving-image work, Murmur, is not singularly about, or a literal expression of, the atomic bombings but is the beginning of an ongoing historical encounter with this subject. An RCA scholarship in Kyoto in summer 2005 provided the artist with his first direct experience of the Japanese landscape. Staying on a hillside in the south-west outskirts – the wide views across the flat Kyoto Basin to the centre of the city unexpectedly called to mind the panoramic photographs of Hiroshima taken in the aftermath of atomic bombing (by Shigeo Hayashi and others). Learning that Kyoto, too, had been a shortlisted target for the atomic bomb – in part because of its topography – proved an emotional as well as intellectual turning point. For Palmer, realizing the stark contrast between the natural beauty of the Japanese landscape and the unnatural horror of nuclear warfare suffered uniquely by Japan was disturbing and haunting. Whilst making this work, the atomic bombings were more a felt influence and not the conscious focus of Murmur, yet the process of synthesising the experience of the Japanese landscape and researching the histories of the atomic bombings meant that this material found its way into the work through osmosis.
Murmur was an intuitively driven attempt to articulate the complex amalgam of feelings so palpably generated by Palmer’s first encounter with the Japanese landscape. The work was also shaped by animist ideas that characterise the indigenous Shinto religion – ascribing sacred power to inanimate as well as animate things (kami). Exploring the landscape on foot, Palmer observed the forms and movements of bamboo – uncanny in their animalistic, even anthropomorphic appearance. The bamboo seemed to manifest something normally beyond the threshold of our awareness – something we intuit or experience only momentarily – where the bamboo trees themselves seemed to possess the characteristics of sentience. This serendipitous discovery stemmed from the notion that places might hold something of past traumatic events; where the fragile, susceptible quality of bamboo echoes human frailty but also the capacity for memory and expression. As such, Murmur, unlike the later works, does not set out to represent an actual, recognisable place but a symbolic one. Murmur acts as a site of traumatic memory where ancient history and the modern histories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combine and entwine, merge and fold. It is a meditation on all the ghosts that can haunt a landscape.