Static Cinema

Entr’acte / E126 CD (2012)

Static Cinema is the result of a series of musical improvisations using household objects combined with both treated and un-treated field recordings made in Scotland, Germany and Norway between 2008 and 2010. An audio drama missing its lead actors, Static Cinema explores several evocative spaces with the roaming ear of the micro-phone — capturing and interrogating them for meaning. Dramatic perspective shifts equate to different scenes
or cuts with long shots, close-ups, pans and zooms. The different recording locations function as spontaneous mise-en-scène waiting in suspense for an event yet to occur, or an actor still to make their entrance.

A radio version of Static Cinema appeared as an edition of Framework:afield for the Framework radio show in 2011. A definitive version of the piece was released as a limited edition of 200 compact discs on the Entr’acte label in 2012.


“…an aural equivalent of sunlit dust motes in an empty, creaky house.”
William Hutson, The Wire.

“…His elliptical approach is brilliant, and his understated imagination never falls asleep for a minute, completely transcending the technique.”
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector.

“…it just doesn’t sound in any way generic, and there is something refreshingly, oddly original about how it is all put together…”
Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear

“… a thought provoking, intimate piece of sound composition… Film noir for the ears.”
Chris Whitehead, The Field Reporter.

Reviews in Full

“Mark Vernon has created entertaining and witty radiophonic records as one half
of Vernon & Burns, and has remained consistently surprising and innovative with his musical and sound art endeavours. Compared to the jollifications of the V&B records, Static Cinema (ENTR’ACTE E126) is a much more refined and restrained piece of work, characterised by its quiet and gentle approach to the management and organisation of sound, and it conveys a general aura of mysterious events unfolding in a surreal, deserted landscape. In the assembly of these small and intimate sounds, Mark Vernon successfully blurs edges between music, sound art and field recording, at the same time building intriguing environments for the listener to get lost in. Track 1 is like a silent white-walled chamber, while track 3 presents an impossible vista comprised of staircases to nowhere, small electronic devices behaving strangely, cars moving through the air, and a dog barking everywhere as though suspended upside down in the sky as in a Chagall painting. Vernon had it in mind to produce an audio drama where the lead actors are missing from the equation, like a vintage BBC radio three play where the dialogue is taken away and all that’s left are the sound effects from the talented technicians, and of course background music supplied by an idealised version of the Radiophonic Workshop. Vernon achieved all of this through juxtaposing recordings of his home-made improvisations played on household objects with an array of field recordings fetched from multiple locations across Europe. His elliptical approach is brilliant, and his understated imagination never falls asleep for a minute, completely transcending the technique. Sent to us 29 March 2012; limited to 200 copies.”

(Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, November 10, 2012)

“Static Cinema, apparently Mark Vernon’s first solo CD, is quite unlike the more citational, sample based work he produces with Glaswegian Barry Burns in a duo known as Vernon And Burns. Composed of in situ recordings of everyday activity, as well as the clinking and shuffling of various household items, this disc contains six leisurely paced concrète collages. But where most artists would denature the individual sounds with lightning-fast cuts and juxtapositions, Vernon allows them to remain recognisable, comfortable, even pedestrian. The drama stays low-key, more concerned with capturing a sense of space through quotidian gestures — an aural equivalent of sunlit dust motes in an empty, creaky house.”

(William Hutson, The Wire Magazine)

“…tonight’s CD is a bit of a hidden delight, albeit a slightly difficult one to fathom out… The album is described as “the result of a series of musical improvisations using household objects combined with both treated and untreated field recordings made in Scotland, Germany and Norway between 2008 and 2010.” What we hear is probably closer to musique concrete than anything else, but there is something indescribably original about this music I really like. We hear just about everything thrown in here, from the familiar bits of traffic sound and weather recordings to a recurring, quite delightful capture of a dog barking in a high pitched manner, to a man snoring, the music finding a rhythmic pattern around his exhalations, to footsteps, old records playing, and much more besides. There are also plenty of sounds that are hard to identify, and feel thoroughly musical, not like either field recordings or household objects. Where the music feels different to musique concrete as we generally understand it however, and where it differs from the recent surge of improv-meets- field recordings collage is perhaps contained in the way the music is structured, or rather in how it feels completely unstructured.

Very much to its credit, Static Cinema doesn’t sound cluttered, doesn’t sound like an attempt to juxtapose unlikely sounds against one another, but also somehow doesn’t flow into any kind of stream of sounds. Things just seem to appear calmly in the music wherever they turn up, and after the initial bewilderment at the variety of sounds on display it all feels very calm and natural, even though there never really feels like any fixed structure in place within the music. You don’t notice when the tracks end, there is little to nothing to distinguish one piece from the next, and yet there are remarkable elements appearing all the time that make you stop and take notice. There are odd wails, a lot of vaguely percussive clatter, presumably sounds made with the household items, and plenty of room for the music to breathe as field recordings tend to join these more immediate sounds one at a time and with a sense of slow, gradual reveal rather than anything much that really jars. To some extent it does sound quite cinematic, and I do find myself picturing images of people creating the sounds here, either as musicians finding sounds in unusual objects or as the subjects of field recordings catching them unexpectedly.

The album works for me partly because of the inventive use of sounds here, a really unusual and considered collection of elements, some easily recognisable, some much less so, and partly because of the odd sense of calm, unhurried placement of sounds on show. The music doesn’t flow all that well all that often, simply because of the continual arrival of sounds that break up the short-term expectations of the music we have as it progresses. Like a quirky scrapbook with links drawn in detail between each of the collaged entries however there is a lot of charm to Static Cinema and in places a degree of humour, but this is serious music, a significant step on from Stock, Hausen and Walkman but with none of the preciousness of much modern field recording composition. Beyond this, I find it very hard to know what to write about this music. I like Static Cinema a lot, perhaps because it just doesn’t sound in any way generic, and there is something refreshingly, oddly original about how it is all put together, but ask me to justify that statement with something more solid and I will struggle. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious openings to tracks or contrived endings, and the sensation throughout is of things just appearing without any reason for them doing so. Something of an oddity then, but a very nicely put together, unhurried patchwork of seemingly disparate parts that kept me intrigued and interested for a fair number of listens. I hope I get to hear more from Mark Vernon soon.”

(The Watchful Ear:The Gathered Thoughts of Richard Pinnell,Thursday 26th April, 2012)

“This version of Static Cinema was originally conceived by Mark Vernon as the soundtrack element of an art installation. In a room a female nude manikin stands on a stage, limbs deliberately and flamboyantly positioned. In front of her is a microphone. Behind her a red backdrop, various chairs and a mirror. Nothing moves. On the walls are projected images of objects and spaces. From an unseen source sounds emerge. Occasionally a melody surfaces. Objects rattle and clink. Footsteps? Breathing? A dog barks. A kettle boils. A thread is unfolding but it needs restructuring, and there are probably as many new structures available as there are listeners to Static Cinema.

First presented as part of the full art installation in 2009, this CD is necessarily one degree removed from the total experience, as it can obviously only contain the audio component. Knowing its genesis, it is hard not to think of it as a soundtrack divorced from its visual element. The first section brought to mind one of those large rooms beloved of Tarkovsky. A quiet, fairly empty interior. There are birds there as every now and then one flutters near the microphone. There are chairs being moved around and people banging around somewhere else nearby. Strangeness takes over eventually, and a delicate, simple three note tune is plucked out on what might well be an egg slicer.

The label Entr’acte describe Static Cinema as an audio drama missing its lead actors. In other words the incidental sounds and the atmosphere are present and correct, but without the context afforded by a narrative. The listener of course is implicitly invited to supply a narrative of their own. In a particularly effective episode glasses and bottles suddenly begin to move of their own accord, rattling in agitation. It is as if a ground tremor is taking place. A physical, literally earth moving event conveyed through the simple vibration of everyday objects.

Another instance of sound conjuring up a very real flesh and blood presence is when we somehow become aware that someone is sleeping close by. A gentle rhythmic snoring. The feeling is of distinct uneasiness, because if it actually is what it purports to be, a covert intruder has crept into the sleeper’s bedroom and secretly documented his breathing.

Beautifully recorded and positioned in the virtual space of the stereo panorama, Static Cinema nevertheless appears to lack what David Lynch likes to call the ‘Duck’s Eye’. A single jewel-like object or event around which the construction is built. A kind of axis for things to revolve around. Static Cinema is a thought provoking, intimate piece of sound composition and the interpretation of its many faceted surface is entirely up to you. Film noir for the ears.”

(Chris Whitehead, The Field Reporter)