A World Behind This World

Persistence of Sound / PS007 CD / DL

A composed soundscape created from sounds recorded on location at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, Lumsden, Aberdeenshire and the surrounding areas. As well as the rural environment, recordings of various machines, equipment and processes from the workshop feature heavily. ‘Performed’ by technician Eden Jolly sound sources include the copper guillotine, extractor fans, electrical saws, drills, the furnace, welding torches, anvils, hydraulic jacks, sanding machines, grinders and electric hoists.

Originally produced for SSW’s radio station Lumsden Live in 2021. This is a condensed, reworked version created specifically for this release.

Available to purchase here.

Thanks to Eden, Jenny, Sam and all at SSW.

Reviews:

“The work of Mark Vernon is a kind of aural alchemy, conjuring nuggets of gold from everyday ephemera… Rather than simply documenting a landscape or an object, Vernon’s work sweeps recorded sounds – from the rural environment to industrial machinery – into something fantastic and new, creating vivid soundscapes from disparate sonic detritus.”
Spenser Thomson, Electronic Sound

“…the end result is something both enthralling and beguiling. Sounds clatter, throb, respire, and twitter… creating mood and intrigue with every emitted noise.”
State51Conspiracy

“Elements are sped or slowed, sequences are dissembled and constructed into imaginary processes, and the steady rhythm of tape loops allows for the creation of new sonic machines… there’s a remarkable trait to the assembly of these compositions that makes it all flow and feel so right – it’s as if they’re following the natural logic of another world, of a world behind this world, perhaps.”
Connor Kurtz, Harmonic Series

“There was no clear-cut line between what is, and what can never be. Ambiguous song titles, disembodied sounds, and that all-important sensory breakdown between the real and the fantastic, the tangible and the fanciful, the visible and the illusory.”
Michael Eisenberg, Avant Music News, October, 2022


Reviews in Full

“The work of Mark Vernon is a kind of aural alchemy, conjuring nuggets of gold from everyday ephemera. Last year’s ‘Sonograph Sound Effects Series Volume 2: Public and Domestic Plumbing and Sanitation’ created strange new landscapes from ubiquitous gurgles and glugs, and ‘A World Behind This World’ is a similar piece of sonic magic.

‘Fugitives from Bliss’ transforms chainsaw chug into time-slowed growl like the guttural call of some lurking monster, While ‘New Golden Severities (Vermin Under the Stars)’ swoops us omnipotently through a a landscape of bleating sheep and running water, before sinking down to a subterranean sewer drone. As the near-20-minute piece progresses, a climatic whoosh and turbine-like hum merge into birdsong and rumbles, which harmonise in unexpectedly emotive patterns.

Rather than simply documenting a landscape or an object, Vernon’s work sweeps recorded sounds – from the rural environment to industrial machinery – into something fantastic and new, creating vivid soundscapes from disparate sonic detritus.”

Spenser Thomson, Electronic Sound

“This brings together sound and art into a cohesive tapestry formed from literal sculptures at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Lumsden. Recorded, manipulated, and processed by Glaswegian, Mark Vernon, the end result is something both enthralling and beguiling. Sounds clatter, throb, respire, and twitter.
Sometimes the source is obvious like a bird or a drill, other times recordings of furnaces, grinders, extractor fans, and copper guillotines pepper the sonic landscape, creating mood and intrigue with every emitted noise. The clash of industry with nature invites us to think about these parallels within our own lives and the ways that they combine both jarringly and harmoniously.”

State51Conspiracy

“A World Behind This World is one of those electroacoustic records that, in equal measure straddles the line between the artificial and the natural.  In this case, when I say natural, I mean unprocessed, or untransformed via the latest and greatest software.  I’m including the “unnatural” sounds of power drills and various metal objects and machines (and there is a bunch of those) that are not sliced, diced, cut up, fragmented, or otherwise fucked with in a processing environment in this natural category.
I think this is significant because I, as the listener was led down a path where I hardly noticed such things.  There was no clear-cut line between what is, and what can never be. 
One of the main reasons this album stands out is because of this simpatico between worlds.  Ferrari does this so well, and I think Vernon does too.  I was able to frolic and prance (I know, bad visual) within this tableau never thinking that those weird echoey pigeon-like coo’s that were playing hide and seek all over the soundstage (on the lengthy “New Golden Severities (Vermin Under the Stars)”) were any different than the sheep conversing amongst themselves (surely about the spot price of wool on the local commodity exchange) later in the same piece.  They were both just “there”, and they both just “belonged”. The processed (the coo’s) and unprocessed (the sheep-talk) sound events were presented in such a vividly spatialized manner that I imagined myself not only watching a 3d movie but living within it too. On top of that, it was all woven together in such a natural way that the veil between the “what was real” and the other place, where the mind is not presented with enough raw information (or maybe too much) and the imagination takes over was…non-existent.
Some thoughts about the dichotomy between the natural and the artificial.  The natural is tangible, it’s something you can feel, see and hear.  Does that logically lead to a conclusion that the artificial is only an imagined construct existing in your mind?  Does the artificial have a weaker standing than that of nature?  The senses and the mind say otherwise, and I think this is an extremely appealing aspect that acousmatic music can demonstrate well.  Blurring distinctions between the two by disembodying sounds from their source brings the whole natural/artificial package on to a level playing field.  A perception is a perception…whether it comes from nature or is fabricated in a lab…the honey badger (or the mind in this case) doesn’t care. 
I feel that I strayed too far down a philosophical path, but Vernon’s sound choices are interesting.  On this release, he did an excellent job of simultaneously dropping the listener into a pastoral setting while at the same time jacking them into an artificial dream state.  A fusion of two ideas to become a third.  What happens next is an individual choice.  Does realization make it go away, or can you revel in it?
There is also a refreshing lack of concept on this album.  All we really know is that Vernon’s interests lie in something called “audio archaeology”.  This implies similar tools and sound sources as label mate Iain Chambers, although unlike Chambers, there are really no hints of an overarching theme (the sounds of old tech), featured location, or structure being audibly depicted.  I admire this kind of tabula rasa because of the freedom it provides the listener.
I don’t know about you, but I enjoy and prefer when artists show, and don’t tell.  I’d much rather be the master of my own imagination than be handheld by thematic clues and song titles.  Give me a Jon Anderson phrase like… “Battleships confide in me and tell me where you are, shining flying purple wolfhound, show me where you are” any day.  A World Behind This World does just that.  Ambiguous song titles, disembodied sounds, and that all-important sensory breakdown between the real and the fantastic, the tangible and the fanciful, the visible and the illusory…these are my reasons for digging this album.  Hope some of you can check it out too!”

Michael Eisenberg, Avant Music News, October, 2022

“Right after high school I spent a summer working in an automotive factory. I was working in one of the loudest sections of the factory allegedly, where massive machines pressed sheets of metal into the shapes of doors and hoods. My first few days were spent away from the machines though, in the close but muted breakroom while I read a lengthy book full of security protocols. I was fascinated by the sounds of the machines though – a large, but limited, variety of thuds, crashes and hisses, an organized cacophony performed by unknown processes. I even tried recording those sounds one time, just by leaving my phone near one of the machines. I never did anything with those recordings though. The problem was that within a few weeks of working with those machines and hearing and, even worse, understanding those processes, I had lost interest in their sounds entirely. It had turned from a gorgeous, inexplicable, industrial orchestra to a repetitive, mechanical, corporate beating that required uncomfortable earplugs to endure without developing a headache or hearing loss.
To be clear, the problem with these sounds wasn’t just that they had become linked to my employment and my daily labour, it’s that they no longer surprised me – they were demystified by my understanding of their processes, and that spoiled my fetishization of those sounds. The harsh metallic clang that sounded like the smack of a gong, the stomp of a giant and a car crash all at once had become the generic sounds of ‘Press 2’ in operation. Now that I had an explanation in my head, my mind was no longer free to perceive these sounds however it liked, my fascinated curiosity was gone. But luckily for me, what Mark Vernon’s latest album offers is a whole factory (well, a workshop, but I’ll get back to that) full of unexplained sounds – sonic evidence of various machines, tools and processes that I’ll never understand – and again, I’ve been captivated by the mysterious incidental industrial orchestra.
Much of this mystifying effect comes from intrinsic qualities of the recording process. When an event is recorded, the sound is extracted but the context is left behind. To return to my auto factory example, I think it’s fair to say that if I quit that job the day I made those recordings I wouldn’t have become bored of them. They would have been able to exist in my mind as decontextualized sound matter, as abstract, meaningless, metallic thuds, but they lost that ability once my mind began to focus on the cause-and-effect operations that were responsible for their soundings. Meanwhile the workshop that’s been captured on A World Behind This World has been recorded as audio rather than as impressions in my memory, and any understanding of these sounds has been left behind at the factory. As there’s no way of knowing what is being produced by these processes or how, the listener is forced to address these sounds as-is and to permit them to act as their own context.

What this results in is a massive shift in perspective between what was recorded and what is heard. What Mark Vernon recorded was various operations being executed, all with a specific meaning and goal: the production of something. The sounds that came from these machines and devices were like the heat that comes from incandescent light bulbs – accidental, likely even unwanted, but essential to the process. But Mark hasn’t shared with us the items that these processes were made to produce, there’s no included photos of the final products for example. All he’s shared is the sounds – items made from the production process which are not what the machine was made to create. That’s where the twist in perspective takes place – Mark Vernon may have made recordings of a factory that produces physical items, but he left with recordings of a factory which merely produces sound.

At this point I’d like to note that the ‘factory’ that’s been recorded here was quite different from the auto factory that I once worked at – A World Behind This World was recorded at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Lumsden. By recording both in and around the workshop and mixing these indoor and outdoor perspectives together, the pieces takes on an imaginary, impossible perspective which leads to moments as surreal as grinders and saws seemingly being ran by birds and sheep. It also interests me that he chose a sculpture workshop, rather than an auto factory for example, because it means that what’s being produced isn’t just a commercial product but a work of art, the same thing this album is, and the recorded processes are creative ones, not unlike Mark Vernon’s own creative processes used to make this music. One could even take it as far as to say that these are recordings of performances by an artist, and in the album’s credits, workshop technician Eden Jolly has in fact been credited as a ‘performer’. From the opening moments as Eden tightens a bolt or rotates a hinge or kicks a stuttering engine into action to the closing moments of roaring machinery being deactivated by trained hands, practical moments of the technician’s performance have been deeply baked into this soundworld, but the specifics and the extent of it is another question with an answer that’s been left behind in the workshop.

The other part of the mystification process that makes this album so enjoyable to me comes from performance and processing. There’s no implication that what’s heard on this album is what was heard in the workshop, and there’s no saying how far from the truth each sound is or isn’t. Elements are sped or slowed, sequences are dissembled and constructed into imaginary processes, and the steady rhythm of tape loops allows for the creation of new sonic machines. Clearly structured melodies and patterns bring a momentary sense of artifice, but there’s a remarkable trait to the assembly of these compositions that makes it all flow and feel so right – it’s as if they’re following the natural logic of another world, of a world behind this world, perhaps.

I’m sure it could be read in a bunch of ways, but to me the title of this album refers to a world within the artist, the world they create in their mind which exists in the space behind the world in which we all take part in. And I think it follows that that’s the world where this natural logic exists, that this album is how the Scottish Sculpture Workshop sounds in the imaginary world behind this one, the one that exists in Mark Vernon’s mind and is released through his music. That idea is a big part of why I love music like this – it’s a glimpse at my own world through someone else’s ears, mutated by someone else’s creative perception, understood by somebody who isn’t me and an unanswerable mystery to me. This isn’t something specific to artists or field recordists though – I think everyone with a brain has access to a world behind this world, specifically catered to their own unique mind, imagination, memories, fantasies and perception. The most significant thing that Mark’s done here, really, is share his.

As I’m writing this I can hear the sounds of power tools from the floor above my head. It could be a recently emptied apartment being renovated or a tenant constructing a table or maintenance of heating or plumbing processes. It interests me how the electric tools have their own specific frequency that they operate at, which makes different sounds as it resonates against different materials, as its applied with different pressures for different durations. I also like the uncertain gaps in time between these sounds, the sporadic bumping and chatter while they presumably do work that’s less loud. I’ve started recording these sounds again too. I could probably go up there right now and ask what they’re doing and find an answer, maybe they’d even show me around what’s being worked on, but I’d rather not know. I’d rather let them to continue to exist in my mind as unknowable sounds captured in a world behind this one.”

Connor Kurtz, Harmonic Series