“Glasgow’s radio producer/sound artist Mark Vernon is about to release his follow-up to the incredible Ribbons of Rust (Flaming Pines, 2019). His sound is intensely intimate, one might think their own pipes are dripping as each droplet is painstakingly captured with precise fidelity. These ten tracks that span forty minutes are woven with zags and fluctuating warp that brings to mind the inversion of a jazz trumpet, its brackish and suspenseful.
The Consensus is to Delete sounds like one of those lost Coil tracks that continue to permeate the underground, paced and plotting, a bit of the spirit world and low in timbre. Perfect for the bewitched season of hallowed souls (and all that jazz). He tends to his set of reels with a real vision, one based on “a soundtrack to an uncompleted 16mm film made in collaboration with English filmmaker Martha Jurksaitis and the Portuguese artist duo Von Calhau! The film ‘Nossos Ossos’ was shot largely on location in the Alentejo region of Portugal in 2013.” It’s as cinematic as it sounds.
Still, Vernon, while capturing the spellbinding echoes of cathedral oration, songbirds tweeting and other street noise, this is far from the typical field recording document, not only in form, but much more deeply in nuanced atmosphere. The slow-churn of ‘scenes’ like Revolving Rivers is almost numbing as a retrospective snapshot in time. Yet it dances in the moment via its sing-song visceral qualities, obliterated transmissions and melodic wooziness. Only at marked times does one feel ‘cozy’ here, due to the carpet being psychically unfurled from under your feet, sending the listener adrift into new atmospheric scapes. A visionary tale of chance and observation.”
T.J. Norris, Toneshift, October 28, 2019
“Another fine LP from Mark Vernon, this one a limited vinyl pressing from an American label; only 100 copies made and likely to be sold out at the hour I write these lines. This one’s got everything…field recordings, strange gothic tunes, avant-garde movie soundtrack elements, and visits to ancient sites in Portugal. In fact many of the things that make every Vernon “travelogue” such an appealing release.
If you’ve been following this blog for any length of sunburys, you’ll realise that Vernon’s obsessive tape-hoarding and radiophonic bent are always welcome under my canopy, and An Annotated Phonography Of Chance (MISANTHROPIC AGENDA MAR051) is no exception, barring perhaps the slightly haughty title which on one level leads one to expect a John Cage tribute or something equally unwelcome. The story of this one is that he went on a location shoot to Alentejo with the film-maker Martha Jurksaitis, where they met up with the art duo Von Calhau (Marta Ângela and João Artur), a couple of all-rounders who do performance, texts, visual arts, films and exhibitions to get their statements across. A film was made – on 16mm celluloid, no less – but it remains unfinished, apparently. One of the sites they visited was the renowned “capela dos ossos”, always a popular locale for the questing shutterbug who wants to get some human skulls and bones captured on their roll of Ektachrome, although it’s not the same one which Svankmajer famously pointed his macabre lens at.
Our friends also visited castles, megalithic sites…evidently the history must have seeped into their pocketbooks, as this musty-sounding record will testify, and I think it even includes moments when they sing, whistle and moan in these areas, just to experiment with “natural reverbs”. Somewhere in the midst of all these currents of activity and culture, a film soundtrack must lie; today’s LP might be part of that soundtrack, although Vernon himself calls it an “expansion” upon it, in the same way that a Graf Zeppelin could be regarded as an “expansion” on a runaway helium balloon. As frequently happens with these Vernon projects, a story of some sort emerges, or is half-suggested; this one follows that trend to some extent, and you won’t need much more than 60 grams of imaginative prowess to start visualising a benign yet mysterious gothic horror movie as you savour these subtle, eerie tones. Even the sound of the camera mechanism is included; it was one of those old-school 16mm cameras where you need to wind up the clockwork mechanism to make it run. Matter of fact, Vernon provides his usual shopping list of sound sources which we can listen out for, like children on an aural treasure hunt; if anything, Mark Vernon is too generous in the range of sounds which he will admit into his aesthetic net, evidently taking an interest in just about everything around him and finding beauty and charm inside it, no matter how banal or irrelevant it may seem at first gazoon.
The other thing I like about this one how he actually constructs – or discovers – some haunting melodies on this occasion, as opposed to his usual all-documentary approach, and each side contains at least one of these tuneful spine-tinglers suitable for any given Italian exploitation flick from the 1960s, hopefully featuring a doomed countess with long black hair in a castle with spiders. The cover artworks, featuring ornate light fittings, don’t do an awful lot to prepare us for the contents of this low-key audio fest, but what possibly could? From 23rd October 2019.”
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, 23rd August 2020
“Last year saw the release by Misanthropic Agenda of a deluxe double LP reissue of Joe Colley’s intense ‘Psychic Stress Soundtracks’, an exploration of unpredictable sound with strong references to film both in the broader sensory media and the cellulose nitrate itself. Now visiting ‘An Annotated Phonography Of Chance’ by Scottish experimentalist Mark Vernon which preceded the Colley release by a matter of months, I hear an even greater interest in cinema – reflected in the foley-like closeness of its environmental sounds, a deeper soundtrack sensibility to grander gestures, and the literal unspooling of reels which ticks through the first side to further fragment its diverse audio components, also returning to close the LP as the final frames fall to the floor.
Across the first side individual tracks quickly get lost amid the ebb and flow of Mark’s work, minutiae of acoustic home recordings – water, chatter, travel, birds – melting into horrifyingly elongated brass instrument vibrations, chilling ambient soundscapes, choral and piano samples, and a haze of obscure manipulations and peripheral sonic crumbs which further fragment any attempt to embrace a defining sensibility from ‘An Annotated Phonography Of Chance’. It’s an intentional march of distraction, a sequence of left-hand turns where elements are refined within their allocated time and realised with care in production, timing and nuance – but which bewilder within the larger whole as the provoked visualisations scatter across the colour wheel.
Of particular note are the visually provocative moments which delve into almost Goblin-like throb and threat during what I think is “The Consensus Is To Delete” – albeit without the heavy instrumentation – and the intertwined ghostly invocations which unravel from backwards-treated stretches of damp ambience thereafter (“Nossos Ossos”), bold strokes of sound with a familiarly visual edge to it then reduced back to a darker – but equally evocative – scene.
Even if the inputs remain diffuse, the second side of the LP builds a more focused and singular mood, combining windswept electronics, barking dogs, twitching noise vibrations, slow tonal manipulations and sickly wet vivisection into an extended play of shadowy slow-motion dark ambient. But even after the barrage of sound components which cross the first side, the second still pulls some surprises across its twenty minutes. The creaks and dying haunted house effect reel of “Megalithic Circuit” are especially profound, chewed cassette playback turned into pensive ambient dread as buzzing flies, behind-the-door gesture and resonant low-end surround the listener in a worryingly visceral experience; closer “Simmer Dim”’s focus on vocal utterances – singing, speech and whistling – also shines as a refined close to such a wayward LP.
Misanthropic Agenda has always looked outside noise/industrial confines for its releases, but the last few years have cast that net wider, and Mark Vernon is one of the catches. The label seems intent on finding unique voices within the broader experimental music lexicon, and ‘An Annotated Phonography of Chance’ gives significant space to one of those. I grew up mining musical interests across genres and sub-genres while still firmly rooted in music’s darker expressions. Vernon’s keenness for experimentation but acknowledgement of mood reflect both those familiarities, even if his expression is a march from mine.”
Night Science Blog, 29th January, 2021