“Whatever is not full makes noise. Whatever is full is quiet.” Buddha’s quote lies at the heart of Mark Vernon‘s Sri Lankan sound collage, an exercise in juxtaposition. Vernon’s CD introduction describes a mechanism in Colombo that instigates noise – drums, bells and cymbals – to block out the “unwanted noise” of tuk tuk horns and street vendors. This mechanism, writes Vernon, “creates a meditative space … amidst the hubbub of quotidian reality.”
Things That Were Missed In The Clamour For Calm not only reflects the ideas of this introduction, but invites dialogue on the subject. This music is now the focus of a sound installation, but the home listener can engage in a similar way. Over the course of an hour, one will encounter all manner of Sri Lankan sound, from the aforementioned horns and vendors to Beethoven, bathing and birds. Some segments are “pure” ~ all human or all natural ~ but each overlaps with others. Just as one is getting into the aforementioned meditative state, someone starts playing tin can drums, and the concentration is lost. Or is it? Another listener may be bored to by the sounds of nature and drones, and suddenly engaged by the entrance of the human element. If we were able to choose our sonic environment, would we make the right decisions? Or would we leave something out in the clamour for calm?
Control seems to be the mitigating factor. When one is able to control one’s sonic environment, one feels more at home. Contrast, for example, the sound of one’s personal listening device with the music played in markets and malls; or a conversation with a friend in a restaurant set against the screaming of an unchecked child. Vernon understands the difference, but he also understands that many people disagree on the definition of a “pleasurable” sound. Some people prefer crickets to drums, others the opposite. The story behind the story is that Vernon chose every sound on this disc, and decided where it would be placed: a dog, a plane, an exhaust pipe, a local band. In so doing, he tames the untamed, defining every sound as desirable.
My favorite sound here is that of a person at a typewriter, hard at work against the backdrop of a busy street. There’s no telling if this is a real person writing a real novel, or if it is simply Vernon at the keys, striking miscellaneous letters. The mind creates images of its own, and this particular juxtaposition paints a literary picture of Sri Lanka and its peculiar charms. It’s no accident that this segment is immediately followed by loud drumming, announcements, and a protest or parade, an injection of local flavor that could not have come from anywhere else. Here, if only briefly, the impression shifts from that of a dreamworld to the specific. A snatch of English momentarily breaks the spell, proving Vernon’s point; for a few seconds, the listener no longer prefers the familiar.
The reclining figure in the lower left of the cover painting is a subtle reminder of Vernon’s last album, Sounds of the Modern Hospital. This was a completely different type of recording, more sound effect than sound collage, but its variety of timbres, as well as its attempt to organize sonic fragments into related clusters, laid the groundwork for the current release. Prior to this came Static Cinema, a work of musique concrète that integrated the use of household objects. There’s no telling where Vernon will head next, but he’s just completed three unique works in a row. This is the noise we want.
(Richard Allen, A Closer Listen, 25th April, 2015)
“Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm is a fascinating psycho-musico- geographical composition that sound artist Mark Vernon (b. 1973, UK) has conceived in quasi- symphonic terms, with its different musical and real-world sounds carefully arranged so as to maximize the fifty-four-minute work’s impact. At certain times formal musical sounds emerge, including Beethoven’s Für Elise (as if played on a calliope) and synth-like tones; at other times, Vernon exploits the musical potential of a real-world sound in such a way that a car horn, for example, acts as a horn-like accent within the ‘musical’ composition. As with all of 3LEAVES’ recent releases, Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm houses an attractive, full-colour mini-booklet and CD within a black sleeve.
The field recordings, which Vernon collected between October and December 2013, immediately introduce the listener to the Sri Lankan setting when a rich collage of speaking voices and traffic noise thrusts the listener into the center of a busy city square with all of the chaos that that entails. But a dramatic change occurs scant minutes later when the focus shifts to an almost eerie synth-like presentation that’s wholly bereft of real-world sounds— until, that is, the call of a bird surfaces amidst the synth-like treatments. Those first six minutes are representative of Vernon’s approach, which sees field recording details merge with purely musical elements. In a subsequent episode, he accompanies dog barking and puttering engines with a near-subliminal musical hum, and near the halfway mark, clattering noises stemming from the Sri Lankan setting function as both real-world signifiers and a percussion-like sequence at the composition’s center. Passages alternate between the intense and sedate, and contrast emerges between the rush of day-time activity and the surreal quietude of the night where human voices are replaced by insect and animal utterances.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Vernon’s approach is the way in which he effects fluid transformations between the musical and field recordings realms. It’s not uncommon for a musical element to gradually morph into a real-world element and vice-versa. No purist he, Vernon explores in this experimental audio collage the potential modern production technology affords for dissolving the separation between environmental and musical worlds. Sometimes that conflation happens of its own accord, as occurs near the end of the piece when people are heard singing and playing musical instruments together.
It’s interesting that Vernon operates with Monica Brown a monthly listening event called Lights Out Listening Group, whose presentations take place in complete darkness. One could easily imagine a panoramic dreamscape such as Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm being selected as a natural candidate for such a treatment, given its stimulating flow of detail.
(Textura, March 2015)
“Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm is a single 54-minute suite of music and sound, created from field recordings fetched by Mark Vernon on his travels in Sri Lanka. I have heard, admittedly, quite a lot of field recordings made by artistes who travel to far-distant and exotic lands and bring back various recordings of foreign things that sound interesting to them. If I was feeling uncharitable, it would be possible to categorise a lot of these releases as rather banal, not much more than holiday snapshots in sound. I’ve also been struck by how often the same “motifs” keep occurring in the genre; water, insects, birds, the weather, and street sounds are often popular choices. Where’s the sublimation, the artistic transformation?
Mark Vernon’s Sri Lanka trip has certainly been transformed on this release. True, there are a lot of the expected sounds (street musicians, cars and motorbikes, water, and insects) on offer, but Vernon is doing interesting things with his assembled catalogue. First, there are numerous overlays and edits – I would guess so, at any rate – which bring together several unrelated sound events, in order to create the illusion of a single event, something near-impossible to have captured in the real world, yet sounding glorious on the finished item. Listeners with a vivid imagination will soon start seeing amazing things like bike riders flying away into a deep orange sky, birds flying backwards, or insects inhabiting an entire village as they swarm out of a deep lake. I should point out that Vernon is not an outright fantasist or surrealist, but I would claim that some of the quiet, charming humour which I recognise from his earlier releases has fed into the creation of Clamour for Calm.
Secondly, and more noticeable, are the dramatic electro-acoustic transformations and deep changes that have been carried out on the field recordings, presumably executed at a post-production stage. Through his methods, Vernon creates swooping, eerie and powerful music – music which forms itself out of natural sounds, then changes itself back again, all in a seamless and entirely appropriate manner. The effect on the listener is like watching a documentary film of Sri Lanka which suddenly changes, for example shifting into negative or over-exposed stock, multiple exposures, unusual lens filters, focus settings…disrupting the sense of temporal continuity we’ve enjoyed thus far, and demanding that we now appreciate this experience as pure sound. But it also passes on a very dream-like effect. It’s as though Vernon himself were hallucinating about Sri Lanka, and passing his strange visions into the sound. Hardly five minutes of Clamour for Calm passes by without one of these uncanny time-shifts taking over, transporting us into a bizarre, slightly menacing, impression, an impression of a country (or an entire world) that never existed. The work is deliberately structured so that we can look forward to at least half a dozen of these fantastic out-of-body flights.
The title of this work, Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm, may of course lead the listener to expect something quite different – it implies that there are everyday sound events which we overlook all too easily, and that there’s an interest in escaping the noise pollution of urban life, perhaps through listening to natural sounds with more attention. Both of these are perfectly plausible sentiments, and indeed they constitute articles of faith for many field recordists. But I think this album is primarily a work of imagination, a testament to Mark Vernon’s creative strengths and abilities; he doesn’t just document, but he thinks long and hard about the documents he captures, and then is able to use his studio skills to refashion them sympathetically, thereby revealing new truths about the world.
(Ed Pinsent, Editor of ‘The Sound Projector’ Music Magazine, January 2015)
Musique Machine – album of the month
Ákos Garai’s 3 Leaves imprint presents Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm by Mark Vernon. 3 Leaves is a label that is synonymous with expertly crafted, field recording-based releases. This full-length CD is no exception.
Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm is one single 54 minute track, composed from field recordings Vernon captured during a 6-week residency at Sura Medura, Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka. As you can imagine, what we have here is a tapestry of sounds found in Sri Lanka’s open markets, natural spaces, and wildlife. These aren’t just raw recordings, but a musical collage, expertly composed, and presented in stunning clarity. Some of the things you will hear are: a bustling market place, the sounds of merchants selling their wares, traffic, aquatic sounds, rain forests teaming with birds, frogs and insects, random sounds (a typewriter clacking, machinery churning, the water droplets in a shower stall?), indigenous people chanting along with a man on a megaphone, and many other sounds (from the mundane to the exquisite) found in his environment. That all might sound like par for the course on these types releases where field-recordings comprise the foundation, however there’s a whole lot of layering and weaving; pairing just the right sounds together to breathe life into this audio documentary.
Along with many of the environmental sounds found on the disc, there are also plenty of musical interludes to be found, including: indigenous folk music, the sounds of a very familiar piece of classical music played by a harmonium-like instrument, and a panoply of percussive beats. Most interestingly, Vernon mentions in the liner notes that an “odd looking machine” found in the middle of one of streets he frequented in Colombo, produced rhythmic music to banish the unwanted sounds of the material world. I wasn’t always aware when this contraption of drum, bell, and cymbal made it’s mark on the album, but no doubt it’s presence was heavily featured.
Perhaps my favorite parts of the album are where Vernon splices the sounds of both wildlife and music. Frogs, birds, and crickets seamlessly buzz and sing to rhythmic beats and folksy sounds. Its as if through some magic stroke, Vernon is able to get humans and animals to act in unison to create a wonderful musical composition.
I’ve had the pleasure of listening to many great field-recording based albums this year, but Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm is certainly one of the most memorable. Another quality release by the 3 Leaves imprint.
Kudos: ***** five stars
(Hal Harmon, Musique Machine)