Paper Cone Music

Paper Cone Music
A group performance for paper cones, turntables and sound effects library records, to be performed by four or more players.

Using rolled up paper cones and sewing needles as a stylus to create primitive gramophone horns, the performers play sound effects records, attempting to play each record simultaneously from as many different points as they can. Each cone is closely miked up and the output is fed into a mixer. The mechanism of the turntable itself is also miked up using contact microphones. Each performer is in control of their own mix. Together they gradually build up a live soundscape from dead recordings of locations and events that were captured and imprinted on vinyl decades ago. The low frequency rumble and circular sound patterns of the mechanism and the scratchy, tinny, gramophone like sound of the paper cones make the listener acutely aware of the medium of the vinyl record itself and the associated history and nostalgia for this increasingly anachronistic format. Additionally, it highlights the fact that these mass produced sound effects library records themselves are also unintentional capsules of the past.

Paper Cone Music was a FON Air micro-commission for the Octopus Collective. Performed by Mark Vernon with the Piel View Hackers group at the Octopus Collective Headquarters, Barrow-in-Furness, November, 2012.

A re-worked version of this piece blending together advance rehearsals and other experiments with the live performance appears as a unique, one of a kind, 12” record as part of the foam collection – an archive of commissioned dub plates featuring artists sound works as one-off, 12” records presented in a touring exhibition.

The Leicester Tape Recording Club

The past is often said to be a foreign country. This programme features audio postcards from some of the inhabitants. The Leicester Tape Recording Club was a club for tape recording enthusiasts active in the sixties and seventies.

Like a latter day Mass Observation, amateur radio producers and documentary makers sometimes unintentionally captured the minutiae of a now surreal suburbia. A forgotten world of bri-nylon, briar pipes and tank-tops met an arcane society who spoke of tape-speeds and soldering irons. These programmes takes a nostalgic and humorous look at the club and its members.

Ex-members memories wow and flutter like their disintegrating reel-to-reel recordings. This is a story not just of a club but a community, a community of hobbyists, amateurs and charming personalities who captured otherwise long extinct phenomena like ‘The Golden Wonder Boy’. Memories are made of hiss…

“They’d Got It all Taped For Me – SAYS MR. LEICESTER”
News article – Leicester Mercury, Tuesday, January 6th, 1959:

“Leicester Pen Pals Keep in Touch – By Tape”
News article, publication unknown, 1959

A four-part series about The Leicester Tape Recording Club, ‘Imagination Unlimited’, was aired on Resonance FM in 2008. Condensed versions of the series were broadcast across the RADIA network, on NE1 as part of the AV festival, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and as part of Sonic Arts Network’s Brighton Expo 2008.

Immediate Recall

Recording of a live sound piece performed as part of the The Interzone exhibition at Glasgow School of Art. The piece combines various forms of tuned white noise with a live ultrasound feed of the performers own heartbeat and excerpts from a series of psychological audio perception experiments investigating immediate recall and word identification played from the original found reel to reel tapes.

Friday 30th November, 2012, The Mack Museum, Glasgow School of Art.

A re-worked version of this live recording was also broadcast as part of the series Data for the Doubtful on Resonance 104.4FM in 2013.

Vestiarium Scoticum

Aeolus / meagre resource – mere018 (2003)

A Scottish themed CD collaboration with Zoë Irvine produced for Burns night 2003. Field recordings and samples were taken from a wide variety of sources including tacky Scottish souvenir and novelty records from charity shops, found tapes of Burns night readings and football chants. The CD also features Edwin Morgan as the dance caller.

Vestiarium Scoticum was produced as a limited edition of 50 tartan CD’s with hand made tartan pockets in a variety of tartans (Aeolus / mere 018). It was first broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM on Burns night, 25th January, 2003.

Nottingham Co-operative Tape Recording Club

Following the Derby Tape Club programme on Radio 4 several former tape club members got in touch including Patrick Everest from the Nottingham Co-operative Tape Recording Club. He shared with me a number of vintage productions by the Nottingham club some of which had been originally intended for radio but unfortunately never quite made it to the airwaves. Consequently they were broadcast in their entirety on Resonance FM in 2005 – nearly thirty years after they were first produced. The audio example here is a sound collage composed using material from several of these pieces.

Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm

3Leaves / 3L032 CD (2015)

“Whatever is not full makes noise. Whatever is full is quiet.” The Buddha.

Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm is a composed soundscape created from field recordings made in Sri Lanka in 2013. The work was the result of a six-week residency at Sura Medura, Hikkaduwa on the South West coast of the country. The CD is released by the Hungarian label 3Leaves and includes a beautiful 12-page colour booklet in a black die-cut card sleeve designed by Ákos Garai.

Radio versions of the piece have appeared on Resonance FM and as a special edition of Framework:Afield.


“It’s as though Vernon himself were hallucinating about Sri Lanka, and passing his strange visions into the sound.”
Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector

“This is the noise we want.”
A Closer Listen

“It’s as if through some magic stroke, Vernon is able to get humans and animals to act in unison to create a wonderful musical composition.”
Hal Harmon, Musique Machine

“… a fascinating psycho-musico-geographical composition.”

Reviews in Full

“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)

Lend An Ear, Leave A Word

Audio Archaeology series Vol.1: Lisbon
Kye Records / KYE044 LP (2016)

The pieces composed for this album combine field recordings of contemporary Lisbon with found tape recordings from the past; reel-to-reel tapes, micro-cassettes and Dictaphones collected from the Feira de Ladra market, a popular and lively flea market in the Alfama district.

Each tape recording is an audio snapshot of a specific time; a family album in sound, a musical performance, a compilation of treasured music or even just the fun of playing around with a tape recorder captured for posterity. Every thoughtless edit or push of the record button teleports us to a different time and place. The musical material extracted from the tapes is also an evocative signifier that locates it within a specific era. The interesting thing is how the tapes accumulate different strata of time even within a single side. There are consecutive chronological recordings but also sequences with unexpected breakthroughs where the user has carelessly fast forwarded through the tape randomly ‘dropping-in’ new recordings. These accidental edits create instantaneous new collages of sounds and voices. I have endeavoured to retain the essence of these unintentional edits and unexpected outbursts in the pieces I have assembled here. The noisy whir and clicking of the various tape mechanisms is evident on many of the found recordings. As the material is sped up and slowed down it acts as an internal clock, a continuous, steady marker of time, almost like the second hand of a timepiece

All of the pieces contained here within explore one particular environment – the city of Lisbon. Field recordings by their very nature are time-based but the introduction of found tapes into the mix expands the timescale of these studies from just the short period spent in the city making recordings, backwards to possibly forty or more years in the past. It is a portrait in time and place, an archaeology of sound. The result of the audio flotsam and jetsam washed up on the shores of low commerce in the flea markets of Lisbon.

‘Lend an ear, leave a word’ arrives in a full color matte stock sleeve with insert and download card. Mastered by Jason Lescalleet in an edition of 400 copies. Artwork courtesy of ‘A Sense of Someplace‘.


“…a beautiful work of sonic archaeology… uncanny and often moving.”
Stewart Smith, The Wire.

“…easily bridges that world of field recordings with the world of ‘music’…the level of storytelling, interaction and creative use of his sound material is very high…”
Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly.

“…creates near-hallucinatory experiences, surreal dream-scapes, and a general sense of having entered the looking-glass world, full of unknown languages spoken by alien creatures, performing actions which can’t be understood.”
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector

Reviews in Full

“Sound artist and radio producer Mark Vernon is the brains behind experimental broadcast project Radiophrenia (see The Wire 374). A former member of Hassle Hound, alongside Ela Orleans and Tony Swain, Vernon has also released a number of solo albums on his own Meagre Resource label. Lend An Ear, Leave A Word is his first for Graham Lambkin’s Kye, and it’s a beautiful work of sonic archaeology, piecing together fragments from reel-to-reel tapes and microcassettes found in a Lisbon flea market. The results are uncanny and often moving. Vernon leaves in the sounds of microphone flubs and record buttons being pressed, underlining the intimate, home-recorded nature of his source material. Not being a speaker of Portuguese, I have no idea what the man at the start of the album is saying into his dictaphone. Some kind of audio note? Ideas for a novel or artwork? And what of the answer machine messages at the start of the B side?

One can only speculate, while appreciating the different voices for their texture and cadence. Other fragments capture household chatter and domestic chores, the possible result of children playing with tape recorders. And then there are the musical snippets, which range from home recordings, to raw dubs of classical music, disco and folk. Vernon weaves this all together with the amplified sounds of the machines themselves, the touches of distortion, feedback and hum enhancing the album’s curious sense of disembodied materiality.”
Stewart Smith, The Wire Magazine

“Kye Records is operated by Graham Lambkin, and the label deals in unfussy, no-nonsense cover artworks, high-quality mastering and pressing, and a mostly vinyl-only format policy. What I have heard on Kye has always been amazing, and I would like to think Lambkin selects the content personally. Lend an Ear, Leave A Word is true to form and a highly impressive collection of work, based on documentary recordings. The theme here is that it’s all based in Lisbon, the recordings were made in that country and collected by Mark Vernon from trips to a flea-market in Alfarma. Right there we’ve got another indication of his scavenger-hunt methods; I have visions of Vernon’s garden shed, hopefully the size of a warehouse, packed with his precious hoards of booty.

Lend an Ear, Leave A Word is a delirious listen – almost instantly induces a trance-like state, and real life acquires a wonderful unreal caste. There’s also a strong sense of deep sadness and melancholy in these sounds, a mourning for the human condition. How did this all come about?

In his notes, Vernon describes processes of how magnetic tape acquires layers of information, often by accident when the recording devices are in the hands of amateurs making mistakes, as is the case here. He muses on the “archaeological” aspects of the work, having dredged up 40 years of content to perform his experiments. He lists the things we’re hearing (answerphone messages, TV, baby recordings), and he lists the extra field recordings (air vents, traffic noise, waves breaking). None of these prosaic descriptions even begin to account for the strange sensations induced by this record, which over two sides and ten tracks creates near-hallucinatory experiences, surreal dream-scapes, and a general sense of having entered the looking-glass world, full of unknown languages spoken by alien creatures, performing actions which can’t be understood.

In collating his “lists” of content, which are useful, Vernon modestly downplays his own role in the selection, editing and assembly of these fragments, a unique artistic process which passes through his own fingertips directly onto the surface of the record. I think what makes it all so compelling is the fact that he is so ready and willing to depart from the supposed “purity” of documentary recording, and can’t help uncovering the incredible strangeness of life through his art. And it’s more than just juxtaposing two or more unconnected recordings; there’s music here as well, there are (as ever) fractured stories and dramas unfolding, and there’s a real sympathy for and interest in the human condition. Mark Vernon is not some unfeeling voyeur of the human pageant, like Scanner used to be with his secretly-monitored mobile phone conversations set to ambient music. On this record, he deals in human truths, but he also respects boundaries and asks questions, refusing to draw simplistic conclusions.”
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector

130 in 1 – more adventures with electronic circuits

This radio programme allows us to eavesdrop as a father and his 10-year-old son bond over a succession of increasingly fiddly electronic experiments – at the behest of the manual they connect wires, transistors, capacitors and diodes to create an array of weird and wonderful crackles, beeps, buzzes and other electronic noises. Harking back to the bygone days of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop in feel, variations on these sounds form the basis of the musical score that underpins the piece, playfully oscillating between real and imaginary spaces. As improbable as it seems, the outwardly dull schematics and diagrams open the doorway to a world of fun, exploration and the joy of discovery.

Father and Son: Andrew and William Deakin
Voice of the manual: Anne Marie Copestake

All sounds (except the bubbles) were generated from the Maxitronix 130 in 1 Electronic Lab Kit.

This programme was first presented in London at the Sound Bank launch and has since been aired on Resonance 104.4FM, Basic FM, Soundart Radio and across the Radia network. It was also included in ‘The Last Days of Analogue’, an online art project documenting the demise of analogue technology.

‘130 In 1’ was a Sound Bank commission produced by Mark Vernon for ‘In the Dark Radio’.

The Derby Tape Recording Club

Programme note: “A few years ago radio producer Mark Vernon bought a hoard of old reel-to-reel audio tapes in a car boot sale in Derby, as a job lot with an elderly and very heavy tape recorder. Coaxing the old machine back to life, he realised he had rescued the jettisoned archive of the Derby Tape Club – a group of amateurs who made, played and swapped recordings in the 1960s and 70s, when domestic tape-recording was in its infancy and before the audio cassette had conquered the world. A radiophonic elegy to an anonymous group of people and their forgotten enthusiasm: domestic tape recording and amateur radio in the 1960s and 70s.”

The Derby Tape Club started out as a six-part series of one-hour programmes on Resonance FM in 2002. The programmes were haphazardly constructed from a ramshackle archive of disintegrating open reel tapes bought from a car boot sale in Derby. A thirty-minute version was commissioned as a programme for BBC Radio 4 by Loftus Productions in 2003.

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4, Monday 1st March 2004, 8.30 pm
Images courtesy of Martin Stanway.

Wide General Vicinity

This limited edition cassette only release features excerpts from radio broadcasts made by Radio Tuesday in Glasgow during June 1999.

Featured artists include: Ian Balch, Anna McClauchlan, Rob Kennedy & Jessica Worral, Anne-Marie Copestake, Tom O’Sullivan & Joanne Tatham, Glitch, Scott Simpson, Daniel Jewesbury, James McLardy, David Fulford, Tony Swain, Crystal Collins, Cattivo, Scott Myles, Duncan Hamilton, Hayley & Sue Tompkins and Lucy McKenzie.

The audio excerpt is from ‘See you on the other side’ by Scott Myles – a voice-activated dictaphone captures him talking in his sleep.