In the Throat of the Machine

Scatter Archive / Scatter DL

Liam Stefani’s Scatter Archive has released an album of works I composed from stereo and binaural recordings of two very unusual organs:

– a five-stop polyphone built by the John Compton organ company that is currently in the process of being restored. The polyphone is powered by an electric motor and was recorded in the garage cum workshop of church organist Mark Latimer in Barrow in Furness in 2015.

– and ‘wind pipes’ a custom made organ built from over 100 salvaged church organ pipes by instrument inventor, Sarah Kenchington. The organ’s air supply comes from two massive hand operated bellows. A series of heavy weights are used to force the air through the system. Recorded at Trinity Apse, Edinburgh in 2013.

The organs were played by Sarah Kenchington, Emma Bowen, Jenn Mattinson, Mark Latimer and Mark Vernon.

Special thanks to Sarah Kenchington, Mark Latimer and the Octopus Collective.
 


Reviews:

“…this is a field recordist’s take on an organ record. More than melody, tone, harmony or dissonance, the musical ingredients that might have made a Bach organ piece great, Mark Vernon focuses on the organ’s more fundamental traits and sounds: the flow of air and the reverberations of pipes, that is, the organ’s own voice, throat and body… A nice idea that this album makes very clear is that recording can be performance, it’s not just a technical step in the process of releasing music. And if one is willing to consider recording performing, then I feel inclined to call Mark Vernon a virtuoso.”
Connor Kurtz, harmonic series


Reviews in Full

“An experimental organ record may not seem like the freshest idea in 2021, but I’ve never heard one that approaches the organ – or any acoustic instrument, really – quite like this. The difference that the label mentions is the fact that this album was made using two very unusual organs: an electric motor powered five-stop polyphone currently in the restoration process, and a custom-built organ made from over 100 salvaged church organ pipes. This pair of bizarro organs gave Mark Vernon a vast range of sonic possibilities to work with, experiment with and capture, allowing him to record a whole album’s worth of varied material that only sounds like organ music by technicalities. However, I don’t think that what’s really special here is the instruments – I think it’s the recordist.
It should be pointed out that Mark Vernon isn’t exactly known as a composer, let alone an instrumentalist – he’s a field recordist and a sound artist, and over the past decade he’s become one of the most exciting artists working in that field. But as much as this album seems like something of a departure, perhaps it’s not: to a massive extent, this is a field recordist’s take on an organ record. More than melody, tone, harmony or dissonance, the musical ingredients that might have made a Bach organ piece great, Mark Vernon focuses on the organ’s more fundamental traits and sounds: the flow of air and the reverberations of pipes, that is, the organ’s own voice, throat and body. This concept is executed in a different way in each track, allowing the album to feel like a thorough investigation of these instruments.

One striking example is “Glottic Cycle.” For this piece, microphones were placed inside different pipes to give the performance an enchanting but nauseating stereo separation. The keys were only played as softly as they could be, meaning that not enough air would enter the tubes to make them properly sound, and all that’s heard is the gentle release of air, the organ’s breath captured from dueling perspectives. Rather than the composition being something performed and recorded, it’s recorded and assembled – different recordings are made of different pipes, different perspectives, different sounds, and the composition pulls from them, arranging these soft gusts of air as if they were full-fledged musical notes.

Occasionally the album moves close to an actual performance with actual notes – such is the case on “Syrinx (active microphone studies 1 to 3).” The organ is allowed to properly and fully sound, humming a gorgeous, pulsing tone that comes and goes, rising and falling, moving through a simple musical structure that allows the piece to sound like an ordinarily composed, melodic music. The catch though is that it’s not really the organ being played, it’s the recording device itself. The organ simply emits a pure, unmoving drone, but as the recording device is swung back and forth along the mouths of the pipes the listener hears a shift in tones, the appearance and disappearance of harmonies, and the illusion of an organ with a magically modulating voice, when in fact these changes only exist within the recording device, and rather than instrumental performance we have rudimentary physical principals to thank for these shifting tones – it’s an organ composition for the doppler effect.

Another track that cleverly places its aural possibilities within the recording device is “Thoracic Fixation.” This time the microphone was placed directly in the air stream, allowing the organ’s breath to envelope the microphone and pulse around it. An effect that many would write off as wind noise becomes a platform for composition and performance as Mark Vernon picks up the microphone and actively moves it through these air streams, in full control of these windy oscillations which can only be heard from the performer’s perspective, through the recordist’s headphones. A nice idea that this album makes very clear is that recording can be performance, it’s not just a technical step in the process of releasing music. And if one is willing to consider recording performing, then I feel inclined to call Mark Vernon a virtuoso.

Album closer “Last Breath (Effets d’Orage)” does good work at putting things in perspective. Organs aren’t used at all here – it’s just a recording of wind blowing through a chimney in somebody’s home – something of a ready-made organ which nature performs. It’s beautiful, it’s humbling. As exciting as esoteric instruments are, the track reminds me to stay interested in what’s already around me, that there already exists a world of fascination within the myriad subtleties of daily perception, that to find something attractive one doesn’t always need to look further than their own chimney. That message makes sense to me, I even find it comforting, and it certainly works in this context: this is a field recordist’s take on an organ record, after all.”
Connor Kurtz, harmonic series


Tape Letters from the Waiting Room – New LP Out Now

 

The expanded soundtrack to Steve McInerney’s award-winning Tape Letters from the Waiting Room is now available on vinyl. Mastered by Rashad Becker and pressed to heavyweight, this release comes with a 12-inch 16mm film strip of found footage.

You can purchase a copy of the record or download here.

You can view the full film here.

I have a limited number of artist copies too so if you’d rather buy direct from me just drop me an email.

All tracks composed and recorded by Mark Vernon
Mastered by Rashad Becker
Lacquer cut by Ruy Mariné at Dubplates & Mastering
Artwork taken from the film by Steven McInerney

An existential drama exploring the universal themes of death and rebirth. Tape Letters from the Waiting Room is an experiment in film archaeology and magnetic memory as it navigates past life experiences. Shifting in succession from the mundane to the metaphysical, the film is composed of extant 16mm found footage from the past century. The original soundtrack by Mark Vernon encompasses a rich collection of domestic tape recordings; audio letters, dictated notes, found sounds and other lost voices.

Magneto Mori: Vienna CD

Canti Magnetici / Canto 32 CD / DL

Limited edition CD release on Italian label Canti Magnetici and the follow up to my previous 2019 release for the label, ‘Magneto Mori: Kilfinane’.

Originally commissioned by Kunstradio for broadcast on ORF Ö1, Austria this is a significantly reworked alternate version created specifically for this CD release.

Magneto Mori: Vienna is a fragmented sound portrait of the city constructed from found sounds, buried tapes and field recordings. In this de-composition sounds from Vienna’s past and present are conjoined in a stew of semi-degraded audiotape. Using a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder sounds from around the city were recorded direct to tape over a two-day period. This tape was then cut into fragments and buried in a hole in the ground with a number of souvenir fridge magnets that erased the portions of the tape that they came into contact with. After several days steeped in the muddy earth of a Viennese garden the remaining audio fragments were exhumed, washed, dried and spliced back together in random order. The deliberate distressing and erosion of these present-day recordings results in artificially degraded sounds that fast-forward the effects of time, disrupting the perceived chronology of this audio matter.

During the tapes’ interment, old cassette, Dictaphone and reel-to-reel tapes were gathered from local flea markets and additional field recordings were made around the city. The addition of these found sounds stretches the timescale from just the short period spent making location recordings to perhaps as far back as fifty years ago. All of these elements provided the raw materials for a radiophonic composition that represents a portrait of Vienna in both place and time; an archaeological excavation of found sounds, lost fragments, buried memories and magnetic traces. Presented here are the sounds that endured…

Purchase on Bandcamp.


Reviews:

“…a chamber set of quiet power”
Mike Hoolboom

“…suffused with peeling paint, crumbling infrastructure… it’s fascinating as an assemblage of the cultural detritus that has oozed out from its base, leaking into used-goods stores and ramshackle market stalls — forgotten memories exhumed, reanimated, limping with half-life.”
Maxie Younger, Tone Glow

“…essentially, he created a process of experiencing and forgetting that mirrors the processes of our own brains, turning recordings into memories.”
Connor Kurtz, harmonic series


Reviews in Full

“In this suite of exquisitely arranged miniatures, the artist recycles everyday moments – chiefly convos and traffic – subjects them to various analog derangements (like burying the tapes), then carefully rearranges the broken, shredded samples, producing a chamber set of quiet power.”
Mike Hoolboom

“There’s certainly a transfixing quality to this collage, degraded, suffused with peeling paint, crumbling infrastructure; I can’t speak to the veracity with which it portrays Vienna, but it’s fascinating as an assemblage of the cultural detritus that has oozed out from its base, leaking into used-goods stores and ramshackle market stalls — forgotten memories exhumed, reanimated, limping with half-life.”
Maxie Younger, Tone Glow

“The bits in which the recordings are more or less pristine act like islands of sound amid the morass of obliteration and its many shades, giving dynamism to the listening experience. There’s a richness of sound and a subtle handling of the medium here, and they’re evidence of someone who knows what they’re doing very, very well.”
Gil Sansón, Tone Glow

“Ethnography is always a difficult subject in art – how can one person, especially one who isn’t even a long-term resident, understand an entire city, culture and people? And even more, how could they possibly capture and express such a thing? How could they be expected to present anything other than their own biased outsider experiences which place themselves as a fascinated observer rather than an integrated member of that community? Luckily, that’s exactly what Mark Vernon sets out to capture here: not the sounds of Vienna, but the sounds of one artist’s remembering of it.

There exist some obvious differences between memories and recordings. Memories are malleable, where recordings are concrete. Memories bend at the whims of dreams, experiences, biased conscious and subconsciousness and individual perceptions – it’s very personal, subjective processes that turn a real event into a memory. Recordings, on the other hand, are consistent – an event is heard, captured, and stored in that state eternally – well, not exactly, as Mark Vernon proves. After just a couple days of experiencing and recording events throughout Vienna on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, he cut up and buried his tapes alongside several souvenir magnets, leaving these cultural gift objects to process, erase and blur his recordings in an indeterminate fashion, and further scrambling them upon random reassembly. It’s a clever way to manipulate a tape, but it’s more than that – essentially, he created a process of experiencing and forgetting that mirrors the processes of our own brains, turning recordings into memories.

Another key difference between memories and recordings is aesthetics – where we rarely have much control over what we remember, we have complete power in what we choose to record, and how. As an artist, Mark Vernon certainly records and creates with aesthetic goals in mind, and this can be seen down to his tools and selected medium – the reel-to-reel, as opposed to a digital device which would arguably capture things clearer. There’s no attempt to hide the aesthetic concepts within these recordings, actually the incidental sounds of the tapes and playback devices are glamourized and given major roles in the mix alongside the leftovers of what was recorded. The result is, rather than a true remembering of the city, an artist’s remembering of it – one where the brain’s forgetful processes are followed, but the artist’s aesthetic instincts act as a filter along every step of the way.

A final piece to the puzzle is the addition of numerous sounds found throughout the city, various recordings of the past several decades of the city’s history and culture but deprived of any context – whether it was recorded a year or fifty ago is as unclear as what the recording even is. By infusing these literal found sounds alongside his own recordings, Magneto Mori: Vienna becomes a multi-perspectived remembering of a city – one where foreign artist Mark Vernon acts as a tour guide while fragments of the true Vienna can be heard or seen in all directions.

I’ve never been to Vienna, I’ll admit, so where the true Vienna ends and Mark’s Vienna begins I wouldn’t know. Whether this album gives a comprehensive view of the city, its culture and people, or its complex history, I also wouldn’t know. I think that might be intentional here though, because it’s a memory of Vienna we’re hearing, not an image of it. And like any memory, certainly of ones that are far from home, I should ask myself – is that really how it was, or is that just how I remember it?”
Connor Kurtz, harmonic series


Sonograph Sound Effects Series Volume 2: Public and Domestic Plumbing and Sanitation

Calling Cards Publishing / CCP007 LP (2021)

New limited edition Sound Effects Library LP released by Calling Cards Publishing.

Mark Vernon presents the second volume of his Sonograph Sound Effects Series – the follow up to the unexpectedly popular ‘Sounds of the Modern Hospital’ LP. This time the focus is on sounds of plumbing and sanitation: drainpipes, plugholes, leaks, squeaky taps and cisterns.

Vernon has recorded many of the sounds from unusual perspectives, in extreme close-up scenarios, using contact mics or small binaural microphones to get into tiny inaccessible spaces. There is also a particular focus on plumbing on-board vehicles and vessels in motion. The intention here is to reveal the marvellous within the most mundane and every day of sounds.

The record masquerades as a collection of generic archetypal sounds whilst in actuality it revels in the specific and unique – some of the most idiosyncratic and characterful instances of such sounds. No two gurgles are alike.

As an avid collector of sound effects records these obsolete discs have gradually taken on new meaning for Vernon as unintended audio time capsules. As their use value has decreased their value as historical audio documents has grown. To produce a sound effects LP in the age of digital audio libraries is an anachronistic gesture intended to elevate what purports to be a generic collection of recordings intended for functional use to the level of an artwork.

The album is in part a homage to classic ranges of sound effects albums such as the BBC Sound Effects Library – even down to the utilitarian design and functional descriptions of the sounds (a key aspect of this release). Such generic collections of sounds were intended to fulfil the needs of professional and amateur broadcasters, filmmakers and theatre producers. However, through careful selection and sequencing it is also intended that this record works as a linear sound composition.

>>> Utilitarian Unsounds for Undisclosed Purposes <<<

 
Reviews:

“…as the pieces begin to pass in quick succession, they start to wriggle free of meaning like a word repeated until it feels like just a collection of uttered sounds. Rather than take you out of the experience, this dislocation becomes hypnotic and compelling… creating the soundscape to somewhere new and bewildering.”
Spenser Tomson, The Wire magazine


Reviews in Full

“Opinions differ as to what constitutes a ‘good’ field recording. It could be argued that the more precisely it captures a place or event, conjuring it with clarity in the mind of the listener, then the more successful it is. In Cathy Lane and Angus Carlyle’s book In The Field: The Art of Field Recording, the musician and exponent of the technique, Francisco López says, “for me field recording is essentially a creative way of interacting with reality, rather than ‘representing’ reality”. In his view, the most interesting field recordists are those who, rather than employing a documentarian accuracy, opt instead to let the sounds bleed across the frame, obscuring their nature and using them as the components to construct a completely new fiction.

Mark Vernon’s work often plays with this ambiguity, using various methods to sever these sonic artefacts from their original connections. Lend An Ear, Leave A Word constructed a disorientating picture of Lisbon from snippets of tape recordings and found sounds, while Sonograph Sound Effects Series Vol.1: Sounds of the Modern Hospital took the already curious sounds of these places, amplifying their strangeness by presenting them in quick-fire sequence, disorientating the listener in strange soundscapes. With the follow-up, subtitled Public And Domestic Plumbing And Sanitation, Vernon achieves weirder results from a source material that is more quotidian.

But its weirdness is not immediately revealed, and initially his recordings appear as straightforward documents of the everyday and mundane. “Shower Hose Attachment” and “Toilet Flush And Cistern Refill” set a tone that gurgles and squeaks its familiar way through U-bend and plughole. But as the pieces begin to pass in quick succession, they start to wriggle free of meaning like a word repeated until it feels like just a collection of uttered sounds. Rather than take you out of the experience, this dislocation becomes hypnotic and compelling, such as when the soggy clatter of “Drainpipe Drips” rolls into the lonely groan of “Radiator” creating the soundscape to somewhere new and bewildering.

As with his previous works, Vernon illustrates that from ubiquity, he is able to conjure something unfamiliar and compelling.”

Spenser Tomson, The Wire magazine, September 2021

Public and Domestic Plumbing and Sanitation – launch event

 

CALLING CARDS PUBLISHING PRESENTS:
MARK VERNON & LAURA PHILLIPS + MARY HURRELL + JOHN MACEDO
Cafe Oto, FRIDAY 27th AUGUST 2021, 7.30PM – Tickets £12, £10 (ADV), £6 members.

To mark the launch of the new LP on Calling Cards Publishing “Sonograph Sound Series Volume 2: Public & Domestic Plumbing & Sanitation” – Mark Vernon and Laura Phillips will plumb the depths to present an experiment in sound and image exploring the structures of sanitation systems, boilers, pumps, plumbing networks, drainage and water supplies.

The evening also welcomes Mary Hurrell, an interdisciplinary artist working across sound, performance, sculpture and text to explore choreography of the body. And John Macedo, whose work explores connections and relationships and revealing the hidden potential in all sounds, environments and technologies, often in intimate, immersive and intuitive ways.

More details here.

The next day Mark & Laura perform at the Bristol Exchange on a bill with Agathe Max, Ocean Floor and Wendy Miasma.

Early show, 10pm curfew – Tickets £6.
Exchange, 72 – 73 Old Market, Bristol.

More details here.

Tickets available here.

Sheet Erosion on Kunstradio

 

A newly commissioned programme for Radiokunst – Kunstradio, Sunday 29th August, 23:00 – 0:00 (CET), Ö1, Austria.

Sheet Erosion is the third episode in a series of works based around ideas of audio archaeology and found sounds. The setting this time is the city of Brest in France. The piece is created from field recordings made in early 2020 during the storms Ciara and Desmond and a batch of found open reel tape recordings from the 70s and 80s. The tapes include domestic home recordings but mostly document the recordist, Michel’s tastes in music and radio programmes of the time. In listening to the tapes it occurred to me that what we choose to record is actually a record of ourselves – our tastes, interests, emotional state or personality even. Each recording in isolation provides little in terms of clues but en masse a clearer picture begins to emerge and certain character traits start to become identifiable. Recorded with a mic in front of a speaker rather than directly cabled, daily life bleeds into these lo-fi recordings of radio and TV programmes – ambiguous activities in the background, babies crying, feedback, chairs scraping, chatter, etc. In the composed work family histories and musical tastes are transposed over a more contemporary soundscape of Brest. Over-saturated tape distorts time as well as sounds. Speeds change. Chronologies become confused. Different instances in time are blended and fused. What seeps through these chronological crevices are events and incidents unmoored from linear time taking place in a chimerical non-space. Although the location remains the same would it be in any way recognisable to the inhabitants chronicled within it?

Berliner Hörspiel Festival

My experimental radio play The Dominion of Din originally produced for the Amplify: Quarantine festival, has been shortlisted for the Burning Mic Prize for international non-German works at this year’s Berliner Hörspiel Festival – a radio play competition and 4-day extravaganza of listening sessions, Q & A’s, workshops and live radio plays. The winners are decided through a public vote.

Sunday, 14th August from 17:00 (CET) / 16:00 (GMT)

To tune in to the live stream or to view the full programme visit:

https://berliner-hoerspielfestival.de/festival-2021/

Update: I’m really happy to say that The Dominion of Din won first prize in Sunday’s competition against some pretty stiff competition.

Clyde Built Radio Show – Calling Cards Publishing Special with Mark Vernon

·
In conversation with Calling Cards’ Sam Hailey-Watts, Glasgow’s Clyde Built Radio hosted an hour-long deep dive into some of my favourite sound effects records and field recordings works ahead of the forthcoming release on Calling Cards Publishing: Public and Domestic Plumbing and Sanitation.

Clyde Built Radio, 8am -9am, 23rd July.

(Track list below)

Mark Vernon – Draining Kitchen Sink
Sonograph Sound Effects Series Vol.2: Public & Domestic Plumbing & Sanitation (Calling Cards Publishing, CCP007, 2021)

Sound Effects Volume 16 – Rowing (hydrophone)
(Stereodisc, DFS 7056, 1974)

Andreas Oskar Hirsch – Row Out (excerpt)
Row LP (Makiphon 003, 2017)

Mark Vernon – Phacoemulsifier
Sonograph Sound Effects Series Vol.1: Sounds of the Modern Hospital (meagre resource, mere 025, 2014)

Mark Vernon – Hot Water Tap
Sonograph Sound Effects Series Vol.2: Public & Domestic Plumbing & Sanitation (Calling Cards Publishing, CCP007, 2021)

Mark Vernon – Plughole Drone – Steam Train Toilets
Sonograph Sound Effects Series Vol.2: Public & Domestic Plumbing & Sanitation (Calling Cards Publishing, CCP007, 2021)

Toshiya Tsunoda – Inside of a Pipe at the Seashore 1
Pieces of Air CD (Lucky Kitcken, LK 016, 2002)

R.S.King – Sink-Symphony
IWT / CIMES / IARC 1993 CD

Pigface – Symphony for Taps
Gub CD (Devotion, 1991)

Mark Vernon – Wash Basin Tap
Sonograph Sound Effects Series Vol.2: Public & Domestic Plumbing & Sanitation (Calling Cards Publishing, CCP007, 2021)

Mark Vernon – Paper Cone Music
(unreleased, 2012)

Bands 1 & 3 – Threshing and Cultivating by Steam Power LP
(Sounds of the Countryside series, Abbey 607, 1967)

Sven-Åke Johansson ‎– Konzert Für 12 Traktoren (excerpt)
Konzert Für 12 Traktoren LP (Trost Records, TR 137, 2015)

Sound Effects Volume 16 – Zilch
(Stereodisc, DFS 7056, 1974)

In the Throat of the Machine – new digital release on Scatter

 
Liam Stefani’s Scatter Archive has released an album of works I composed from stereo and binaural recordings of two very unusual organs:

– a five-stop polyphone built by the John Compton organ company that was in the process of being restored. Recorded in the garage cum workshop of church organist Mark Latimer in Barrow in Furness in 2015.

– and ‘wind pipes’ a custom made organ built from over 100 salvaged church organ pipes by instrument inventor, Sarah Kenchington. Recorded at Trinity Apse, Edinburgh in 2013.

Name your price download here.

Sonic Territories

Magneto Mori: Vienna will be featured in the Sonic Territories festival next month.

For the fourth time, Sonic Territories, the festival for sound art in Vienna’s Seestadt, will immerse visitors in unusual worlds of sound. From July 1 to 4, the focus of this year’s festival is on new forms of interaction with sound. The piece is included as part of the Sound Parcours programme presenting audio works in public spaces.

01 – 04 July 2021
FREE ADMISSION / EINTRITT FREI
Eva-Maria-Mazzucco Platz 2, 1220 Wien

Daily 3pm – 8pm / Täglich 15-20 Uhr
Individual Tours: Smartphone Festivalguide-App
Guided Tours: Daily 5pm / Täglich 17 Uhr

More details here:

https://www.sonic-territories.at/mark-vernon/