From the Cable to the Grave

Akashic Records / AKR007 (2017)

‘From the Cable to the Grave’ includes 19 new tracks featuring harmony bombs, erotic grotesque nonsense, frolicsome demon beats, stimulators of vice, confusion ciphers, faster silences, declarations of indulgence, necessary noise, abstract paradises, and excerpts from the minutes from the AGM of the Dream Prognostication Circle & Astral Radiation Trance Club.

In summary: A once in a lifetime’s clinch with gaiety.

Screen printed wrap around sleeve in 2 cover variations (lucky dip which you get). Ivory cassette. Released July 9, 2017.

Artwork by Oliver Pitt


“A creepy, absurd tone bleeds through, as if occupying a weird realm somewhere between a 1960s sci-fi B movie and a warped episode of 80s kids’ programme Button Moon. It gives the impression of cosmic lifeforms being passed through a supermarket checkout or maybe wired up to a beeping life support machine, as muffled ghost songs float around in the background. An out of body experience of bubbling, baffling noises.”
(Claire Sawers, The Wire Magazine)

“A deliciously bewildering journey… one rarely finds such meticulous attention to detail, such gentle and not-inappropriate humour, and such compassion for the foibles of the human race.”
(Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector)

Reviews in Full

“…Another Akashic release (the label’s name is an esoteric pun on the Sanskrit term referring to universal mystical truths) is From The Cable To The Grave, a new album by the sound art duo Vernon & Burns (Mark Vernon and Barry Burns). Chirping space creatures, watery sound effects and creepy children’s voices crossbreed across 19 tracks of oddball knob twiddling and samples. The pair set up the online and FM radio station Radiophrenia in 2015, and have also made radio plays for New Jersey’s WFMU and London’s Resonance FM. A creepy, absurd tone bleeds through, as if occupying a weird realm somewhere between a 1960s sci-fi B movie and a warped episode of 80s kids’ programme Button Moon. It gives the impression of cosmic lifeforms being passed through a supermarket checkout or maybe wired up to a beeping life support machine, as muffled ghost songs float around in the background. An out of body experience of bubbling, baffling noises.”

(Claire Sawers, The Wire Magazine)

“The team of Vernon & Burns are old TSP faves. Mark Vernon and Barry Burns have proven themselves as unique custodians of an odd method of tape assembly, drawing on their eclectic collections of highly unusual sources, and enriching the results with a decidedly low-key English humour. That’s to say nothing of their populist-absurdist view of the world and all its tedious details that mean so much to us; they’d probably lean more towards the world of Tony Hancock than Samuel Beckett, but there is a core of disenchanted whimsy to be found threaded through most of what they record and release.

Many if not all of the above characteristics can be discerned and savoured in today’s offering, a cassette tape and download called From The Cable To The Grave (AKASHIC RECORDS AKR007). That title alone neatly combines two of their interests (technology and mortality, or at least human frailty) into a neatly-filleted pun. The same abiding themes have been engrained into the 19 short tracks you will hear, a deliciously bewildering journey through the dead-end streets and back alleyways of a forgotten time in a non-existent borough of the UK, one probably lurking somewhere between the dark November fog of Wolverhampton and the dreariest suburbs of Middlesbrough. Impressions of black and white photos, faded fashions, defunct colloquialisms and now-closed services and establishments.

Vernon & Burns once again concoct a radiophonic play without words, a many-layered shifting narrative without characters, whose exact contours are diffuse and shape-shifting. This is achieved through strange electronic music, snatches of sampled voices, and a very unobtrusive editing technique. This method is one of the primary strengths of this pair; if they were film editors, they could move a character on the screen from Mars to Arabia and back again by way of the catacombs of Paris – without anyone even spotting the joins. A bittersweet experience, but as meditations on death go, one rarely finds such meticulous attention to detail, such gentle and not-inappropriate humour, and such compassion for the foibles of the human race (which is more than you might get from a philosopher or stern moralist addressing similar themes). To use their own description of this item: “excerpts from the minutes from the AGM of the Dream Prognostication Circle & Astral Radiation Trance Club.” I think that says it all. Released in one of two variant silk-screened covers.”

(Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector)

The Light at the End of the Dial

Gagarin Records / GR2023 LP (2010)

“Vernon & Burns hark back to an earlier era of recorded sound, when novelty and comedy acts didn’t reach their use by date after five minutes of fame on the Internet, but managed to produce long-playing vinyl albums. Artefacts that subsequent generations of deejays rescued from thrift store bargain bins before cutting, scratching and manipulating them into new shapes and forms. The Light at the End of the Dial stands alongside with purveyors of a skewed form of electronica such as Stock, Hausen & Walkman, Wevie Stonder and People Like Us.

Vernon & Burns have quite an impressive oeuvre of sound making prior to this release on Felix Kubin’s Gagarin Records label. Starting out in 1999 with Radio Tuesday, an artist-run radio station in Glasgow skirting around the borders of soundscapes, documentaries, poetry and experimental music, they have moved on to enlighten and baffle such cultural institutions as WFMU, Resonance FM and the BBC with their radio plays and kitchen sink dramas.

On The Light at the End of the Dial, ‘Sinister Whimsy’ is a term that kept coming to mind. A case in point is the sad, disembodied voice of a young man that sounds uncannily like Peanuts’ Charlie Brown on Residual Values (It’s a Yes Man’s Life), “All he does is work, all he cares about is money. He doesn’t care about you, me or anyone.” Tip-tapping typewriters, the hum of a busy office, and frantic percussion seem to comment on our current obsessions without passing judgement. In Here Come The Intangibles, a free-jazz outfit stop in to unblock a sink for a distressed neighbour. The Night we Invented Forgetting comes on all loungey, with crooned evocations to a sadly absent loved one, complete with a backing of kid’s xylophone, Martin Denny textures and slamming doors.

The Last Lamppost’s beautifully eerie whistling refrain is slowly fleshed out by found sounds (creaky, of course) and a demented orchestra with only broken instruments to amuse themselves with. Spontaneous Adverse Experience Report reminds me of two grown men fighting over a game of Frogger, only to have Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic workshop join in to score the carnage. And if Vernon & Burns really are slighted lovers, no one can help them; as is evidenced by the insanely jealous psychic dis-ease of Naughty Boy.

If your tastes in comedy are dark and resolutely Britsh, and you aren’t averse to mixing that slapstick urge with a distinctly rubbery brand of cod-surrealism, The Light at the End of the Dial may be just that.”

(Oliver Laing, Cyclic Defrost)

“… mini-hörspiels: antique electronics, field recordings, sounds lifted from movies, collages slicing honky-tonk piano with old-school 8-bit video game music, nods to the golden age of musique concrète, etc. …creative madness being the unifying factor. It’s a bit messy, wild, but you can clearly hear a serious artistic process behind the mask of burlesque.
Plunderphonic cabaret concrète! Great stuff.”

(Monsieur de Lire, Journal d’écoute)

“Another delight from these Glaswegian creators whose work I unfailingly enjoy… V&B create short vignettes which are very like surreal radio plays, using fragments of spoken word, music and sound effects and putting them together in ingenious constructions. I always assume that each compacted gem of creation takes weeks of hard work to assemble, producing less than two minutes of sparkling joy, but perhaps I’m wrong. What I always enjoy is that one is never tempted to try and disaggregate their many sources, and instead enjoy these witty and eccentric pieces for what they are, with each surprising combination opening another doorway in their absurdist dolls house. One of my personal favourite moments on this album occurs on “While My Pretty One Sleeps”, where among a series of near-random dreamlike elements one suddenly hears the sound of billiard balls, apparently recorded in a pool hall in Warsaw. It’s a perfect touch, placing V&:B in 1930s Britain, wearing evening dress and sipping sherries while listening to the BBC home service. Somewhere between People Like Us and The Ghost Box label they might lie, but are not as sardonic as the former nor as specific as the other in choosing the targets of their pastiche.

On this particular release, even the packaging is in on the joke (and there aren’t that many records, outside of the early Monty Python LPs, which have pulled this off with any success); the tracks are described on the back cover, then described again on the inner sleeve; each description takes a different tack (one describes the method, the other the content) and they seem to contradict each other in the middle. Of course none of this prose is really serious, and these clipped two-line capsule descriptions (similar to TV program descriptions you may have once read on Ceefax, if you remember that) are compacted, witty and bizarre in ways that match the music. Vernon and Burns would have made ideal contributors to a TV show like Look Around You, but they would have dominated it and walked away with the prize.”

(Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector)


meagre resource / mere011 CDR (2004)

An urban soundscape composition that attempts to reveal the marvellous within the everyday. This piece was made from a series of field recordings gathered in Paris on two separate trips. The overall effect is of an audio journal or travelogue without narration. In the hustle and bustle of a busy metropolis we rarely have time to focus on the sounds that surround us. Many of the most interesting and unusual sounds only became apparent in hindsight through playback of the recordings captured. The recurrence of music and musical phrases provided by busking musicians produces a cinematic quality that was deliberately exaggerated by the edits and the division of the piece into different ‘scenes.’

Hubbub was first broadcast on Resonance FM in 2004 and was selected for ‘Drift’ a festival of sound and radio art in Glasgow in 2003. It was also released as a limited edition CDR on meagre resource records.

Involuntary Auditions for Imaginary Ensembles

meagre resource / mere019 CDR (2004)

A collection of compositions asssembled from samples recorded in musical instrument shops at weekends in Glasgow and Derby. Tuning up, squalling saxophones, musical exercises, erratic percussion, feedback, fragments of half learnt tunes, psychotic drumming, axe solo’s and cheesy pre-set keyboard demo’s all play a part in the unique ambience of the instrument shop. These sounds are playful, sometimes naive and often very unselfconscious as there is no intended audience – there’s always the odd show-off though. The recordings have been combined and rearranged – used as source material to create imaginary bands and groups. Through this process many unwitting musicians have become involved in unlikely collaborations with one another.

This piece was first aired on Resonance FM’s Clear Spot in 2004. It was also released as a limited edition CDR run of 20 copies on meagre resource records.

Thirteenth Colony Sound

meagre resource / mere020 CDR (2005)

This piece was composed from field recordings made in Savannah, Georgia in the summer of 2004. Different ‘species’ of sounds were grouped into ‘families’; resonant metallic sounds, engines and machines, bangs, intermittent repetitive strikes, constant broadband noise, etc. These sounds with superficial similarities were then processed, blended and carefully interwoven to create the final piece. Although many sounds are still recognizable, the fusion of sound sources blur the listeners ability to distinguish between specific components whilst amplifying and hybridizing some of their common characteristics. I looked on the process as a way of ‘breeding’ new sounds.

Released as a limited CDR edition of 50 copies on meagre resource records in 2005.

Notes on a Re-run

meagre resource / mere022 CDR (2005)

This piece was completed during a residency at Recyclart in 2005, a multi-functional arts space and venue in Brussels. The majority of the complex is situated beneath the arches of an active train station. As well as housing artists studios, gallery spaces, a cafe, wood and metal workshops, offices and a skate park, it is also a music venue that hosts gigs and club nights. The work was designed to play over the 6-speaker stereo system installed in the pedestrian subway that leads to the train platforms. By a series of sliding interlocking doors a modular space can be created in the subway. The same tiled floor that busy commuters rush over to get to work in the week becomes a dance floor for clubbers at weekends. I made it my goal to integrate as many aspects of this busy, versatile space as possible into the final work. Sounds collected range from the clatter of skateboards, spray cans and the rumble of trains to church bells, clubbers at night-time, construction work and fictional news stories from local children.

All recordings made by Mark Vernon at Recyclart, Brussels, Belgium, April to May 2005.

The piece was originally presented as a sound installation for ‘Kleur Station Couleur’ an exhibition curated by Komplot. ‘Notes on a re-run’ was aired on Radio Panik, Brussels and Resonance FM, London in 2006 and during ASCR’s Radiophonic Festival in 2007. An extract also appears on ‘Vollevox: Voice in Contemporary Art’, a book and double CD produced by Komplot. The recordings are also gathered together as a limited edition CDR on meagre resource records.

Found Sound Bulletin #1

Originally conceived as a synchronized sound composition designed to be played simultaneously on audio-cassette tape and compact disc, the Found Sound Bulletin is an archive of lost voices, audio letters, home sing-alongs and phone conversations created for the Art Lending Library as part of Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art in 2012.

Drawn from a collection of found recordings unearthed from many years of sifting through car boot sales, second hand shops and flea markets, this compilation allows a brief glimpse into the everyday lives of others. These discarded recordings, rescued from the sea of cultural flotsam & jetsam are windows on another world, inadvertently captured for posterity on magnetic tape.

The piece was designed as a listening experience in two parts. Some recordings had previously been edited, arranged and mixed with sound effects and music to create a type of radiophonic micro-drama. For this edition these carefully composed sound pieces were prised apart and the voice elements put back onto cassette, allowing the listener to experience them as they were first discovered – on magnetic tape. The composed elements were compiled on accompanying CD. Following the spoken instructions on the tape the user could synchronise playback of these disparate elements for a unique listening experience.

Separating the compositions into their constituent parts throws into contrast the low-grade audio of the taped voices and the comparative high fidelity of the musical backdrops. It also serves to highlight the gulf between analogue and digital, found and composed material.

This piece was re-imagined as a radio broadcast for Resonance 104.4 FM in 2013 as part of the series ‘Data for the Doubtful’.

X-Ray Records

meagre resource / mere026  8″ Lathe-cut flexi (2014)

An edition of 20 unique lathe-cut X-ray records inspired by Russian “roentgenizdat” records from the 1950’s (home made bootlegs of banned Western pop music pressed onto discarded X-rays) – these playable 8” records each feature a different X-ray image and a composed sound work made from recordings taken in Forth Valley Royal’s radiology department including sounds of X-ray machines, CAT scans and the MRI scanner.

The X-ray records were exhibited on medical light boxes as part of a launch event for the ‘Sounds of the Modern Hospital’ LP at Forth Valley Hospital, Larbert and the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow in March 2014.

This project was supported by Creative Scotland and NHS Forth Valley.

Static Cinema

Entr’acte / E126 CD (2012)

Static Cinema is the result of a series of musical improvisations using household objects combined with both treated and un-treated field recordings made in Scotland, Germany and Norway between 2008 and 2010. An audio drama missing its lead actors, Static Cinema explores several evocative spaces with the roaming ear of the micro-phone — capturing and interrogating them for meaning. Dramatic perspective shifts equate to different scenes
or cuts with long shots, close-ups, pans and zooms. The different recording locations function as spontaneous mise-en-scène waiting in suspense for an event yet to occur, or an actor still to make their entrance.

A radio version of Static Cinema appeared as an edition of Framework:afield for the Framework radio show in 2011. A definitive version of the piece was released as a limited edition of 200 compact discs on the Entr’acte label in 2012.


“…an aural equivalent of sunlit dust motes in an empty, creaky house.”
William Hutson, The Wire.

“…His elliptical approach is brilliant, and his understated imagination never falls asleep for a minute, completely transcending the technique.”
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector.

“…it just doesn’t sound in any way generic, and there is something refreshingly, oddly original about how it is all put together…”
Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear

“… a thought provoking, intimate piece of sound composition… Film noir for the ears.”
Chris Whitehead, The Field Reporter.

Reviews in Full

“Mark Vernon has created entertaining and witty radiophonic records as one half
of Vernon & Burns, and has remained consistently surprising and innovative with his musical and sound art endeavours. Compared to the jollifications of the V&B records, Static Cinema (ENTR’ACTE E126) is a much more refined and restrained piece of work, characterised by its quiet and gentle approach to the management and organisation of sound, and it conveys a general aura of mysterious events unfolding in a surreal, deserted landscape. In the assembly of these small and intimate sounds, Mark Vernon successfully blurs edges between music, sound art and field recording, at the same time building intriguing environments for the listener to get lost in. Track 1 is like a silent white-walled chamber, while track 3 presents an impossible vista comprised of staircases to nowhere, small electronic devices behaving strangely, cars moving through the air, and a dog barking everywhere as though suspended upside down in the sky as in a Chagall painting. Vernon had it in mind to produce an audio drama where the lead actors are missing from the equation, like a vintage BBC radio three play where the dialogue is taken away and all that’s left are the sound effects from the talented technicians, and of course background music supplied by an idealised version of the Radiophonic Workshop. Vernon achieved all of this through juxtaposing recordings of his home-made improvisations played on household objects with an array of field recordings fetched from multiple locations across Europe. His elliptical approach is brilliant, and his understated imagination never falls asleep for a minute, completely transcending the technique. Sent to us 29 March 2012; limited to 200 copies.”

(Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, November 10, 2012)

“Static Cinema, apparently Mark Vernon’s first solo CD, is quite unlike the more citational, sample based work he produces with Glaswegian Barry Burns in a duo known as Vernon And Burns. Composed of in situ recordings of everyday activity, as well as the clinking and shuffling of various household items, this disc contains six leisurely paced concrète collages. But where most artists would denature the individual sounds with lightning-fast cuts and juxtapositions, Vernon allows them to remain recognisable, comfortable, even pedestrian. The drama stays low-key, more concerned with capturing a sense of space through quotidian gestures — an aural equivalent of sunlit dust motes in an empty, creaky house.”

(William Hutson, The Wire Magazine)

“…tonight’s CD is a bit of a hidden delight, albeit a slightly difficult one to fathom out… The album is described as “the result of a series of musical improvisations using household objects combined with both treated and untreated field recordings made in Scotland, Germany and Norway between 2008 and 2010.” What we hear is probably closer to musique concrete than anything else, but there is something indescribably original about this music I really like. We hear just about everything thrown in here, from the familiar bits of traffic sound and weather recordings to a recurring, quite delightful capture of a dog barking in a high pitched manner, to a man snoring, the music finding a rhythmic pattern around his exhalations, to footsteps, old records playing, and much more besides. There are also plenty of sounds that are hard to identify, and feel thoroughly musical, not like either field recordings or household objects. Where the music feels different to musique concrete as we generally understand it however, and where it differs from the recent surge of improv-meets- field recordings collage is perhaps contained in the way the music is structured, or rather in how it feels completely unstructured.

Very much to its credit, Static Cinema doesn’t sound cluttered, doesn’t sound like an attempt to juxtapose unlikely sounds against one another, but also somehow doesn’t flow into any kind of stream of sounds. Things just seem to appear calmly in the music wherever they turn up, and after the initial bewilderment at the variety of sounds on display it all feels very calm and natural, even though there never really feels like any fixed structure in place within the music. You don’t notice when the tracks end, there is little to nothing to distinguish one piece from the next, and yet there are remarkable elements appearing all the time that make you stop and take notice. There are odd wails, a lot of vaguely percussive clatter, presumably sounds made with the household items, and plenty of room for the music to breathe as field recordings tend to join these more immediate sounds one at a time and with a sense of slow, gradual reveal rather than anything much that really jars. To some extent it does sound quite cinematic, and I do find myself picturing images of people creating the sounds here, either as musicians finding sounds in unusual objects or as the subjects of field recordings catching them unexpectedly.

The album works for me partly because of the inventive use of sounds here, a really unusual and considered collection of elements, some easily recognisable, some much less so, and partly because of the odd sense of calm, unhurried placement of sounds on show. The music doesn’t flow all that well all that often, simply because of the continual arrival of sounds that break up the short-term expectations of the music we have as it progresses. Like a quirky scrapbook with links drawn in detail between each of the collaged entries however there is a lot of charm to Static Cinema and in places a degree of humour, but this is serious music, a significant step on from Stock, Hausen and Walkman but with none of the preciousness of much modern field recording composition. Beyond this, I find it very hard to know what to write about this music. I like Static Cinema a lot, perhaps because it just doesn’t sound in any way generic, and there is something refreshingly, oddly original about how it is all put together, but ask me to justify that statement with something more solid and I will struggle. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious openings to tracks or contrived endings, and the sensation throughout is of things just appearing without any reason for them doing so. Something of an oddity then, but a very nicely put together, unhurried patchwork of seemingly disparate parts that kept me intrigued and interested for a fair number of listens. I hope I get to hear more from Mark Vernon soon.”

(The Watchful Ear:The Gathered Thoughts of Richard Pinnell,Thursday 26th April, 2012)

“This version of Static Cinema was originally conceived by Mark Vernon as the soundtrack element of an art installation. In a room a female nude manikin stands on a stage, limbs deliberately and flamboyantly positioned. In front of her is a microphone. Behind her a red backdrop, various chairs and a mirror. Nothing moves. On the walls are projected images of objects and spaces. From an unseen source sounds emerge. Occasionally a melody surfaces. Objects rattle and clink. Footsteps? Breathing? A dog barks. A kettle boils. A thread is unfolding but it needs restructuring, and there are probably as many new structures available as there are listeners to Static Cinema.

First presented as part of the full art installation in 2009, this CD is necessarily one degree removed from the total experience, as it can obviously only contain the audio component. Knowing its genesis, it is hard not to think of it as a soundtrack divorced from its visual element. The first section brought to mind one of those large rooms beloved of Tarkovsky. A quiet, fairly empty interior. There are birds there as every now and then one flutters near the microphone. There are chairs being moved around and people banging around somewhere else nearby. Strangeness takes over eventually, and a delicate, simple three note tune is plucked out on what might well be an egg slicer.

The label Entr’acte describe Static Cinema as an audio drama missing its lead actors. In other words the incidental sounds and the atmosphere are present and correct, but without the context afforded by a narrative. The listener of course is implicitly invited to supply a narrative of their own. In a particularly effective episode glasses and bottles suddenly begin to move of their own accord, rattling in agitation. It is as if a ground tremor is taking place. A physical, literally earth moving event conveyed through the simple vibration of everyday objects.

Another instance of sound conjuring up a very real flesh and blood presence is when we somehow become aware that someone is sleeping close by. A gentle rhythmic snoring. The feeling is of distinct uneasiness, because if it actually is what it purports to be, a covert intruder has crept into the sleeper’s bedroom and secretly documented his breathing.

Beautifully recorded and positioned in the virtual space of the stereo panorama, Static Cinema nevertheless appears to lack what David Lynch likes to call the ‘Duck’s Eye’. A single jewel-like object or event around which the construction is built. A kind of axis for things to revolve around. Static Cinema is a thought provoking, intimate piece of sound composition and the interpretation of its many faceted surface is entirely up to you. Film noir for the ears.”

(Chris Whitehead, The Field Reporter)

Sounds of the Modern Hospital

Sonograph Sound Effects Series Vol.1 LP
meagre resource / mere025 (2014)

‘Sounds of the Modern Hospital’ is a long-playing sound effects record in a limited edition of 250 copies. The record was produced by Mark Vernon during a two year period as digital artist in residence at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, Scotland.

The sounds featured on the LP were recorded in several different hospital departments including: Anaesthesiology, the Clinical Simulation Centre, Health Records, Outpatients reception, the Laboratories, Ophthalmology, Oral and Maxillofacial, Radiology, Nuclear Medicine, the Mail Room, the Neonatal Unit, Pharmacy and the Renal Unit. In addition to Forth Valley Royal, recordings were also made in Stirling and Falkirk Community Hospitals. Thanks to all staff and patients in NHS Forth Valley Hospitals for their help and co-operation.

The record is in part an homage to classic ranges of sound effects albums such as the BBC Sound Effects Library. Generic collections of sounds selected to fulfil the needs of professional and amateur broadcasters, filmmakers and theatre producers. They were also unintentional time capsules of everyday sounds at a specific moment in history. Nowadays commercial sound effects libraries exist in the digital realm and sound effects on vinyl are regarded as an anachronism, a faded audio Polaroid of a less sophisticated past.

Packaged in a retro-styled, obsolete format but featuring the sounds of a state of the art contemporary hospital seems to be a contradictory move but can be interpreted as a comment on the transitory and ever-changing nature of technology and the sonic environment. Particularly in a hospital environment that relies both on technological advances and public funding, it is difficult to predict how alien, quaint or even reassuringly nostalgic these sounds will appear to the listener in the next decade.

All recordings by Mark Vernon 2011 – 2013.

Sleeve design by Marc Baines. Label artwork by Keppie Design.

This project was supported by Creative Scotland and NHS Forth Valley.



“…each brief sonic episode has been laid down, showcased and positioned with a degree of calibration and precision that is just perfect.”
Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector.

“…it becomes impossible not to embed these noises into an imagined whole, an alien sort of environment which, nonetheless, we’ve come to rely on. Those cool, detached beeps need to be warmed up to one of these days.”
Brian Olewnick.

“…an excellent listening experience. Topped with a great sound effects cover, this is a great record. Another time machine.”
Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly.

Reviews in Full

“The ingenious and talented Mark Vernon sent in a copy of Sounds Of The Modern Hospital (MEAGRE RESOURCE RECORDS mere025) over a year ago now, so I hope the limited pressing of 250 vinyl copies hasn’t sold out. It’s field recordings, captured in various NHS hospital departments in Scotland during a two-year artist residency. But (as with most of his work) Vernon has worked very hard on presenting the work in a very particular context. To begin with, he is paying explicit homage to Sound Effects LPs of the 1970s and 1980s, especially those released by the BBC; this 2011 blog post by Simon Robinson may give you a clue, or jog your memory. Accordingly, each recording is very short (some are less than one minute in duration) and the LP is very carefully banded, with judicious gaps between the tracks. The overall intention is bolstered to some degree by Marc Baines’ knowing sleeve art, which is described to us as a “retro-styled” package; without pastiching anything specific, it successfully conveys the feel of a secondary school textbook published any time between 1950 and 1969. Indeed one possible reading of the LP is as a didactic, “educational” or instruction record, an impression that’s also reinforced by the near-clinical descriptions of the track titles on the back cover, which appear to be describing medical procedures and equipment for the benefit of a trainee surgeon rather than from any musical standpoint.

The three-and-thirty separate recordings have been arranged very carefully into a compositional sequence, and indeed we are invited to view the work as a start-to- finish statement, rather than a random collection of aural jottings. What comes over on today’s spin is how neatly-separated from its neighbour every recording is; the banding of the record assists in this, but each brief sonic episode has been laid down, showcased and positioned with a degree of calibration and precision that is just perfect. None of your amorphous sound-scaping and random cross-fades here; Vernon works like an old-fashioned engraver in the print shop, and if he could find a way to cut his own vinyl masters using a Lazy Susan and a dressmaker’s needle, I bet he would do it.

It remains to mention the “radiophonic” vibe of the record, by which I mean it almost presents a narrative or linked narratives through sound effects alone, provided the listener is prepared to bring a lot of imagination to the picnic. Vernon excels at this skill, and there are numerous published examples of his radiophonic art; 2012’s Static Cinema is one such, restrained though it be. I can discern at least two narrative strains in Sounds Of The Modern Hospital; the principal strand is almost purely technical, and it follows the actions and outputs of various machines, which produce rhythmic sounds, electronic beeps, or something resembling an abstracted “Industrial” noise, and all emerge as a form of programmed background music. The second strand is more buried, but it’s a human narrative; voices of nurses, doctors and patients, either performing particular routines or undergoing examinations. Some of them, taken so deliberately out of context, are ever so slightly absurd, even a little hilarious. If you listen to the record at one angle, it’s like a minimalist version of Carry On Doctor rescripted by Samuel Beckett. Some of these Vernon snippets would be perfect for a collaboration with People Like Us; the two of them should meet up some time.”

(Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector, March 7, 2015)

“I worked in a large hospital in NYC (Mount Sinai) from 1977 to early 2013. For a decent portion of that time, about 1988 to 2007 and sporadically thereafter, I found myself in patient areas that included a ton of technology: ICUs, X-Ray and MRI centers, ORs, ERs and dozens of kinds of laboratories, most of which contained items capable of generating sound. On the one occasion where I actually underwent an MRI, the neurologist, in my pre-exam consultation, warned me about the noises that would occur and described them, advising me that many patients found them scary or uncomfortable. “That’s ok,” I said, “it sounds like a lot of the music I listen to.” “You scare me,” he replied.

Mark Vernon has assembled, in a wonderfully designed retro package (I love the faded purple), 33 slices of sound from hospitals in Scotland, sound of both mechanical and human derivation. They’re presented blankly, “as is”, no specific commentary or narrative in effect, though, over the course of the recording, the listener may inevitably construct such. Many of the technological sounds are iterative, various analyzers, pumps, printers, scanners and other medical devices and they, clearly, have a decided “musical” content. But here are also the voices of staff conducting therapy sessions here, chatting there. A particularly eerie sequence occurs when we hear coughs and wheezing played through a mannequin, a simulation device used in nurse training. The extracts are short, running about a minute or two each, delineating this as a “sound effects” recording (though some, like “METI Human Patient Simulator” have a quasi-musical aspect that sounds intriguingly close to, say, an extract from a Keith Rowe performance). But it becomes impossible not to embed these noises into an imagined whole, an alien sort of environment which, nonetheless, we’ve come to rely on. Those cool, detached beeps need to be warmed up to one of these days. Oddly absorbing, do check it out”.

(Brian Olewnick, 27th February 2014)

“Sound effects records? Do they still exist? Or is everyone these days turning to freesound websites to find that plane taking off to mount below the amateur film of the latest holidays? I remember sound effects records from the ‘old’ days as something you could use to lift some sounds off and incorporate in your own music; I guess that was before you had to rush out with a mini disc and record these sounds yourself, which of course always adds a fine cachet of its own.

Here we have a classic sound effects LP, yet it’s also ‘fake’ perhaps. It’s rather a LP of field recordings than a sound effects LP. Mark Vernon, once of Vernon & Burns, is someone whose work is always on the fringe of radio art, radio, installation, soundtrack and performance. There are thirty-three pieces of sounds from various sections of the hospital on this record, recorded over a two year period at such departments as anaesthesiology, clinical simulation centre, health records, laboratories, ophthalmology, oral and maxillofacial, radiology, nuclear medicine, neonatal unit, pharmacy and the mail room. Everything is listed on the record.

“Is it music”, someone recently asked me when I played something that was very soft and very ambient. You could wonder the same thing about this, I guess. Everything time based and selected by the composer, I would think, is music. I thought this was a great record, even if I don’t like hospitals very much, but then, who does (other than the doctor making his money I guess)? Even when I didn’t visit all those departments, and hopefully never will, it was a great listening experience. The mechanical sounds of apparatus, computerized voices saying what you should do, the obscure rattling of sounds, the drones of machines – all of this to make you better. How odd. It’s probably something you don’t realize when you are in a hospital, but maybe you don’t think about that anyway when you are in a hospital. Adventurous DJs can work with this record to great effect (but where are the adventurous DJs anyway these days?), but also from a point of field recording lover, I can imagine this is something you can dig. It’s something else than your usual bird/insect/rain forest/big city hum. Like I said: an excellent listening experience. Topped with a great sound effects cover, this is a great record. Another time machine.”

(Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly)