A Trip Down the Clyde

Produced for a micro-radio broadcast as part of an exhibition at the Fairfield ship yards for the Glasgow international festival of visual art in 2010 this nostalgic documentary features oral history interviews with people who used to work in the shipyards or holidayed on the river Clyde. The recordings were gathered during a series of  memory sharing workshops at the Lighthouse in Glasgow. The final piece is an evocative blend of voices, found tapes, music and sound effects. Part of the programme was originally commissioned as a soundtrack to accompany a film compiled from clips of amateur films from the Scottish Screen Archive edited by Rob Kennedy. It was screened as part of the exhibition, ‘The Clyde – Films of the River 1912-1971’ at the Lighthouse, Glasgow in 2009.

Featuring the voices of:
Hugh McGeorge
Tom Urie
John Alexander
Harry McColl
Claire Harker
Rita Harker

The radio version was also aired on Resonance FM and Glasgow’s Sunny Govan Radio 103.5fm in 2011.

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…

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, on the Framework radio show and as part of Sonic Arts Network’s Brighton Expo 2008.

See the ‘Tape Recording Club’ section for more information.

The Derby Tape Recording Club

The Derby Tape Recording 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.

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.”

This condensed version of the Resonance FM series ‘The Derby Tape Recording Club’ was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 8.30pm on the 1st March 2004.

See the ‘Tape Recording Clubs’ section for more information on tape clubs.

Evelyn’s Request

An audio collage combining excerpts, samples and audio quotes from a range of over 20 different popular films featuring radio broadcasts. Sampled films include: ‘Play Misty for Me’, ‘Radio Days’, ‘Talk Radio’, ‘The Fog’, ‘Warriors’, ‘American Graffiti’ and ‘Pump Up The Volume’. Radio is both the medium and the subject of this programme, a unique feature that is used to play with listener expectations, flitting between fictional radio stations with bursts of static, white noise and wild long wave frequencies as though scanning between stations. As this schizophrenic collage progresses numerous simultaneously developing narratives begin to catch the listener’s ear.

To some degree this is an investigation into the common use of radio as a device within film to explore specific themes such as synchronicity, community, rebellion and nostalgia – as well as the cliché’s of shock jocks, obsessive listeners, lifelines to the lonely, pirate radio and meditations on the concept of dead air. These acousmatised soundtracks allow us to examine more closely the ways in which one technological medium is perceived through another, examining the accuracies as well as highlighting stereotypes and distortions.

Full text

Radio broadcasts are often contrived as cinematic devices to provide continuity whilst switching between the perspectives of different characters or simultaneously occurring events. The omnipresence of the radio invites these parallel edits that are often used to set up contrasts or sympathies between characters or build up tension with increasingly rapid cuts between perspectives. When the soundtrack is separated from these scenes the subtle mechanics that are at work are revealed. We are still able to distinguish between differing environments through a variety of acoustic clues; the low sound of cicadas in the background of one environment, the poorly tuned slightly distorted signal of another, the reverberant sound of a car radio in the still of the night or the tinny sound of someone listening in on cheap headphones.

The realization of this programme in the form of a broadcast marks an important distinction that elevates these cinematic fragments and clips from radio fiction to radio fact. Brought together here is an unusual collection of films, genres, characters and stories that span the last four decades. For the duration of the broadcast the actors playing these characters – the DJ’s, presenters and talk show hosts, for the first time became real. Hearing their voices over the airwaves makes this transformation possible and conversely turns the tables; we are now able to make perceptions about the medium of film through the medium of radio.

This work takes in examples from an eclectic and wildly diverse set of films, from teen angst drama’s and horror films to nostalgic reflections and imbecilic comedies. The mood of the piece reflects this diversity in its schizoid leaps between the inane, the ridiculous, the shocking, the horrific and the profound – just like the best of real radio.

Originally commissioned for the Drift festival of radio art in association with New Media Scotland. This piece was first aired on Resonance 104.4FM in 2005. An updated version was aired as part of the Radio Art Space project by CONA in Slovenia in 2011.

Featuring audio clips and samples from the films: ‘The Fog’, ‘Radio Days’, ‘Airheads’, ‘Pump Up The Volume’, ‘Classy Kill’, ‘Couch Trip’, ‘Dead End’, ‘Good Morning Vietnam’, ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’, ‘Reservoir Dogs’, ‘The Truth About Cats & Dogs’, ‘American Graffiti’, ‘Urban Legend’, ‘Warriors’, ‘The Big Swinger’, ‘The Fisher King’, ‘Talk Radio’, ‘Good Morning Vietnam’, ‘Joe Dirt’, ‘The Ladies Man’, ‘Do The Right Thing’, ‘Grosse Point Blanc’ and ‘Play Misty For Me’.

No Such Thing as a Quiet Hammer

Vernon & Burns, thinking aloud, offer a quiet meditation on noise. Extracts from interviews with noise pollution officers from Dundee City Council’s Environmental Health Department are combined with found sounds, songs, field recordings and other voices to create this experimental live radio piece. Part audio collage, part documentary this is an unorthodox investigation into attitudes towards extraneous noise and noise pollution.

Commissioned by Extrapool (NL) in 2005 for ‘Audiotoop’ – an evening of live, performed radio plays and Hörspiel. The full programme was aired on Resonance FM in June 2008. A condensed version appears on ‘Play’, a CD and publication produced by Extrapool, 2006:

The Eldritch Transmissions

The Eldritch Transmissions: A Study in Radiophrenia

A radio play by Vernon & Burns originally commissioned by WORM for Café Sonore, VPRO Radio 6 (NL).

The diary of a missing person gives disturbing clues to his disappearance. An insomniac relies on his radio to offer company during the long hours of the night. Amongst the fuzz and static in between stations the thoughts of his neighbours begin to intrude upon the airwaves. As he eavesdrops on the lives of those around him we become acquainted with a number of characters and their stories, the amusing, the eccentric, the everyday and the plain odd. But amongst the banal babble of his neighbour’s lives lurks another more sinister sound…….

An innovative and surreal Lovecraftian tale which incorporates music, sound effects and field recordings to present a chilling but darkly amusing story of voyeurism and the intimacy of the radio voice.

The Eldritch Transmissions was aired on VPRO Radio 6 (NL) and Resonance FM in 2008 and was also selected for Sonic Arts Network’s Expo 2008 in Brighton. A CD version was released in 2010 as volume #5 in WORM’s Horspil series.

Histoires Contaminées / Contaminated Stories

Over recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in storytelling traditions in Quebec. ‘Histoires Contaminées’ explores the idea that in folk traditions a story is a constantly evolving form given new shape by each teller. Although the details may change the underlying archetypes remain the same.

Four local storytellers were invited to adapt or improvise a story that would include four predetermined items or themes. The intention was to create four points of correlation where the different narratives would meet or overlap. These stories were then used as raw material; edited, re-cut, processed and combined, to create a completely new narrative. The resulting work, ‘Histoires Contaminées’, is an unorthodox radio play in the tradition of German Hörspiel. Voices merge with field recordings, found tapes and abstract sounds in a simultaneously meditative and delirious audio montage. The ambiguous meaning is intended as a point of departure for the listeners imagination.

Celine Jantet
Claudette L’Heureux
Ginette Morin
Nicolas Rochette

‘Histoires Contaminées’ was produced during a 3-month residency at PRIM in Montreal, Canada in 2008. The residency is an exchange programme between CALQ, PRIM, the Scottish Arts Council and the CCA in Glasgow. ‘Histoires Contaminées’ was first broadcast on CKUT 90.3 FM, Montreal, September 2nd, 2008. Limited CDR edition of 50 (mere 023).

Pause Button Portraits

A series of short audio works based around the everyday domestic environment of people’s homes. Volunteers who engage in the process are asked to talk about their living quarters and take part in a rapid recording session of anything and everything that makes a sound within their home. The recorder is set to record pause mode and snippets of sound are recorded one after the other in quick succession creating an instant linear sound collage unique to each home. It could be thought of as the audio equivalent of an in-camera edit using the pause button as an immediate editing tool. Relinquishing control in this way encourages rapid on the spot decisions, always trying to think one step ahead about what sound will follow on from the next and how they will all work together. Participants are encouraged to seek out and suggest sounds that interest them. This audio exploration of the home almost always leads to surprises and the discovery of something new about the sound environment that they inhabit day-in day-out. The informal interviews are then layered with the sounds with only minimal editing after the fact.

It is hoped that eventually this expanding collection of recordings will be gathered together in an on-line archive that anyone can contribute to by creating and uploading their own portraits.

Pause button portraits have been commissioned by Modern Art Oxford for their art in Rosehill project in 2009 and by Heart of Efford Community Partnership for community radio station, Efford FM, Plymouth in 2010.

This pause button portrait was made with Eileen Tripp at her home on the Rosehill estate, Oxford shortly before it was demolished.

Precipitation Studies

Precipitation Studies Volume 1: Surfaces

The first in a series of three rainscapes composed by Mark Vernon, broadcast on Resonance 104.4FM, 10th October 2010 for Framework’s 300th edition anniversary show.

Rain has a unique ability to sound out and describe the surfaces in our immediate surroundings, making us newly aware of the timbre, dimensions and other sonic qualities of all things in our vicinity. Rainfall on pots and pans, tubs and tins, car bonnets and cafe tables, park benches and rubbish bins, drainpipes and scaffolding, umbrellas and window panes, conservatories and caravans, pavements and microphones…

“I opened the front door, and rain was falling. I stood for a few minutes. Lost in the beauty of it. Rain has a way of bringing out the contours of everything; it throws a coloured blanket over previously invisible things; instead of an intermittent and thus fragmented world, the steadily falling rain creates continuity of acoustic experience.”

(from: John M. Hull, Touching the Rock. An Experience of Blindness, Arrow books, London, 1991, pp.22-23)


Sound House

A radio documentary about the ‘Sound House’ – a site-specific installation created by Sarah Kenchington. With the help of staff at Modern Art Oxford Sarah transformed a recently vacated family home that was due for demolition into a multi-faceted musical instrument. I was originally commissioned to document the installation through sound with a brief to re-work this material into a composition that in some way reflected the experience. Interviews with Sarah and several former residents of the now demolished Orlit houses on the Rosehill estate were combined with these compositions and field recordings to form the basis of this programme.

“…I have been keenly aware of the intense and often reciprocal dialogue between the audible and the visible. Buildings provide spaces for living, but are also de facto instruments, giving shape to the sound of the world. Music and architecture are related not only by metaphor, but also through concrete space.”

Daniel Libeskind – Soundscape for Sound and Vision (2003)