Horse Box Orchestra

For a series of performances at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow in 2008, Sarah Kenchington put together a number of different permutations of her ‘Horse Box Orchestra’. On this occasion the line up was:

Martine H. Crispo (Montreal) circuit bent toys and laptop.
Mark Vernon (Glasgow) mic’d up objects, electronics, field recordings and laptop.
Sarah Kenchington (Balfron) home made mechanical orchestra.

Recorded live at the CCA, Glasgow, 13th December, 2008.

Duration: 31:50

Atom Town

Atom Town: life after technology – a film by Gair Dunlop

“Dounreay Atomic Research Establishment is a sprawling monument to solidity, optimism and analogue engineering. The intangible alchemies and sense of romantic science at its heart are trapped like amber in archive film and in its colossal structures. Over the last two years, unprecedented access to the facility and to the UKAEA Archive at Harwell have allowed Gair Dunlop to explore the dream and the consequences of high science in a remote community”.

Sound design and original music by Mark Vernon.
Sound post production by Zoe Irvine.

Duration: 22min

Vernon & Burns meet Lied Music: Lost Lake

Shadazz Records / SHA011 LP (2011)

Lost Lake sees the return of the collaborative project between sound art duo Vernon &: Burns (Mark Vernon and Barry Burns) and Lied Music (Luke Fowler and John W Fail). It is a sequel to the long-sold out LP Lied Music vs.Boy-Band Tax Returns (released on Ultra Eczema, 2006). This LP merges musique concrète compositional approaches with absurdist improvisational strategies. The four artists met in Glasgow where they recorded a series of sporadic improvised sessions using a diverse array of sound-making instruments (amplified toys and objects, guitar, analogue synths, percussion, squeeze box, field recordings and found tapes). Improvised sessions from 2008 were subsequently manipulated, tortured and caressed, both individually and collectively, into a series of highly idiosyncratic song-forms and sound collages.

Limited edition of 300 vinyl LPs. Screen-printed artwork by Corin Sworn.


“The latest entry in the Vernon & Burns catalogue sees this Glasgow duo teaming up with Lied Music, the duo of Luke Fowler and John W. Fail. Lost Lake (SHADAZZ SHA.11) is one of the stranger and darker emissions from these talented creatives, particularly if you care to compare it with the sometimes more playful assemblages of V&B, or the deliciously offbeat melodic avant-pop tunes created by Fowler as part of Rude Pravo. At first spin the record is a near-bewildering toasted-cheese sandwich, a concoction which contains at least a zillion ideas apparently thrown together any which way. Faced with such an array, discerning avant-LP listeners may want to reach for The Faust Tapes as one touchstone, but another credible precedent is the unearthly Bladder Flask LP 1, that ne plus ultra of cut-up sound art put together by a teenaged Richard Rupenus as if possessed by some fevered desire to surpass the worst excesses of the lunatic fringe end of the United Dairies catalogue. But the Bladder Flask release had the underlying sinister aim of sending all those who heard it mad, through highlighting the complete absurdity and futility of everything.

Lost Lake has a more benign mission, thankfully. The album has been very carefully crafted, using sets of recorded improvisation sessions produced by the four players, aiming to resculpt the near-chaos of that source material into a coherent structure. Within that structure, fractured songs and equally fractured stories emerge; yes, a scrambled form of a radio listening or cinematic experience, which is an effect Vernon & Burns have striven for with a good deal of their work (and have produced many items expressly in radiophonic mode). As to the cinematic, Fowler is also a film-maker. There is a logic to this scheme, but it is hard to follow and weaves its way around in a highly secretive and intuitive fashion, like an errant underground stream full of eccentric fish and darting river-insects stained in unnatural colours. We could account for some of this quirkiness by pointing out that all four creators were involved in the refashioning process, rather than a single editorial hand behind the editing knife; one can imagine the clashing dynamism generated by four powerful personalities, each of them bending the path of events in their favour. Additionally, the source material itself was not exactly straightforward music to begin with, but created using the now-virtually-standard set-up of the modern improviser, that is amplified instruments, toys, found tapes, field recordings, and live electronics. From this rich stew, voices and tunes emerge from amid a varispeeded and highly layered humid aggregation of extremely strange sounds. And yes, like the Rupenus LP, it is quite absurdist, but I like to think it’s a fun and cartoony absurdity, rather than bleak and Beckett-like. That said, this aural bric-a-brac crawls out from a dark attic of the mind, and is as much an unsettling listen as it is entertaining.

Corin Sworn’s cover art encodes all the above information quite perfectly. Using collage technique (naturally), it depicts a figure sitting on a sofa surrounded by hideously “tasteful” drapes and furnishings. This image of bourgeois normality is thoroughly disrupted by replacing the outline of the figure with fragments of urban horror and machinery, then further scrambling the visual schema with concentric rings and diagonal bars, suggesting the power of the aural emanations on the record. The album is, we are told, a sequel to a 2006 release called Lied Music vs Boy-Band Tax Returns, which we reviewed in our Vinyl Viands issue.”

(Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, December 15, 2012)

“One of the great things about writing for Cyclic Defrost is the exposure to music that just wouldn’t get a look-in, with the congested world that is my listening habits, any other way. Vernon &: Burns were one such musical proposition, prior to getting intimately acquainted with their Light at the End of the Dial release from last year. Dark and resolutely dada, with a inscrutable British-ness about their sound collages, the duo are joined on Lost Lake by Luke Fowler and John W. Fail from Lied Music. Following on from 2006’s amusingly titled Lied Music Vs Boy Band Tax Returns, the duos reunite for a further round of concrete-based antics.

There’s a sinister whimsy, full of squeaky, overdriven instruments and radio static emerging from the Lost Lake. It’s as if the entire INA-GRM catalogue has been submerged in a neglected, overgrown wetland and allowed to infuse with the recorded works of Nurse With Wound and Stock, Hausen &: Walkman. The cover-art for this limited vinyl release is suitably warped – a comfy living room, complete with lace curtains and needlework cushions, yet the reclining inhabitant has been replaced by a montage of oil tanks, circles and a refinery infrastructure, whilst retaining the silhouette. While this is not a startling technique in itself (check the Not Not Fun label or Sun Araw releases for a similar aesthetic), it’s executed in a manner that compliments the sounds contained within admirably.

There’s a spooked miasma smelling of half –remembered 78s, 101 Strings records (and the kitchen sink) on ‘Death knell for short-handed typists’. ‘Perpendicular to Love’ is a three-minute naive ode to love, delivered in a slightly threatening, yet whimsical fashion. What does ‘Perpendicular to Love’ mean? Separate from, but relating to love, or completely divorced from such intricacies of the heart? Side B, entitled “Chamber Game of the Skies” starts off with ‘Digging Runner of the Den’ a confused and baffling journey through electroacoustic improvisation. Imagine Keiji Heino jamming with a bunch of Tibetan monks with access to an expansive array of analogue studio equipment. ‘Black Mint’s blunted slo-mo tabla rhythms and soaring cello switches half-way through into something altogether more lopsided, as vocal snippets, clattering percussion and a malfunctioning string section vie to be first across the line.

Lost Lake is a haunted juxtaposition of faux-jazz and Delia Derbyshire meets AMM electronic bafflement. Vernon &: Burns and Lied Music’s musique concrète approach could even be an appropriate accompaniment to your next dinner party, just make sure you spike the aperitifs with something stronger than usual.”

(Oliver Laing, Cyclic Defrost, June 22, 2011)

“Madness is in my pile today. First Bjork, then this pile of concrète crazypie. At least I didn’t get the bicycle-driven thing as well, that would have flipped my wig. Apparently these two are from the arena of radiophonics/plunderphonics. I’m unsure where this record should be lodged as it sounds like it’s largely from that demented pasture but it seems to occasionally like chatting in the little drone and free jazz/improv yard next door. Once in a blue moon they even go for a brief piss in the field recordings barn. There’s some utterly fantastic stuff on here. Expertly stitched audio collage, gibbering toy-town pop and clever aural goonery. Scary manipulated voices mingle with Moondog style percussion, bleak haunted house synths are tormented by digital cricket echoes, some wonky Pete Um/Ergo Phizmiz-style balladeering is roundly assaulted by these bursts of vicious spluttering fuzz and a loud bang that made me shit myself a bit. I flip over and from the seeds of more clattering, belching rumbling improv grows a massive gurgling, stumbling analogue noise bush. This bush grows wheels, shifts into a kranky gear and proceeds to swerve drunkenly down the road knocking over three mechanical cats and squashing a blind hedgehog made out of old aluminium tins. There’s not a normal moment on this bloody interesting album but for unabashed lovers of abstract ephemera and plain weird experimental records this really is the tip-tops. I really can’t recommend it enough and you know you’re getting top drawer material when you realise these nutters had the most elaborate and impractical packaging on their Mort Aux Vaches CD, a series commissioned for only the most hardy and respected of out-there sound artists and musicians.”

(Four stars …according to our Brian on 27 July 2011, Norman Records)

Sing it Softly to the Pebbles

meagre resource / mere024 CD (2008)

Sing It Softly to the Pebbles was produced by Vernon & Burns for the exhibition ‘Open Field’ at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, November 2008 – January 2009. The CD is comprised of spontaneous stories, improvised music and field recordings made in and around Claylands Farm near Balfron over the course of two years. Culled from a series of informal, improvised music sessions the initial recordings have been substantially edited, reconceived, processed and mutated by Vernon & Burns to produce a surreal, dream-logic fairy tale. Wendy Woolfson was asked to improvise stories as a response to the music. Her responses were edited and rearranged and in the end rarely matched up with the piece of music she was originally reacting to. The final track ‘Die Bauchrednerpuppe’ is an additional purely instrumental track produced at the same time. It was conceived as a soundtrack to an imaginary puppet show.

A radio edit of ‘Sing it Softly…’ was broadcast on the Clear Spot on Resonance 104.4 FM in December 2008.

Music by Barry Burns, Katy Dove, Sarah Kenchington, Belinda Gilbert Scott and Mark Vernon.
Improvised stories by Wendy Woolfson.
Sighs by Xia Huang.
Artwork by Katy Dove and Tian Miller.

“Mark Vernon and Barry Burns won my heart years ago with a brilliant, entertaining and humourous LP called The Tune the Old Cow Died Of, a tape-edit masterwork on which they almost reincarnated themselves as many-tentacled mad BBC Radio producers from the fifth dimension. Here’s their welcome return on Sing it Softly to the Pebbles (meagre resource productions mere 024), a complex assemblage of field recordings, sound effects, music and story-telling which they put together with the help of various collaborators, including a writer, an animator, a painter and an inventor of musical instruments. These 26 mostly-short tracks are almost like tiny episodes from a non-existent radio soap opera, a sort of avant-garde version of The Archers. As such, they lend themselves to radio broadcast, and indeed the piece – originally commissioned for a contemporary arts event in Glasgow – was played on Resonance FM last Boxing Day.

There is a restrained and very pastoral charm to Sing it Softly, and while I personally found the narrative elements (and the overly-precise speaking voices) a bit cloying, that’s my problem entirely. I do sense that Vernon and Burns have had to rein in their more experimental methods slightly, in order to help the collaborative process succeed. That said, it’s still a work full of much originality, economy, and ellipsis”.

(Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector)

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)