The Dominion of Din

 

Originally created for the Amplify 2020: Quarantine Festival – As the world was increasingly forced into isolation, Amplify (and Erstwhile Records boss) Jon Abbey began planning an online festival of newly recorded pieces from sound artists around the world. I participated at the invitation of Penultimate Press’s Mark Harwood making my contribution number 156 in the series.

The Dominion of Din is a radio play made out of recordings from a single fixed perspective over an eighteen-year period. It is created entirely from field recordings made out of the rear window of my flat. In essence, it’s a catalogue of exterior sounds that have annoyed, disturbed or angered me over the years living at this residence – and sounds that have largely disappeared during lockdown.

My go-to method of dealing with nuisance noise is to record it. A sort of recording banishing ritual. The hope being that one day I will be able to utilise these sounds in some way, converting these sources of irritation into something positive.

The piece includes now familiar soundmarks such as the daily delivery of beer barrels to the local pub, the shattering of glass bottles as they are emptied into recycle bins at night and the weekly maintenance of neighbours gardens that always seems to require extensive use of a leaf blower no matter what the season. More irregular sources of nuisance noise appear in the form of workmen erecting scaffolding, magpies nesting on the side of the house, drunken outdoor singalongs, overflowing guttering and a faulty burglar alarm that didn’t stop for three days solid over one memorably torturous bank holiday weekend. The irony is that on the only occasion that these sounds have ceased for any length of time I’ve spent several weeks doing nothing but listen to them over and over again.

The pub has made use of this time to create a beer garden at the back of our flat now so at least I have fresh impingements on my peace to look forward to as things begin to return to normal.

Source sounds recorded in Glasgow between 2002 and 2020.

Composed between May 20th and June 20th, 2020.


Reviews:

“These field recordings are deftly processed, edited and overlain so that the quotidian and the uncanny sit side by side… household appliances become abstract compositions for amplified percussion a la Tony Oxley, or whistling feedback loops and ominous drones… as the drinkers disperse and the bar staff lock up, a nocturnal jazz requiem starts up, like an Art Ensemble tone poem via Bill Dixon at his heaviest… we can describe Vernon’s sound design as Lynchian, but where he most closely resembles the master is on a narrative level, as he plays with temporality and moves through dimensions to create work that is uncanny, absurd, and often moving.”
Stewart Smith, Ion Engine


Reviews in Full

“Mark Vernon is one of Glasgow’s undersung sonic heroes: in addition to co-curating the experimental broadcasting platform Radiophrenia and the Lights Out Listening Club, the sound artist has racked up an impressive range of recordings, both solo and in collaboration with Barry Burns, Hassle Hound and others. Following hot on the heels of the splendid Paper Gestures for Jason Lescaleet’s Glistening Examples label, The Dominion of Din is his contribution to Amplify 2020, the online experimental music festival.

Vernon describes the 50 minute piece as a radio play made from sounds recorded in Glasgow between 2002 and 2020, specifically nuisance sounds that impinged on his flat: bins being emptied, people spilling out of the pub, tradesmen, nesting magpies, an infernal burglar alarm… These field recordings are deftly processed, edited and overlain so that the quotidian and the uncanny sit side by side. Saxophone muzak wafts unctuously in and out of earshot, as Vernon’s microphone roams through what sounds like a busy kitchen. Pans clatter and clang, knives slice and chop, before we end up in the backyard to empty the bins.

Through clever blends and transitions, Vernon obscures his sound sources: at one moment we might think we’re hearing a kettle boil, only for it to take on the deeper resonance of a bath running. A lonesome piano playing ‘Fure Elise’ floats in from next door: an audio verite snapshot or a constructed scene? Either way, it advances the narrative and provides a witty comment on the accidental juxtaposition of sounds in a busy neighbourhood.

Reverb and tape delay fog and smear the sounds further, so household appliances become abstract compositions for amplified percussion a la Tony Oxley, or whistling feedback loops and ominous drones. Yet at other points, Vernon presents them clean, so the perspective suddenly shifts to Vernon getting in the car, only to be called on by a workman attending to a blocked pipe. Such irruptions of realism bring us back to earth and can also be very funny, not least when drunken revellers break into the Cranberries’ egregious Troubles dirge ‘Zombie’.

Yet Vernon never lets you get too comfortable. As the drinkers disperse and the bar staff lock up, a nocturnal jazz requiem starts up, like an Art Ensemble tone poem via Bill Dixon at his heaviest. I can only guess at the source of those lowing horn like tones: those magpies pitched down to a crawl? That burglar alarm, screwed and chopped? We hear a drunken singalong of Radiohead’s ‘Lucky’, before Vernon abruptly stops the tape, relishing the ability to finally exercise control over these unwelcome sounds. A few seconds of silence gives way to ghostly coda of spectral tones.

I’m hesitant to use the term Lynchian in a musical context, seeing as it’s come to denote any kind of spooky reverb-laden Americana. Sure, we can describe Vernon’s sound design as Lynchian, but where he most closely resembles the master is on a narrative level, as he plays with temporality and moves through dimensions to create work that is uncanny, absurd, and often moving.”

Stewart Smith, Ion Engine, July 2020


Magneto Mori: Vienna

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 tacky souvenir ‘Vienna’ fridge magnets that erase the portions of the tape that they come 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 as far back as fifty years into the past. 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…

A Kunstradio commission for ORF Ö1, Austria. Produced with the support of Creative Scotland’s Open Project Funding Programme.

First aired on Kunstradio, ORF Ö1, 92.0 FM, Sunday, 10th February 2019, 23:00 – 0:00 CET. Subsequent broadcasts on Radiophrenia, Borealis Radio, Wave Farm / WGXC, Resonance FM.

Dead Air Spaces

A live radio work created for Radio Revolten. Recorded at the Radio Revolten Club on Tuesday, 25th October 2016.

‘Dead Air Spaces’ is a new radio work that explores one of the most basic but vital of our bodily functions – breathing. It includes interviews with diving instructors, a singer, an organist and a yoga teacher and recordings of breathing exercises, snoring, pneumatic tube systems, purring cats, suction units and scuba-divers along with mechanical processes analogous to the human respiratory system such as church organs, bellows and hospital ventilators. The piece also incorporates the use of bi-nasal microphones, a balloon repurposed as an artificial lung and variety of pipes, tubes, whistles and other apparatus played live.

A ‘dead air space’ in diving terminology, refers to a pocket of air that doesn’t play a part in the gas exchange with the lungs; air left over in the snorkel, regulator or even the throat containing greater levels of carbon dioxide.

Vernon & Burns meet the Bride of Lichtenstein

A rampaging, radiophonic phantasmagoria of nefarious four-colour fear.

Originating as a live performance at the Poetry Club in Glasgow this studio version was broadcast as part of the ‘Vernon & Burns Hour’ on Resonance FM in 2016. Subsequently it has been aired on Wave Farm, Radio Revolten and Radiophrenia.

Circular Thinking

Using interviews and field recordings pertaining to all manner of cyclical processes; circuits, loops, spinning things and rotating machines, ‘Circular Thinking’ is a multi-channel sound work by Mark Vernon and Jenn Mattinson. The piece applies radiophonic production techniques to quadraphonic sound composition and was originally commissioned by the Octopus Collective for ‘The Hub’ – an outdoor ambisonic sound system situated in the town centre of Workington, a small town in the North West of England.

Sourced from across the region of Cumbria, the material used in the composition of the piece includes recordings of a potter’s wheel, a launderette, wind turbines, speedway races, a water mill, bicycle wheels, a clock restorer’s workshop and a tour of the Cranston’s sausage factory where they make the famous spiralled Cumberland ring sausages. As well as a catalogue of revolving and spinning things the piece also charts a timeline of sounds that stretches from artisan handicrafts to the beginnings of industrialisation and present day factories, taking in machinery driven by manpower, natural resources and electrically dependent manufacturing.


‘Circular Thinking’ was premiered at the FON festival in Barrow in Furness in 2015 where it was diffused through the ‘Hear This Space’ sound system with the audience seated in a spiral arrangement in the centre of the speaker array. It was subsequently presented on ‘The Hub’ ambisonic sound system in Workington later that year. The stereo radio version was premiered on Radiophrenia 87.9FM, Glasgow in 2016 and has also been aired on Resonance FM, Radio Revolten, Halle and Deutschland Radio, Germany. The piece was joint winner of the Radio Art category for the 2016 Phonurgia Nova Award in Paris. The excerpt above is from the stereo version of the original quadraphonic piece.

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’.

Hubbub

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 (mere 011).

Self Help Self Harm

A 30-minute Therapy Session with Dr. Vernon; sometimes grim yet occasionally amusing listening, guaranteed to make you feel worse than you did before you started. A trawl through the darker side of the human psyche. Tips and advice for the lonely, anxious, stressed and bereaved. Improve yourself the hard way.

Sorry folks, the Chatline is now closed.


First broadcast on Reboot FM, Berlin, 8th April 2004.

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.