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)

The Silver Smokescreen

“When the devil pulls the strings, all the world must dance…”

Constructing an episodic narrative from silent movie intertitles, Vernon and Burns translate grand melodramatic gestures and deadpan pratfall pantomime into the audio realm. Hand-tinted frames of sound, under-cranked audio slapstick and sepia-soaked expressionism for the ear are projected onto the cinema screen of the mind’s eye.

This programme was commissioned by WORM and was produced during a residency at WORM studios, Rotterdam. It was performed live as part of ‘Popular Noise for the Masses’ at WORM, March 2010. The narrator was Giles Bailey.

First aired on Cafe Sonore, VPRO Radio 6, June 12th 2010. Subsequent broadcasts on Resonance 104.4 FM, 2011.

Children of Toasted Cheese

A studio version of a live radiophonic work produced by Vernon & Burns, commissioned by Tramway, Glasgow in 2012. The piece explores the internal space of the subconscious and the logic of dreams. Part documentary, part experimental radio play, it features readings from Barry Burns’ dream diary intermingled with interviews about people’s dreams and sleeping habits set to an accompaniment of sound effects and music.
“I have always been amazed at the way an ordinary observer lends so much more credence and attaches so much more importance to waking events than to those occurring in dreams… Man… is above all the plaything of his memory.”
André Breton

The piece was originally performed on two consecutive nights in October 2012 as part of a triple bill of performances with Lisbeth Gruwez / Voetvolk and Zoe Irvine & Pippa Murphy. The radio version has been aired on Resonance 104.4FM, Radiophrenia, Basic FM and Soundart Radio.

Forth Valley Royal Hospital – a portrait in sound

The second programme in the ‘Bedside Radio’ series produced as part of a two-year period as digital artist in residence at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, Larbert, Scotland.

This composed soundscape was created from recordings made in various hospital departments between 2011 and 2013. It includes insights and conversations with staff about their perception of the sound environment in which they work.

In addition to Forth Valley Royal, recordings were also made in Stirling and Falkirk Community Hospitals. Special thanks to all staff and patients in NHS Forth Valley Hospitals for their help and cooperation.
The sounds that make up this piece were recorded in the following departments:
Anaesthesiology, Clinical Simulation Centre, Health Records, Reception, Laboratories, Ophthalmology, Physiotherapy, Oral and Maxillofacial, Radiology, Nuclear Medicine, Mail Room, Neonatal Unit, Pharmacy, Renal Unit and Speech and Language Therapy Services.

Originally produced for the launch of Channel 604 (Radio Royal’s new arts channel) this piece has subsequently been performed as a live radiophonic work at Forth Valley Royal Hospital and the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow. A version has also been aired as an edition of ‘Framework:afield’ for Patrick McGinley’s Framework radio show.

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

Derry Denatured

Using unconventional recording techniques and studio trickery certain qualities within the Derry soundscape have been highlighted, exaggerated or distorted into something unusual and unexpected – obscuring what was once recognisable and enabling radio listeners to hear the city in a new light.

Taking the everyday sounds of the city as a starting point, a series of field recordings selected for their ambiguous qualities were played back to Derry residents; the sounds became increasingly distorted as the sequence progressed. The ambiguity was heightened through a variety of unusual recording processes including extreme close-ups, electromagnetic induction, ultrasound, binaural stereo, hydrophones and contact mics. Additionally, digital processing techniques were used to further ‘denature’ these once familiar sounds. Participants were asked to identify, describe and imitate each sound. The resulting ‘sound descriptions’ were in turn used as briefs to create artificial or exaggerated sounds matching the qualities described by subjects. In the final work, the natural and unnatural sounds of Derry are intermingled in a long form radiophonic sound composition that meanders through the city accompanied by insights and analysis of the sound environment by the people who inhabit it.

Featuring the voices: of Sarah Barr, Fiona Burke, Eamonn Brown, Amanda Doherty, Charlene Smith and Marta.

Commissioned for the ‘Derry City of Culture 2013’ radio residency broadcasts by Resonance FM and the Jerwood Foundation in association with VOID gallery.

First broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM, October 2013.

Deep Sleep Trawler

The third programme in the ‘Bedside Radio’ series originally produced for Radio Royal (NHS Forth Valley’s hospital radio network) as part of a two-year period as digital artist in residence at the hospital.

Interview recordings of recollected dreams by patients and staff were gathered with the intention of creating a database or ‘dream bank’ to provide sleep deprived hospital patients with the opportunity of sharing someone else’s dreams. In the end this collection of dreams was plundered to create a series of composed radio dreamscapes connecting the various themes identified within the interview material. Combined with atmospheric soundbeds created from processed electronic sounds and field recordings the effect is a sort of non-narrative radio play where dream logic rules. The piece is, in part, a homage to Barry Bermange and Delia Derbyshire’s 1964 radio work, ‘Inventions for Radio: Dreams’.

Also included are readings of extracts from the dream diaries of artist, shamen and dream interpreter, Kate Walters, interviews made by Radio Royal volunteers and interviews with members of the FDAMH arts and media group.

Following the initial broadcast on the hospital’s patient monitor system this piece has also aired on Resonance 104.4FM, Soundart Radio. A new version was created specially for Radio Cona in 2017.

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

Image courtesy of ‘A Sense of Someplace’

Test Signal

For many years I have collected found tapes; primarily voice recordings – audio letters, home karaoke and recordings made by amateur tape recording enthusiasts. I particularly enjoy the unselfconscious and accidental moments within these recordings when the equipment is being tested or the operator is unaware that they are still recording. The majority of these recordings begin with the ubiquitous: “testing, testing, 1,2,3”. This recurring phrase appears in my collection time and time again in an array of different voices, accents and languages. The piece I have created from these incidents is literally a test signal – a collage of recordings of microphone tests compiled from my own archives.

Produced by Mark Vernon. Commissioned by Pixel Palace for Basic FM, Newcastle upon Tyne.

This piece was first broadcast on a continuous loop for a month as Basic FM’s inaugural webcast. It has since been aired on Radiophrenia, Radio Revolten and Resonance 104.4 FM as part of the series ‘Data for the Doubtful’.

130 in 1 – more adventures with electronic circuits

This radio programme allows us to eavesdrop as a father and his 10-year-old son bond over a succession of increasingly fiddly electronic experiments – at the behest of the manual they connect wires, transistors, capacitors and diodes to create an array of weird and wonderful crackles, beeps, buzzes and other electronic noises. Harking back to the bygone days of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop in feel, variations on these sounds form the basis of the musical score that underpins the piece, playfully oscillating between real and imaginary spaces. As improbable as it seems, the outwardly dull schematics and diagrams open the doorway to a world of fun, exploration and the joy of discovery.

Father and Son: Andrew and William Deakin
Voice of the manual: Anne Marie Copestake

All sounds (except the bubbles) were generated from the Maxitronix 130 in 1 Electronic Lab Kit.

This programme was first presented in London at the Sound Bank launch and has since been aired on Resonance 104.4FM, Basic FM, Soundart Radio and across the Radia network. It was also included in ‘The Last Days of Analogue’, an online art project documenting the demise of analogue technology.

‘130 In 1’ was a Sound Bank commission produced by Mark Vernon for ‘In the Dark Radio’.