The Tonic Garden:

a sonic survey of soothing sounds

Produced by Mark Vernon and Ian Middleton

The Tonic Garden was the first programme in the ‘Bedside Radio’ series produced by Mark Vernon for hospital radio station, Radio Royal. It was created as part of a two-year digital arts residency at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, Larbert, Scotland.

This programme was designed as an ambient radio artwork, a peripheral listening experience created with patients suffering from insomnia or tinnitus in mind. Keenly aware of the difficulties of sleeping in the unfamiliar and often noisy environment of a busy hospital the focus was on providing patients with some form of escape. It was made for a situation in which a kind of unfocussed, undemanding form of listening is expected and the non-linear, non- narrative format is a reflection of this. Listeners can drop in and out at any point and pick up listening again at another time. The voice interviews were initially intended just as research in this survey of soothing sounds but the descriptions and reasoning behind the choices ended up becoming an intrinsic part of the work itself. Field recordings and bespoke music are combined with voices to create an illustrated aural survey polling the sounds that were found to be the most relaxing.

The Tonic Garden reflects the range of sounds suggested by staff at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, Radio Royal volunteers, the FDAMH media group and the public at large and features original music and field recordings created by Mark Vernon and Ian Middleton.

The programme was first broadcast on a continuous loop over the patient’s bedside monitor system at Forth Valley Royal for a two-week period in 2013. It has since been aired in full on Soundart Radio, Resonance FM and Basic FM and was featured as a two-part edition of Framework:afield.

This project was supported by Creative Scotland and NHS Forth Valley

The Sound of Lochaber

Produced by Mark Vernon and London Fieldworks.

The Sound of Lochaber was a six-part series on Resonance FM created for Remote Performances – a daily live broadcast from Outlandia, a unique artists’ field-station in Glen Nevis, Lochaber, Scotland.

The series merges field recordings and voice interviews into a radiophonic soundscape intended to capture creative interactions with the land, its history and people and tensions between nature, industry, tourism and heritage. It also serves as a timely reflection on contemporary ideas of remoteness.

The audio featured above is a condensed 55-minute distillation of the full series created for a special edition of Framework:Afield.

Recordings used in the creation of this piece included:

The Jacobite steam train from Mallaig to Fort William; interior recordings in carriages, out of the windows, rattling tea cups in the first class compartment, metal bins, close-up of the plughole in the toilets, exterior close-ups of the engine and steam valves.
The Rural Education Centre, Torlundy, Fort William; butter churns, Lola the artificial cow, bee smoker, cow bells, metal bucket, children singing.
The Arisaig Highland Games; bagpipers, laser clay pigeon shooting, running races, fair games, musicians warming up, highland dancing competition and P.A. announcements.
Duck breasts smoking at the Glen Uig Smoke House, the dying embers of a wood fire, ‘Cheep’ the bantam hen chick pecking at bread crumbs, the ‘singing sands’ on the beach of Loch Ailort, workmen hammering, an idling train at Mallaig station, zip slides at Nevis Range, the Nevis Range mountain gondola, water lapping the shores of Loch Linnhe and Loch Ailort, paddling a canoe in the sound of Arisaig (hydrophone and stereo recordings), swallows feeding their young, loading whiskey barrels onto a cart and vehicle reversing beeps at the Fort William Distillery, cockerel crows, feeding chickens and other farm animals, the Glencoe sheep gathering, the song, ‘The Lochaber Gathering’ played by local musicians, mountain streams at Glencoe, domestic boiler, rain falling on contact mics, the Rio Tinto Alcan Hydro pipe at Kinlochleven (including contact mic recordings), water pipe outflow into the river Leven, washing machine end cycle.

This programme also features the voices of: Charlie MacFarlane, Isobel Campbell, Paolo Beradelli , Ingrid Hendersen and the tour guide at the Fort William distillery.

The Remote performances project is documented in more detail in the publication Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture available from publishers Ashgate.


Audiology for Beginners

Audiology for Beginners is a playful (though somewhat impractical) attempt at delivering a hearing test over the airwaves. The typical sounds of the hearing test – sine tones at specific frequencies and masks of white noise used to obscure voices – also happen to be the foundational building blocks of electronic music. These ideas and the palette of sounds generated from this source material are combined in a piece that is part radiophonic composition and part genuine attempt at a workable over the air hearing exam.

Audiology for Beginners was first broadcast on WGXC 90.7 FM in the Greene and Columbia Counties of New York State in 2014 with subsequent broadcasts on Resonance FM, Resonance Extra and Radiophrenia. The work was completed during a residency at the Wave Farm study centre in Acra, NY.

Domestic Weather

“Can this cold weather possibly be caused by the wireless waves which, I understand, travel at 186,000 miles per second? You see, if the ether waves travel at such a prodigious speed through the air, they surely must create quite a stir and a draught, especially as I understand that they pass through, and not round the house.”

(from Technical Talks To ‘Listeners’, Popular Wireless, Jan 5th, 1924)

Domestic Weather is a parallel exploration of radio transmissions as carriers of meteorological data and the effects of weather on the propagation of radio signals.

Through a series of interviews ham radio operators describe the positive and negative effects that atmospheric conditions have on their broadcasts. Their voices are interwoven with examples of meteorological information conveyed through radio such as weather, shipping and aviation forecasts and transmissions intercepted from Radiosondes – small weather probes that are sent into the atmosphere by balloon. Interspersed throughout the programme are a number of ‘Domestic Weather’ experiments that recreate classic Foley sound effects for weather using only household items. Further to this, taking household appliances as an analogy for a variety of weather conditions, real audio recordings of weather were micro-broadcast to small radios inside or in the vicinity of these devices with the resulting duet recorded – for example, the sound of a tornado coming from inside a tumble dryer, heavy rain in the shower or howling winds alongside a hairdryer – thus drawing attention to the micro-climate of our own domestic environment.

‘Domestic Weather’ was commissioned as part of Wave Farm’s Climactic Climate series produced in association with Kunstradio and was premiered on ORF1 (Austria) on 31st May, 2015. It has since been aired on Wave Farm WGXC (USA), Resonance 104.4FM (London) and Radiophrenia 87.9FM (Glasgow).