Elsewhere is a Negative Mirror

Granny Records / GRANNY 33 CD / DL

Elsewhere is a Negative Mirror draws together a number of works made from recordings found, taken or gathered in Scotland between the years 2000 and 2020.

The album features some rather explicit found tape recordings, Dictaphone notes, digital death rattles, steam trains, zip wires, pecking birds and excerpts from people’s dream diaries.

Design & Artwork by Yorgos Vourlidas

Limited edition of 100 copies.

Available to purchase here.

A World Behind This World

Persistence of Sound / PS007 CD / DL

A composed soundscape created from sounds recorded on location at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, Lumsden, Aberdeenshire and the surrounding areas. As well as the rural environment, recordings of various machines, equipment and processes from the workshop feature heavily. ‘Performed’ by technician Eden Jolly sound sources include the copper guillotine, extractor fans, electrical saws, drills, the furnace, welding torches, anvils, hydraulic jacks, sanding machines, grinders and electric hoists.

Originally produced for SSW’s radio station Lumsden Live in 2021. This is a condensed, reworked version created specifically for this release.

Available to purchase here.

Thanks to Eden, Jenny, Sam and all at SSW.

Reviews:

“The work of Mark Vernon is a kind of aural alchemy, conjuring nuggets of gold from everyday ephemera… Rather than simply documenting a landscape or an object, Vernon’s work sweeps recorded sounds – from the rural environment to industrial machinery – into something fantastic and new, creating vivid soundscapes from disparate sonic detritus.”
Spenser Thomson, Electronic Sound

“…the end result is something both enthralling and beguiling. Sounds clatter, throb, respire, and twitter… creating mood and intrigue with every emitted noise.”
State51Conspiracy

“Elements are sped or slowed, sequences are dissembled and constructed into imaginary processes, and the steady rhythm of tape loops allows for the creation of new sonic machines… there’s a remarkable trait to the assembly of these compositions that makes it all flow and feel so right – it’s as if they’re following the natural logic of another world, of a world behind this world, perhaps.”
Connor Kurtz, Harmonic Series

“There was no clear-cut line between what is, and what can never be. Ambiguous song titles, disembodied sounds, and that all-important sensory breakdown between the real and the fantastic, the tangible and the fanciful, the visible and the illusory.”
Michael Eisenberg, Avant Music News, October, 2022


Reviews in Full

“The work of Mark Vernon is a kind of aural alchemy, conjuring nuggets of gold from everyday ephemera. Last year’s ‘Sonograph Sound Effects Series Volume 2: Public and Domestic Plumbing and Sanitation’ created strange new landscapes from ubiquitous gurgles and glugs, and ‘A World Behind This World’ is a similar piece of sonic magic.

‘Fugitives from Bliss’ transforms chainsaw chug into time-slowed growl like the guttural call of some lurking monster, While ‘New Golden Severities (Vermin Under the Stars)’ swoops us omnipotently through a a landscape of bleating sheep and running water, before sinking down to a subterranean sewer drone. As the near-20-minute piece progresses, a climatic whoosh and turbine-like hum merge into birdsong and rumbles, which harmonise in unexpectedly emotive patterns.

Rather than simply documenting a landscape or an object, Vernon’s work sweeps recorded sounds – from the rural environment to industrial machinery – into something fantastic and new, creating vivid soundscapes from disparate sonic detritus.”

Spenser Thomson, Electronic Sound

“This brings together sound and art into a cohesive tapestry formed from literal sculptures at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Lumsden. Recorded, manipulated, and processed by Glaswegian, Mark Vernon, the end result is something both enthralling and beguiling. Sounds clatter, throb, respire, and twitter.
Sometimes the source is obvious like a bird or a drill, other times recordings of furnaces, grinders, extractor fans, and copper guillotines pepper the sonic landscape, creating mood and intrigue with every emitted noise. The clash of industry with nature invites us to think about these parallels within our own lives and the ways that they combine both jarringly and harmoniously.”

State51Conspiracy

“A World Behind This World is one of those electroacoustic records that, in equal measure straddles the line between the artificial and the natural.  In this case, when I say natural, I mean unprocessed, or untransformed via the latest and greatest software.  I’m including the “unnatural” sounds of power drills and various metal objects and machines (and there is a bunch of those) that are not sliced, diced, cut up, fragmented, or otherwise fucked with in a processing environment in this natural category.
I think this is significant because I, as the listener was led down a path where I hardly noticed such things.  There was no clear-cut line between what is, and what can never be. 
One of the main reasons this album stands out is because of this simpatico between worlds.  Ferrari does this so well, and I think Vernon does too.  I was able to frolic and prance (I know, bad visual) within this tableau never thinking that those weird echoey pigeon-like coo’s that were playing hide and seek all over the soundstage (on the lengthy “New Golden Severities (Vermin Under the Stars)”) were any different than the sheep conversing amongst themselves (surely about the spot price of wool on the local commodity exchange) later in the same piece.  They were both just “there”, and they both just “belonged”. The processed (the coo’s) and unprocessed (the sheep-talk) sound events were presented in such a vividly spatialized manner that I imagined myself not only watching a 3d movie but living within it too. On top of that, it was all woven together in such a natural way that the veil between the “what was real” and the other place, where the mind is not presented with enough raw information (or maybe too much) and the imagination takes over was…non-existent.
Some thoughts about the dichotomy between the natural and the artificial.  The natural is tangible, it’s something you can feel, see and hear.  Does that logically lead to a conclusion that the artificial is only an imagined construct existing in your mind?  Does the artificial have a weaker standing than that of nature?  The senses and the mind say otherwise, and I think this is an extremely appealing aspect that acousmatic music can demonstrate well.  Blurring distinctions between the two by disembodying sounds from their source brings the whole natural/artificial package on to a level playing field.  A perception is a perception…whether it comes from nature or is fabricated in a lab…the honey badger (or the mind in this case) doesn’t care. 
I feel that I strayed too far down a philosophical path, but Vernon’s sound choices are interesting.  On this release, he did an excellent job of simultaneously dropping the listener into a pastoral setting while at the same time jacking them into an artificial dream state.  A fusion of two ideas to become a third.  What happens next is an individual choice.  Does realization make it go away, or can you revel in it?
There is also a refreshing lack of concept on this album.  All we really know is that Vernon’s interests lie in something called “audio archaeology”.  This implies similar tools and sound sources as label mate Iain Chambers, although unlike Chambers, there are really no hints of an overarching theme (the sounds of old tech), featured location, or structure being audibly depicted.  I admire this kind of tabula rasa because of the freedom it provides the listener.
I don’t know about you, but I enjoy and prefer when artists show, and don’t tell.  I’d much rather be the master of my own imagination than be handheld by thematic clues and song titles.  Give me a Jon Anderson phrase like… “Battleships confide in me and tell me where you are, shining flying purple wolfhound, show me where you are” any day.  A World Behind This World does just that.  Ambiguous song titles, disembodied sounds, and that all-important sensory breakdown between the real and the fantastic, the tangible and the fanciful, the visible and the illusory…these are my reasons for digging this album.  Hope some of you can check it out too!”

Michael Eisenberg, Avant Music News, October, 2022

“Right after high school I spent a summer working in an automotive factory. I was working in one of the loudest sections of the factory allegedly, where massive machines pressed sheets of metal into the shapes of doors and hoods. My first few days were spent away from the machines though, in the close but muted breakroom while I read a lengthy book full of security protocols. I was fascinated by the sounds of the machines though – a large, but limited, variety of thuds, crashes and hisses, an organized cacophony performed by unknown processes. I even tried recording those sounds one time, just by leaving my phone near one of the machines. I never did anything with those recordings though. The problem was that within a few weeks of working with those machines and hearing and, even worse, understanding those processes, I had lost interest in their sounds entirely. It had turned from a gorgeous, inexplicable, industrial orchestra to a repetitive, mechanical, corporate beating that required uncomfortable earplugs to endure without developing a headache or hearing loss.
To be clear, the problem with these sounds wasn’t just that they had become linked to my employment and my daily labour, it’s that they no longer surprised me – they were demystified by my understanding of their processes, and that spoiled my fetishization of those sounds. The harsh metallic clang that sounded like the smack of a gong, the stomp of a giant and a car crash all at once had become the generic sounds of ‘Press 2’ in operation. Now that I had an explanation in my head, my mind was no longer free to perceive these sounds however it liked, my fascinated curiosity was gone. But luckily for me, what Mark Vernon’s latest album offers is a whole factory (well, a workshop, but I’ll get back to that) full of unexplained sounds – sonic evidence of various machines, tools and processes that I’ll never understand – and again, I’ve been captivated by the mysterious incidental industrial orchestra.
Much of this mystifying effect comes from intrinsic qualities of the recording process. When an event is recorded, the sound is extracted but the context is left behind. To return to my auto factory example, I think it’s fair to say that if I quit that job the day I made those recordings I wouldn’t have become bored of them. They would have been able to exist in my mind as decontextualized sound matter, as abstract, meaningless, metallic thuds, but they lost that ability once my mind began to focus on the cause-and-effect operations that were responsible for their soundings. Meanwhile the workshop that’s been captured on A World Behind This World has been recorded as audio rather than as impressions in my memory, and any understanding of these sounds has been left behind at the factory. As there’s no way of knowing what is being produced by these processes or how, the listener is forced to address these sounds as-is and to permit them to act as their own context.

What this results in is a massive shift in perspective between what was recorded and what is heard. What Mark Vernon recorded was various operations being executed, all with a specific meaning and goal: the production of something. The sounds that came from these machines and devices were like the heat that comes from incandescent light bulbs – accidental, likely even unwanted, but essential to the process. But Mark hasn’t shared with us the items that these processes were made to produce, there’s no included photos of the final products for example. All he’s shared is the sounds – items made from the production process which are not what the machine was made to create. That’s where the twist in perspective takes place – Mark Vernon may have made recordings of a factory that produces physical items, but he left with recordings of a factory which merely produces sound.

At this point I’d like to note that the ‘factory’ that’s been recorded here was quite different from the auto factory that I once worked at – A World Behind This World was recorded at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Lumsden. By recording both in and around the workshop and mixing these indoor and outdoor perspectives together, the pieces takes on an imaginary, impossible perspective which leads to moments as surreal as grinders and saws seemingly being ran by birds and sheep. It also interests me that he chose a sculpture workshop, rather than an auto factory for example, because it means that what’s being produced isn’t just a commercial product but a work of art, the same thing this album is, and the recorded processes are creative ones, not unlike Mark Vernon’s own creative processes used to make this music. One could even take it as far as to say that these are recordings of performances by an artist, and in the album’s credits, workshop technician Eden Jolly has in fact been credited as a ‘performer’. From the opening moments as Eden tightens a bolt or rotates a hinge or kicks a stuttering engine into action to the closing moments of roaring machinery being deactivated by trained hands, practical moments of the technician’s performance have been deeply baked into this soundworld, but the specifics and the extent of it is another question with an answer that’s been left behind in the workshop.

The other part of the mystification process that makes this album so enjoyable to me comes from performance and processing. There’s no implication that what’s heard on this album is what was heard in the workshop, and there’s no saying how far from the truth each sound is or isn’t. Elements are sped or slowed, sequences are dissembled and constructed into imaginary processes, and the steady rhythm of tape loops allows for the creation of new sonic machines. Clearly structured melodies and patterns bring a momentary sense of artifice, but there’s a remarkable trait to the assembly of these compositions that makes it all flow and feel so right – it’s as if they’re following the natural logic of another world, of a world behind this world, perhaps.

I’m sure it could be read in a bunch of ways, but to me the title of this album refers to a world within the artist, the world they create in their mind which exists in the space behind the world in which we all take part in. And I think it follows that that’s the world where this natural logic exists, that this album is how the Scottish Sculpture Workshop sounds in the imaginary world behind this one, the one that exists in Mark Vernon’s mind and is released through his music. That idea is a big part of why I love music like this – it’s a glimpse at my own world through someone else’s ears, mutated by someone else’s creative perception, understood by somebody who isn’t me and an unanswerable mystery to me. This isn’t something specific to artists or field recordists though – I think everyone with a brain has access to a world behind this world, specifically catered to their own unique mind, imagination, memories, fantasies and perception. The most significant thing that Mark’s done here, really, is share his.

As I’m writing this I can hear the sounds of power tools from the floor above my head. It could be a recently emptied apartment being renovated or a tenant constructing a table or maintenance of heating or plumbing processes. It interests me how the electric tools have their own specific frequency that they operate at, which makes different sounds as it resonates against different materials, as its applied with different pressures for different durations. I also like the uncertain gaps in time between these sounds, the sporadic bumping and chatter while they presumably do work that’s less loud. I’ve started recording these sounds again too. I could probably go up there right now and ask what they’re doing and find an answer, maybe they’d even show me around what’s being worked on, but I’d rather not know. I’d rather let them to continue to exist in my mind as unknowable sounds captured in a world behind this one.”

Connor Kurtz, Harmonic Series

Tape Letters from the Waiting Room

Psyché Tropes / TROPES007 / LP / DL

 
Mark Vernon’s expanded soundtrack to the award-winning film by Steven McInerney. Heavyweight vinyl mastered by Rashad Becker. Comes with a 12-inch 16mm strip of found footage from the film.

An existential drama exploring the universal themes of death and rebirth. Tape Letters from the Waiting Room is an experiment in film archaeology and magnetic memory as it navigates past life experiences. Shifting in succession from the mundane to the metaphysical, the film is composed of extant 16mm found footage from the past century. The original soundtrack by Mark Vernon encompasses a rich collection of domestic tape recordings; audio letters, dictated notes, found sounds and other lost voices.

Available to buy here.

All tracks composed and recorded by Mark Vernon.
Mastered by Rashad Becker.
Lacquer cut by Ruy Mariné at Dubplates & Mastering.
Artwork and design by Steven McInerney.

Screenings:
IKLECTIK, TROPES007 Album Launch (Extended cut with live Soundtrack) January 2022
Istanbul International Experimental Film Festival (In Competition, Turkey) November 2021
MICE – 16ª Mostra Internacional de Cinema Etnográfico (Official Selection, Spain) April 2021
9th International Video Poetry Festival (Official Selection, Greece) June 2021
ULTRAcinema 20 (Official Selection, Mexico) November 2020
Proceso de Error 2020 (In Competition, Chile) October 2020
Family Film Project #9 (Honorable Mention, Premiere. Portugal) October 2020
The Delaware Road (Pre-release, extended cut with live Soundtrack) August 2019

Time Deferred

Gagarin Records / GR2042 LP / DL
 
 
Mark Vernon’s solo noir album – out now on Felix Kubin’s Gagarin records comes in an edition of 300 copies. Cover art by Dennis “Ultra” Tyfus. Design by Meeuw.

Available to buy here.

Caution: this record can cause dreamless nights…

Followers of the artist Mark Vernon will note a subdued and pensive mood on this new record. Monochrome and sepulchral, these tracks are in a minor key, a key which opens the door to a damp cellar of the imagination. Too-many legged spiders crawl over dusty violins. Time lurches, loops and echoes like excursions on slow motion railways in reverse. Concrète noir sombre séances for non-believers. Tauntological voices from the past provoke us. Half guessed ghosts, magnetic phantoms from funereal-to-reel tape recordings. The sibilant persistence of the deceased evokes the exhausted dread of waiting for a medical test result. Enigmatic messages thrown to the werewolves with nothing but cheap medication and some breathing exercises for support.

Reviews:

“…a haunted tone poem that’s full of shadows and a grim, unexplainable mystery.”
Electronic Sound (Issue 87, March 2022)

“Psychedelic visions, blackouts and blinding lights reveal an unusual, sick, and feverish musicality… here the gods come back from the dead only to ensure us an existence nurtured by the freezing rays of a black sun.”
Massimiliano Busti, Blow Up (Feb 2022)

“…an exercise in modern hauntology.”
A Closer Listen (Jan 2022)


Reviews in Full

“There’s a distinctly creepy air hovering over Glasgow sound artist Mark Vernon’s ‘Time Deferred’. We hear brooding sub-soundtrack cellos and the restless ghosts of dead electronics on ‘The Object Invoked Has Disconnected From Its Host’, while a cut-up answer machine recording on ‘A Coincidence of Deceleration and Acceleration’ is simultaneously anguished, nonsensical and stalkerish. And the foreboding drips and distant chanting of ‘Athanasia’ pulse with sinister intent, the centre of a haunted tone poem that’s full of shadows and a grim, unexplainable mystery.”

MS, Electronic Sound (Issue 87, March 2022)

Translated from the Italian:

“The world represented by Mark Vernon is one of deferred time, evoked by somber drones, glowing synth trails, and ambient noises compressed by a slow rhythm of the loops. Psychedelic visions, blackouts, and blinding lights reveal an unusual, sick, and feverish musicality. At the same time, restlessness and anguish are nested in the evanescence of voices reaching out from old magnetic tapes, and later decomposing into degenerate matter, (tautologically, A Coincidence of Deceleration and Acceleration). Hospital-like beeps transmit a subtle uneasiness, as electrodes applied to the brain draw bewildering tracings (The New Game of Emulation).
And while Athanasia represents the idea of immortality in Greek mythology, here the gods come back from the dead only to ensure us an existence nurtured by the freezing rays of a black sun.

”

Massimiliano Busti, Blow Up (Feb 2022)

“Mark Vernon delivers a noir beauty with “Time Deferred”. Classical, experimental, drone, and more filter into the sound. Quite a unique approach there is something eerie about his approach. A timeless tact of sorts these songs seemingly have an ancient quality to them. The Caretaker, Max Richter, and similarly-minded artists count as touchstones, but Mark’s style is his own. Progression of the album features a keen sense of storytelling for the songs play off each other, giving them a hint of aggression to them. By allowing this all to enter into the equation these have a haunted beauty to them.

On “The Object Invoked Has Disconnected From Its Host” the song starts off with a low register stringed drone, for the song has a haunted beauty to it. Even with the classic industrial effects brought in the piece seemingly blooms. Ghostly noises radiate throughout the whole of “The Wrong Platform (Nothing Stops here after 5)” for the song extends out into the infinite. Uncanny notes and a minor key melody go through with “Athanasia”. Deep bass rumbles and cryptic samples work in unison on the album highlight “Coincidence of Deceleration and Acceleration”. Within this piece there is a lot to get lost within. Hard to pin down is the amorphous presence of “His and Hers and the Sun” which feels like an unknown object being dragged across the floor. “The New Game of Emulation” brings it all to a majestic finale with a sound that has a hint of malice to it.

“Time Deferred” feels that there is a degree of intensity to it, with Mark Vernon delving into a whole another cinematic universe.”

Beach Sloth, February 21, 2022

In the Throat of the Machine

Scatter Archive / Scatter DL

Liam Stefani’s Scatter Archive has released an album of works I composed from stereo and binaural recordings of two very unusual organs:

– a five-stop polyphone built by the John Compton organ company that is currently in the process of being restored. The polyphone is powered by an electric motor and was recorded in the garage cum workshop of church organist Mark Latimer in Barrow in Furness in 2015.

– and ‘wind pipes’ a custom made organ built from over 100 salvaged church organ pipes by instrument inventor, Sarah Kenchington. The organ’s air supply comes from two massive hand operated bellows. A series of heavy weights are used to force the air through the system. Recorded at Trinity Apse, Edinburgh in 2013.

The organs were played by Sarah Kenchington, Emma Bowen, Jenn Mattinson, Mark Latimer and Mark Vernon.

Special thanks to Sarah Kenchington, Mark Latimer and the Octopus Collective.
 


Reviews:

“…this is a field recordist’s take on an organ record. More than melody, tone, harmony or dissonance, the musical ingredients that might have made a Bach organ piece great, Mark Vernon focuses on the organ’s more fundamental traits and sounds: the flow of air and the reverberations of pipes, that is, the organ’s own voice, throat and body… A nice idea that this album makes very clear is that recording can be performance, it’s not just a technical step in the process of releasing music. And if one is willing to consider recording performing, then I feel inclined to call Mark Vernon a virtuoso.”
Connor Kurtz, harmonic series


Reviews in Full

“An experimental organ record may not seem like the freshest idea in 2021, but I’ve never heard one that approaches the organ – or any acoustic instrument, really – quite like this. The difference that the label mentions is the fact that this album was made using two very unusual organs: an electric motor powered five-stop polyphone currently in the restoration process, and a custom-built organ made from over 100 salvaged church organ pipes. This pair of bizarro organs gave Mark Vernon a vast range of sonic possibilities to work with, experiment with and capture, allowing him to record a whole album’s worth of varied material that only sounds like organ music by technicalities. However, I don’t think that what’s really special here is the instruments – I think it’s the recordist.
It should be pointed out that Mark Vernon isn’t exactly known as a composer, let alone an instrumentalist – he’s a field recordist and a sound artist, and over the past decade he’s become one of the most exciting artists working in that field. But as much as this album seems like something of a departure, perhaps it’s not: to a massive extent, this is a field recordist’s take on an organ record. More than melody, tone, harmony or dissonance, the musical ingredients that might have made a Bach organ piece great, Mark Vernon focuses on the organ’s more fundamental traits and sounds: the flow of air and the reverberations of pipes, that is, the organ’s own voice, throat and body. This concept is executed in a different way in each track, allowing the album to feel like a thorough investigation of these instruments.

One striking example is “Glottic Cycle.” For this piece, microphones were placed inside different pipes to give the performance an enchanting but nauseating stereo separation. The keys were only played as softly as they could be, meaning that not enough air would enter the tubes to make them properly sound, and all that’s heard is the gentle release of air, the organ’s breath captured from dueling perspectives. Rather than the composition being something performed and recorded, it’s recorded and assembled – different recordings are made of different pipes, different perspectives, different sounds, and the composition pulls from them, arranging these soft gusts of air as if they were full-fledged musical notes.

Occasionally the album moves close to an actual performance with actual notes – such is the case on “Syrinx (active microphone studies 1 to 3).” The organ is allowed to properly and fully sound, humming a gorgeous, pulsing tone that comes and goes, rising and falling, moving through a simple musical structure that allows the piece to sound like an ordinarily composed, melodic music. The catch though is that it’s not really the organ being played, it’s the recording device itself. The organ simply emits a pure, unmoving drone, but as the recording device is swung back and forth along the mouths of the pipes the listener hears a shift in tones, the appearance and disappearance of harmonies, and the illusion of an organ with a magically modulating voice, when in fact these changes only exist within the recording device, and rather than instrumental performance we have rudimentary physical principals to thank for these shifting tones – it’s an organ composition for the doppler effect.

Another track that cleverly places its aural possibilities within the recording device is “Thoracic Fixation.” This time the microphone was placed directly in the air stream, allowing the organ’s breath to envelope the microphone and pulse around it. An effect that many would write off as wind noise becomes a platform for composition and performance as Mark Vernon picks up the microphone and actively moves it through these air streams, in full control of these windy oscillations which can only be heard from the performer’s perspective, through the recordist’s headphones. A nice idea that this album makes very clear is that recording can be performance, it’s not just a technical step in the process of releasing music. And if one is willing to consider recording performing, then I feel inclined to call Mark Vernon a virtuoso.

Album closer “Last Breath (Effets d’Orage)” does good work at putting things in perspective. Organs aren’t used at all here – it’s just a recording of wind blowing through a chimney in somebody’s home – something of a ready-made organ which nature performs. It’s beautiful, it’s humbling. As exciting as esoteric instruments are, the track reminds me to stay interested in what’s already around me, that there already exists a world of fascination within the myriad subtleties of daily perception, that to find something attractive one doesn’t always need to look further than their own chimney. That message makes sense to me, I even find it comforting, and it certainly works in this context: this is a field recordist’s take on an organ record, after all.”
Connor Kurtz, harmonic series


Magneto Mori: Vienna CD

Canti Magnetici / Canto 32 CD / DL

Limited edition CD release on Italian label Canti Magnetici and the follow up to my previous 2019 release for the label, ‘Magneto Mori: Kilfinane’.

Originally commissioned by Kunstradio for broadcast on ORF Ö1, Austria this is a significantly reworked alternate version created specifically for this CD release.

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 souvenir fridge magnets that erased the portions of the tape that they came 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 perhaps as far back as fifty years ago. 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…

Purchase on Bandcamp.


Reviews:

“…a chamber set of quiet power”
Mike Hoolboom

“…suffused with peeling paint, crumbling infrastructure… it’s fascinating as an assemblage of the cultural detritus that has oozed out from its base, leaking into used-goods stores and ramshackle market stalls — forgotten memories exhumed, reanimated, limping with half-life.”
Maxie Younger, Tone Glow

“…essentially, he created a process of experiencing and forgetting that mirrors the processes of our own brains, turning recordings into memories.”
Connor Kurtz, harmonic series

“…the abiding vision of Vienna in these rune-cast fragments remains undeniably bleak, a city with continually grey skies, almost bereft of human life, a place where machines, objects, buildings, hotel rooms, and even amusement parks and fairgrounds are performing their mechanical actions for no apparent reason…”
Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector


Reviews in Full

“In this suite of exquisitely arranged miniatures, the artist recycles everyday moments – chiefly convos and traffic – subjects them to various analog derangements (like burying the tapes), then carefully rearranges the broken, shredded samples, producing a chamber set of quiet power.”
Mike Hoolboom

“There’s certainly a transfixing quality to this collage, degraded, suffused with peeling paint, crumbling infrastructure; I can’t speak to the veracity with which it portrays Vienna, but it’s fascinating as an assemblage of the cultural detritus that has oozed out from its base, leaking into used-goods stores and ramshackle market stalls — forgotten memories exhumed, reanimated, limping with half-life.”
Maxie Younger, Tone Glow

“The bits in which the recordings are more or less pristine act like islands of sound amid the morass of obliteration and its many shades, giving dynamism to the listening experience. There’s a richness of sound and a subtle handling of the medium here, and they’re evidence of someone who knows what they’re doing very, very well.”
Gil Sansón, Tone Glow

“Ethnography is always a difficult subject in art – how can one person, especially one who isn’t even a long-term resident, understand an entire city, culture and people? And even more, how could they possibly capture and express such a thing? How could they be expected to present anything other than their own biased outsider experiences which place themselves as a fascinated observer rather than an integrated member of that community? Luckily, that’s exactly what Mark Vernon sets out to capture here: not the sounds of Vienna, but the sounds of one artist’s remembering of it.

There exist some obvious differences between memories and recordings. Memories are malleable, where recordings are concrete. Memories bend at the whims of dreams, experiences, biased conscious and subconsciousness and individual perceptions – it’s very personal, subjective processes that turn a real event into a memory. Recordings, on the other hand, are consistent – an event is heard, captured, and stored in that state eternally – well, not exactly, as Mark Vernon proves. After just a couple days of experiencing and recording events throughout Vienna on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, he cut up and buried his tapes alongside several souvenir magnets, leaving these cultural gift objects to process, erase and blur his recordings in an indeterminate fashion, and further scrambling them upon random reassembly. It’s a clever way to manipulate a tape, but it’s more than that – essentially, he created a process of experiencing and forgetting that mirrors the processes of our own brains, turning recordings into memories.

Another key difference between memories and recordings is aesthetics – where we rarely have much control over what we remember, we have complete power in what we choose to record, and how. As an artist, Mark Vernon certainly records and creates with aesthetic goals in mind, and this can be seen down to his tools and selected medium – the reel-to-reel, as opposed to a digital device which would arguably capture things clearer. There’s no attempt to hide the aesthetic concepts within these recordings, actually the incidental sounds of the tapes and playback devices are glamourized and given major roles in the mix alongside the leftovers of what was recorded. The result is, rather than a true remembering of the city, an artist’s remembering of it – one where the brain’s forgetful processes are followed, but the artist’s aesthetic instincts act as a filter along every step of the way.

A final piece to the puzzle is the addition of numerous sounds found throughout the city, various recordings of the past several decades of the city’s history and culture but deprived of any context – whether it was recorded a year or fifty ago is as unclear as what the recording even is. By infusing these literal found sounds alongside his own recordings, Magneto Mori: Vienna becomes a multi-perspectived remembering of a city – one where foreign artist Mark Vernon acts as a tour guide while fragments of the true Vienna can be heard or seen in all directions.

I’ve never been to Vienna, I’ll admit, so where the true Vienna ends and Mark’s Vienna begins I wouldn’t know. Whether this album gives a comprehensive view of the city, its culture and people, or its complex history, I also wouldn’t know. I think that might be intentional here though, because it’s a memory of Vienna we’re hearing, not an image of it. And like any memory, certainly of ones that are far from home, I should ask myself – is that really how it was, or is that just how I remember it?”
Connor Kurtz, harmonic series

“Return of Sound Projector favourite Mark Vernon doing what he does best – running roughshod over magnetic tape, and burrowing about in foreign cities to find old Dictaphone cassettes which he can store in his lair. Magneto Mori: Vienna (CANTI MAGNETICI Canto 32) is in many respects a direct continuation of Magneto Mori: Kilfinane, a cassette which we noted in 2019. Vernon’s unique approach, which is extremely labour-intensive with a deferred payoff, involves deliberately degrading magnetic tape recordings by burying them in the ground, in this case in a garden in Vienna; he also tosses in fridge magnets, in the sure and certain expectation that portions of the tapes will be wiped clean. While waiting for the loamy soil to do its job, he scoured market stalls for any discarded tapes he could seize with his tongs, and these were added to the final edit. In short, the work is 100% derived from field recordings of Vienna, and tapes found in that locale. Rooted in a specific time and place, the work will ultimately reveal hidden truths about that place.

The same aesthetic, and the same predictive powers, applied to the Irish project; the main difference this time is that there are fewer detectable human voices to be heard. In Kilfinane, he had access to a radio archive that yielded a rich crop of Irish voices and accents; in Vienna, we seem to have a snapshot of a near-deserted city, human presence mostly only indicated at second-hand (traffic sound, sirens), or in snatches of overheard mumbling of pedestrians in the streets, or as indecipherable fragments from old home tapes. As ever, Mark Vernon has provided a detailed shopping-list of the objects and places he managed to record on his reel-to-reel portable, although this only appears on the press release and not in the finished package. The other aspect to note is the crazy editing, which has resulted from splicing his earth-encrusted tapes together with his found recordings in a random order, letting the chips fall where they may. It’s a much more successful realisation of the Burroughs-Gysin cut-up method, and thankfully free from any of the underlying hostility to humanity which, for me, taints so much of Burroughs’ work. Even so, the abiding vision of Vienna in these rune-cast fragments remains undeniably bleak, a city with continually grey skies, almost bereft of human life, a place where machines, objects, buildings, hotel rooms, and even amusement parks and fairgrounds are performing their mechanical actions for no apparent reason, as if somehow this part of Europe had survived a catastrophe that wiped out most of the populace.

The cover image, showing the famous Wiener Riesenrad Ferris Wheel still under construction in 1897, does little to dispel the impression I have of this recording. Might I add the work has already been broadcast on radiophonic-friendly platforms and it picked up a Phonurgia Nova prize in 2020.”
Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector


Sonograph Sound Effects Series Volume 2: Public and Domestic Plumbing and Sanitation

Calling Cards Publishing / CCP007 LP (2021)

New limited edition Sound Effects Library LP released by Calling Cards Publishing.

Mark Vernon presents the second volume of his Sonograph Sound Effects Series – the follow up to the unexpectedly popular ‘Sounds of the Modern Hospital’ LP. This time the focus is on sounds of plumbing and sanitation: drainpipes, plugholes, leaks, squeaky taps and cisterns.

Vernon has recorded many of the sounds from unusual perspectives, in extreme close-up scenarios, using contact mics or small binaural microphones to get into tiny inaccessible spaces. There is also a particular focus on plumbing on-board vehicles and vessels in motion. The intention here is to reveal the marvellous within the most mundane and every day of sounds.

The record masquerades as a collection of generic archetypal sounds whilst in actuality it revels in the specific and unique – some of the most idiosyncratic and characterful instances of such sounds. No two gurgles are alike.

As an avid collector of sound effects records these obsolete discs have gradually taken on new meaning for Vernon as unintended audio time capsules. As their use value has decreased their value as historical audio documents has grown. To produce a sound effects LP in the age of digital audio libraries is an anachronistic gesture intended to elevate what purports to be a generic collection of recordings intended for functional use to the level of an artwork.

The album is in part a homage to classic ranges of sound effects albums such as the BBC Sound Effects Library – even down to the utilitarian design and functional descriptions of the sounds (a key aspect of this release). Such generic collections of sounds were intended to fulfil the needs of professional and amateur broadcasters, filmmakers and theatre producers. However, through careful selection and sequencing it is also intended that this record works as a linear sound composition.

>>> Utilitarian Unsounds for Undisclosed Purposes <<<

 
Reviews:

“…as the pieces begin to pass in quick succession, they start to wriggle free of meaning like a word repeated until it feels like just a collection of uttered sounds. Rather than take you out of the experience, this dislocation becomes hypnotic and compelling… creating the soundscape to somewhere new and bewildering.”
Spenser Tomson, The Wire magazine


Reviews in Full

“Opinions differ as to what constitutes a ‘good’ field recording. It could be argued that the more precisely it captures a place or event, conjuring it with clarity in the mind of the listener, then the more successful it is. In Cathy Lane and Angus Carlyle’s book In The Field: The Art of Field Recording, the musician and exponent of the technique, Francisco López says, “for me field recording is essentially a creative way of interacting with reality, rather than ‘representing’ reality”. In his view, the most interesting field recordists are those who, rather than employing a documentarian accuracy, opt instead to let the sounds bleed across the frame, obscuring their nature and using them as the components to construct a completely new fiction.

Mark Vernon’s work often plays with this ambiguity, using various methods to sever these sonic artefacts from their original connections. Lend An Ear, Leave A Word constructed a disorientating picture of Lisbon from snippets of tape recordings and found sounds, while Sonograph Sound Effects Series Vol.1: Sounds of the Modern Hospital took the already curious sounds of these places, amplifying their strangeness by presenting them in quick-fire sequence, disorientating the listener in strange soundscapes. With the follow-up, subtitled Public And Domestic Plumbing And Sanitation, Vernon achieves weirder results from a source material that is more quotidian.

But its weirdness is not immediately revealed, and initially his recordings appear as straightforward documents of the everyday and mundane. “Shower Hose Attachment” and “Toilet Flush And Cistern Refill” set a tone that gurgles and squeaks its familiar way through U-bend and plughole. But as the pieces begin to pass in quick succession, they start to wriggle free of meaning like a word repeated until it feels like just a collection of uttered sounds. Rather than take you out of the experience, this dislocation becomes hypnotic and compelling, such as when the soggy clatter of “Drainpipe Drips” rolls into the lonely groan of “Radiator” creating the soundscape to somewhere new and bewildering.

As with his previous works, Vernon illustrates that from ubiquity, he is able to conjure something unfamiliar and compelling.”

Spenser Tomson, The Wire magazine, September 2021

Paper Gestures

Glistening Examples / GLEX2002 CD/DL (2020)

New limited edition CD release on Jason Lescalleet’s Glistening Examples imprint.

Paper Gestures was originally created as an 8-channel sound work at EMS, Stockholm in 2019. This stereo version was made especially for this limited edition CD release and download on Glistening Examples. The piece is based upon field recordings made across Norway over a 13-year period including sounds of military exercises with tank fire, a road surface stripping machine, breaking panes of glass, high speed trains, ultrasound recordings of stomach noises, wind whistling through vents on the Oslo underground, sliding wardrobe doors, microwaved popcorn, soap suds, bee hives, hand bells and bicycle races.

Composed from field recordings made in Oslo, Lillestrøm, Deset, Eidsvoll, Risør, Øysang, Røros and Trondheim, Norway between 2006 and 2018.

A diffusion of the 8-channel version of Paper Gestures was premiered at Café Oto, London in March, 2020.

Created with the support of EMS, Stockholm and Creative Scotland.

Exterior artwork by Barbara Breitenfellner. Interior artwork by Tian Miller.


Reviews:

“…guides the listener across some kind of eerie garden into an echo-laden world…as the boundaries between spaces melt away…”
Claire Sawers, The Wire magazine


Reviews in Full

“Glasgow sound artist Mark Vernon has been finding ways of connecting people for years. There’s a passage on his website that gets a deep nod from this listener: “Radio as an artform has an ability to create a sense of community amongst a disparate and geographically isolated set of listeners whilst generating the excitement and energy implicit in a live broadcast.” The radio that Vernon describes is a thrilling blend of plays, oral histories, odd music and scores.

Besides running Glasgow station Radiophrenia for two weeks each year since 2015 (with Barry Burns) and organising Lights Out listening events around Scotland, Vernon’s also a solo artist. His latest album Paper Gestures was assembled last year in Stockholm and is comprised of field recordings made over 13 years in Norway.

The bee buzzing on opening track “Permea” guides the listener across some kind of eerie garden into an echo-laden world where microwave popcorn bursts and a computer keyboard taps away with urgency. Later there are swooshing cars on “Dirigible Delusions” as if we’ve been led to a motorway overpass before sinking underground to listen in on air whistling through the vents in the Oslo Metro. Vernon grants access to various worlds – a whirring photocopier that’s maybe sat idle now in an empty office; a summary buzz of bird chatter that lulls us into a calm state before a more sinister Predator-style creature clicks into earshot. Melodies drift in sometimes too, often sounding far off, as the boundaries between spaces melt away.”

Claire Sawers, The Wire magazine, July 2020

MARK VERNON – PAPER GESTURES (CDR by Glistening Examples)

“It didn’t take me much consideration to see where to start with this three. It all has to do with anticipation and with the work of Mark Vernon; I am always curious to see what he comes up. His sound art usually has a radiophonic character, but over the years words have disappeared and the story is within the way he uses his sound material. On ‘Paper Gestures’ we find pieces that he made at EMS studios in Stockholm as an 8-channel sound work and for the sound material, he uses recordings made in a whole bunch of Norwegian places between 2006 and 2018. As I was listening, I tried to figure out what these recordings are, what sort locations they were made, but, and that happens most of the times, I failed. The label’s Bandcamp page gives us some explanation: “sounds of military exercises with tank fire, a road surface stripping machine, breaking panes of glass, high-speed trains, ultrasound recordings of stomach noises, wind whistling through vents on the Oslo underground, sliding wardrobe doors, microwaved popcorn, soap suds, beehives, handbells and bicycle races”. But then the next question would be, to what extent are these sounds treated or whether they remain ‘as is’, and the ‘only’ thing Vernon does is putting them together. And maybe that is what he does; but if it is that, how relevant is that? For me, it is not. It is what he does and how sounds that matters for me, and he does a great job. In each of the five pieces, I would say there is some kind of narrative, however abstract that narrative might be. It sounds like a walk through a field, objects are found along the way and sounds picked from some distance. At times mysterious, at other times down to earth, at times recognizable and then also alien. It is laptop music but without the extensive use of the entire plugin catalogue and transformations. Good ol’ musique concrete and Vernon is great at creating that”.

Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly


An Annotated Phonography of Chance

Misanthropic Agenda / MAR051 LP/DL (2019)

An Annotated Phonography of Chance expands upon the soundtrack to an uncompleted 16mm film made in collaboration with English filmmaker Martha Jurksaitis and the Portuguese artist duo Von Calhau! The film ‘Nossos Ossos’ (which also lends its name to one of the tracks on this record) was shot largely on location in the Alentejo region of Portugal in 2013.

Sites visited included Evora, Evoramonte, the bone chapel ‘Capela dos Ossos’, Almendres Cromlech and many other castles, churches and megalithic sites in the area. These locations were used to make experiments with natural reverbs, for the most part sounding out the spaces with voices. Along with location field recordings and found tapes this provided the raw material for much of the soundtrack.

Limited edition vinyl pressing available now direct from Misanthropic Agenda or for UK distribution from Penultimate Press.

A1 Succulent Gros (featuring – Von Calhau!) 3:00
A2 Overflown Ellipsis 1:33
A3 The Larum of the Living 2:18
A4 The Consensus is to Delete 4:16
A5 Nossos Ossos (featuring – Von Calhau!) 4:30
A6 Revolving Rivers 4:13

B1 Aspen House (featuring – Von Calhau!) 5:28
B2 Megalithic Circuit 6:03
B3 Shrouded Yagis 5:16
B4 Simmer Dim (featuring – Von Calhau!) 3:23


Reviews:

“A visionary tale of chance and observation.”
T.J. Norris, Toneshift

“This one’s got everything… field recordings, strange gothic tunes, avant-garde movie soundtrack elements, and visits to ancient sites in Portugal.”
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector

“…an intentional march of distraction, a sequence of left-hand turns where elements are refined within their allocated time and realised with care in production, timing and nuance…”
Night Science Blog


Reviews in Full

“Glasgow’s radio producer/sound artist Mark Vernon is about to release his follow-up to the incredible Ribbons of Rust (Flaming Pines, 2019). His sound is intensely intimate, one might think their own pipes are dripping as each droplet is painstakingly captured with precise fidelity. These ten tracks that span forty minutes are woven with zags and fluctuating warp that brings to mind the inversion of a jazz trumpet, its brackish and suspenseful.

The Consensus is to Delete sounds like one of those lost Coil tracks that continue to permeate the underground, paced and plotting, a bit of the spirit world and low in timbre. Perfect for the bewitched season of hallowed souls (and all that jazz). He tends to his set of reels with a real vision, one based on “a soundtrack to an uncompleted 16mm film made in collaboration with English filmmaker Martha Jurksaitis and the Portuguese artist duo Von Calhau! The film ‘Nossos Ossos’ was shot largely on location in the Alentejo region of Portugal in 2013.” It’s as cinematic as it sounds.

Still, Vernon, while capturing the spellbinding echoes of cathedral oration, songbirds tweeting and other street noise, this is far from the typical field recording document, not only in form, but much more deeply in nuanced atmosphere. The slow-churn of ‘scenes’ like Revolving Rivers is almost numbing as a retrospective snapshot in time. Yet it dances in the moment via its sing-song visceral qualities, obliterated transmissions and melodic wooziness. Only at marked times does one feel ‘cozy’ here, due to the carpet being psychically unfurled from under your feet, sending the listener adrift into new atmospheric scapes. A visionary tale of chance and observation.”
T.J. Norris, Toneshift, October 28, 2019

Nossos Ossos

“Another fine LP from Mark Vernon, this one a limited vinyl pressing from an American label; only 100 copies made and likely to be sold out at the hour I write these lines. This one’s got everything…field recordings, strange gothic tunes, avant-garde movie soundtrack elements, and visits to ancient sites in Portugal. In fact many of the things that make every Vernon “travelogue” such an appealing release.

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of sunburys, you’ll realise that Vernon’s obsessive tape-hoarding and radiophonic bent are always welcome under my canopy, and An Annotated Phonography Of Chance (MISANTHROPIC AGENDA MAR051) is no exception, barring perhaps the slightly haughty title which on one level leads one to expect a John Cage tribute or something equally unwelcome. The story of this one is that he went on a location shoot to Alentejo with the film-maker Martha Jurksaitis, where they met up with the art duo Von Calhau (Marta Ângela and João Artur), a couple of all-rounders who do performance, texts, visual arts, films and exhibitions to get their statements across. A film was made – on 16mm celluloid, no less – but it remains unfinished, apparently. One of the sites they visited was the renowned “capela dos ossos”, always a popular locale for the questing shutterbug who wants to get some human skulls and bones captured on their roll of Ektachrome, although it’s not the same one which Svankmajer famously pointed his macabre lens at.

Our friends also visited castles, megalithic sites…evidently the history must have seeped into their pocketbooks, as this musty-sounding record will testify, and I think it even includes moments when they sing, whistle and moan in these areas, just to experiment with “natural reverbs”. Somewhere in the midst of all these currents of activity and culture, a film soundtrack must lie; today’s LP might be part of that soundtrack, although Vernon himself calls it an “expansion” upon it, in the same way that a Graf Zeppelin could be regarded as an “expansion” on a runaway helium balloon. As frequently happens with these Vernon projects, a story of some sort emerges, or is half-suggested; this one follows that trend to some extent, and you won’t need much more than 60 grams of imaginative prowess to start visualising a benign yet mysterious gothic horror movie as you savour these subtle, eerie tones. Even the sound of the camera mechanism is included; it was one of those old-school 16mm cameras where you need to wind up the clockwork mechanism to make it run. Matter of fact, Vernon provides his usual shopping list of sound sources which we can listen out for, like children on an aural treasure hunt; if anything, Mark Vernon is too generous in the range of sounds which he will admit into his aesthetic net, evidently taking an interest in just about everything around him and finding beauty and charm inside it, no matter how banal or irrelevant it may seem at first gazoon.

The other thing I like about this one how he actually constructs – or discovers – some haunting melodies on this occasion, as opposed to his usual all-documentary approach, and each side contains at least one of these tuneful spine-tinglers suitable for any given Italian exploitation flick from the 1960s, hopefully featuring a doomed countess with long black hair in a castle with spiders. The cover artworks, featuring ornate light fittings, don’t do an awful lot to prepare us for the contents of this low-key audio fest, but what possibly could? From 23rd October 2019.”
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, 23rd August 2020

 

“Last year saw the release by Misanthropic Agenda of a deluxe double LP reissue of Joe Colley’s intense ‘Psychic Stress Soundtracks’, an exploration of unpredictable sound with strong references to film both in the broader sensory media and the cellulose nitrate itself. Now visiting ‘An Annotated Phonography Of Chance’ by Scottish experimentalist Mark Vernon which preceded the Colley release by a matter of months, I hear an even greater interest in cinema – reflected in the foley-like closeness of its environmental sounds, a deeper soundtrack sensibility to grander gestures, and the literal unspooling of reels which ticks through the first side to further fragment its diverse audio components, also returning to close the LP as the final frames fall to the floor.

Across the first side individual tracks quickly get lost amid the ebb and flow of Mark’s work, minutiae of acoustic home recordings – water, chatter, travel, birds – melting into horrifyingly elongated brass instrument vibrations, chilling ambient soundscapes, choral and piano samples, and a haze of obscure manipulations and peripheral sonic crumbs which further fragment any attempt to embrace a defining sensibility from ‘An Annotated Phonography Of Chance’. It’s an intentional march of distraction, a sequence of left-hand turns where elements are refined within their allocated time and realised with care in production, timing and nuance – but which bewilder within the larger whole as the provoked visualisations scatter across the colour wheel.

Of particular note are the visually provocative moments which delve into almost Goblin-like throb and threat during what I think is “The Consensus Is To Delete” – albeit without the heavy instrumentation – and the intertwined ghostly invocations which unravel from backwards-treated stretches of damp ambience thereafter (“Nossos Ossos”), bold strokes of sound with a familiarly visual edge to it then reduced back to a darker – but equally evocative – scene.

Even if the inputs remain diffuse, the second side of the LP builds a more focused and singular mood, combining windswept electronics, barking dogs, twitching noise vibrations, slow tonal manipulations and sickly wet vivisection into an extended play of shadowy slow-motion dark ambient. But even after the barrage of sound components which cross the first side, the second still pulls some surprises across its twenty minutes. The creaks and dying haunted house effect reel of “Megalithic Circuit” are especially profound, chewed cassette playback turned into pensive ambient dread as buzzing flies, behind-the-door gesture and resonant low-end surround the listener in a worryingly visceral experience; closer “Simmer Dim”’s focus on vocal utterances – singing, speech and whistling – also shines as a refined close to such a wayward LP.

Misanthropic Agenda has always looked outside noise/industrial confines for its releases, but the last few years have cast that net wider, and Mark Vernon is one of the catches. The label seems intent on finding unique voices within the broader experimental music lexicon, and ‘An Annotated Phonography of Chance’ gives significant space to one of those. I grew up mining musical interests across genres and sub-genres while still firmly rooted in music’s darker expressions. Vernon’s keenness for experimentation but acknowledgement of mood reflect both those familiarities, even if his expression is a march from mine.”
Night Science Blog, 29th January, 2021


Magneto Mori: Kilfinane

Canti Magnetici / CANTO 18 Cassette (2019)

Magneto Mori is an exploration of tape recording as a form of memory storage. In this iteration the location is the Irish mountain town of Kilfinane. Using a portable reel to reel tape recorder sounds from around the town were recorded onto the first side of the tape over a two day period – dripping rain, creaky gates, car mechanics, drainpipes, shops, church bells, refrigerator cabinets, wind blowing through the trees, passing traffic, etc. were just some of the sounds encountered.

On the second side were compiled voices of Kilfinane – extracts from the personal radio archives of Diarmuid McIntyre and Grey Heron Media that date back as far as twenty years or more. The recordings selected consisted mostly of local history, coverage of community events, news stories of local interest and interviews with a variety of Kilfinane residents.

Using tape as an analogy for the frailty of human memory this tape was then cut into pieces of random length, freeing the sounds from their linear, chronological sequence. The tape cuttings were then intermingled with a collection of magnets that de-magnetise (thus erasing) portions of the tape. The tape (along with the magnets) was then buried in a hole in the grounds of the local school. After several days steeped in the earth of Kilfinane the remaining audio fragments were exhumed. Dirty, mangled and partially erased the tape was washed, dried and spliced back together in a random order ready for playback.

This process of recording, emancipation from chronology, burial, erasure over time, unearthing and the reassembly of jumbled fragments for playback parallels the operation of memory and recall. Experience, retention, buried memories, forgetting, distortions, recall and chronological inaccuracies are all aspects of the human memory process. The main difference being that our memory is selective and plays an active role in what it chooses to remember or forget rather than the arbitrary procedures that are in operation here.

Once the tape was cut into pieces there was no way of telling which fragments were which and in the process of splicing the tape back together the voice recordings gathered over a twenty year period became interspersed with the sounds of those two days spent making field recordings in the area.

Further digital recordings were also made around the same location during the period of the tape’s interment. The contrast between these higher fidelity field recordings and the degraded analogue sounds added a further substrata of time to the process.

The final listening event consisted of two parts: A straight uninterrupted playback of side one (aside from occasional tape jams).

Followed by: Playback of the second side combined with a live collage of pre-prepared field recordings made in the intervening days.

Side A and Side B of this cassette tape correspond to these two distinct versions of the piece.

Limited edition of 100 copies. Released 15th February, 2019.

Magneto Mori was first presented at the Kilfinane Convent Chapel as part of the Hearsay Festival on October 1st, 2017.


Reviews:

“…transmits you into a world that feels alien and alive at the same time.”
Aydarbek Kurbansho, Louder.me

“…this tape exudes life and passion, the voices of the people and their town still shining forth with a resilience that belies all these attempts to efface them.”
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector


Reviews in Full

“Mark Vernon’s recording titled “Magneto Mori: Kilfinane” captures a brief glimpse into the town’s atmosphere in a fairly unconventional way. Using musique concrète techniques of tape manipulation, Vernon concentrates on not only transmitting the town’s breath to the listener but also includes a collection of recordings from the local radio station archives. He proceeds to cut these up, demagnetize the tape, bury the tape for a couple of days, dig it back up, clean and paste together random sections of the tape.

The final effect of the recording is something out of Pierre Schaeffer’s playbook. It transmits you into a world that feels alien and alive at the same time. The interlacing sounds of nature, people talking and the magnetic damage feel like an active scene in Kilifnane’s life. The damaged sections of the tape, representing the selective compiling of memories and memory’s deterioration, add that extra vitality to the entire experience. The second side of the tape meshes digital pre-recorded sounds with the analog dementia of the first side, further pushing on the perception of time passing. The final effect — just as surreal.

My favorite moments on this tape involved the brief appearances of orchestral music, church bell or what sounded like a choir in the world of external noises and cut up voices of the past. They shifted the lens focus on the tape in a very effective manner. As a whole, the multiple points of view on the subject of the city gave the recording an almost Cubist perspective on the small city’s life. Just try to listen to this magic record.”

Aydarbek Kurbansho, Louder.me

Magnetic Field Therapy

“Latest release from TSP fave Mark Vernon is a cassette called Magneto Mori: Kilfinane (CANTI MAGNETICI CANTO 18), and it’s a real gem. Vernon has worked in the past with his own field recordings and his own found tapes to create his compelling audio assemblages; found tapes in particular seem to be one of his specialities, and he accumulates them with a personal fascination bordering on mania.

For this particular work, he created something totally specific to the mountain town Kilfinane in Ireland, for a work which ended up being presented at the convent chapel in that town as part of a Festival in 2017. His press notes reveal an incredibly labour-intensive process involved in creating this work. Collecting sounds from around the town, which he did with his own reel-to-reel tape recorder, seems to have been the easy part of the job. The next step involved collating found tapes which contained the collective “voice” of this community, and these were extracted from a radio archive at Grey Heron Media, put together by Diarmud McIntyre. It so happens that McIntyre’s collection goes back 20 years; I’d like to think that Vernon was in his seventh Heaven at finding this rich trove, this earthy resource of content.

Vernon’s next step was to subject his collected pieces of audio (copies of same, I hope) to a degradation process which sounds positively violent in its disruption; deliberately using magnets to wipe out parts of the tapes; burying the damaged fragments in the earth; then splicing what was left back into a random order. These highly-processed results are what we hear over two sides of the cassette presented today. He has done all of this explicitly as a metaphor for the process of memory itself. If we can accept audio tape as a “container” of memory, Vernon’s work shows us how memory can degrade, fail, put things in the wrong order, scramble the truth, forget some parts and distort others, and so forth. The intervention of the magnets is particularly poignant, somehow; it’s like some brutal uncaring fact of life, causing eradication of our cherished memories and leaving these strange, unexpected gaps.

It takes some considerable imaginative powers and artistic skills to create something like this; given that memory is a fleeting, evanescent thing, something personal to all of us, not well understood as an aspect of the human psyche. But Vernon’s work is a triumph, and expresses precisely what he means to express. I say this as one who cherishes a stock of strange and very personal memories (some of which are completely inexplicable), and this tape resonates very strongly with me.

Reading this back, the listener might be tempted to think that Magneto Mori: Kilfinane is simply the result of a mechanical exercise in tape-degradation and random re-assembly; a cynic might reach for a Burroughs / Gysin reference at some point, and dismiss it as just another post-modern attempt to scramble reality. Or one might suppose that Vernon has no interest at all in people and places, such as this small market town in Limerick, and he’s merely using all of that as a vehicle for his cut-up actions. All of these assumptions would be wholly mistaken; this tape exudes life and passion, the voices of the people and their town still shining forth with a resilience that belies all these attempts to efface them. It’s an impressionistic collage, for sure; you can’t make out the detail of a single spoken word; yet the cadences of human speech are ineradicable. I think all of this proves something about the sheer endurance of our shared humanity, which survives in spite of its supposed fragility. We need more artistic statements in the world which demonstrate this, and there are precious few that do it with the compassion and subtlety of Mark Vernon. “

Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector

“Mark Vernon is a Glasgow-based artist whose work is inspired by the experience of radiophonic listening as an acoustic experience. “Magneto Mori” is based on a vision of tape as a storage for memory so “Kilfinane” is the name of an Irish mountain town and the sounds where recorded there. The constructivist aspect of this composition is highlighted by the fact that the recordings were cut and spliced into the piece in random order so the listening experience is free from a narrative aspect. To further add an element of fragmentation the tape was buried to obtain a degraded sound which have a dialectic with the clean digital recordings which are the other element of this opus.
The first side of tape, called “unadorned” is made out of field recordings of the town and the result of the editing and the process is a sort of dialogue between the clean voices, presumably digitally recorded, and the dirty recordings of the everyday sounds so a sort of nostalgia for a place which emerges as a memory appears to the listener. The other side, called “embellished”, is based upon radio archives so it covers, according to the liner notes, almost twenty years of the town history; while it could have been predicted as more verbose than the first side, it’s instead sonically more elaborated than the first side as it almost features no dialogues and the field recordings from the community events creates the impressing than it was a more lively place than it is now.

A rather impressive work which requires a certain imagination from the listener to figure the criterion of the choice of the fragment and these days is important that an artist remind to the audience that we record thing as an aid to memory not to exhibit them on a social. Recommended.”

Chain D.L.K.

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