Sheet Erosion

Audio Archaeology Series Vol​.​3: Brest
Sonoris / SNS-25 CD (2023)

Sheet Erosion is the third episode in a series of works based around ideas of audio archaeology and found sounds. The setting this time is the city of Brest in France. It was originally commissioned as a radio work for Kunstradio, Austria in 2022.

The piece is comprised of field recordings made in early 2020 during the storms Ciara and Desmond plus a batch of found open-reel tape recordings dating from the 70s and 80s. The tapes include domestic home recordings but mostly document the recordist, Michel’s tastes in music and radio programmes of the time. Daily life bleeds into these lo-fi recordings of radio and TV shows. Captured with a mic in front of a speaker rather than directly cabled, ambiguous activities can be heard in the background; babies crying, feedback, chairs scraping and muffled conversations.

In the composition family histories and musical tastes are transposed over a more contemporary soundscape of Brest. Over-saturated tape distorts time as well as sounds. Speeds change. Chronologies become confused. Different instances in time are blended and fused. What seeps through these chronological crevices are events and incidents unmoored from linear time taking place in a chimerical non-space.

Released by Sonoris, France as a CD in a limited edition of 300 copies with 4-panel full colour digipak featuring artwork by Mark Vernon. Available to purchase direct from Sonoris or Cortical Art.

Reviews:

“Vernon is a skilful and sympathetic excavator of found tapes… There’s the sense of life repeating itself not with the computerised logic of the loop, but the impressionistic skim-read of memory… Vernon revels in the patina of vintage sounds without locking the listener in place and time.”
Derek Walmsley, The Wire magazine (February, 2024)

 


Reviews in Full

“Vernon is a skilful and sympathetic excavator of found tapes, but this time around he didn’t find much of note in the French city of Brest’s flea markets. On the final day, Michel, a contact from the festival Vernon was attending, gave him some of his own family’s reel-to-reel archive, a goldmine of memories preserved in sound. “Lean Developments In Noisy Thoughts”, “Bucolic Plague” and “Every Page A Gentle Wave” present motifs recorded from a TV’s loudspeaker which are knitted into an elliptical, eerily recurring structure.

There’s the sense of life repeating itself not with the computerised logic of the loop, but the impressionistic skim-read of memory. Like fellow UK musician Robin The Fog, Vernon revels in the patina of vintage sounds without locking the listener in place and time.”

Derek Walmsley, The Wire magazine, February, 2024

“Vernon is a long-time producer of radiophonic works, and various are site-specific. ‘Sheet Erosion’ is number three in a series of Audio Archaeology, and this time, he visited the French of Brest. “It comprises field recordings made in early 2020 during the storms Ciara and Desmond plus a batch of found open-reel tape recordings dating from the 70s and 80s.” These tapes are from someone named Michel and reflect his taste in music and radio programmes. Vernon didn’t use cables to capture what was on the recordings but used the speakers and recorded whatever else happened at the same time. There’s a telephone, conversations, the wind howling around the cabin (if indeed it is a cabin. I might be imagining things), people talking and ‘then’ meets ‘now’. The space in which he plays his sounds becomes an instrument of transformation, as do the objects he finds in the place. Sometimes, the speaker gets obscured and muffles the sound; sometimes, the music from the tapes is very recognizable (although, for the life of me, I can’t remember the tune’s name), and not at all. Does Vernon use some kind of processing? Digital or electronic? I thought about it every time I heard this CD, and in these somewhat quieter days before Christmas, there was indeed some more time to listen to it, and I’m unsure. There are bits in here that I think could very well contain some kind of electronic processing. Still, I also considered the possibility that everything he does comes down to unusual ways of capturing his sounds and maybe some filtering, removing specific low or high frequencies. Whatever it is that he does, it adds to the mysterious quality of the music. As always, it has a kind of radiophonic quality combined with the qualities of a great horror movie. Some of this material is very ghostly and obscure, but I appreciate it mainly because of that eerie atmosphere. It doesn’t scare the living daylights out of me, but it has a cosy, creepy sound; the sound of yesteryear, perhaps, a sense of longing for the past. Maybe it’s a conservative zeitgeist thing? Maybe it’s just old age! I love it.”

Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly, December, 2023

Call Back Carousel

Discrepant / CREP 102 LP / DL

“This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”

(Don Draper, Mad Men)

Call Back Carousel is an audio time-travelogue, a slideshow of the mind’s eye – projecting Kodachrome memories directly into the listeners’ mind by means of sound alone. It is a way of travelling without ever having to leave the home. A vicarious vacation for the imagination. Pure audio escapism.

Each episode is based on a found tape of a pre-recorded slideshow commentary. Most of these tapes were made by amateur tape recording enthusiasts and hobbyist photographers of the 60s and 70s. Their recorded commentaries would at one time have been used in conjunction with a sequence of 35mm slides but only the taped voices now remain. The recordings themselves come from my own archive of found reel-to-reel tapes that I have collected over the past twenty years.

Using these found slideshow commentaries as a framework, a series of musical soundscapes have been created to bring the absent images to life, activating the listeners’ imagination in the classic tradition of ‘cinema for the ears’. It’s a little like looking through a family photo album where only the hand written captions and mounting corners remain; the photographs themselves have all been removed. The evocative rattle and clack of the projector shuffles through different slides as the fragile voices of our tour guides accompany us on a sonic journey that fractures time – and through the cracks, the past bleeds through into our present.

 
With special thanks to Manja Ristić, Barry Burns, Gonçalo F Cardoso and Bill and Marjory Howard.

Produced with the support of the Creative Scotland and the PRS Foundation’s Open Fund.

 

Reviews:

“Call Back Carousel helps us to recall the charm of an antiquated mode of presentation. By restoring dignity to the slide show, Vernon makes the practice worthy of re-evaluation …a disorienting, time travelling montage.”
Richard Allen, A Closer Listen (June 2023)

“It’s somewhere in that space, between the imagined sounds of those lost photos of an experience no one will ever quite know, that Vernon captures a flickering piece of humanity.”
Bandcamp, Acid Test’s Best Albums of 2023, Miles Bowe, December 11, 2023

“…rich soundscapes that tell of a quaint, eccentric Britain that’s almost faded completely from view …realised in stereo, with all the humour and quiet familiarity you’d hope for.”
Boomkat (June 2023)

“Vernon treats the audio with the kind of care and respect reserved for ancient fossils as he restores them through wonderfully descriptive soundscapes and vivid foley design. And gradually, through sound, a picture begins to develop.”
Bandcamp Daily, Acid Test, Miles Bowe (August 2023)

Call Back Carousel is a nostalgic, whimsical, demented and quite melancholic sound journey through historical sites, famous landmarks, tourists spots and must-see places around the globe during a bygone era… It’s strange and intriguing, creepy and alluring, bittersweet and playful, haunting and amusing… and also creatively adventurous, which makes for a delightful and fulfilling listening experience.”
Audio Crackle (August 2023)

 


Reviews in Full

“How long does it take for something to peak, become outdated, and return in a nostalgic rush, a pleasantly retro experience? Some might say this occurred with vinyl (although it was never really gone), Polaroids and bell bottoms. This week Mark Vernon turns his attention to slide shows, whose origin can be traced back centuries to “magic lantern slides”, but whose 35mm glamour peaked in the mid-twentieth century. During that time, some even paid to see slide shows, although a more derided version was the home slide show, a horror to which neighbours subjected each other upon return from their vacations. On Call Back Carousel, Vernon resurrects the audio portion of the slide show in all its glory, adding music to found tapes of slideshow commentary to create a disorienting, time travelling montage.

Readers of a certain age will instantly recognize the sound of the slide projector, which narrowly escaped being made fun of in a Suicide Squad movie; its younger sibling, the overhead projector, took the bullet instead. Classroom and boardroom staples for decades, both were made obsolete by Powerpoint in 1987. But everyone will recognize the voices of older people over-explaining things to anyone who will listen.

The album begins with the a click, waves, birds, a distant opera. The travelogue launches at the Paignton Zoo in 1968, “a very nice beach” according to the narrator. “I don’t know what this bird is,” he continues, explaining his technique. A jaunty song plays in the background, with a happy whistle. “Flamingos – they make a kind of honking noise,” he mansplains. Vernon adds amusing aural cues over the wobbling reel-to-reel; but the track gets really interesting when the narration begins to loop and fall apart, imitating the abrasion of time. Might this man still be outside the exhibit, caught in a time loop, attempting to get Polly to speak?

The Austrian Tyrol is the next stop, with an introduction that sounds like it comes from the tourist board. Slides flutter by in a rush. One thinks of the dullest documentary one has ever endured, spiced up by sound, Vernon acting like a precocious yet brilliant child, adding cuckoo clocks, rail sirens, rushing wind, flowing streams, cowbells and orchestral snippets. A stuttering grown-up calls one spot “the bla-bla-bla and the bla-bla-bla,” making clear what we feared as children; the adults were often bored too. Thank God for that kid in the room that distracted us during such presentations by drawing pictures or making sounds, even if they were sent to the office later.

By “Scotland 1971,” we’re immersed in the spirit of the project. These little aural plays are likely much better than the original products. For long stretches, narration disappears; each sentence sparks a new sonic arrangement. A pause at a bridge leads to traffic; a description of pastures is the beginning of a biophany. To be fair, the original intentions of these slide shows may have been similar: that words and images might spark the imagination. Bagpipes are sampled and applied like aural paint. The machine falters at the end, firing rapidly before dying in a groan.

“Torquay 1969” is the “summer track,” covering a trip to the beach, water skiing, fishing, ice cream, and other summer sounds. The Hawai’an music prompts a question for the listener: which aspect of the recording is the most evocative? Is it the description of summer reverie, the field recordings of summer fun, the song? Travelling back in time, what might an original viewer have felt: jealousy or empathic joy?
While slide shows are no longer a thing, they have mutated into something else: let me show you pictures of my vacation on my phone. Our attention spans have grown even shorter, making these shows much shorter than the presenters might desire. The narrative arc disappears, replaced by the sharing of only the best shots. But in this, something has been lost.

While seldom enthralling and often dull, the classic slide show produced a short story in the form of a travelogue, an art in its own right, whose spirit Vernon captures through a neighbouring discipline. Twelve minutes of vicarious travel (the average length of each track) is not too much to ask of one’s friends, and Call Back Carousel helps us to recall the charm of an antiquated mode of presentation. By restoring dignity to the slide show, Vernon makes the practice worthy of re-evaluation.”

Richard Allen, A Closer Listen, June 2023

Glaswegian sound artist and radio producer Mark Vernon collages an “audio time-travelogue” on ‘Call Back Carousel’, using found tapes from hobbyists and amateur recordists that were originally intended to accompany slideshows.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, hobbyist photographers would put together slideshows of 35mm photographs, documenting trips to the beach or to the zoo. Sometimes, these events were accompanied by pre-recorded commentaries, spliced with music and environmental recordings to create a cinematic narrative. And for the last two decades, Vernon has been collecting reel-to-reel tapes from the era, cleaving the commentaries from their visuals and working them into rich soundscapes that tell of a quaint, eccentric Britain that’s almost faded completely from view.

The first piece is made up of 1968 recordings from Devon’s Paignton Zoo, opened with a slide machine click and some scene-setting environmental sounds. Music hall memories underpin an old man’s voice, who describes the day out: “I don’t know what this bird is,” he moans. As the piece develops, Vernon’s collage techniques get more distinct, with microphone noise and musical snippets creating the mood while voices connect us with the lived history. The rest of the album plays similarly: a visit to the Austrian Tyrol, a trip to Scotland, a day out in Torquay and a beach vacation at Brighton are realized in stereo, with all the humour and quiet familiarity you’d hope for.”

Boomkat, June 2023

“The first noise you hear on Call Back Carousel sounds almost like a cassette being popped into a tape player, but on closer inspection, could also be the sound of slides clicking through a projector carousel. You hear that click a lot on Call Back Carousel, a remarkable album by Mark Vernon that beautifully builds from a unique source of found footage: reel-to-reel audio commentaries from lost collections of vacation slides dating to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. What we’re left with on each track is a recording of a description of a picture of an experience had by a stranger. The images are long gone, and the people probably are too. There’s only the impression of an experience, heard in descriptions of weather, pointing out people we’ll never find in backgrounds we’ll never see. Vernon treats the audio with the kind of care and respect reserved for ancient fossils as he restores them through wonderfully descriptive soundscapes and vivid foley design. And gradually, through sound, a picture begins to develop.

These fused audio treatments create a ghostly sensation that brings to mind The Caretaker or even Nurse With Wound—it’s a haunting experience, but Vernon crucially makes it a moving one, too. Call Back Carousel is so seamless, it can be easy to forget the immense labor in applying these sounds or the time spent with these lost voices, trying to hear and see what they saw. At one point in the recording “Torquay, 1969,” a man describes stumbling onto a cave before admitting with audible regret that it was too dark to really photograph, even with the flash. He didn’t even have the right type of film for that with him. Who can plan for that? But Vernon chooses to fill the moment with the sound of dripping water, echoing footsteps, and an atmospheric coldness that must have been deeply inviting in the heat of that summer. It’s like you can see it just as the speaker did 50 years ago. And it doesn’t matter anymore that he forgot the right kind of film, because for a moment, you’re right there with him, and the cave is full of light.”

Bandcamp Daily, Acid Test, Miles Bowe, August 10, 2023

Call Back Carousel is an audio time-travelogue based on found tapes of pre-recorded commentaries from the 60s and 70s. These commentaries were originally recorded to accompany slideshows for amateur recordists and photographers, which Vernon has used to create his own audio collages and soundscapes.

The five collages that comprise this album are titled and dated according to (presumably) where and when they were originally recorded, and begin with the sound of a slide projector clicking to life.

Our journey starts at Paignton Zoo in England, 1968, where we’re aurally guided through aviaries and monkey cages, and introduced to toucans, parrots and other exotic creatures with varied snippets of fractured old-timey music to accompany us along the way.

Then we’re off to The Austrian Tyrol in 1972, where we’re informed about the three mountain ranges, and the recommended methods of transport and suggested practicalities of getting around this provence. This is against a pretty eerie backdrop of ominous thuds, traffic noises, birdsong and brooding ambience.

After that we find ourselves in Northern Scotland in 1971, combing the long empty beaches and visiting famous castles. With all this we can hear fragments of traditional Scottish bagpipe music, public transport noises, dark drones, tranquil waters and an array of shuffling sounds, among other things.

Then we move onto the seaside port town of Torquay, England in 1969 where the narrator is commenting on what he sees from a parked caravan – the harbour, promenades, gardens, boats etc… while Vernon provides more warped old-timey music and we hear flocks of seagulls and a gathering of people having a good time, being interviewed about their jetskiing/diving experiences and their observations of the sea. Then the narrator goes off mackerel fishing…
The piece ends with some abstract sound experimentation and weird atmospherics, along with more amusing adventure anecdotes and nostalgic music.

We end our journey in Brighton, England in 1971. This composition starts in an ol’ pub (we hear the familiar sounds of people drinking and talking) before quickly moving onto the seafront. The narrator comments on the picture galleries he sees by the pebbly seafront, while in the background we hear people playing on the beaches and waves gently crashing. These recordings are broken up by bursts of old carousel music and various stuttering sounds. Then the narrator takes us to the shops, and talks about some photographs he took along the way. Towards the end of the compositon, the soundscape becomes all woozy and the recordings become more distant, until the whole things fades and disentagrates into nothingness, and we’re left with the lonesome sound of the slide projector idling away before finally being turned off.

‘Call Back Carousel’ is a nostalgic, whimsical, demented and quite melancholic sound journey through historical sites, famous landmarks, tourists spots and must-see places around the globe during a bygone era… accompanied by fragmented musical samples, audio manipulation noises and conceptual sound art experimentation. It’s strange and intriguing, creepy and alluring, bittersweet and playful, haunting and amusing… a mixed bag of emotions, and also creatively adventurous, which makes for a delightful and fulfilling listening experience.”

Audio Crackle, Fletina, August, 2023

“Mark Vernon’s ghostly, immensely moving Call Back Carousel invites us to try and grasp something impossible. Starting with found audio tapes offering narration of someone’s vacation slideshow, Vernon uses foley effects and sound treatments to bring these forgotten experiences to life. The occasional rhythmic click of the carousel flings us somewhere new and unpredictable in time and space, but in these voices we always find the familiar—warmth, humor and a faint sadness at the passage of time. It’s somewhere in that space, between the imagined sounds of those lost photos of an experience no one will ever quite know, that Vernon captures a flickering piece of humanity.”

Bandcamp, Acid Test’s Best Albums of 2023, Miles Bowe, December 11, 2023

 

 

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

“A Glasgow based sound explorer, who already has a significant body of work behind him (with 16 releases documented on Discogs before this). A WORLD BEHIND THIS WORLD is basically a collection of audio movies in the manner of some Luc Ferrari (i.e. his “Presque Rien” series of works), companioning interesting mixtures of electroacoustics, noise and field recordings.

The results are not arranged in any musical form, but in a way that could be interpreted as telling a story, as one encounters different environment, sounds, and sonic events on the way. The most significant of these is the opening near 20 minute voyage titled New Golden Severities (Vermin Under the Stars), of which I’ve no idea how the title relates to what is heard. Fugitives From Bliss has a kind of claustrophobic feel to it, as if within some buried metallic structure witnessing various sounds that enter from passages and windows around it. A little more “musical” in its approach, Build The Hole To Suit The Stone involves what sounds like electronic cicadas swirling around, filtered on many different levels, and again as if in some metal structure. Finally A Pale Object In Search Of A Shape is another audio movie, sounding something like a trek from a tropical forest to a farm, on which we’re eventually caught up in the works of a combined harvester!

Although immaculately put together, I’m not sure how repeat listenable this release will be, nor what sort of audience will really like it. It’s quite a curiosity though.”

Audion, Issue No. 71, Oct 2022

“A World Behind This World is an adaptation of a radio piece produced for the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in 2021. The soundscape presented over the four tracks features different audio captured during the aforementioned workshop in Lumsden in Aberdeenshire, an area teeming with not only natural sounds but also the noise of machinery and mechanical processes like tractor engines, electric saws, drills, welding torches, anvils, hydraulic jacks and so on. The impression one gets when listening to A World Behind This World is of heavily edited recordings with a musical and balanced flow. The album begins with ‘New Golden Severities (Vermin Under the Stars)’, a recording of almost 20 minutes that begins with percussion, followed by drones and the sounds of machinery, animals and water from a stream. It is difficult to think that all this happens ‘live’. The emphasis is on the succession of events, the quality of the combinations and the expressive use of non-traditional instrumentation. On the second track, ‘Fugitives from Bliss’, this impression is strengthened. First we hear the roar of at least one motorcycle, followed by the grunt of a pig and then various recordings of liquids flowing, birds chirping all manipulated with audio effects including echoes and delays. The remaining two tracks feature a similarly eclectic mix of audio sources – an artistic choice that does not follow the ‘purist’ direction of unedited field recordings, yet is still a valid and engaging body of work.”

Aurelio Cianciotta, Neural, 22nd May, 2023

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

Reviews:

“A world in motion where eroded reels and manipulations create intense affecting mindscapes…”
Daniel Crokaert, Unfathomless

“Disembodied voices, ambiguous fragmented stories from abandoned tapes, backwards tapes and chilling atmospheric moments, all amounting to a suitably unsettling sojourn in this strange world that lies beyond the Veil of Tears. … although this LP is thrillingly weird, what comes over in the final analysis is a sense of longing, regret, nostalgia for the past, and sympathy for our dead relatives and forebears, some of whom appear wreathed in misery and trapped in an endless loop of reliving their past sins. Vernon has consistently exhibited this compassion and warmth, this connection to humanity, throughout all of his unique work, and this is further evidence of it.”
Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector (June 2023)


Reviews in Full

“More enjoyable to my macabre ears is Tape Letters From The Waiting Room (PSYCHÉ TROPES TROPES007). Even before you play it, you can tell from that title alone, and the eerie cover image, that we’re pretty much getting a semi-occult transmission here, messages from the beyond, delivered by séance and psychic forces. Vernon’s music here was composed as the soundtrack to a film created by Steven McInnery, a cinematic work which received several citations at experimental film festivals in 2020 and 2021, and was apparently made entirely by splicing together segments of found 16mm footage. McInnery intended to author an “existential drama” and explicitly wanted to explore themes of “death and rebirth” with his edits. I never saw the movie, but it’s evident that Vernon’s sounds here are in total sympathy with the project, taking the listener directly into a strange, spooked-out paranormal world from the instant the stylus hits the grooves. Disembodied voices, ambiguous fragmented stories from abandoned tapes (see Time Deferred, above), backwards tapes and chilling atmospheric moments, all amounting to a suitably unsettling sojourn in this strange world that lies beyond the Veil of Tears. Even Vernon’s track titles are evocative and poetic, for instance ‘A Photograph of a Photograph’ alluding to the mysteries that can be induced by the mechanics of refilming (and indeed reprocessing magnetic tapes, a process that he knows so well); or ‘Beforetime Guests’, a very lyrical way of alluding to the dead visitors arriving at the séance in the form of floating ghastly heads or ectoplasmic manifestations.

In my mind I can’t help connecting this LP to certain records by the Italian artiste Simon Balestrazzi, who has likewise revealed a penchant for the supernatural and the occult in his work, using the tape machine and processed drones as his private portal to visit the “other side”; one excellent example (and a favourite of mine) is the Candor Chasma collaboration, a very evocative set in which it appeared to be possible to travel time to visit certain famous mystics and visionaries of the past. However, Mark Vernon might not exhibit the exact same relish for the supernatural; although this LP is thrillingly weird, what comes over in the final analysis is a sense of longing, regret, nostalgia for the past, and sympathy for our dead relatives and forebears, some of whom appear wreathed in misery and trapped in an endless loop of reliving their past sins. Vernon has consistently exhibited this compassion and warmth, this connection to humanity, throughout all of his unique work, and this is further evidence of it. Vinyl release; issued with a section of 16mm film in the sleeve. Scry your own copy with a magnifying glass to reveal your own personal ghosts lurking in the frames.”

Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector, June 2023

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…

Listeners 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)

“…a series of audio-dreams and nightmares that are built from dissected memories and subconscious emotions. Each track is rich with something ineffable – be it an ethereal nostalgia, an anxious terror, an unrequited longing, a temporal confusion, or a bitter regret… It’s a powerful, cohesive and intricate album that could probably mean something different to anyone who hears it.”
Harmonic Series – Connor Kurtz (Jan 2023)

“…Vernon once again dives deep into the wondrous sounds provided by found magnetic tape and the ghostly, otherworldly presence which haunts them… A thrilling and therefore highly recommended listening experience.”
Baze Djunkiil, Nitestylez.de (Mar 2022)

“In its construction, which feels almost “symphonic” in its sweep, Time Deferred manages to create a very disorienting experience, where the listener constantly asks what-is-it and where-are-we as we are dragged deeper into this nightmare world. In this fugue-like compositional structure, Mark Vernon proves himself much more adept at unleashing the terrifying power of tape than many contemporary electro-acoustic composers.”
Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector (June 2023)


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

“I fell in love with this the first time I heard it. Mark had sent me an early copy after I reviewed two of his recent albums (In the Throat of the Machine & Magneto Mori: Vienna) in 2021, but I had a hard time finding a way to review it. The previous albums were both easy for me because they relied on specific concepts and clear ideas, but Time Deferred contained neither – instead, this album is held together by a vague feeling.

It’s a cryptic sense of dread, something personal but twisted into a fragmented, Picasso-esque face. It’s a series of audio-dreams and nightmares that are built from dissected memories and subconscious emotions. Each track is rich with something ineffable – be it an ethereal nostalgia, an anxious terror, an unrequited longing, a temporal confusion, or a bitter regret.

In Time Deferred, the concept of ‘time’ contorts into itself – memories and recordings get laid out on a flat plain together like they do in the resting subconscious. Tapes being sped or slowed reflect a mind obsessing on ideas or feelings, while their processed and twisted nature reflects the mutated, stylized way an uneasy mind remembers and feels.

It’s a powerful, cohesive and intricate album that could probably mean something different to anyone who hears it, as they attempt to understand its emotions and experiences with their own. If there is one album I’d like to recommend from this year, it’s this.”

Harmonic Series – Connor Kurtz, January 1st, 2023

“Put on the circuit via Felix Kubin’s very own artist run and curated label Gagarin Records on February 25th, 2k22 is “Time Deferred”, the latest full length album outing by Glaswegian sound artist x radio producer Mark Vernon.

Presenting a new body of work covering a total of seven new compositions laid out over the course of roughly 40 minutes playtime Vernon once again dives deep into the wondrous sounds provided by found magnetic tape and the ghostly, otherworldly presence which haunts them, with his work described by Chris Whitehead of The Field Reporter as ‘…film noir for the ears…’. And rightfully so as the composer builds an array of carefully arranged cinematic collages from scratch, starting with the dark nocturnal droning and slightly retro-futurist bleeps and sweeps of probably modular origin found alongside slightly off-kilter string works in the suggestively named “The Object Invoked Has Disconnected From Its Host” which later turns into spine-tingling sonic horrors with its combination of muffling voices and haunted atmospheres whereas “The Wrong Platform (Nothing Stops Here After 5)” presents wows, flutters and tectonic shifts bleeding into our reality from the transdimensional outerworld whilst “Athanasia” is taking Dark Ambient x Deep Listening Music to a new, subaquatic level. With “Benign Acquiescence” Mark Vernon continues on a similarly minimalistic path into Deep Listening territories, “A Coincidence Of Deceleration And Acceleration” combines warm, overwhelming low frequency sine pulses with off kilter flute echoes and decaying personal messages of unknown origin before “His And Hers And The Sun” brings forth more droning, nocturnal and certainly danger heralding melancholia which could well find its way as a score piece into certain sci-fi alien slasher movies which finds its continuation in the concluding cut that is “The New Game Of Emulation”. A thrilling and therefore highly recommended listening experience, this.”

Baze Djunkiil, Nitestylez.de, March 23rd, 2022

Time Deferred appeals to me personally because of its skewed / bizarre and slightly menacing elements…it manages to sustain a pretty dark tone throughout both sides of its atmospheric grooves, and lives up to the “solo noir album” promise from the label press notes. Matter of fact “solo noir” is a nifty turn of phrase, suggesting an existential detective who only works on supernatural cases, and is photographed at work by James Wong Howe. Vernon seems to be working very hard to alter and disrupt his sources on this item, pushing recognisable shapes and images below the murky surface, so that if any half-familiar form bubbles to the surface it soon sinks down into his wizard’s brew and dissolves into a soft stew of sinews. There may be tunes, there may be buried voices, but their continuity is deliberately disrupted, and there are layers of distortion to further the sense of unreality.

I love a record that makes me feel like I’m dreaming, or lying on my bed of sickness, and Time Deferred passes on a lot of these sensations which, to a normal person, would probably be unwelcome, but not to me. There are found tapes (I assume), dialogues telling odd stories which make no sense or are never completed – I suspect these are retrieved from Vernon’s hoard of such tapes, which he finds on discarded answerphone recordings or charity shop cassettes, where the unsuspecting public have unwittingly been a shade too revealing about their personal life as they recorded a message for their wife or neighbour, little knowing that their indiscretion would one day surface decades later in the context of tape art music. In its construction, which feels almost “symphonic” in its sweep, Time Deferred manages to create a very disorienting experience, where the listener constantly asks what-is-it and where-are-we as we are dragged deeper into this nightmare world. In this fugue-like compositional structure, Mark Vernon proves himself much more adept at unleashing the terrifying power of tape than many contemporary electro-acoustic composers. Dennis Tyfus did the cover drawing; I very much like his work in general, and the black and red colour scheme here is fully suited to the contents of the album, but even so his odd image falls a bit short of being truly disturbing.”

Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector, June 2023

“Streicher versinken im Abgrund, als wäre 33 rpm die falsche Abspielgeschwindigkeit, nur ein leises, flüchtiges Zwitschern widerspricht, auch wie von Staub und Schimmel überzogene Stimmen gehen unter in surrendem Noise. Das Gefühl, ungewollt in eine Privatsphäre eingedrungen zu sein, findet aber nur ein unheimliches Dröhnen, Flattern, Pulsen und Plätschern als Rückzugsmöglichkeit. [A Coincidence of Deceleration and Acceleration:] Wieder irritiert eine Tonbandstimme mit Fetzen aus einem Audiobrief. Zu einer surrenden Spur setzt Vernon hell piepende Impulse und geisterhaft fernen Trompetensound, der mit einer gewissen Schärfe expandiert, so dass sich die Impulse umso komischer abheben.”

Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy 113

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

 

“The LP Public & Domestic Plumbing & Sanitation (CALLING CARDS PUBLISHING CCP007) is Volume 2 in Vernon’s Sonograph Sound Effects Series. Volume One was Sounds Of The Modern Hospital, which he released on his own Meagre Resource label back in 2014. What we have on this occasion is a large number of short tracks, much like a BBC Sound Effects Library LP (which Vernon admits he is consciously emulating), all documentary recordings of plumbing – sinks, bathtubs, toilets, mains pipes, boilers, radiators, drains, that sort of thing. Everything is carefully described by Vernon in his detailed notes, and the recordings themselves have been created with tremendous care, making much use of contact microphones or very small microphones in order to achieve that extreme close-up effect he’s after. If the microphone were a camera, we’d be seeing details of pipes and plumbing that make them appear huge and unfamiliar, instead of the friendly domestic objects we love so well; indeed the cover art by Marc Baines does exactly this in a visual way, inflating certain kitchen and bathroom fittings to such a scale that only the ocean can accommodate their grotesque size, and even a battleship is dwarfed by them.

I’ve enjoyed this record for the most part, which to me often sounds like plumbing going wrong as only our own domestic English plumbing is so apt to do; it might almost be a sound-art equivalent of the famed rant from Mark E. Smith, “made with the highest British attention to the wrong detail”. I do understand that Vernon’s intention is to “reveal the marvellous within the most mundane…sounds”, but Public & Domestic Plumbing & Sanitation falls a little short for me on that account; the watery gurgles and clanking metal somehow fail to amount to anything more than what they are, and I continue to wait for that precious moment of sublimation as I’m led aurally to the next watery outlet. Even so, this record has its unique charms, is modest and very English, and even slightly whimsical in its execution; “no two gurgles are alike”.”

Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector, June 2023

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


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