Orphaned Works

Research Laboratories / RL020 Cassette (2018)

New tape ‘Orphaned Works’ released on Research Laboratories, 2018. Limited edition of 30 copies. Twelve tracks.

>>> Monaural verbal stimuli of forgotten provenance <<<

 


Reviews:

“Another great collection from the current god of tape archaeology. Using similar found-sound materials as his Lend An Ear and Remnant Kings releases, Vernon here again evokes incredible emotion and atmosphere in what amounts to a diverse collection of relatively short pieces. We get of course detailed clanks and clunks amidst the sound of all manner of interior spaces along with fragments of instructional tapes, dictations, and anonymous thrift-store home recordings (somebody turned 16 on Friday, October 13th 1989, if you’re the superstitious type) among much more. Overall has an ethereal, haunted character as complimented by the 4AD-like cover art/layout. More composed than collaged, they differ from Lend An Ear while retaining a similar intimate feel. The emphasis on structure at times veers toward his work in the duo Vernon & Burns. One of the better details is the use of hyper-processed voice wizardry, not unlike Valerio Triccoli or “The Floor Above” by Mercury Hall. Vernon’s added acoustic work is of course also absolutely gorgeous and spectral. Has a distinct (by chance only, mind you!) HNAS/Heemann/Ultra vibe at times. Criminally-small edition which I understand is nearly sold-out, so visit Mark’s YouTube channel to stream it:”

Josh Peterson.

“…Side one brings us glitched rhythms, distant drums, creaking doors, static walls and half-heard words from a tea room conversation. I imagine a lot of the sounds here are ‘found’. Cassettes / tapes lost in time and rediscovered lurking in the back of dusty charity shops, boot sales and the radio airwaves. Orphaned Sounds? Both sides play as one piece. On side one “Sentinent Dust (Go Thou Must)” stands alone though. A pagan banishment ritual discovered after taking the wrong turn on Summerisle.”What was the interest of Dr. Pepper”?

Side two begins carrying an air of menace. All seance and atmosphere. Concentrated mouthplay, detuned radios and clutterphonics. The approaching air of menace soon turns to whimsy with toy guitar and cat-a-waling. It all starts straying in to Nurse With Wound territory before returning to the shadows with “A Pale Pink Voice”. I am not complaining. This is my first hearing of the sound of Mark Vernon and I am intrigued and wanting to hear more.”

Steve Cammack, Remuhmuration

Location recordings by East Midlands tape recording clubs (1959-1978)

Framework Seasonal: Issue #5 Summer 2013

The summer 2013 edition of the Framework seasonal CD series is a compilation of location recordings from East Midlands tape recording clubs edited and compiled by Mark Vernon. This collection is a follow up to a radio show by the same name produced for Framework:afield in 2012.

The CD is available for a €20 donation. All proceeds go towards the running and upkeep of Framework. Click here to order a copy.


Reviews:

“An audio periodical accompanying the Framework radio show, this issue compiled by Mr Vernon and subtitled ‘Location recordings by East Midlands tape recording clubs (1959-1978)’. On it, we have an outline of an unusual UK phenomenon from a time when enthused amateurs would make their own tape recordings, armed with portable battery-operated tape recorders, and did it in a semi-organised way by joining local “tape clubs”. Two such clubs – I had no idea these things even existed – are represented here, the Leicester Tape Recording Club and the Derby Tape Recording Club, and hence we have 40 aural snapshots and field recordings of life in the UK as captured by their roving set-ups and questing microphones, and now lovingly preserved in Vernon’s personal collection.

Unlike today’s field recording types who are mostly self-styled artists in search of some sort of mystical or aesthetic experience, these tape recording club members were simply interested in documenting things around them, much like any 20th century Brit who owned a Polaroid or Instamatic camera. They taped fairgrounds, factories, zoos, markets, trips to the beach, sports events, dances, parties, and – since it’s probably fair to say this activity isn’t too far away from the harmless pursuit of the gentle trainspotter – railway stations and trains. Some of the recordings have added live commentary from the members, an unobtrusive audio caption just to put it in context. What we hear is like a low-key form of Radio Four, except all the material is generated by the public instead of by the so-called experts, and – despite the apparent banality you might expect – it’s absolutely fascinating and a compelling listen. Given the current interest in audio recordings of under-appreciated urban sounds previously held to be too “commonplace” for our attention (The London Sound Survey is the place to start with that), this release is a timely gem.

Another dimension which Vernon calls attention to is the sound quality itself: the tapes “bear many traces of their age and origin: tape hiss and distortion, harsh pause button edits, wow and flutter.” Vernon correctly identifies these characteristics as an inherent part of the integrity of the records, and, implying that we should appreciate and enjoy these aural qualities, has done nothing to correct them or clean up the tape quality. Come to that, there is nothing in the way of editorialising or commentary in his strictly factual description of the collection, nor in the arrangement of the tracks; he has adopted a correct archival approach of objectivity in the arrangement and the presentation. That said, the collection has obviously been curated with a lot of loving care; after all, the material comes from his personal collection, and he allows the warmth and idiosyncratic personalities of these tape clubbers to shine. This is an understated release, but also an unalloyed joy”.
Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector, July 27, 2014.


“Thank God for the nerds! The Framework Seasonal series continues with an amazing set of archival recordings from the Derby Tape Recording Club and the Leicester Tape Recording Club. Yeah, you read that right. Tape Recording Clubs! These represented two regional clubs which operated in this little known phenomenon that reached a peak in the late ’60s and early ’70s with commercial grade technology becoming readily available. Many of these clubs would actually record onto reel-to-reel tape, organizing outings upon which the participants would pool resources in order to collect primitive field recordings of motorcycle races, the howler monkeys from the Paignton Zoo, bowling tournaments, a guided tour from a power turbine… and yeah, there’s a recorded example of trainspotting with a young man reading off the line and make of a particular train to the heart of England. Many of these recordings show their age with lots of tape hiss, compressed frequencies, clunky hard-stop edits, and a few bits of blown-out microphone distortion; but, really when is that a criticism here at aQuarius? But the charms of these recordings are not just found in the patina of crackle and flutter; the documented sounds themselves are often accompanied by narration from the various club members. One of our favorite field recordings is the bicycle ride of Leicester’s John Buckler, who huffs and puffs his way through traffic noting the fish and chips shop to his left and how out of shape he is from a two minute bike ride uphill. There’s a couple extracts from the Derby club’s Christmas Party including a spirited round of musical chairs; and another gem is the radio advertisement from the Derby club complete with Derbyshire-ish bleepity electronics and an earnest call to join the club. Library Music enthusiasts will be rapt with joy over these antiquated sounds! What a gem of an album!”
Aquarius Records


“Sound artist and composer Mark Vernon compiled recordings made by Tape Recordings Clubs during the 60′s and 70′s in the UK and published them as part of the Framework Seasonal series. The result is a collection of captures that transports the listener 40 and 50 years ago to times when things sounded different to what they sound now: cars sounded different, popular music sounded different, people spoke differently…and recorders recorded differently too.
Sometimes pleasant results arise when artists convert a research process in a creative publishing process, resulting on an actual release like it happened on this case.
On a first listen what interested me the most are the subjects of these amateur recordings. Cars, bikes, circus fairs, markets, shops, alarms, ballroom parties, birds, children singing…quotidian stuff that the members of these recording clubs believed relevant or simply fun to record.

But it is not necessarily any car, any bike, any circus or any children what we listen. On many of these recordings we hear environments, objects and people who had an emotional personal connection with the recordists. For us as listeners they just become random and impersonal things and people.

On many of these recordings we can listen to the recordists making some sort of verbal introduction to the recordings, usually talking about the subject that they were recording. It is like they felt that the sound alone was not illustrative enough unlike it would happen with photo or video.

They are also many dialogues between the recordist and the people subject of many of these captures. Seems to me like most of the recordists of these clubs were primarily interested in the subject and the action of recording it than in the sound per se. Their quest was documental within their own ‘amateur’ approach. It was the possibility of leaving a trace of the people and things that mattered then and preserve it on time what was important for them. People disappear but photos, film and recordings might not.

To me the main value and interest of ‘Framework Seasonal -Issue #5 Summer 2013’ is its potency to activate the listener imagination in terms of not only depicting environments, objects and people, but also depicting them on a different moment in history that many listeners didn’t happen to experience and can only relate to via archive media and spoken word.

All the descriptions from our parents and grandparents, all the photos and footage from that time that we have seen are now activated by the sounds on ’Framework Seasonal – Issue #5 Summer 2013-’ in a rewarding and stimulant listening exercise that, as a listener, I largely enjoy.”
David Vélez, The Field Reporter.

Remnant Kings

Cosmovisión Registros / CRVA004 Cassette (2017)

New tape ‘Remnant Kings’ released on Cosmovisión Registros Andinos, 2017. Limited edition of 50 copies.

Bits and bobs. Odds and ends. Scraps and leftovers. Remnant Kings takes its name from a Glasgow fabric store that historically dealt in offcuts, end of line textiles and fabric remnants.

The cassette consists of a series of audio collages based around a single found reel to reel tape. On that tape were gathered various home recordings from the 60’s and 70’s in a ‘best of’ compilation spanning a twenty year period – a kind of ‘Greatest Hits’ family album in sound that must have been made for a close relative. The tape included amongst other things; baby talk, a toy railway set, playing and practicing music, bird song, conversation, karaoke style sing-alongs and some home experiments with tape echo, along with popular music of the day.

In addition to the found tape other sound sources include whistling, water droplets on a hot plate, broken ice, creaking gates, an electric fan played with a brush, excerpts from improvised sessions with open reel tape manipulation, feedback and electronics plus various other field recordings.

Artwork by Tian Miller.


Reviews:

“Mark Vernon is the English tape-hoarder genius who remakes the abandoned effluvia of past generations into wonderful and beautiful sound art. He continues his project on Remnant Kings (COSMOVISIÓN REGISTROS ANDINOS CVRA #004), a cassette tape released on a Chilean label. For this instance, he got most of his source material from a single found tape, a reel-to-reel used by a family to document home sounds in the 1960s and 1970s; his shopping list of the contents is “baby talk, a toy railway set, playing and practising music, bird song, conversation, karaoke style sing-alongs and some home experiments with tape echo, along with popular music of the day”. Some other moments of process-noise have been added, one personal favourite being the electric fan played with a toothbrush. Material which in other hands might simply be a boring vision of domesticity is transformed into a compelling listening experience, one which views the past through a cracked lens. What emerges is surreal, threatening, heart-warming and touching; an unsettling take on nostalgic feelings, emotions which clearly are not to be trusted. Our golden ages are likely to turn into monstrous nightmares at the turn of a corner. The name “remnant kings” comes from a specific shop in Glasgow that sold left-over scraps of cloth, but there are many such places in the UK; for Vernon it’s another metaphor for his technique, and one that’s somehow peculiarly English (thrifty, eccentric)…”
 
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector

Hubbub

meagre resource / mere011 CDR (2004)

An urban soundscape composition that attempts to reveal the marvellous within the everyday. This piece was made from a series of field recordings gathered in Paris on two separate trips. The overall effect is of an audio journal or travelogue without narration. In the hustle and bustle of a busy metropolis we rarely have time to focus on the sounds that surround us. Many of the most interesting and unusual sounds only became apparent in hindsight through playback of the recordings captured. The recurrence of music and musical phrases provided by busking musicians produces a cinematic quality that was deliberately exaggerated by the edits and the division of the piece into different ‘scenes.’

Hubbub was first broadcast on Resonance FM in 2004 and was selected for ‘Drift’ a festival of sound and radio art in Glasgow in 2003. It was also released as a limited edition CDR on meagre resource records.

Involuntary Auditions for Imaginary Ensembles

meagre resource / mere019 CDR (2004)

A collection of compositions asssembled from samples recorded in musical instrument shops at weekends in Glasgow and Derby. Tuning up, squalling saxophones, musical exercises, erratic percussion, feedback, fragments of half learnt tunes, psychotic drumming, axe solo’s and cheesy pre-set keyboard demo’s all play a part in the unique ambience of the instrument shop. These sounds are playful, sometimes naive and often very unselfconscious as there is no intended audience – there’s always the odd show-off though. The recordings have been combined and rearranged – used as source material to create imaginary bands and groups. Through this process many unwitting musicians have become involved in unlikely collaborations with one another.


This piece was first aired on Resonance FM’s Clear Spot in 2004. It was also released as a limited edition CDR run of 20 copies on meagre resource records.

Thirteenth Colony Sound

meagre resource / mere020 CDR (2005)

This piece was composed from field recordings made in Savannah, Georgia in the summer of 2004. Different ‘species’ of sounds were grouped into ‘families’; resonant metallic sounds, engines and machines, bangs, intermittent repetitive strikes, constant broadband noise, etc. These sounds with superficial similarities were then processed, blended and carefully interwoven to create the final piece. Although many sounds are still recognizable, the fusion of sound sources blur the listeners ability to distinguish between specific components whilst amplifying and hybridizing some of their common characteristics. I looked on the process as a way of ‘breeding’ new sounds.


Released as a limited CDR edition of 50 copies on meagre resource records in 2005.

Notes on a Re-run

meagre resource / mere022 CDR (2005)

This piece was completed during a residency at Recyclart in 2005, a multi-functional arts space and venue in Brussels. The majority of the complex is situated beneath the arches of an active train station. As well as housing artists studios, gallery spaces, a cafe, wood and metal workshops, offices and a skate park, it is also a music venue that hosts gigs and club nights. The work was designed to play over the 6-speaker stereo system installed in the pedestrian subway that leads to the train platforms. By a series of sliding interlocking doors a modular space can be created in the subway. The same tiled floor that busy commuters rush over to get to work in the week becomes a dance floor for clubbers at weekends. I made it my goal to integrate as many aspects of this busy, versatile space as possible into the final work. Sounds collected range from the clatter of skateboards, spray cans and the rumble of trains to church bells, clubbers at night-time, construction work and fictional news stories from local children.

All recordings made by Mark Vernon at Recyclart, Brussels, Belgium, April to May 2005.


The piece was originally presented as a sound installation for ‘Kleur Station Couleur’ an exhibition curated by Komplot. ‘Notes on a re-run’ was aired on Radio Panik, Brussels and Resonance FM, London in 2006 and during ASCR’s Radiophonic Festival in 2007. An extract also appears on ‘Vollevox: Voice in Contemporary Art’, a book and double CD produced by Komplot. The recordings are also gathered together as a limited edition CDR on meagre resource records.

X-Ray Records

meagre resource / mere026  8″ Lathe-cut flexi (2014)

An edition of 20 unique lathe-cut X-ray records inspired by Russian “roentgenizdat” records from the 1950’s (home made bootlegs of banned Western pop music pressed onto discarded X-rays) – these playable 8” records each feature a different X-ray image and a composed sound work made from recordings taken in Forth Valley Royal’s radiology department.

The X-ray records were exhibited on medical light boxes as part of a launch event for the ‘Sounds of the Modern Hospital’ LP at Forth Valley Hospital, Larbert and the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow in March 2014.


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

Static Cinema

Entr’acte / E126 CD (2012)

Static Cinema is the result of a series of musical improvisations using household objects combined with both treated and un-treated field recordings made in Scotland, Germany and Norway between 2008 and 2010. An audio drama missing its lead actors, Static Cinema explores several evocative spaces with the roaming ear of the micro-phone — capturing and interrogating them for meaning. Dramatic perspective shifts equate to different scenes
or cuts with long shots, close-ups, pans and zooms. The different recording locations function as spontaneous mise-en-scène waiting in suspense for an event yet to occur, or an actor still to make their entrance.

A radio version of Static Cinema appeared as an edition of Framework:afield for the Framework radio show in 2011. A definitive version of the piece was released as a limited edition of 200 compact discs on the Entr’acte label in 2012.


Reviews

“…an aural equivalent of sunlit dust motes in an empty, creaky house.”
William Hutson, The Wire.

“…His elliptical approach is brilliant, and his understated imagination never falls asleep for a minute, completely transcending the technique.”
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector.

“…it just doesn’t sound in any way generic, and there is something refreshingly, oddly original about how it is all put together…”
Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear

“… a thought provoking, intimate piece of sound composition… Film noir for the ears.”
Chris Whitehead, The Field Reporter.


Reviews in Full

“Mark Vernon has created entertaining and witty radiophonic records as one half
of Vernon & Burns, and has remained consistently surprising and innovative with his musical and sound art endeavours. Compared to the jollifications of the V&B records, Static Cinema (ENTR’ACTE E126) is a much more refined and restrained piece of work, characterised by its quiet and gentle approach to the management and organisation of sound, and it conveys a general aura of mysterious events unfolding in a surreal, deserted landscape. In the assembly of these small and intimate sounds, Mark Vernon successfully blurs edges between music, sound art and field recording, at the same time building intriguing environments for the listener to get lost in. Track 1 is like a silent white-walled chamber, while track 3 presents an impossible vista comprised of staircases to nowhere, small electronic devices behaving strangely, cars moving through the air, and a dog barking everywhere as though suspended upside down in the sky as in a Chagall painting. Vernon had it in mind to produce an audio drama where the lead actors are missing from the equation, like a vintage BBC radio three play where the dialogue is taken away and all that’s left are the sound effects from the talented technicians, and of course background music supplied by an idealised version of the Radiophonic Workshop. Vernon achieved all of this through juxtaposing recordings of his home-made improvisations played on household objects with an array of field recordings fetched from multiple locations across Europe. His elliptical approach is brilliant, and his understated imagination never falls asleep for a minute, completely transcending the technique. Sent to us 29 March 2012; limited to 200 copies.”

(Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, November 10, 2012)


“Static Cinema, apparently Mark Vernon’s first solo CD, is quite unlike the more citational, sample based work he produces with Glaswegian Barry Burns in a duo known as Vernon And Burns. Composed of in situ recordings of everyday activity, as well as the clinking and shuffling of various household items, this disc contains six leisurely paced concrète collages. But where most artists would denature the individual sounds with lightning-fast cuts and juxtapositions, Vernon allows them to remain recognisable, comfortable, even pedestrian. The drama stays low-key, more concerned with capturing a sense of space through quotidian gestures — an aural equivalent of sunlit dust motes in an empty, creaky house.”

(William Hutson, The Wire Magazine)


“…tonight’s CD is a bit of a hidden delight, albeit a slightly difficult one to fathom out… The album is described as “the result of a series of musical improvisations using household objects combined with both treated and untreated field recordings made in Scotland, Germany and Norway between 2008 and 2010.” What we hear is probably closer to musique concrete than anything else, but there is something indescribably original about this music I really like. We hear just about everything thrown in here, from the familiar bits of traffic sound and weather recordings to a recurring, quite delightful capture of a dog barking in a high pitched manner, to a man snoring, the music finding a rhythmic pattern around his exhalations, to footsteps, old records playing, and much more besides. There are also plenty of sounds that are hard to identify, and feel thoroughly musical, not like either field recordings or household objects. Where the music feels different to musique concrete as we generally understand it however, and where it differs from the recent surge of improv-meets- field recordings collage is perhaps contained in the way the music is structured, or rather in how it feels completely unstructured.

Very much to its credit, Static Cinema doesn’t sound cluttered, doesn’t sound like an attempt to juxtapose unlikely sounds against one another, but also somehow doesn’t flow into any kind of stream of sounds. Things just seem to appear calmly in the music wherever they turn up, and after the initial bewilderment at the variety of sounds on display it all feels very calm and natural, even though there never really feels like any fixed structure in place within the music. You don’t notice when the tracks end, there is little to nothing to distinguish one piece from the next, and yet there are remarkable elements appearing all the time that make you stop and take notice. There are odd wails, a lot of vaguely percussive clatter, presumably sounds made with the household items, and plenty of room for the music to breathe as field recordings tend to join these more immediate sounds one at a time and with a sense of slow, gradual reveal rather than anything much that really jars. To some extent it does sound quite cinematic, and I do find myself picturing images of people creating the sounds here, either as musicians finding sounds in unusual objects or as the subjects of field recordings catching them unexpectedly.

The album works for me partly because of the inventive use of sounds here, a really unusual and considered collection of elements, some easily recognisable, some much less so, and partly because of the odd sense of calm, unhurried placement of sounds on show. The music doesn’t flow all that well all that often, simply because of the continual arrival of sounds that break up the short-term expectations of the music we have as it progresses. Like a quirky scrapbook with links drawn in detail between each of the collaged entries however there is a lot of charm to Static Cinema and in places a degree of humour, but this is serious music, a significant step on from Stock, Hausen and Walkman but with none of the preciousness of much modern field recording composition. Beyond this, I find it very hard to know what to write about this music. I like Static Cinema a lot, perhaps because it just doesn’t sound in any way generic, and there is something refreshingly, oddly original about how it is all put together, but ask me to justify that statement with something more solid and I will struggle. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious openings to tracks or contrived endings, and the sensation throughout is of things just appearing without any reason for them doing so. Something of an oddity then, but a very nicely put together, unhurried patchwork of seemingly disparate parts that kept me intrigued and interested for a fair number of listens. I hope I get to hear more from Mark Vernon soon.”

(The Watchful Ear:The Gathered Thoughts of Richard Pinnell,Thursday 26th April, 2012)


“This version of Static Cinema was originally conceived by Mark Vernon as the soundtrack element of an art installation. In a room a female nude manikin stands on a stage, limbs deliberately and flamboyantly positioned. In front of her is a microphone. Behind her a red backdrop, various chairs and a mirror. Nothing moves. On the walls are projected images of objects and spaces. From an unseen source sounds emerge. Occasionally a melody surfaces. Objects rattle and clink. Footsteps? Breathing? A dog barks. A kettle boils. A thread is unfolding but it needs restructuring, and there are probably as many new structures available as there are listeners to Static Cinema.

First presented as part of the full art installation in 2009, this CD is necessarily one degree removed from the total experience, as it can obviously only contain the audio component. Knowing its genesis, it is hard not to think of it as a soundtrack divorced from its visual element. The first section brought to mind one of those large rooms beloved of Tarkovsky. A quiet, fairly empty interior. There are birds there as every now and then one flutters near the microphone. There are chairs being moved around and people banging around somewhere else nearby. Strangeness takes over eventually, and a delicate, simple three note tune is plucked out on what might well be an egg slicer.

The label Entr’acte describe Static Cinema as an audio drama missing its lead actors. In other words the incidental sounds and the atmosphere are present and correct, but without the context afforded by a narrative. The listener of course is implicitly invited to supply a narrative of their own. In a particularly effective episode glasses and bottles suddenly begin to move of their own accord, rattling in agitation. It is as if a ground tremor is taking place. A physical, literally earth moving event conveyed through the simple vibration of everyday objects.

Another instance of sound conjuring up a very real flesh and blood presence is when we somehow become aware that someone is sleeping close by. A gentle rhythmic snoring. The feeling is of distinct uneasiness, because if it actually is what it purports to be, a covert intruder has crept into the sleeper’s bedroom and secretly documented his breathing.

Beautifully recorded and positioned in the virtual space of the stereo panorama, Static Cinema nevertheless appears to lack what David Lynch likes to call the ‘Duck’s Eye’. A single jewel-like object or event around which the construction is built. A kind of axis for things to revolve around. Static Cinema is a thought provoking, intimate piece of sound composition and the interpretation of its many faceted surface is entirely up to you. Film noir for the ears.”

(Chris Whitehead, The Field Reporter)

Sounds of the Modern Hospital

Sonograph Sound Effects Series Vol.1 LP
meagre resource / mere025 (2014)

‘Sounds of the Modern Hospital’ is a long-playing sound effects record in a limited edition of 250 copies. The record was produced by Mark Vernon during a two year period as digital artist in residence at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, Scotland.

The sounds featured on the LP were recorded in several different hospital departments including: Anaesthesiology, the Clinical Simulation Centre, Health Records, Outpatients reception, the Laboratories, Ophthalmology, Oral and Maxillofacial, Radiology, Nuclear Medicine, the Mail Room, the Neonatal Unit, Pharmacy and the Renal Unit. In addition to Forth Valley Royal, recordings were also made in Stirling and Falkirk Community Hospitals. Thanks to all staff and patients in NHS Forth Valley Hospitals for their help and co-operation.

The record is in part an homage to classic ranges of sound effects albums such as the BBC Sound Effects Library. Generic collections of sounds selected to fulfil the needs of professional and amateur broadcasters, filmmakers and theatre producers. They were also unintentional time capsules of everyday sounds at a specific moment in history. Nowadays commercial sound effects libraries exist in the digital realm and sound effects on vinyl are regarded as an anachronism, a faded audio Polaroid of a less sophisticated past.

Packaged in a retro-styled, obsolete format but featuring the sounds of a state of the art contemporary hospital seems to be a contradictory move but can be interpreted as a comment on the transitory and ever-changing nature of technology and the sonic environment. Particularly in a hospital environment that relies both on technological advances and public funding, it is difficult to predict how alien, quaint or even reassuringly nostalgic these sounds will appear to the listener in the next decade.

All recordings by Mark Vernon 2011 – 2013.

Sleeve design by Marc Baines. Label artwork by Keppie Design.

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

 


Reviews

“…each brief sonic episode has been laid down, showcased and positioned with a degree of calibration and precision that is just perfect.”
Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector.

“…it becomes impossible not to embed these noises into an imagined whole, an alien sort of environment which, nonetheless, we’ve come to rely on. Those cool, detached beeps need to be warmed up to one of these days.”
Brian Olewnick.

“…an excellent listening experience. Topped with a great sound effects cover, this is a great record. Another time machine.”
Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly.


Reviews in Full

“The ingenious and talented Mark Vernon sent in a copy of Sounds Of The Modern Hospital (MEAGRE RESOURCE RECORDS mere025) over a year ago now, so I hope the limited pressing of 250 vinyl copies hasn’t sold out. It’s field recordings, captured in various NHS hospital departments in Scotland during a two-year artist residency. But (as with most of his work) Vernon has worked very hard on presenting the work in a very particular context. To begin with, he is paying explicit homage to Sound Effects LPs of the 1970s and 1980s, especially those released by the BBC; this 2011 blog post by Simon Robinson may give you a clue, or jog your memory. Accordingly, each recording is very short (some are less than one minute in duration) and the LP is very carefully banded, with judicious gaps between the tracks. The overall intention is bolstered to some degree by Marc Baines’ knowing sleeve art, which is described to us as a “retro-styled” package; without pastiching anything specific, it successfully conveys the feel of a secondary school textbook published any time between 1950 and 1969. Indeed one possible reading of the LP is as a didactic, “educational” or instruction record, an impression that’s also reinforced by the near-clinical descriptions of the track titles on the back cover, which appear to be describing medical procedures and equipment for the benefit of a trainee surgeon rather than from any musical standpoint.

The three-and-thirty separate recordings have been arranged very carefully into a compositional sequence, and indeed we are invited to view the work as a start-to- finish statement, rather than a random collection of aural jottings. What comes over on today’s spin is how neatly-separated from its neighbour every recording is; the banding of the record assists in this, but each brief sonic episode has been laid down, showcased and positioned with a degree of calibration and precision that is just perfect. None of your amorphous sound-scaping and random cross-fades here; Vernon works like an old-fashioned engraver in the print shop, and if he could find a way to cut his own vinyl masters using a Lazy Susan and a dressmaker’s needle, I bet he would do it.

It remains to mention the “radiophonic” vibe of the record, by which I mean it almost presents a narrative or linked narratives through sound effects alone, provided the listener is prepared to bring a lot of imagination to the picnic. Vernon excels at this skill, and there are numerous published examples of his radiophonic art; 2012’s Static Cinema is one such, restrained though it be. I can discern at least two narrative strains in Sounds Of The Modern Hospital; the principal strand is almost purely technical, and it follows the actions and outputs of various machines, which produce rhythmic sounds, electronic beeps, or something resembling an abstracted “Industrial” noise, and all emerge as a form of programmed background music. The second strand is more buried, but it’s a human narrative; voices of nurses, doctors and patients, either performing particular routines or undergoing examinations. Some of them, taken so deliberately out of context, are ever so slightly absurd, even a little hilarious. If you listen to the record at one angle, it’s like a minimalist version of Carry On Doctor rescripted by Samuel Beckett. Some of these Vernon snippets would be perfect for a collaboration with People Like Us; the two of them should meet up some time.”

(Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector, March 7, 2015)


“I worked in a large hospital in NYC (Mount Sinai) from 1977 to early 2013. For a decent portion of that time, about 1988 to 2007 and sporadically thereafter, I found myself in patient areas that included a ton of technology: ICUs, X-Ray and MRI centers, ORs, ERs and dozens of kinds of laboratories, most of which contained items capable of generating sound. On the one occasion where I actually underwent an MRI, the neurologist, in my pre-exam consultation, warned me about the noises that would occur and described them, advising me that many patients found them scary or uncomfortable. “That’s ok,” I said, “it sounds like a lot of the music I listen to.” “You scare me,” he replied.

Mark Vernon has assembled, in a wonderfully designed retro package (I love the faded purple), 33 slices of sound from hospitals in Scotland, sound of both mechanical and human derivation. They’re presented blankly, “as is”, no specific commentary or narrative in effect, though, over the course of the recording, the listener may inevitably construct such. Many of the technological sounds are iterative, various analyzers, pumps, printers, scanners and other medical devices and they, clearly, have a decided “musical” content. But here are also the voices of staff conducting therapy sessions here, chatting there. A particularly eerie sequence occurs when we hear coughs and wheezing played through a mannequin, a simulation device used in nurse training. The extracts are short, running about a minute or two each, delineating this as a “sound effects” recording (though some, like “METI Human Patient Simulator” have a quasi-musical aspect that sounds intriguingly close to, say, an extract from a Keith Rowe performance). But it becomes impossible not to embed these noises into an imagined whole, an alien sort of environment which, nonetheless, we’ve come to rely on. Those cool, detached beeps need to be warmed up to one of these days. Oddly absorbing, do check it out”.

(Brian Olewnick, 27th February 2014)


“Sound effects records? Do they still exist? Or is everyone these days turning to freesound websites to find that plane taking off to mount below the amateur film of the latest holidays? I remember sound effects records from the ‘old’ days as something you could use to lift some sounds off and incorporate in your own music; I guess that was before you had to rush out with a mini disc and record these sounds yourself, which of course always adds a fine cachet of its own.

Here we have a classic sound effects LP, yet it’s also ‘fake’ perhaps. It’s rather a LP of field recordings than a sound effects LP. Mark Vernon, once of Vernon & Burns, is someone whose work is always on the fringe of radio art, radio, installation, soundtrack and performance. There are thirty-three pieces of sounds from various sections of the hospital on this record, recorded over a two year period at such departments as anaesthesiology, clinical simulation centre, health records, laboratories, ophthalmology, oral and maxillofacial, radiology, nuclear medicine, neonatal unit, pharmacy and the mail room. Everything is listed on the record.

“Is it music”, someone recently asked me when I played something that was very soft and very ambient. You could wonder the same thing about this, I guess. Everything time based and selected by the composer, I would think, is music. I thought this was a great record, even if I don’t like hospitals very much, but then, who does (other than the doctor making his money I guess)? Even when I didn’t visit all those departments, and hopefully never will, it was a great listening experience. The mechanical sounds of apparatus, computerized voices saying what you should do, the obscure rattling of sounds, the drones of machines – all of this to make you better. How odd. It’s probably something you don’t realize when you are in a hospital, but maybe you don’t think about that anyway when you are in a hospital. Adventurous DJs can work with this record to great effect (but where are the adventurous DJs anyway these days?), but also from a point of field recording lover, I can imagine this is something you can dig. It’s something else than your usual bird/insect/rain forest/big city hum. Like I said: an excellent listening experience. Topped with a great sound effects cover, this is a great record. Another time machine.”

(Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly)