Tape Letters from the Waiting Room

Psyché Tropes / TROPES007 / LP / DL

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

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

Available to buy here.

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

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

Time Deferred

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

Available to buy here.

Caution: this record can cause dreamless nights…

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

Reviews:

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

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

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


Reviews in Full

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

MS, Electronic Sound (Issue 87, March 2022)

Translated from the Italian:

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

”

Massimiliano Busti, Blow Up (Feb 2022)

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

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

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

Beach Sloth, February 21, 2022

In the Throat of the Machine

Scatter Archive / Scatter DL

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

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

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

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

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


Reviews:

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


Reviews in Full

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

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

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

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

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


Magneto Mori: Vienna CD

Canti Magnetici / Canto 32 CD / DL

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

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

Magneto Mori: Vienna is a fragmented sound portrait of the city constructed from found sounds, buried tapes and field recordings. In this de-composition sounds from Vienna’s past and present are conjoined in a stew of semi-degraded audiotape. Using a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder sounds from around the city were recorded direct to tape over a two-day period. This tape was then cut into fragments and buried in a hole in the ground with a number of souvenir fridge magnets that erased the portions of the tape that they came into contact with. After several days steeped in the muddy earth of a Viennese garden the remaining audio fragments were exhumed, washed, dried and spliced back together in random order. The deliberate distressing and erosion of these present-day recordings results in artificially degraded sounds that fast-forward the effects of time, disrupting the perceived chronology of this audio matter.

During the tapes’ interment, old cassette, Dictaphone and reel-to-reel tapes were gathered from local flea markets and additional field recordings were made around the city. The addition of these found sounds stretches the timescale from just the short period spent making location recordings to perhaps as far back as fifty years ago. All of these elements provided the raw materials for a radiophonic composition that represents a portrait of Vienna in both place and time; an archaeological excavation of found sounds, lost fragments, buried memories and magnetic traces. Presented here are the sounds that endured…

Purchase on Bandcamp.


Reviews:

“…a chamber set of quiet power”
Mike Hoolboom

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

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

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


Reviews in Full

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Calling Cards Publishing / CCP007 LP (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

>>> Utilitarian Unsounds for Undisclosed Purposes <<<

 
Reviews:

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


Reviews in Full

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

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

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

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

Spenser Tomson, The Wire magazine, September 2021

Paper Gestures

Glistening Examples / GLEX2002 CD/DL (2020)

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reviews:

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


Reviews in Full

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

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

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

Claire Sawers, The Wire magazine, July 2020

MARK VERNON – PAPER GESTURES (CDR by Glistening Examples)

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

Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly


An Annotated Phonography of Chance

Misanthropic Agenda / MAR051 LP/DL (2019)

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

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

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

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

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


Reviews:

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

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

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


Reviews in Full

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

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

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

Nossos Ossos

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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


Magneto Mori: Kilfinane

Canti Magnetici / CANTO 18 Cassette (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reviews:

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

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


Reviews in Full

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

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

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

Aydarbek Kurbansho, Louder.me

Magnetic Field Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector

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

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

Chain D.L.K.

Ribbons of Rust

 
Audio Archaeology Series Vol​.​2: Laem Thian
Flaming Pines / FLP081 Cassette (2019)

Ribbons of Rust continues a series of works exploring concepts around audio archaeology and found sound that began with the ‘Lend an ear, leave a word’ LP – Volume 1 in the Audio Archaeology series – released on Kye records in 2016. It is an irreverent, non-purist approach to field recording that puts found sound recordings of voices and music from the past on an equal footing with contemporary field recordings of a particular location.

This album focuses on a derelict and abandoned holiday resort at Laem Thian bay on the east coast of the island of Koh Tao in Thailand. The resort is situated in a small cove that is only accessible on foot via an overgrown path and a walk of several miles – a journey very few tourists bother to make. It is clear at first sight that the fading white building has been vacated for some time. The concrete structure opens out onto a small sandy beach that would have provided an idyllic holiday setting at one time. A number of palm-thatched holiday cottages with dilapidated roofs slide down the hillside. There are signs of vandalism; graffiti decorates the walls, the remains of campfires, broken glass and other detritus litter the floors – but traces of the previous occupants also remain. Children’s toys, kitchenware, hand written notes, menus, mattresses, a plastic telephone and four cassette tapes – rusty, caked in sand, weather damaged and corroded by the humid salty sea air.

Back at home these tapes were prised apart and transplanted into new cassette shells to salvage the audio from them unearthing an array of typically sentimental Thai easy listening and pop tunes and, perhaps more unusually, Christian sermons and hymns in Thai. This piece is composed from excerpts of the recordings found on the tapes along with field recordings taken on site, the journeys there and back and audio rips from video clips uploaded by other travellers who came across this same location.

The haunting quality of this place left a deep impression on me. The sense of isolation and abandonment it engendered was in stark contrast to the rest of the island, and indeed the rest of Thailand as I experienced it. This feeling remained with me and in some way it permeated the rest of my stay in the country. It is that feeling that I wanted to convey through this work. The impetus behind this project has been less objective documentation and more a form of sonic time travel. A document of a place that no longer exists.

After transferring the content the tapes were recorded over with the sounds captured on location, forever erasing what was once there. This way the environment has indelibly made its mark upon the cassettes both as physical objects (through damage and corrosion) and sonically, as carriers of sound (through replacement of the audio content).

All recordings made or found in Thailand between February and March 2016.

Developed during the Hospitalfield Summer Residency 2017. Made with support from the PRS Foundation’s Open Fund and Sound and Music’s Francis Chagrin Award.

Selected pieces from this album have also been performed as a live quadraphonic mix for ‘Inter’ in Glasgow and the Sonikas festival in Madrid.

Special thanks to Tian Miller, Barry Burns, Ian Middleton and Kate Carr.

Location photographs by Tian Miller. Cassette documentation by David Fulford.


Reviews:

“…a singular perception of a place, resulting in a work that is deeply personal and completely unique.”
Jack Davidson, Noise Not Music

“…music, voices, and other unidentifiable things drift towards us like ghosts from the past. One can’t help but be moved. … a poignant reminder of how life used to be, and what traces might be left to remind us of it.”
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector

“Despite its careful composition, the album retains the spontaneous quality of a found object, or a phonographic fossil. What remains is the weather-worn, broken shell of sound, long after the song has dissolved. What we hear over and over is the distorted sound of the medium – its infinite vulnerability and exposed sensitivity. For all its haunted resonances and liquid, decayed grace, Ribbons of Rust is not about distant ghosts. Rather it explores sound as pure, immediate presence. It recognises the radical, affective act of being alive in the present – of hearing, seeing, feeling. Something happens.”
Elodie A. Roy, Oxide Ostrich


Reviews in Full

“Glasgow-based sound artist Mark Vernon’s newest work could be described as many things: an intervention, an examination, a document, even a dissection. But there really isn’t a single label that I can confidently apply to Ribbons of Rust, which draws its inspiration and source material from a remote, abandoned vacation resort in Thailand; Vernon doesn’t base his music around a specific technique or set of restrictions, instead utilizing a variety of methods to approach a comprehensive representation of this place that so notably resonated with him. Arguably central to the album’s construction are the worn, damaged tape fragments extracted from cassettes found on location, essentially the literal “ribbons of rust” that ground everything in a manner that’s both tangible (the distortion, crackles, and stutters that mar the tape playback) and abstract (the sampled music itself). Though there are a great deal of spacial field recordings and physical elements that evoke a strong sense of there-ness, Ribbons of Rust does much more than just reconstruct this mysterious environment. It presents a singular perception of a place, resulting in a work that is deeply personal and completely unique.”

Jack Davidson, Noise Not Music, June 26th, 2019
 

“Latest excellent cassette release from Mark Vernon is called Ribbons of Rust (FLAMING PINES FLP081). It’s a moving and beautiful work. In his accompanying notes, he tells the story of a trip to Thailand he made where, wandering well off the tourist path, he discovered a long-disused holiday resort at Laem Thian bay. Inside one of the chalets, he found remnants of past holiday-makers, the trappings of family life such as toys, bedding, and old knives and forks. But he also found four old cassette tapes. They were damaged by the weather, made rusty by damp, and heavily corroded by the sea air.
To Mark Vernon, they were pure gold. He documented the find with photographs, and took the tapes back home to his lair. Working in his secret laboratory, he was able to take these cassettes apart and reinsert the tapes into new shells, enabling him to play back what was left of the audio. What he found – absolute treasure to a man like Vernon, which you should know if you have followed his work to this point – is now represented on Ribbons Of Rust. What excites him, and that excitement transfers into the work, is the content itself (odd mix of Thai easy listening music and pop songs, plus religious content including sermons and hymns), the serendipity of the find, and the eerie sound these tapes make after the years of decay and damage wrought by the sea and the elements.

Vernon has always been preoccupied with rescuing sounds from the past, and yet again he provides us with a palpable demonstration of what this means; music, voices, and other unidentifiable things drift towards us like ghosts from the past. One can’t help but be moved. Ribbons Of Rust goes one step further, though; Vernon interleaves the found tapes with his contemporary documents of the area, including his own field recordings of the trip and the site in question, and also video clips from others who went on the same tour with him. This has the strong effect of implanting the historic, damaged recordings back into a representation of their original location. The composition process is a deliberate, explicit attempt to bring about this “intermingle”, as he calls it.

It’s a very powerful result. At the end of it, Vernon concludes the experience has left him with a deep feeling of isolation, and other emotions which he couldn’t shake off – they even affected the rest of the holiday for him. This sense of isolation and abandon is a common one, and we could point to a number of other sound artists who have been drawn to remote and desolate sites to produce similar audio statements to Ribbons Of Rust. But few of them exhibit the same kind of compassion as Mark Vernon; to him, bleakness is not an end it itself to remind us of the futility of life, rather it’s a poignant reminder of how life used to be, and what traces might be left to remind us of it – provided you have someone as diligent and talented as Mark Vernon to excavate it for you.”
 
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector
 

“In 2016 Glasgow-based sound artist Mark Vernon travelled to the abandoned seaside resort of Laem Thian (Thailand) with his recording equipment. It is unclear whether he deliberately chose to visit Laem Thian, or whether – in some mysterious way – the place called him. I like to believe that he intuitively obeyed a confused call. Once in Laem Thian, he started to record what was not there. He captured – without filling them – the absences; he documented the places where life had been, and the nooks, the fissures where it still grew. In the course of his three-month trip, Vernon also collected miscellaneous local tapes – Thai pop songs, religious hymns. Many of them had irreversibly deteriorated in the hot, tropical climate. And though the magnetic tapes were eaten with tiny parasites, there was still something to hear and grasp and see.

Ribbons of Rust stitches together Vernon’s personal field recordings with extracts from the mass-produced Thai tapes. It is a delicate assemblage of distant, plaintive singing, quivering piano notes, and half-erased, anonymous conversations. I like especially the drowned, otherworldly voices filtering through the album – like a choir of impossible sirens.

Vernon does for the ear what filmmakers Peter Delpeut and Bill Morrison – working with deteriorated archival film footage – do for the eye. He encourages us to listen closely to surfaces, to the minute fissures in the fabric of the world itself. Despite its careful composition, the album retains the spontaneous quality of a found object, or a phonographic fossil. What remains is the weather-worn, broken shell of sound, long after the song has dissolved. What we hear over and over is the distorted sound of the medium – its infinite vulnerability and exposed sensitivity.

For all its haunted resonances and liquid, decayed grace, Ribbons of Rust is not about distant ghosts. Rather it explores sound as pure, immediate presence. It recognises the radical, affective act of being alive in the present – of hearing, seeing, feeling. Something happens. A story gently circulates from Vernon to the listener, and dissolves again. As I listen back I do not visualise the wasted shores of Laem Thian, but other, closer waves – the island of Oléron (France). The place was full of indifferent cats and, (though I carried a camera) I knew they were the real, careless keepers of memory. Ribbons of Rust, similarly, seems to say that recordings exist so that we are free to forget, and start from another time, another place.”

Elodie A. Roy, Oxide Ostrich


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.

“…as has been reported numerous times in these pages, Vernon is an undisputed king of tape treatments, doing it in a very English and understated way, and operating in an endearing environment of found objects, cheap machines, discarded fragments, and a DIY approach that embodies all that is best about the garden-shed ham-radio amateur, a can-do make-do-and-mend attitude. If I make it sound like Vernon belongs to an earlier period in UK history, maybe he does – but I mean it in a positive way, a time when there were better manners, a bobby on every corner, and a man could smoke his pipe in peace in a railway compartment…

The tape before us today is called Orphaned Works (RESEARCH LABORATORIES RL020). Only 30 copies were pressed, a quantity which seems incommensurate with its cultural value, and there isn’t even a Bandcamp page where one could spin its delights on the PC. All the familiar Mark Vernon trademarks are here: lost, dissociated, found recordings assembled in a slightly absurd, vaguely scrambled framework that makes a mockery of linear thought, corresponding instead to the artist’s own spontaneous lines of thought and creating a dream-like interior logic that is a pure delight. Music, voices, and sound effects – pretty much the three fundamental elements in his box of groceries, but the techniques of assembly, editing, varispeeding and collage are also present, just done in his usual unobtrusive way. Vernon has never been one for calling attention to the technique, unlike the academic composers who developed musique concrète and its numerous followers, who often can’t wait to demonstrate – very loudly, if possible – their flashy skills on the mixing desk, editor, or computer suite. Mark Vernon is too close to the content and meaning of his work for that, and I suspect he would prefer to gently release hidden voices and unexpected treasures from their respective oxide traps, and inviting us to follow the butterflies as he sets them free. This is something we can only love and respect.

I will add, finally, that this particular radio-play (almost every release of his deserves to be understood and heard in that context – they are like a magical realist version of Radio 4 from a lost between-the-wars period that never existed) is not only redolent of mystery and sadness, but also hinting at the mortality of all human life, the fragile existence of the soul in a bleak and uncaring world. It does all of this by the power of suggestion, juxtaposition, and careful light-touch treatments. Vernon remains so respectful that he almost effaces himself from the compositional picture; and yet everything he does is unique, could only have emerged from his fingerprints. A delight!”

Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector, 18th July 2018.

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