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


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


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.

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.