Static Cinema

Entr’acte / E126 CD (2012)

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

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


Reviews

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

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

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

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


Reviews in Full

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

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


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

(William Hutson, The Wire Magazine)


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

(Chris Whitehead, The Field Reporter)

Sounds of the Modern Hospital

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

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

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

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

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

All recordings by Mark Vernon 2011 – 2013.

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

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

 


Reviews

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

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

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


Reviews in Full

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

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

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

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


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

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

(Brian Olewnick, 27th February 2014)


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

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

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

(Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly)

Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm

3Leaves / 3L032 CD (2015)

“Whatever is not full makes noise. Whatever is full is quiet.” The Buddha.

Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm is a composed soundscape created from field recordings made in Sri Lanka in 2013. The work was the result of a six-week residency at Sura Medura, Hikkaduwa on the South West coast of the country. The CD is released by the Hungarian label 3Leaves and includes a beautiful 12-page colour booklet in a black die-cut card sleeve designed by Ákos Garai.

Radio versions of the piece have appeared on Resonance FM and as a special edition of Framework:Afield.
 


Reviews

“It’s as though Vernon himself were hallucinating about Sri Lanka, and passing his strange visions into the sound.”
Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector

“This is the noise we want.”
A Closer Listen

“It’s as if through some magic stroke, Vernon is able to get humans and animals to act in unison to create a wonderful musical composition.”
Hal Harmon, Musique Machine

“… a fascinating psycho-musico-geographical composition.”
Textura


Reviews in Full

“Whatever is not full makes noise. Whatever is full is quiet.” Buddha’s quote lies at the heart of Mark Vernon‘s Sri Lankan sound collage, an exercise in juxtaposition. Vernon’s CD introduction describes a mechanism in Colombo that instigates noise – drums, bells and cymbals – to block out the “unwanted noise” of tuk tuk horns and street vendors. This mechanism, writes Vernon, “creates a meditative space … amidst the hubbub of quotidian reality.”

Things That Were Missed In The Clamour For Calm not only reflects the ideas of this introduction, but invites dialogue on the subject. This music is now the focus of a sound installation, but the home listener can engage in a similar way. Over the course of an hour, one will encounter all manner of Sri Lankan sound, from the aforementioned horns and vendors to Beethoven, bathing and birds. Some segments are “pure” ~ all human or all natural ~ but each overlaps with others. Just as one is getting into the aforementioned meditative state, someone starts playing tin can drums, and the concentration is lost. Or is it? Another listener may be bored to by the sounds of nature and drones, and suddenly engaged by the entrance of the human element. If we were able to choose our sonic environment, would we make the right decisions? Or would we leave something out in the clamour for calm?

Control seems to be the mitigating factor. When one is able to control one’s sonic environment, one feels more at home. Contrast, for example, the sound of one’s personal listening device with the music played in markets and malls; or a conversation with a friend in a restaurant set against the screaming of an unchecked child. Vernon understands the difference, but he also understands that many people disagree on the definition of a “pleasurable” sound. Some people prefer crickets to drums, others the opposite. The story behind the story is that Vernon chose every sound on this disc, and decided where it would be placed: a dog, a plane, an exhaust pipe, a local band. In so doing, he tames the untamed, defining every sound as desirable.

My favorite sound here is that of a person at a typewriter, hard at work against the backdrop of a busy street. There’s no telling if this is a real person writing a real novel, or if it is simply Vernon at the keys, striking miscellaneous letters. The mind creates images of its own, and this particular juxtaposition paints a literary picture of Sri Lanka and its peculiar charms. It’s no accident that this segment is immediately followed by loud drumming, announcements, and a protest or parade, an injection of local flavor that could not have come from anywhere else. Here, if only briefly, the impression shifts from that of a dreamworld to the specific. A snatch of English momentarily breaks the spell, proving Vernon’s point; for a few seconds, the listener no longer prefers the familiar.

The reclining figure in the lower left of the cover painting is a subtle reminder of Vernon’s last album, Sounds of the Modern Hospital. This was a completely different type of recording, more sound effect than sound collage, but its variety of timbres, as well as its attempt to organize sonic fragments into related clusters, laid the groundwork for the current release. Prior to this came Static Cinema, a work of musique concrète that integrated the use of household objects. There’s no telling where Vernon will head next, but he’s just completed three unique works in a row. This is the noise we want.

(Richard Allen, A Closer Listen, 25th April, 2015)


“Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm is a fascinating psycho-musico- geographical composition that sound artist Mark Vernon (b. 1973, UK) has conceived in quasi- symphonic terms, with its different musical and real-world sounds carefully arranged so as to maximize the fifty-four-minute work’s impact. At certain times formal musical sounds emerge, including Beethoven’s Für Elise (as if played on a calliope) and synth-like tones; at other times, Vernon exploits the musical potential of a real-world sound in such a way that a car horn, for example, acts as a horn-like accent within the ‘musical’ composition. As with all of 3LEAVES’ recent releases, Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm houses an attractive, full-colour mini-booklet and CD within a black sleeve.

The field recordings, which Vernon collected between October and December 2013, immediately introduce the listener to the Sri Lankan setting when a rich collage of speaking voices and traffic noise thrusts the listener into the center of a busy city square with all of the chaos that that entails. But a dramatic change occurs scant minutes later when the focus shifts to an almost eerie synth-like presentation that’s wholly bereft of real-world sounds— until, that is, the call of a bird surfaces amidst the synth-like treatments. Those first six minutes are representative of Vernon’s approach, which sees field recording details merge with purely musical elements. In a subsequent episode, he accompanies dog barking and puttering engines with a near-subliminal musical hum, and near the halfway mark, clattering noises stemming from the Sri Lankan setting function as both real-world signifiers and a percussion-like sequence at the composition’s center. Passages alternate between the intense and sedate, and contrast emerges between the rush of day-time activity and the surreal quietude of the night where human voices are replaced by insect and animal utterances.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Vernon’s approach is the way in which he effects fluid transformations between the musical and field recordings realms. It’s not uncommon for a musical element to gradually morph into a real-world element and vice-versa. No purist he, Vernon explores in this experimental audio collage the potential modern production technology affords for dissolving the separation between environmental and musical worlds. Sometimes that conflation happens of its own accord, as occurs near the end of the piece when people are heard singing and playing musical instruments together.

It’s interesting that Vernon operates with Monica Brown a monthly listening event called Lights Out Listening Group, whose presentations take place in complete darkness. One could easily imagine a panoramic dreamscape such as Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm being selected as a natural candidate for such a treatment, given its stimulating flow of detail.

(Textura, March 2015)


“Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm is a single 54-minute suite of music and sound, created from field recordings fetched by Mark Vernon on his travels in Sri Lanka. I have heard, admittedly, quite a lot of field recordings made by artistes who travel to far-distant and exotic lands and bring back various recordings of foreign things that sound interesting to them. If I was feeling uncharitable, it would be possible to categorise a lot of these releases as rather banal, not much more than holiday snapshots in sound. I’ve also been struck by how often the same “motifs” keep occurring in the genre; water, insects, birds, the weather, and street sounds are often popular choices. Where’s the sublimation, the artistic transformation?

Mark Vernon’s Sri Lanka trip has certainly been transformed on this release. True, there are a lot of the expected sounds (street musicians, cars and motorbikes, water, and insects) on offer, but Vernon is doing interesting things with his assembled catalogue. First, there are numerous overlays and edits – I would guess so, at any rate – which bring together several unrelated sound events, in order to create the illusion of a single event, something near-impossible to have captured in the real world, yet sounding glorious on the finished item. Listeners with a vivid imagination will soon start seeing amazing things like bike riders flying away into a deep orange sky, birds flying backwards, or insects inhabiting an entire village as they swarm out of a deep lake. I should point out that Vernon is not an outright fantasist or surrealist, but I would claim that some of the quiet, charming humour which I recognise from his earlier releases has fed into the creation of Clamour for Calm.

Secondly, and more noticeable, are the dramatic electro-acoustic transformations and deep changes that have been carried out on the field recordings, presumably executed at a post-production stage. Through his methods, Vernon creates swooping, eerie and powerful music – music which forms itself out of natural sounds, then changes itself back again, all in a seamless and entirely appropriate manner. The effect on the listener is like watching a documentary film of Sri Lanka which suddenly changes, for example shifting into negative or over-exposed stock, multiple exposures, unusual lens filters, focus settings…disrupting the sense of temporal continuity we’ve enjoyed thus far, and demanding that we now appreciate this experience as pure sound. But it also passes on a very dream-like effect. It’s as though Vernon himself were hallucinating about Sri Lanka, and passing his strange visions into the sound. Hardly five minutes of Clamour for Calm passes by without one of these uncanny time-shifts taking over, transporting us into a bizarre, slightly menacing, impression, an impression of a country (or an entire world) that never existed. The work is deliberately structured so that we can look forward to at least half a dozen of these fantastic out-of-body flights.

The title of this work, Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm, may of course lead the listener to expect something quite different – it implies that there are everyday sound events which we overlook all too easily, and that there’s an interest in escaping the noise pollution of urban life, perhaps through listening to natural sounds with more attention. Both of these are perfectly plausible sentiments, and indeed they constitute articles of faith for many field recordists. But I think this album is primarily a work of imagination, a testament to Mark Vernon’s creative strengths and abilities; he doesn’t just document, but he thinks long and hard about the documents he captures, and then is able to use his studio skills to refashion them sympathetically, thereby revealing new truths about the world.

(Ed Pinsent, Editor of ‘The Sound Projector’ Music Magazine, January 2015)


Musique Machine – album of the month

Ákos Garai’s 3 Leaves imprint presents Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm by Mark Vernon. 3 Leaves is a label that is synonymous with expertly crafted, field recording-based releases. This full-length CD is no exception.

Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm is one single 54 minute track, composed from field recordings Vernon captured during a 6-week residency at Sura Medura, Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka. As you can imagine, what we have here is a tapestry of sounds found in Sri Lanka’s open markets, natural spaces, and wildlife. These aren’t just raw recordings, but a musical collage, expertly composed, and presented in stunning clarity. Some of the things you will hear are: a bustling market place, the sounds of merchants selling their wares, traffic, aquatic sounds, rain forests teaming with birds, frogs and insects, random sounds (a typewriter clacking, machinery churning, the water droplets in a shower stall?), indigenous people chanting along with a man on a megaphone, and many other sounds (from the mundane to the exquisite) found in his environment. That all might sound like par for the course on these types releases where field-recordings comprise the foundation, however there’s a whole lot of layering and weaving; pairing just the right sounds together to breathe life into this audio documentary.

Along with many of the environmental sounds found on the disc, there are also plenty of musical interludes to be found, including: indigenous folk music, the sounds of a very familiar piece of classical music played by a harmonium-like instrument, and a panoply of percussive beats. Most interestingly, Vernon mentions in the liner notes that an “odd looking machine” found in the middle of one of streets he frequented in Colombo, produced rhythmic music to banish the unwanted sounds of the material world. I wasn’t always aware when this contraption of drum, bell, and cymbal made it’s mark on the album, but no doubt it’s presence was heavily featured.

Perhaps my favorite parts of the album are where Vernon splices the sounds of both wildlife and music. Frogs, birds, and crickets seamlessly buzz and sing to rhythmic beats and folksy sounds. Its as if through some magic stroke, Vernon is able to get humans and animals to act in unison to create a wonderful musical composition.

I’ve had the pleasure of listening to many great field-recording based albums this year, but Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm is certainly one of the most memorable. Another quality release by the 3 Leaves imprint.
Kudos: ***** five stars

(Hal Harmon, Musique Machine)

Lend An Ear, Leave A Word

Audio Archaeology series Vol.1: Lisbon
Kye Records / KYE044 LP (2016)

The pieces composed for this album combine field recordings of contemporary Lisbon with found tape recordings from the past; reel-to-reel tapes, micro-cassettes and Dictaphones collected from the Feira de Ladra market, a popular and lively flea market in the Alfama district.

Each tape recording is an audio snapshot of a specific time; a family album in sound, a musical performance, a compilation of treasured music or even just the fun of playing around with a tape recorder captured for posterity. Every thoughtless edit or push of the record button teleports us to a different time and place. The musical material extracted from the tapes is also an evocative signifier that locates it within a specific era. The interesting thing is how the tapes accumulate different strata of time even within a single side. There are consecutive chronological recordings but also sequences with unexpected breakthroughs where the user has carelessly fast forwarded through the tape randomly ‘dropping-in’ new recordings. These accidental edits create instantaneous new collages of sounds and voices. I have endeavoured to retain the essence of these unintentional edits and unexpected outbursts in the pieces I have assembled here. The noisy whir and clicking of the various tape mechanisms is evident on many of the found recordings. As the material is sped up and slowed down it acts as an internal clock, a continuous, steady marker of time, almost like the second hand of a timepiece

All of the pieces contained here within explore one particular environment – the city of Lisbon. Field recordings by their very nature are time-based but the introduction of found tapes into the mix expands the timescale of these studies from just the short period spent in the city making recordings, backwards to possibly forty or more years in the past. It is a portrait in time and place, an archaeology of sound. The result of the audio flotsam and jetsam washed up on the shores of low commerce in the flea markets of Lisbon.

‘Lend an ear, leave a word’ arrives in a full color matte stock sleeve with insert and download card. Mastered by Jason Lescalleet in an edition of 400 copies. Artwork courtesy of ‘A Sense of Someplace‘.


Reviews:

“…a beautiful work of sonic archaeology… uncanny and often moving.”
Stewart Smith, The Wire.

“…easily bridges that world of field recordings with the world of ‘music’…the level of storytelling, interaction and creative use of his sound material is very high…”
Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly.

“…creates near-hallucinatory experiences, surreal dream-scapes, and a general sense of having entered the looking-glass world, full of unknown languages spoken by alien creatures, performing actions which can’t be understood.”
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector


Reviews in Full

“Sound artist and radio producer Mark Vernon is the brains behind experimental broadcast project Radiophrenia (see The Wire 374). A former member of Hassle Hound, alongside Ela Orleans and Tony Swain, Vernon has also released a number of solo albums on his own Meagre Resource label. Lend An Ear, Leave A Word is his first for Graham Lambkin’s Kye, and it’s a beautiful work of sonic archaeology, piecing together fragments from reel-to-reel tapes and microcassettes found in a Lisbon flea market. The results are uncanny and often moving. Vernon leaves in the sounds of microphone flubs and record buttons being pressed, underlining the intimate, home-recorded nature of his source material. Not being a speaker of Portuguese, I have no idea what the man at the start of the album is saying into his dictaphone. Some kind of audio note? Ideas for a novel or artwork? And what of the answer machine messages at the start of the B side?

One can only speculate, while appreciating the different voices for their texture and cadence. Other fragments capture household chatter and domestic chores, the possible result of children playing with tape recorders. And then there are the musical snippets, which range from home recordings, to raw dubs of classical music, disco and folk. Vernon weaves this all together with the amplified sounds of the machines themselves, the touches of distortion, feedback and hum enhancing the album’s curious sense of disembodied materiality.”
Stewart Smith, The Wire Magazine


“Kye Records is operated by Graham Lambkin, and the label deals in unfussy, no-nonsense cover artworks, high-quality mastering and pressing, and a mostly vinyl-only format policy. What I have heard on Kye has always been amazing, and I would like to think Lambkin selects the content personally. Lend an Ear, Leave A Word is true to form and a highly impressive collection of work, based on documentary recordings. The theme here is that it’s all based in Lisbon, the recordings were made in that country and collected by Mark Vernon from trips to a flea-market in Alfarma. Right there we’ve got another indication of his scavenger-hunt methods; I have visions of Vernon’s garden shed, hopefully the size of a warehouse, packed with his precious hoards of booty.

Lend an Ear, Leave A Word is a delirious listen – almost instantly induces a trance-like state, and real life acquires a wonderful unreal caste. There’s also a strong sense of deep sadness and melancholy in these sounds, a mourning for the human condition. How did this all come about?

In his notes, Vernon describes processes of how magnetic tape acquires layers of information, often by accident when the recording devices are in the hands of amateurs making mistakes, as is the case here. He muses on the “archaeological” aspects of the work, having dredged up 40 years of content to perform his experiments. He lists the things we’re hearing (answerphone messages, TV, baby recordings), and he lists the extra field recordings (air vents, traffic noise, waves breaking). None of these prosaic descriptions even begin to account for the strange sensations induced by this record, which over two sides and ten tracks creates near-hallucinatory experiences, surreal dream-scapes, and a general sense of having entered the looking-glass world, full of unknown languages spoken by alien creatures, performing actions which can’t be understood.

In collating his “lists” of content, which are useful, Vernon modestly downplays his own role in the selection, editing and assembly of these fragments, a unique artistic process which passes through his own fingertips directly onto the surface of the record. I think what makes it all so compelling is the fact that he is so ready and willing to depart from the supposed “purity” of documentary recording, and can’t help uncovering the incredible strangeness of life through his art. And it’s more than just juxtaposing two or more unconnected recordings; there’s music here as well, there are (as ever) fractured stories and dramas unfolding, and there’s a real sympathy for and interest in the human condition. Mark Vernon is not some unfeeling voyeur of the human pageant, like Scanner used to be with his secretly-monitored mobile phone conversations set to ambient music. On this record, he deals in human truths, but he also respects boundaries and asks questions, refusing to draw simplistic conclusions.”
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector