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‘.


“…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