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.


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

“…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,

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.