“In this suite of exquisitely arranged miniatures, the artist recycles everyday moments – chiefly convos and traffic – subjects them to various analog derangements (like burying the tapes), then carefully rearranges the broken, shredded samples, producing a chamber set of quiet power.”
“There’s certainly a transfixing quality to this collage, degraded, suffused with peeling paint, crumbling infrastructure; I can’t speak to the veracity with which it portrays Vienna, but it’s fascinating as an assemblage of the cultural detritus that has oozed out from its base, leaking into used-goods stores and ramshackle market stalls — forgotten memories exhumed, reanimated, limping with half-life.”
Maxie Younger, Tone Glow
“The bits in which the recordings are more or less pristine act like islands of sound amid the morass of obliteration and its many shades, giving dynamism to the listening experience. There’s a richness of sound and a subtle handling of the medium here, and they’re evidence of someone who knows what they’re doing very, very well.”
Gil Sansón, Tone Glow
“Ethnography is always a difficult subject in art – how can one person, especially one who isn’t even a long-term resident, understand an entire city, culture and people? And even more, how could they possibly capture and express such a thing? How could they be expected to present anything other than their own biased outsider experiences which place themselves as a fascinated observer rather than an integrated member of that community? Luckily, that’s exactly what Mark Vernon sets out to capture here: not the sounds of Vienna, but the sounds of one artist’s remembering of it.
There exist some obvious differences between memories and recordings. Memories are malleable, where recordings are concrete. Memories bend at the whims of dreams, experiences, biased conscious and subconsciousness and individual perceptions – it’s very personal, subjective processes that turn a real event into a memory. Recordings, on the other hand, are consistent – an event is heard, captured, and stored in that state eternally – well, not exactly, as Mark Vernon proves. After just a couple days of experiencing and recording events throughout Vienna on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, he cut up and buried his tapes alongside several souvenir magnets, leaving these cultural gift objects to process, erase and blur his recordings in an indeterminate fashion, and further scrambling them upon random reassembly. It’s a clever way to manipulate a tape, but it’s more than that – essentially, he created a process of experiencing and forgetting that mirrors the processes of our own brains, turning recordings into memories.
Another key difference between memories and recordings is aesthetics – where we rarely have much control over what we remember, we have complete power in what we choose to record, and how. As an artist, Mark Vernon certainly records and creates with aesthetic goals in mind, and this can be seen down to his tools and selected medium – the reel-to-reel, as opposed to a digital device which would arguably capture things clearer. There’s no attempt to hide the aesthetic concepts within these recordings, actually the incidental sounds of the tapes and playback devices are glamourized and given major roles in the mix alongside the leftovers of what was recorded. The result is, rather than a true remembering of the city, an artist’s remembering of it – one where the brain’s forgetful processes are followed, but the artist’s aesthetic instincts act as a filter along every step of the way.
A final piece to the puzzle is the addition of numerous sounds found throughout the city, various recordings of the past several decades of the city’s history and culture but deprived of any context – whether it was recorded a year or fifty ago is as unclear as what the recording even is. By infusing these literal found sounds alongside his own recordings, Magneto Mori: Vienna becomes a multi-perspectived remembering of a city – one where foreign artist Mark Vernon acts as a tour guide while fragments of the true Vienna can be heard or seen in all directions.
I’ve never been to Vienna, I’ll admit, so where the true Vienna ends and Mark’s Vienna begins I wouldn’t know. Whether this album gives a comprehensive view of the city, its culture and people, or its complex history, I also wouldn’t know. I think that might be intentional here though, because it’s a memory of Vienna we’re hearing, not an image of it. And like any memory, certainly of ones that are far from home, I should ask myself – is that really how it was, or is that just how I remember it?”
Connor Kurtz, harmonic series
“Return of Sound Projector favourite Mark Vernon doing what he does best – running roughshod over magnetic tape, and burrowing about in foreign cities to find old Dictaphone cassettes which he can store in his lair. Magneto Mori: Vienna (CANTI MAGNETICI Canto 32) is in many respects a direct continuation of Magneto Mori: Kilfinane, a cassette which we noted in 2019. Vernon’s unique approach, which is extremely labour-intensive with a deferred payoff, involves deliberately degrading magnetic tape recordings by burying them in the ground, in this case in a garden in Vienna; he also tosses in fridge magnets, in the sure and certain expectation that portions of the tapes will be wiped clean. While waiting for the loamy soil to do its job, he scoured market stalls for any discarded tapes he could seize with his tongs, and these were added to the final edit. In short, the work is 100% derived from field recordings of Vienna, and tapes found in that locale. Rooted in a specific time and place, the work will ultimately reveal hidden truths about that place.
The same aesthetic, and the same predictive powers, applied to the Irish project; the main difference this time is that there are fewer detectable human voices to be heard. In Kilfinane, he had access to a radio archive that yielded a rich crop of Irish voices and accents; in Vienna, we seem to have a snapshot of a near-deserted city, human presence mostly only indicated at second-hand (traffic sound, sirens), or in snatches of overheard mumbling of pedestrians in the streets, or as indecipherable fragments from old home tapes. As ever, Mark Vernon has provided a detailed shopping-list of the objects and places he managed to record on his reel-to-reel portable, although this only appears on the press release and not in the finished package. The other aspect to note is the crazy editing, which has resulted from splicing his earth-encrusted tapes together with his found recordings in a random order, letting the chips fall where they may. It’s a much more successful realisation of the Burroughs-Gysin cut-up method, and thankfully free from any of the underlying hostility to humanity which, for me, taints so much of Burroughs’ work. Even so, the abiding vision of Vienna in these rune-cast fragments remains undeniably bleak, a city with continually grey skies, almost bereft of human life, a place where machines, objects, buildings, hotel rooms, and even amusement parks and fairgrounds are performing their mechanical actions for no apparent reason, as if somehow this part of Europe had survived a catastrophe that wiped out most of the populace.
The cover image, showing the famous Wiener Riesenrad Ferris Wheel still under construction in 1897, does little to dispel the impression I have of this recording. Might I add the work has already been broadcast on radiophonic-friendly platforms and it picked up a Phonurgia Nova prize in 2020.”
Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector