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.

Special thanks to Tian Miller, Barry Burns, Ian Middleton and Kate Carr.

Location photographs by Tian Miller. Cassette documentation by David Fulford.


Reviews:

“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