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.

Selected pieces from this album have also been performed as a live quadraphonic mix for ‘Inter’ in Glasgow and the Sonikas festival in Madrid.

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

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


Reviews:

“…a singular perception of a place, resulting in a work that is deeply personal and completely unique.”
Jack Davidson, Noise Not Music

“…music, voices, and other unidentifiable things drift towards us like ghosts from the past. One can’t help but be moved. … a poignant reminder of how life used to be, and what traces might be left to remind us of it.”
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector


Reviews in Full

“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

Latest excellent cassette release from Mark Vernon is called Ribbons of Rust (FLAMING PINES FLP081). It’s a moving and beautiful work. In his accompanying notes, he tells the story of a trip to Thailand he made where, wandering well off the tourist path, he discovered a long-disused holiday resort at Laem Thian bay. Inside one of the chalets, he found remnants of past holiday-makers, the trappings of family life such as toys, bedding, and old knives and forks. But he also found four old cassette tapes. They were damaged by the weather, made rusty by damp, and heavily corroded by the sea air.
To Mark Vernon, they were pure gold. He documented the find with photographs, and took the tapes back home to his lair. Working in his secret laboratory, he was able to take these cassettes apart and reinsert the tapes into new shells, enabling him to play back what was left of the audio. What he found – absolute treasure to a man like Vernon, which you should know if you have followed his work to this point – is now represented on Ribbons Of Rust. What excites him, and that excitement transfers into the work, is the content itself (odd mix of Thai easy listening music and pop songs, plus religious content including sermons and hymns), the serendipity of the find, and the eerie sound these tapes make after the years of decay and damage wrought by the sea and the elements.

Vernon has always been preoccupied with rescuing sounds from the past, and yet again he provides us with a palpable demonstration of what this means; music, voices, and other unidentifiable things drift towards us like ghosts from the past. One can’t help but be moved. Ribbons Of Rust goes one step further, though; Vernon interleaves the found tapes with his contemporary documents of the area, including his own field recordings of the trip and the site in question, and also video clips from others who went on the same tour with him. This has the strong effect of implanting the historic, damaged recordings back into a representation of their original location. The composition process is a deliberate, explicit attempt to bring about this “intermingle”, as he calls it.

It’s a very powerful result. At the end of it, Vernon concludes the experience has left him with a deep feeling of isolation, and other emotions which he couldn’t shake off – they even affected the rest of the holiday for him. This sense of isolation and abandon is a common one, and we could point to a number of other sound artists who have been drawn to remote and desolate sites to produce similar audio statements to Ribbons Of Rust. But few of them exhibit the same kind of compassion as Mark Vernon; to him, bleakness is not an end it itself to remind us of the futility of life, rather it’s a poignant reminder of how life used to be, and what traces might be left to remind us of it – provided you have someone as diligent and talented as Mark Vernon to excavate it for you.

Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector