Public and Domestic Plumbing and Sanitation

Calling Cards Publishing / CCP007 LP (2021)

Sonograph Sound Effects Series Volume 2: Public and Domestic Plumbing and Sanitation

New limited edition Sound Effects Library LP released by Calling Cards Publishing.

Mark Vernon presents the second volume of his Sonograph Sound Effects Series – the follow up to the unexpectedly popular ‘Sounds of the Modern Hospital’ LP. This time the focus is on sounds of plumbing and sanitation: drainpipes, plugholes, leaks, squeaky taps and cisterns.

Vernon has recorded many of the sounds from unusual perspectives, in extreme close-up scenarios, using contact mics or small binaural microphones to get into tiny inaccessible spaces. There is also a particular focus on plumbing on-board vehicles and vessels in motion. The intention here is to reveal the marvellous within the most mundane and every day of sounds.

The record masquerades as a collection of generic archetypal sounds whilst in actuality it revels in the specific and unique – some of the most idiosyncratic and characterful instances of such sounds. No two gurgles are alike.

As an avid collector of sound effects records these obsolete discs have gradually taken on new meaning for Vernon as unintended audio time capsules. As their use value has decreased their value as historical audio documents has grown. To produce a sound effects LP in the age of digital audio libraries is an anachronistic gesture intended to elevate what purports to be a generic collection of recordings intended for functional use to the level of an artwork.

The album is in part a homage to classic ranges of sound effects albums such as the BBC Sound Effects Library – even down to the utilitarian design and functional descriptions of the sounds (a key aspect of this release). Such generic collections of sounds were intended to fulfil the needs of professional and amateur broadcasters, filmmakers and theatre producers. However, through careful selection and sequencing it is also intended that this record works as a linear sound composition.

>>> Utilitarian Unsounds for Undisclosed Purposes <<<


“…as the pieces begin to pass in quick succession, they start to wriggle free of meaning like a word repeated until it feels like just a collection of uttered sounds. Rather than take you out of the experience, this dislocation becomes hypnotic and compelling… creating the soundscape to somewhere new and bewildering.”
Spenser Tomson, The Wire magazine

Reviews in Full

“Opinions differ as to what constitutes a ‘good’ field recording. It could be argued that the more precisely it captures a place or event, conjuring it with clarity in the mind of the listener, then the more successful it is. In Cathy Lane and Angus Carlyle’s book In The Field: The Art of Field Recording, the musician and exponent of the technique, Francisco López says, “for me field recording is essentially a creative way of interacting with reality, rather than ‘representing’ reality”. In his view, the most interesting field recordists are those who, rather than employing a documentarian accuracy, opt instead to let the sounds bleed across the frame, obscuring their nature and using them as the components to construct a completely new fiction.

Mark Vernon’s work often plays with this ambiguity, using various methods to sever these sonic artefacts from their original connections. Lend An Ear, Leave A Word constructed a disorientating picture of Lisbon from snippets of tape recordings and found sounds, while Sonograph Sound Effects Series Vol.1: Sounds of the Modern Hospital took the already curious sounds of these places, amplifying their strangeness by presenting them in quick-fire sequence, disorientating the listener in strange soundscapes. With the follow-up, subtitled Public And Domestic Plumbing And Sanitation, Vernon achieves weirder results from a source material that is more quotidian.

But its weirdness is not immediately revealed, and initially his recordings appear as straightforward documents of the everyday and mundane. “Shower Hose Attachment” and “Toilet Flush And Cistern Refill” set a tone that gurgles and squeaks its familiar way through U-bend and plughole. But as the pieces begin to pass in quick succession, they start to wriggle free of meaning like a word repeated until it feels like just a collection of uttered sounds. Rather than take you out of the experience, this dislocation becomes hypnotic and compelling, such as when the soggy clatter of “Drainpipe Drips” rolls into the lonely groan of “Radiator” creating the soundscape to somewhere new and bewildering.

As with his previous works, Vernon illustrates that from ubiquity, he is able to conjure something unfamiliar and compelling.”

Spenser Tomson, The Wire magazine, September 2021


“The LP Public & Domestic Plumbing & Sanitation (CALLING CARDS PUBLISHING CCP007) is Volume 2 in Vernon’s Sonograph Sound Effects Series. Volume One was Sounds Of The Modern Hospital, which he released on his own Meagre Resource label back in 2014. What we have on this occasion is a large number of short tracks, much like a BBC Sound Effects Library LP (which Vernon admits he is consciously emulating), all documentary recordings of plumbing – sinks, bathtubs, toilets, mains pipes, boilers, radiators, drains, that sort of thing. Everything is carefully described by Vernon in his detailed notes, and the recordings themselves have been created with tremendous care, making much use of contact microphones or very small microphones in order to achieve that extreme close-up effect he’s after. If the microphone were a camera, we’d be seeing details of pipes and plumbing that make them appear huge and unfamiliar, instead of the friendly domestic objects we love so well; indeed the cover art by Marc Baines does exactly this in a visual way, inflating certain kitchen and bathroom fittings to such a scale that only the ocean can accommodate their grotesque size, and even a battleship is dwarfed by them.

I’ve enjoyed this record for the most part, which to me often sounds like plumbing going wrong as only our own domestic English plumbing is so apt to do; it might almost be a sound-art equivalent of the famed rant from Mark E. Smith, “made with the highest British attention to the wrong detail”. I do understand that Vernon’s intention is to “reveal the marvellous within the most mundane…sounds”, but Public & Domestic Plumbing & Sanitation falls a little short for me on that account; the watery gurgles and clanking metal somehow fail to amount to anything more than what they are, and I continue to wait for that precious moment of sublimation as I’m led aurally to the next watery outlet. Even so, this record has its unique charms, is modest and very English, and even slightly whimsical in its execution; “no two gurgles are alike”.”

Ed Pinsent, Sound Projector, June 2023