Vernon & Burns meet Lied Music: Lost Lake

Shadazz Records / SHA011 LP (2011)

Lost Lake sees the return of the collaborative project between sound art duo Vernon &: Burns (Mark Vernon and Barry Burns) and Lied Music (Luke Fowler and John W Fail). It is a sequel to the long-sold out LP Lied Music vs.Boy-Band Tax Returns (released on Ultra Eczema, 2006). This LP merges musique concrète compositional approaches with absurdist improvisational strategies. The four artists met in Glasgow where they recorded a series of sporadic improvised sessions using a diverse array of sound-making instruments (amplified toys and objects, guitar, analogue synths, percussion, squeeze box, field recordings and found tapes). Improvised sessions from 2008 were subsequently manipulated, tortured and caressed, both individually and collectively, into a series of highly idiosyncratic song-forms and sound collages.

Limited edition of 300 vinyl LPs. Screen-printed artwork by Corin Sworn.


“The latest entry in the Vernon & Burns catalogue sees this Glasgow duo teaming up with Lied Music, the duo of Luke Fowler and John W. Fail. Lost Lake (SHADAZZ SHA.11) is one of the stranger and darker emissions from these talented creatives, particularly if you care to compare it with the sometimes more playful assemblages of V&B, or the deliciously offbeat melodic avant-pop tunes created by Fowler as part of Rude Pravo. At first spin the record is a near-bewildering toasted-cheese sandwich, a concoction which contains at least a zillion ideas apparently thrown together any which way. Faced with such an array, discerning avant-LP listeners may want to reach for The Faust Tapes as one touchstone, but another credible precedent is the unearthly Bladder Flask LP 1, that ne plus ultra of cut-up sound art put together by a teenaged Richard Rupenus as if possessed by some fevered desire to surpass the worst excesses of the lunatic fringe end of the United Dairies catalogue. But the Bladder Flask release had the underlying sinister aim of sending all those who heard it mad, through highlighting the complete absurdity and futility of everything.

Lost Lake has a more benign mission, thankfully. The album has been very carefully crafted, using sets of recorded improvisation sessions produced by the four players, aiming to resculpt the near-chaos of that source material into a coherent structure. Within that structure, fractured songs and equally fractured stories emerge; yes, a scrambled form of a radio listening or cinematic experience, which is an effect Vernon & Burns have striven for with a good deal of their work (and have produced many items expressly in radiophonic mode). As to the cinematic, Fowler is also a film-maker. There is a logic to this scheme, but it is hard to follow and weaves its way around in a highly secretive and intuitive fashion, like an errant underground stream full of eccentric fish and darting river-insects stained in unnatural colours. We could account for some of this quirkiness by pointing out that all four creators were involved in the refashioning process, rather than a single editorial hand behind the editing knife; one can imagine the clashing dynamism generated by four powerful personalities, each of them bending the path of events in their favour. Additionally, the source material itself was not exactly straightforward music to begin with, but created using the now-virtually-standard set-up of the modern improviser, that is amplified instruments, toys, found tapes, field recordings, and live electronics. From this rich stew, voices and tunes emerge from amid a varispeeded and highly layered humid aggregation of extremely strange sounds. And yes, like the Rupenus LP, it is quite absurdist, but I like to think it’s a fun and cartoony absurdity, rather than bleak and Beckett-like. That said, this aural bric-a-brac crawls out from a dark attic of the mind, and is as much an unsettling listen as it is entertaining.

Corin Sworn’s cover art encodes all the above information quite perfectly. Using collage technique (naturally), it depicts a figure sitting on a sofa surrounded by hideously “tasteful” drapes and furnishings. This image of bourgeois normality is thoroughly disrupted by replacing the outline of the figure with fragments of urban horror and machinery, then further scrambling the visual schema with concentric rings and diagonal bars, suggesting the power of the aural emanations on the record. The album is, we are told, a sequel to a 2006 release called Lied Music vs Boy-Band Tax Returns, which we reviewed in our Vinyl Viands issue.”

(Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, December 15, 2012)

“One of the great things about writing for Cyclic Defrost is the exposure to music that just wouldn’t get a look-in, with the congested world that is my listening habits, any other way. Vernon &: Burns were one such musical proposition, prior to getting intimately acquainted with their Light at the End of the Dial release from last year. Dark and resolutely dada, with a inscrutable British-ness about their sound collages, the duo are joined on Lost Lake by Luke Fowler and John W. Fail from Lied Music. Following on from 2006’s amusingly titled Lied Music Vs Boy Band Tax Returns, the duos reunite for a further round of concrete-based antics.

There’s a sinister whimsy, full of squeaky, overdriven instruments and radio static emerging from the Lost Lake. It’s as if the entire INA-GRM catalogue has been submerged in a neglected, overgrown wetland and allowed to infuse with the recorded works of Nurse With Wound and Stock, Hausen &: Walkman. The cover-art for this limited vinyl release is suitably warped – a comfy living room, complete with lace curtains and needlework cushions, yet the reclining inhabitant has been replaced by a montage of oil tanks, circles and a refinery infrastructure, whilst retaining the silhouette. While this is not a startling technique in itself (check the Not Not Fun label or Sun Araw releases for a similar aesthetic), it’s executed in a manner that compliments the sounds contained within admirably.

There’s a spooked miasma smelling of half –remembered 78s, 101 Strings records (and the kitchen sink) on ‘Death knell for short-handed typists’. ‘Perpendicular to Love’ is a three-minute naive ode to love, delivered in a slightly threatening, yet whimsical fashion. What does ‘Perpendicular to Love’ mean? Separate from, but relating to love, or completely divorced from such intricacies of the heart? Side B, entitled “Chamber Game of the Skies” starts off with ‘Digging Runner of the Den’ a confused and baffling journey through electroacoustic improvisation. Imagine Keiji Heino jamming with a bunch of Tibetan monks with access to an expansive array of analogue studio equipment. ‘Black Mint’s blunted slo-mo tabla rhythms and soaring cello switches half-way through into something altogether more lopsided, as vocal snippets, clattering percussion and a malfunctioning string section vie to be first across the line.

Lost Lake is a haunted juxtaposition of faux-jazz and Delia Derbyshire meets AMM electronic bafflement. Vernon &: Burns and Lied Music’s musique concrète approach could even be an appropriate accompaniment to your next dinner party, just make sure you spike the aperitifs with something stronger than usual.”

(Oliver Laing, Cyclic Defrost, June 22, 2011)

“Madness is in my pile today. First Bjork, then this pile of concrète crazypie. At least I didn’t get the bicycle-driven thing as well, that would have flipped my wig. Apparently these two are from the arena of radiophonics/plunderphonics. I’m unsure where this record should be lodged as it sounds like it’s largely from that demented pasture but it seems to occasionally like chatting in the little drone and free jazz/improv yard next door. Once in a blue moon they even go for a brief piss in the field recordings barn. There’s some utterly fantastic stuff on here. Expertly stitched audio collage, gibbering toy-town pop and clever aural goonery. Scary manipulated voices mingle with Moondog style percussion, bleak haunted house synths are tormented by digital cricket echoes, some wonky Pete Um/Ergo Phizmiz-style balladeering is roundly assaulted by these bursts of vicious spluttering fuzz and a loud bang that made me shit myself a bit. I flip over and from the seeds of more clattering, belching rumbling improv grows a massive gurgling, stumbling analogue noise bush. This bush grows wheels, shifts into a kranky gear and proceeds to swerve drunkenly down the road knocking over three mechanical cats and squashing a blind hedgehog made out of old aluminium tins. There’s not a normal moment on this bloody interesting album but for unabashed lovers of abstract ephemera and plain weird experimental records this really is the tip-tops. I really can’t recommend it enough and you know you’re getting top drawer material when you realise these nutters had the most elaborate and impractical packaging on their Mort Aux Vaches CD, a series commissioned for only the most hardy and respected of out-there sound artists and musicians.”

(Four stars …according to our Brian on 27 July 2011, Norman Records)