Disjecta Membra

New tape from the lovely Mark Vernon operating out of Glasgow…as has been reported numerous times in these pages, Vernon is an undisputed king of tape treatments, doing it in a very English and understated way, and operating in an endearing environment of found objects, cheap machines, discarded fragments, and a DIY approach that embodies all that is best about the garden-shed ham-radio amateur, a can-do make-do-and-mend attitude. If I make it sound like Vernon belongs to an earlier period in UK history, maybe he does – but I mean it in a positive way, a time when there were better manners, a bobby on every corner, and a man could smoke his pipe in peace in a railway compartment…

The tape before us today is called Orphaned Works (RESEARCH LABORATORIES RL020). Only 30 copies were pressed, a quantity which seems incommensurate with its cultural value, and there isn’t even a Bandcamp page where one could spin its delights on the PC. All the familiar Mark Vernon trademarks are here: lost, dissociated, found recordings assembled in a slightly absurd, vaguely scrambled framework that makes a mockery of linear thought, corresponding instead to the artist’s own spontaneous lines of thought and creating a dream-like interior logic that is a pure delight. Music, voices, and sound effects – pretty much the three fundamental elements in his box of groceries, but the techniques of assembly, editing, varispeeding and collage are also present, just done in his usual unobtrusive way. Vernon has never been one for calling attention to the technique, unlike the academic composers who developed musique concrète and its numerous followers, who often can’t wait to demonstrate – very loudly, if possible – their flashy skills on the mixing desk, editor, or computer suite. Mark Vernon is too close to the content and meaning of his work for that, and I suspect he would prefer to gently release hidden voices and unexpected treasures from their respective oxide traps, and inviting us to follow the butterflies as he sets them free. This is something we can only love and respect.

I will add, finally, that this particular radio-play (almost every release of his deserves to be understood and heard in that context – they are like a magical realist version of Radio 4 from a lost between-the-wars period that never existed) is not only redolent of mystery and sadness, but also hinting at the mortality of all human life, the fragile existence of the soul in a bleak and uncaring world. It does all of this by the power of suggestion, juxtaposition, and careful light-touch treatments. Vernon remains so respectful that he almost effaces himself from the compositional picture; and yet everything he does is unique, could only have emerged from his fingerprints. A delight! From 18th July 2018.

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