A Souvenir from Thailand

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. From 8th July 2019.

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