The Wheel Of Life

Return of Sound Projector favourite Mark Vernon doing what he does best – running roughshod over magnetic tape, and burrowing about in foreign cities to find old Dictaphone cassettes which he can store in his lair. Magneto Mori: Vienna (CANTI MAGNETICI Canto 32) is in many respects a direct continuation of Magneto Mori: Kilfinane, a cassette which we noted in 2019. Vernon’s unique approach, which is extremely labour-intensive with a deferred payoff, involves deliberately degrading magnetic tape recordings by burying them in the ground, in this case in a garden in Vienna; he also tosses in fridge magnets, in the sure and certain expectation that portions of the tapes will be wiped clean. While waiting for the loamy soil to do its job, he scoured market stalls for any discarded tapes he could seize with his tongs, and these were added to the final edit. In short, the work is 100% derived from field recordings of Vienna, and tapes found in that locale. Rooted in a specific time and place, the work will ultimately reveal hidden truths about that place.

The same aesthetic, and the same predictive powers, applied to the Irish project; the main difference this time is that there are fewer detectable human voices to be heard. In Kilfinane, he had access to a radio archive that yielded a rich crop of Irish voices and accents; in Vienna, we seem to have a snapshot of a near-deserted city, human presence mostly only indicated at second-hand (traffic sound, sirens), or in snatches of overheard mumbling of pedestrians in the streets, or as indecipherable fragments from old home tapes. As ever, Mark Vernon has provided a detailed shopping-list of the objects and places he managed to record on his reel-to-reel portable, although this only appears on the press release and not in the finished package. The other aspect to note is the crazy editing, which has resulted from splicing his earth-encrusted tapes together with his found recordings in a random order, letting the chips fall where they may. It’s a much more successful realisation of the Burroughs-Gysin cut-up method, and thankfully free from any of the underlying hostility to humanity which, for me, taints so much of Burroughs’ work. Even so, the abiding vision of Vienna in these rune-cast fragments remains undeniably bleak, a city with continually grey skies, almost bereft of human life, a place where machines, objects, buildings, hotel rooms, and even amusement parks and fairgrounds are performing their mechanical actions for no apparent reason, as if somehow this part of Europe had survived a catastrophe that wiped out most of the populace.

The cover image, showing the famous Wiener Riesenrad Ferris Wheel still under construction in 1897, does little to dispel the impression I have of this recording. Might I add the work has already been broadcast on radiophonic-friendly platforms and it picked up a Phonurgia Nova prize in 2020. From 7th July 2021.