CD Reviews

Thursday 26th April

April 27, 2012

So busy right now, with any number of things going on but as I haven’t written properly here for a couple of days I have stayed up later than I had intended, given that I am off to work at an early hour and have a tough day ahead of me tomorrow, to write about a CD. I’m nothing if not dedicated to this silliness…

Anyway, tonight’s CD is a bit of a hidden delight, albeit a slightly difficult one to fathom out. Its another (yes, another) recent release on the Entr’acte label by a Glasgow based artist previously unknown to me, Mark Vernon, who is apparently better known for his radio art/production work and in a duo named Vernon and Burns. This new disc of six works, named Static Cinema is apparently his first official solo release. The album is described as “the result of a series of musical improvisations using household objects combined with both treated and untreated field recordings made in Scotland, Germany and Norway between 2008 and 2010.” What we hear is probably closer to musique concrete than anything else, but there is something indescribably original about this music I really like. We hear just about everything thrown in here, from the familiar bits of traffic sound and weather recordings to a recurring, quite delightful capture of a dog barking in a high pitched manner, to a man snoring, the music finding a rhythmic pattern around his exhalations, to footsteps, old records playing, and much more besides. There are also plenty of sounds that are hard to identify, and feel thoroughly musical, not like either field recordings or household objects. Where the music feels different to musique concrete as we generally understand it however, and where it differs from the recent surge of improv-meets-field recordings collage is perhaps contained in the way the music is structured, or rather in how it feels completely unstructured.

Very much to its credit, Static Cinema doesn’t sound cluttered, doesn’t sound like an attempt to juxtapose unlikely sounds against one another, but also somehow doesn’t flow into any kind of stream of sounds. Things just seem to appear calmly in the music wherever they turn up, and after the initial bewilderment at the variety of sounds on display it all feels very calm and natural, even though there never really feels like any fixed structure in place within the music. You don’t notice when the tracks end, there is little to nothing to distinguish one piece from the next, and yet there are remarkable elements appearing all the time that make you stop and take notice. There are odd wails, a lot of vaguely percussive clatter, presumably sounds made with the household items, and plenty of room for the music to breathe as field recordings tend to join these more immediate sounds one at a time and with a sense of slow, gradual reveal rather than anything much that really jars. To some extent it does sound quite cinematic, and I do find myself picturing images of people creating the sounds here, either as musicians finding sounds in unusual objects or as the subjects of field recordings catching them unexpectedly. The album works for me partly because of the inventive use of sounds here, a really unusual and considered collection of elements, some easily recognisable, some much less so, and partly because of the odd sense of calm, unhurried placement of sounds on show. The music doesn’t flow all that well all that often, simply because of the continual arrival of sounds that break up the short-term expectations of the music we have as it progresses. Like a quirky scrapbook with links drawn in detail between each of the collaged entries however there is a lot of charm to Static Cinema and in places a degree of humour, but this is serious music, a significant step on from Stock, Hausen and Walkman but with none of the preciousness of much modern field recording composition. Beyond this, I find it very hard to know what to write about this music. I like Static Cinema a lot, perhaps because it just doesn’t sound in any way generic, and there is something refreshingly, oddly original about how it is all put together, but ask me to justify that statement with something more solid and I will struggle. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious openings to tracks or contrived endings, and the sensation throughout is of things just appearing without any reason for them doing so. Something of an oddity then, but a very nicely put together, unhurried patchwork of seemingly disparate parts that kept me intrigued and interested for a fair number of listens. I hope I get to hear more from Mark Vernon soon.

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