AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Mark Vernon – A World Behind This World (2022; Persistence of Sound)

To complete my trio of write-ups (Iain Chambers, Robert Worby) on the Persistence of Sound’s recent batch of releases, this one is on Glasgow sound artist Mark Vernon’s A World Behind This World.  I fully expect to do further musings on these gentlemen since they have recordings outside of Persistence of Sound, (a young label that is off to an AMAZING start with these releases, not to mention the Natasha Barrett and Beatriz Ferreyra records they put out) but for now, let’s close this triangle with Mark Vernon.

The blurb on the album says that it is:

A composed soundscape created from sounds recorded on location at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, Lumsden and the surrounding areas.

A World Behind This World is one of those electroacoustic records that, in equal measure straddles the line between the artificial and the natural.  In this case, when I say natural, I mean unprocessed, or untransformed via the latest and greatest software.  I’m including the “unnatural” sounds of power drills and various metal objects and machines (and there is a bunch of those) that are not sliced, diced, cut up, fragmented, or otherwise fucked with in a processing environment in this natural category.

I think this is significant because I, as the listener was led down a path where I hardly noticed such things.  There was no clear-cut line between what is, and what can never be. 

One of the main reasons this album stands out is because of this simpatico between worlds.  Ferrari does this so well, and I think Vernon does too.  I was able to frolic and prance (I know, bad visual) within this tableau never thinking that those weird echoey pigeon-like coo’s that were playing hide and seek all over the soundstage (on the lengthy “New Golden Severities (Vermin Under the Stars)”) were any different than the sheep conversing amongst themselves (surely about the spot price of wool on the local commodity exchange) later in the same piece.  They were both just “there”, and they both just “belonged”. The processed (the coo’s) and unprocessed (the sheep-talk) sound events were presented in such a vividly spatialized manner that I imagined myself not only watching a 3d movie but living within it too. On top of that, it was all woven together in such a natural way that the veil between the “what was real” and the other place, where the mind is not presented with enough raw information (or maybe too much) and the imagination takes over was…non-existent.

Some thoughts about the dichotomy between the natural and the artificial.  The natural is tangible, it’s something you can feel, see and hear.  Does that logically lead to a conclusion that the artificial is only an imagined construct existing in your mind?  Does the artificial have a weaker standing than that of nature?  The senses and the mind say otherwise, and I think this is an extremely appealing aspect that acousmatic music can demonstrate well.  Blurring distinctions between the two by disembodying sounds from their source brings the whole natural/artificial package on to a level playing field.  A perception is a perception…whether it comes from nature or is fabricated in a lab…the honey badger (or the mind in this case) doesn’t care. 

I feel that I strayed too far down a philosophical path, but Vernon’s sound choices are interesting.  On this release, he did an excellent job of simultaneously dropping the listener into a pastoral setting while at the same time jacking them into an artificial dream state.  A fusion of two ideas to become a third.  What happens next is an individual choice.  Does realization make it go away, or can you revel in it?

There is also a refreshing lack of concept on this album.  All we really know is that Vernon’s interests lie in something called “audio archaeology”.  This implies similar tools and sound sources as label mate Iain Chambers, although unlike Chambers, there are really no hints of an overarching theme (the sounds of old tech), featured location, or structure being audibly depicted.  I admire this kind of tabula rasa because of the freedom it provides the listener.

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy and prefer when artists show, and don’t tell.  I’d much rather be the master of my own imagination than be handheld by thematic clues and song titles.  Give me a Jon Anderson phrase like… “Battleships confide in me and tell me where you are, shining flying purple wolfhound, show me where you are” any day.  A World Behind This World does just that.  Ambiguous song titles, disembodied sounds, and that all-important sensory breakdown between the real and the fantastic, the tangible and the fanciful, the visible and the illusory…these are my reasons for digging this album.  Hope some of you can check it out too!

Michael Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999