Compilations / Mixes
Mark Vernon: Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm
Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm is a fascinating psycho-musico-geographical composition that sound artist Mark Vernon (b. 1973, UK) has conceived in quasi-symphonic terms, with its different musical and real-world sounds carefully arranged so as to maximize the fifty-four-minute work's impact. At certain times formal musical sounds emerge, including Beethoven's Für Elise (as if played on a calliope) and synth-like tones; at other times, Vernon exploits the musical potential of a real-world sound in such a way that a car horn, for example, acts as a horn-like accent within the ‘musical' composition. As with all of 3LEAVES' recent releases, Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm houses an attractive, full-colour mini-booklet and CD within a black sleeve.
The field recordings, which Vernon collected between October and December 2013, immediately introduce the listener to the Sri Lankan setting when a rich collage of speaking voices and traffic noise thrusts the listener into the center of a busy city square with all of the chaos that that entails. But a dramatic change occurs scant minutes later when the focus shifts to an almost eerie synth-like presentation that's wholly bereft of real-world sounds—until, that is, the call of a bird surfaces amidst the synth-like treatments. Those first six minutes are representative of Vernon's approach, which sees field recording details merge with purely musical elements. In a subsequent episode, he accompanies dog barking and puttering engines with a near-subliminal musical hum, and near the halfway mark, clattering noises stemming from the Sri Lankan setting function as both real-world signifiers and a percussion-like sequence at the composition's center. Passages alternate between the intense and sedate, and contrast emerges between the rush of day-time activity and the surreal quietude of the night where human voices are replaced by insect and animal utterances.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Vernon's approach is the way in which he effects fluid transformations between the musical and field recordings realms. It's not uncommon for a musical element to gradually morph into a real-world element and vice-versa. No purist he, Vernon explores in this experimental audio collage the potential modern production technology affords for dissolving the separation between environmental and musical worlds. Sometimes that conflation happens of its own accord, as occurs near the end of the piece when people are heard singing and playing musical instruments together.
It's interesting that Vernon operates with Monica Brown a monthly listening event called Lights Out Listening Group, whose presentations take place in complete darkness. One could easily imagine a panoramic dreamscape such as Things That Were Missed in the Clamour for Calm being selected as a natural candidate for such a treatment, given its stimulating flow of detail.