Dunning and Brosamer – Glocken [Invisible City Records 2019]

Dunning and Brosamer’s “Metronome”

When I was a teenager I played tapes on my blue Walkman. I listened to and through music, and fell asleep with my headphones on. In the morning the batteries were exhausted. It happened all the time. Songs created a link or a tie – a vibrant map for living. I always listened to the same tapes (and more often than not, to a self-made copy of Beat Happening’s Black Candy and its obscure, pounding sweetness). I knew the music inside out; it invariably took me back home.

Later, other albums took me away, unlocking deep, unsuspected doors – unsettling the ground, the very foundations of identity. I remember the soft stridence of Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising, Warp’s Artificial Intelligence compilations, the pensive urgency of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. This was music for getting lost: lost in sounds, and, increasingly, lost to oneself, gently (yet absolutely) decentred, displaced, absorbed.  

Dunning and Brosamer’s minimalist Glocken (‘Bells’) belongs to the second category of albums (though, of course, the gate between the two is flying wide open). Every time I listen to the tape something emerges which wasn’t there before – and what was there before has changed again. Glocken retains nothing except, maybe, the beautiful record of its own alterations. White noise and tiny, subsonic vibrations – elemental electronics. The six tracks, all of which were recorded live, belong together like strata of the same geological ground. They seem to be governed by delicate climates and seasons of their own. This may be because they are mostly made of fragments, debris. According to the liner notes, Dunning and Brosamer made this album using an assortment of ‘gramophone, turntable, modified records, cast 78s, retextured disks’ (courtesy of artist Lisa Schlenker), ‘mobile devices’ and ‘synths’.

Glocken is a continuation of Dunning and Brosamer’s respective art practices, and former collaborations. In one of his early phono-archaeological projects, turntablist Graham Dunning had literally dug into the earth, where a storing facility for gramophone records used to be, excavating dozens of tiny shellac shards and trying to reconstitute and replay the broken records. Gramophone artist Sascha Brosamer, too, works with natural and manmade fragments – the cover of the tape shows a 78rpm disc cast from river trash collected alongside the banks of the Mississippi or the Panke. These waste-records, forever disintegrating, get played throughout Glocken. Because this composite album was assembled by people who let textures and materials speak, there are no recognizable words or singing, no soothing, familiar tones. Only the hands of the makers-discovers remain present, invisibly spinning, sampling and weaving sounds together – leaving imprints and marks which become embedded into the final object.

Despite its home-made, hesitant qualities, there is also something heavy and fiercely industrial to Glocken. It reminds me of the experimental pattern films of the 1930s – full of bright flashes, electric pulsations and abrupt disappearances. Films without actors, without a plot even. At one point (on “Ack”) a frail melody is heard, as if emerging from an old music-box – and gets immediately repressed. There are other attempted beginnings and hints of narration throughout the album. But (contrary, for instance, to hauntology’s love of storytelling and nostalgic reconstructions), no tale is told. Nothing gets repaired, mastered or organised. Only the ruins remain. Glocken is best heard in the dark – recalling, at times, the icy, infrasonic landscapes of musique concrète – the soulless, yet oddly poignant song of automation. And when the last dreamer falls asleep, the music will persist – indifferent and mechanical – almost absent to itself.

Mark Vernon – Ribbons of Rust [Flaming Pines 2019]

Mark Vernon “Only the Shell Can Tell”

In 2016 Glasgow-based sound artist Mark Vernon travelled to the abandoned seaside resort of Laem Thian (Thailand) with his recording equipment. It is unclear whether he deliberately chose to visit Laem Thian, or whether – in some mysterious way – the place called him. I like to believe that he intuitively obeyed a confused call. Once in Laem Thian, he started to record what was not there. He captured – without filling them – the absences; he documented the places where life had been, and the nooks, the fissures where it still grew. In the course of his three-month trip, Vernon also collected miscellaneous local tapes – Thai pop songs, religious hymns. Many of them had irreversibly deteriorated in the hot, tropical climate. And though the magnetic tapes were eaten with tiny parasites, there was still something to hear and grasp and see.

Ribbons of Rust stitches together Vernon’s personal field recordings with extracts from the mass-produced Thai tapes. It is a delicate assemblage of distant, plaintive singing, quivering piano notes, and half-erased, anonymous conversations. I like especially the drowned, otherworldly voices filtering through the album – like a choir of impossible sirens.

Vernon does for the ear what filmmakers Peter Delpeut and Bill Morrison – working with deteriorated archival film footage – do for the eye. He encourages us to listen closely to surfaces, to the minute fissures in the fabric of the world itself. Despite its careful composition, the album retains the spontaneous quality of a found object, or a phonographic fossil. What remains is the weather-worn, broken shell of sound, long after the song has dissolved. What we hear over and over is the distorted sound of the medium – its infinite vulnerability and exposed sensitivity.

For all its haunted resonances and liquid, decayed grace, Ribbons of Rust is not about distant ghosts. Rather it explores sound as pure, immediate presence. It recognises the radical, affective act of being alive in the present – of hearing, seeing, feeling. Something happens. A story gently circulates from Vernon to the listener, and dissolves again. As I listen back I do not visualise the wasted shores of Laem Thian, but other, closer waves – the island of Oléron (France). The place was full of indifferent cats and, (though I carried a camera) I knew they were the real, careless keepers of memory. Ribbons of Rust, similarly, seems to say that recordings exist so that we are free to forget, and start from another time, another place.