Hairwaves: A Cautionary Tale
Zoe Irvine and Mark Vernon


Freight / Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts, Scotland, 2006
Library Spotlight
First Person, Humorous, International
04 23


Bouffants, buzz cuts, mohawks, and dreadlocks: no matter the style, hair has played an important social and cultural role throughout human history.

In Hairwaves: A Cautionary Tale, sound artists Zoe Irvine and Mark Vernon explore the sounds and stories of the barber shop -- snipping, layering, and mixing field recordings and interviews with beauticians, wig makers, pet groomers, and a psychic hairstylist.


In Voice in the Mirror, a psychic barber encounters ghosts while cutting hair.


To hear more from Hairwaves, check out the Extras section below. 


Zoe Irvine’s background is in visual art, but she began to work with sound in 1994. Her current practice includes sound pieces, broadcasts, participatory projects and publications. Irvine’s work ranges from carefully crafted individual pieces for gallery spaces to the creation of conceptual platforms, inviting others to participate. Her works are often inspired by early audio technology and historic figures. She is also a lecturer in Sound Art at Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art and Design in Dundee. She lives in Scotland.

Mark Vernon is a Glasgow-based sound artist, musician, and radio producer. He was a founding member of Glasgow's pirate art radio collective Radio Tuesday and has produced programs and features for stations including WFMU, Resonance FM, Radio 101, and BBC Radio 4. He performs and records with Barry Burns as Vernon & Burns on Gagarin records and is also a member of the trio Hassle Hound, who have records released on Pickled Egg, Textile, Staubgold, and Twisted Nerve.


Behind the Scenes with Zoe Irvine, co-producer of Hairwaves

What inspired the Hairwaves project? 

Mark and I had just finished a collaborative piece and we were looking for the next thing to do. This coincided with a particularly bad haircut I received at the hands of a Dundee hairdresser and so it was decided we'd use that as a starting point. Mark, who had less of a personal bug-bare with barbers, quickly broadened the scope to include pet grooming, wig making, and the paranormal.  


Why is Hairwaves particularly well-suited for the audio medium? 

As with many people who work with sound, Mark and I are aware of the medium's visual power in the mind's eye. There are a lot of descriptive elements in Hairwaves and many experiences others will share. With the recordings we made, we wanted to enjoy both the more abstract sonic elements and the stories people told us. 

Also, we launched the CD, Hairwaves: A Cautionary Tale, with Hairwaves FM -- a day-long FM transmission in Glasgow, Scotland where many of the hairdressers who'd taken part in the creation of the CD are. For this, we made an open call for any hair and hairdressing themed audio works. We received a really good response to the call and were able to programme an exciting broadcast which exclusively featured hair-themed songs and audio works.

Could you tell me a little more about your production process and the collaborative nature of the project? Have you guys worked together before? 

We began by making field recordings and collecting stories and then working with the material on the computer. For one reason or another, this took a long time. In fact, it was an ongoing project, with long periods on the back burner over about a five-year period. During this time, we both had our ears open for hairdressing stories and incidents and continually added to our pool of source material.


In the autumn of 2006, Mark and I got together in his Glasgow studio and worked intensively on creating the CD. We used a combination of programs for both Mac and PC, but one of the most exciting processes was using a programme for live performance and linking our computers via midi so we could sample and improvise with the material, each on our own computer, but perfectly in synch. We also worked individually, side by side, plugged into headphones, with lots of "listen to this!" moments.