Blue vitriol and Cathedral rain
Pipettes of Blue Vitriol
I recently visited the chemical abode of Dr. Simon Park with the nefarious intention of immersing a hydrophone in Sulphuric acid and listening as it recorded the sound of its own dissolve into silence. I provided the hydrophone and Simon provided the acid (also known as oil of vitriol), along with the appropriate protection of gloves and goggles. We decided to conduct the experiment outside on a garden table, its surface protected from harm with a copy of the Sunday Times supplement, featuring Princess and sprout.
Unfortunately, this vitriolic and potentially expensive experiment failed, the Jez Riley French hydrophone quietly surviving all attempts at chemical destruction. However, we were able to conduct other experiments into the sonification of chemistry. Simon has recently been encasing deceased bumblebees in the blue sarcophagi of copper sulphate crystals. Knowing the anhydrous properties of the compound, Simon suggested we listen to the compound (also known as blue vitriol) quenching its thirst for water. As he dropped the white powder into a plastic container of water, we could hear the exothermic reaction, as energy was released in a short, but deep blue fug of sound. Using a pipette we dripped precisely measured droplets of water onto a hydrophone covered in the compound, producing sonic eruptions of blue, like tiny burns in the surface of audition.
I am currently working on a new sound piece for Winchester Cathedral, which will take the form of a rain choir. The Cathedral is the final resting place of St. Swithun’s and was itself once in danger of collapse through the flooding of its foundations, so it has both a metrological and mythological association with rainfall.
The Cathedral Limestone walls are simultaneously pitted and smoothed by the chemical action of centuries of sulphurous precipitation. As one of the possible voices in the rain choir, I am exploring the sounds generated by this chemical dissolution. Dissolving small fragments of Cathedral Limestone in oil of vitriol, produces an acoustic time-lapse of the process of corrosion. Just as the acid concentrates centuries of rainfall into a brief moment, so too the noise of this dissolve concentrates the attention of the ear upon the sonic details of chemical decay. In an almost electronic emission, reminiscent of an un-tuned radio the sound of dissolve continues to change as the acid burns beneath the surface of the limestone revealing the karst topography of its geological and biological history: a fossil choir of coral and shell.