three horizons

a new work for framework: afield.
Broadcast on Resonance FM
Sunday 13.06.21
11:00-12:00.
Listen live via Resonance FM

Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station, 2018.

three horizons, a new work for framework: afield, will be aired on Resonance 104.4fm (London) this Sunday (13.06.21). The programme will subsequently be broadcast on a number of radio stations world-wide and also be available to hear on the framework radio website.

Curated and hosted by Patrick McGinley, framework is a radio programme and listening community that has been broadcasting on the resonance 104.4fm since 2002. The show now airs on twelve radio stations around the world, with editions, streams and podcasts available from the framework website. ‘Consecrated to field recording and its use in composition’ framework acts as a creative frequency ‘a folk-tool in a new folk movement, a community driven exchange point for creators and listeners alike.’ The show operates in two formats, a regular edition curated and produced by Patrick, and framework:afield, ‘a guest-curated series produced by artists from all corners of the globe and based on their own themes, concepts or recordings.’ As an artist interested in the perceptual geographies of sound and listening, I began to tune in around 2005. In 2007, Patrick very kindly aired the 2nd edition of my collaborative project, mo[nu]ment – a 7” vinyl record of the silence held in memory of the Indian Ocean, earthquake, and Tsunami in 2004 (crudely recorded from my bedroom window in Winchester), which framework listeners were invited to re-record directly from the framework broadcast.

Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station, 2017.

My sound-works have been included in several editions of framework since then – my mam recorded an intro for the show around 2006. But this year is the first time I have contributed to framework: afield. The new sound work is called three horizons and is based on my ongoing series of covert micro-FM transmissions at locations along the southerly listening coast.  These transmissions began in 2017 with the first of two unofficial, covert residencies at the Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station, Cornwall, where in 1901, the first wireless radio signal, sent by Marconi from his ‘experimental station’ at Knowles Farm on the Isle of Wight. Not only was this the furthest a wireless signal had travelled at that time, it was also the first ‘over-the horizon’ transmission. Prior to this, it was believed that ‘the operating range of wireless would be restricted to the [optical] horizon.’ But on the 23rd of January 1901, in what became known as ‘Marconi’s first great miracle’ the arrival of three dots, a simple dit-dit-dit, at The Lizard Wireless Station, signalled not only the letter ‘s’, but also an escape from the visible and concrete, a flight from the material into the airy immaterial and unknown.Isolated and remote, the Lizard Wireless Station is on the very periphery of the terrestrial. When the rain comes down and the fog comes in the horizon evaporates. At night everywhere disappears. Each residence concluded with a live micro-FM transmission: Tuned in through an array of portable radios, the broadcasts were based on field-recordings made in a local landscape haunted by the architectural and archeological remains of communication and listening technology.

Concrete base of Marconi’s transmission mast at Knowles Farm, Isle of Wight. 2021
Fog Signal Building, Dungeness. 2019.
first horizon [extract]

Although based on field recordings the residencies began to bring sounds into the landscape, not only through transmission, but also in the fields of sound recorded. These fields include sounds hidden from audition and unavailable to human ears: the muted harmonic hum of antenna and automatic Morse of loose wires. But they also include instruments and technologies that might contribute to, and compose with the landscape. The air harp, a second-hand autoharp, prepared with the flotsam of things found and discarded, conspires to pluck voices from thin air, whilst the litho-telegraphy of pebbles collected from the localities of transmission, and used to tap out the dit-dit-dit of Marconi’s test signal. This geological intelligence tests substance and briefly brings into presence the absences of landscape. Sounding out and listening in, on abandoned radar rooms, the cracked silence of sound mirrors, and redacted subterranean hollows of cold war surveillance.  
On the Isle of Wight this palpitating tap, transmits the extinguished light of a 14th century lighthouse, once attached to St Catherine’s Oratory, whilst the rap of a pebble on the remains of a concrete base, lurking in the field behind Knowles Farm, summons forth the lost signals of Marconi’s transmission mast1.  

St Catherine’s Oratory and Lighthouse (built 1328). 2021
Concrete base of Marconi’s transmission mast erected in 1901.
Second horizon [extract]

The micro-FM transmitter has little power, and the signal is so weak that no one can tune into to hear. I am broadcasting to no one, and no one is listening.  For Framework afield, I have re-composed three horizons from the four broadcasts. Appearing in reverse chronological order each horizon corresponds with the three sites of transmission, remembering signals received and sent through the landscapes of the Isle of Wight, Dungeness and Lizard peninsular. Beginning with extracts from this year’s micro-transmission from the room at Knowles Farm where Marconi had conducted his early wireless experiments, the first horizon appeared with the misplaced bellow of Lizard Lighthouse foghorn. In the original Knowles broadcast, I used this acoustic beacon as a focal point, to locate the broadcast frequency and tune in through an array of radios dispersed into the landscape of the room. 

The sound of the foghorn is a lonely voice, in a lonely place, which seems to empty the landscape where it appears. In her fascinating recent book, The Foghorn’s Lament, Jennifer Lucy Allen, refers to Ray Bradbury’s ‘evocative and florid description of the foghorn’ as: ‘a voice that is like an empty bed beside you all night long, and like an empty house when you open the door and like trees in autumn with no leaves.’2 The audible hinge of a door opening into the first of horizon, welcomes in the empty loneliness of the misplaced Lizard foghorn, here haunted by the absent voice of the St Catherine’s Lighthouse foghorn, an instrument visible through the room’s window, but whose signal, ‘discontinued’ in 1987, remains now unheard3.

Disused Chain Home Radar Early Warning Station, St Boniface Down, Isle of Wight. 2021
Hythe Sound Mirror, near Dungeness. 2019
third horizon [extract]

The three horizons are haunted by the apparition of places unseen and sounds unheard: on the Isle of Wight, at a disused radar station, rain taps catastrophic messages into the water of a cattle trough, beneath which lies the abandoned secret of a cold war listening station. Whilst in roughs above Hythe near Dungeness, a crumbling sound mirror, tapped out into presence, keeps an ear out, for sounds yet to arrive. 

The Lizard foghorn looms and lows over the horizons, returning to close the second horizon, it opens the third in a brief characterful 4 duet with the three electronic beeps of the Dungeness fog signal. This final horizon disappears in an echoic flutter of geological telegraphy, as pebbles tap out the acoustics of a derelict World War 2 radar room, and the Lizard foghorn returns to signal absence. Lost in an empty sea, this sonic beacon keeps vigil, calling out for a response that never comes. And in this lonely [depressive] position, sound remains, pining for the lost, forgotten, and unheard.

I would like to thank the dance artist, Julia Hall for her creative participation, choreographed telegraphy and critical ear. I wold also like to thank Patrick for providing this opportunity and his relentless commitment to field-recording and the listening community.

mantlessPost transmission at Knowles Farm, Isle of Wight, May 2021.

three horizons will be broadcast on framework: afield on Sunday 13.06.21 from 11:00-12:00.
You can listen live via Resonance FM

You can also listen again via the framework website

framework always needs support to continue its commitment to field recording audio. You can help by becoming a patron via:
patreon.com

  1. The wooden mast was rumoured to have been sold, cut and appropraitely repurposed as a ladder.
  2. Allen, J.L. 2021. The Foghorn’s Lament. London: White Rabbit
  3. The St Catherine’s Lighthouse foghorn has had several voices. In 1948, Aubrey de Selincourt, described its changing tones : ‘[…] formerly it was a sick bull’s iterated bellow; now it’s a ghoul-groan ending in a grunt.’ A sound he ‘bears’ because he ‘cannot forget the ships and the men on them … listening.’ Aubrey de Selincourt. 1948. Vision of England: Isle of Wight. London: Paul Elek Publishers.
  4. Every foghorn signal, like every lighthouse beam is designed with a distinctive ‘character’, which enables it to be identified as belonging to a specific place. In fog signals this code is, the number of blasts and silent periods in each minute. The character of the Dungeness foghorn echoes Marconi’s test signal, with a succession of three quick blasts.

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