Silence and weak signals live: part one  5:23 / mp3 / 2019
Silence and weak signals live: part two  5:28 / mp3 / 2019
Silence and weak signals live: part three  5:27 / mp3 / 2019
To mark the end of the exhibition of Various Silences at Winchester School of Art Library, I performed a short micro-FM transmission in Library 2. Silence and weak signals: for five poorly tuned radios, was accompanied by the live dissolve of a cretaceous ammonite, a dissolve that quietly released the fossilised air of ancient C02 into the atmospheric lull of library stacks. The performance begins with a damaged silence as I take Silence on Loan from the library shelf and drop the stylus into its groove. Tuning into the dead air between radio stations, I find silence and weak signals coming through the radios, whilst the tapping of the library shelves and architecture, calls substance into question and asks for a response from elsewhere.
Each day of the exhibition, a page of the erased found novel Red Silence: for the missing, was turned. As I removed the novel from the exhibition, the silent dust of language rubbed out and unsaid, remained on the cabinet floor.
On this day, one hundred and eighteen years ago, a test signal was sent from Knowles Farm on the Isle of Wight to the Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station on the Lizard Peninsular in Cornwall. At 5.32pm (the same time that I now post this here) a Post Office Telegraph was handed in at the Lizard Village Office, confirming receipt of the signal and declaring Marconi’s test ‘completely successful.’ The transmission was ‘a world record for long-range wireless propagation’ and the first time a wireless signal had been transmitted ‘over the horizon’. Prior to this, it was believed that ‘the operating range of wireless would be restricted to the [optical] horizon.’ (Rowe) But on Wednesday the 23rd January, 1901, in what became known as ‘Marconi’s First Great Miracle’ the arrival of three Morse code dots at The Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station, signalled not only the letter ‘s’, but also an escape from the visible: a flight from the material into the airy immaterial.
In that same year, at Poldu, some six visible miles from the Wireless Telegraphy Station, Marconi had begun construction of the largest transmitter ever built. The Poldhu station was charged with determining if wireless signals could be transmitted and received over the fathomless horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. On the 12th December 1901, the faint dit-dit-dit of Marconi’s test signal transmitted from Poldhu, was heard some 2100 miles away, at a receiving point on the appropriately named Signal Hill, in St John, Newfoundland, Canada. The signal was too weak to operate the Morse printer and could only be confirmed by the (h)ear(ed) witness of Marconi and his assistant George Kemp. Without visible evidence, the existence of a signal was disputed, even today the authenticity of the transmission continues to be questioned. Pat Hawker, a writer for the journal Radio Communication, states: ‘[W]hatever clicks Marconi and Kemp heard on that windy Newfoundland cliff, they could not have originated from the three dots automatically transmitted from Poldhu.’ That the existence of this inaugural signal of wireless communication should be so spectral and suspect, seems appropriate for a medium in which the perimeters of the real and imagined, the here, there, then and now are so diffused.
Tapping the air: weak signals at nightfall is a recording of a micro-FM transmission, composed and performed live at the Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station in August 2018.
The transmission was based on field-recordings collected on the Lizard Peninsular and surrounding environment; a landscape littered with the history and architectural remains of listening and communication technologies. The transmitted soundscape mingles local sounds with recordings made on the Isle of Wight and physically transported over the horizon to the Lizard station. The architectural ghosts of towers, wires and blast walls are sounded out by the air moving through them and the by the geological dit-dit-dit of Serpentine pebbles tapping out Marconi’s test signal upon them. The transmission began as the first illuminated arc of the Lizard Lighthouse signaled nightfall: weak signals lost in and to the visible landscape.
Tapping the air: weak signals at nightfall is featured on the NAISA Radio programme, Off the Beat(en) Track. Curated by Darren Copeland, Artistic Director of New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA), the programme is available online as part of the Deep Wireless Festival of Radio and Transmission Art.
In the autumn of 2018 I toured the air. The tour was problematic, not in terms of content or audience response, but in terms of what constitutes a tour. I decided that two performances, separated from each other in place and time, is the minimum axis required for a tour to occur. The bag was packed, the t-shirts printed.
The tapping the air tour consisted of two performed transmissions for six radios. It started in September at The Iklectic Art Laband concluded at the APT Gallery in October. Both micro-FM transmission were based on field-recordings made on the Lizard Peninsular during a covert residency at Marconi’s Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station in Cornwall: site of the world’s first ‘over the horizon’ wireless transmission.
Photography: Nicolò Becciu.
Tapping the air: for six radios and a piano was part of Eclectic Electronics, an evening of experimental sound work at the Iklectic, curated by Bernhard Living and including performances by Lucie Štěpánková, Lucia H Chung, Phil Durrant & Pat Thomas.
The performance began by tuning through the signal jammed London air in search of an available and vacant radio frequency. A vacancy found the six radios are individually tuned into the signal of the transmitted soundscape. However, the signal is never stable, the position of each radio and my physical proximity to them shift and recompose the sound transmitted, establishing a localised and dynamic soundfield.
This soundfield was haunted by the recorded dit-dit-dit of Marconi’s test signal being tapped out on the architectural remains of communication technologies that litter the Lizard landscape. The call of this tapping receives a live response in the geological tap of Serpentine pebbles on the frame and strings of the Iklectic piano. As the transmission closes the choreographer Julia Hall taps unseen on the external wooden walls and windows of the building: a signal coming through from the other side, testing substance and questioning presence.
tapping the air: for a fragment of chalk and any number of radios
edit / opening / 03:02 / mp3 / 2018
edit / ending / 03:39 / mp3 / 2018
At the APT Gallery,Tapping the air: for a fragment of chalk and any number ofradios, invited the audience to tune into its frequency. The performance began with the audible dissolve of a chalk fragment exhumed from the cretaceous geology of Alum Bay on the Isle of Wight (site of Marconi’s early radio transmissions and the Marconi Monument). As the International Ocean Boy slowly tuned into the slither of a vacant FM frequency, the prehistoric static of CO2 escaping from the dissolving chalk was absorbed into the emerging atmospheric shush of radio transmission.
On Saturday the 15th September I will be performing, Variation for six radios and a piano at the Iklectik, London. This live variation is based on recent field-recordings and transmissions at Marconi’s LizardWireless Telegraphy Station in Cornwall and is part of an evening of Eclectic Electronics curated by Bernhard Living. The evening includes performances by the excellent Phil Durrant & Pat Thomas, Lucia H Chung, Lucie Štěpánková, and a new film by Lisa Minaeva.
In August I returned to the Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station. These two small wooden huts are the oldest surviving purpose built radio buildings in the world. In 1901 Marconi’s Morse test signal was transmitted from the Isle of Wight (IOW) and received at the Lizard Wireless Station. Not only was this the furthest a wireless signal had been transmitted at that time, it was also the first ‘over the horizon’ wireless transmission. Prior to this it was believed that wireless radio signals would be confined to the ‘optical’ horizon. The reception of a simple dit-dit-dit, signalled not only the letter ‘s’, but also an escape from the visible and concrete: a flight from the material into the airy immaterial.
Last summer I began an unofficial, covert residency at the Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station. I spent the time listening to and recording from, a local landscape littered with the architectural remains of civil and military communication. At the conclusion of my residence I re-composed the field-recordings into an ephemeral landscape, transmitted live in a performed micro-FM transmission, broadcasting from the former ‘operating room’ of the Marconi Station.
This summer, in advance of my return to the Lizard, I travelled to the Isle of Wight. I used contact microphones to tap and listen into sounds underneath the apparent landscape: the hysterical Morse of Red Funnel air socks, the tap dance of footfall on the Marconi Monument in Alum Bay. Returning to the Wireless Station, I brought these recordings with me, physically transporting the signals over the horizon to the Lizard. Whist on the IOW I also sent a physical signal in the form a 7” vinyl record, cut with a silent groove and transmitted to the Wireless Station via Royal Mail (without the protection of sleeve or envelope.) On my arrival I found this scuffed silence waiting, kindly collected and shelved by Geoff, one of the volunteers at the Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station Museum.
On returning to the Wireless Station my aim was to compose a new work that would mingle the site of Marconi’s original transmission (IOW) with site of its reception (Lizard). I began by listening again, eavesdropping on the local landscape and its changes. I extended my listening along the communication coast from the Serpentine factory at Church Cove to the secret WW2 tunnels at Porthcurno. I also started to introduce signals into the landscape, tapping out the dit-dit-dit of Marconi’s test signal on the architectural revenants of listening and transmission: the derelict Orlit and suffocated air shafts of the subterranean Royal Observer Corps early warning station, the Dry Tree Menhir (standing stone) surrounded by the Earth Satellite Station on Goonhilly Down. Tapping listens in, fathoming space and testing substance, it both confirms and questions presence: I am here, is someone there?
The Wireless Station is on the very periphery of the terrestrial. There is of course absolutely no mobile signal. When the rain comes down and the fog comes in the horizon evaporates. At night everywhere disappears, the intermittent tinnitel hush of ocean and occasional creak of air offering only brief moments of location. I had originally intended to transmit from inside the Wireless Station, but decided that bringing the broadcast into the landscape would encourage interference and amplify the loss of signal The transmission started at 9pm with the scuffed silence of the record disappearing unheard into the landscape. As silence revolved on the turntable, the crepuscular beam of the Lizard Lighthouse started to rotate, automatically announcing the end of daylight and approach of nightfall. Broadcasting at night immersed the transmission in the atmospheric weather of radio: a signal lost to the landscape and the static of night falling upon it.
In April I took part in the Transient Topographies conference at The National University of Ireland in Galway. This fascinating international conference brought together artists, writers and scholars to explore ‘space and interface in digital literature and art.’ Whilst in Galway, the artist, musician and writer Sharon Phelan invited me to take part in a short interview for a show on RTE Lyric FM. During the interview we discussed my covert residency and transmission at Marconi’s Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station in Cornwall, and the broader themes of time, place, materiality and loss, explored in the paper I had delivered at the conference. Serendipitously, the faintest tick of an unobserved wall clock conspired to interrupt our first recording and we had to move our chairs away from said clock so as to keep time at a distance and out of the microphone’s earshot.
You can hear the interview and listen to the clock not ticking, here.
Thanks to Sharon for adeptly editing my words into sense and to Anne Karhio for inviting me to speak at the conference.
I am delighted to be speaking at the Transient Topographies conference organised by The National University of Ireland in Galway. Transient Topographies: Space and Interface in Digital Literature and Art is the second Galway Digital Cultures Initiative conference, and will take place at the Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Studies, Galway, from Friday 20th April to Saturday the 21 April 2018.
My paper, Tapping the air: a wireless topology of listening and communication on the Lizard Peninsular, is based on a covert residency and micro-FM transmission at Marconi’s Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station, Cornwall, last summer. In a choreographed assemblage of original field-recordings, imagery, text and [attempted] live micro-FM transmission, the paper explores the development of the project within the context of listening, materiality, and loss.
Travelling to Galway is a return of sorts, serendipitously retracing Marconi’s own radiophonic footsteps: following the first transatlantic wireless transmission from his Poldhu transmitter in Cornwall to Signal Hill in Newfoundland, commercial interests led Marconi to move to Ireland, where, in 1907, he built the Clifden wireless station in Connemara, County Galway. The journey also retraces my own family’s emigration from Eire. As a child in the 1920’s, my father, together with his parents and sisters, became economic migrants, leaving home and Connemara for the damp outskirts of Manchester. My father died in 1975, without ever returning to Ireland. In 1987 I returned with[out] him, to find the house he had left, the place where he was born. The elderly woman who now lived in the tiny one-up, one-down, labourer’s cottage, very kindly invited me in for tea, and told me she had moved into the cottage when my father’s family had moved out. Years later I learned that the cottage, our ancestral home, had been demolished and there was nowhere now to return to. Marconi’s Clifden Wireless station is still disappearing, its buildings abandoned to ruin, its contents sold for scrap and no employees surviving to communicate and transmit its history.
Tapping the air: transmission edit part 3. 3:00 / mp3 / 2017
The landscape of the Lizard peninsular is haunted by the architectural remains of listening and communication: from the mast array and antenna at Lizard and Poldhu, to the blast walls of the WW2 radar station at RAF Pen Olver and RAF Dry Tree, the abandoned underground listening of the Royal Corps nuclear monitoring station (a place which still does not appear on maps) to the looming low of the Lizard foghorn and galactic ear of the Earth Satellite Station on Goonhilly Downs . During the residency at The Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station these hosts of signals sent, received and lost, became the primary focus of the field-recording process, a process which itself became a form of eavesdropping, a listening-in on landscape, a tapping into listening.
Tapping the air: transmission edit part 3. 3:00 / mp3 / 2017
The residency concluded with a micro-FM transmission from the former ‘operating room’ of the station. Tuned-in through six portable radios the performed transmission was based on field-recordings made in the Lizard landscape. These recordings included sounds available to ear and others occluded from audition: the Aeolian strum and automatic Morse of antennas and loose wires at Poldhu, the perimeter hum of security fences at RAF Dry Tree and the Earth Satellite Station on Goonhilly downs, the sentry pulse of Lizard Lighthouse foghorn.
Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station was the site of Marconi’s first ‘over-the-horizon’ wireless transmission. Prior to this, it was believed that wireless communication was restricted to the optical horizon. In January 1901, the reception of a simple di-di-dit, signalled not only the letter ‘s’, but also an escape from the visible: a flight from the material into the airy immaterial, from permanence to transience. Steven Connor writes: ‘The wireless world promised to cut our connection to the sluggish and annoyingly chopped-up world of time and place and bodies and […] matter.’ The medium of radio offered an insubstantial and ephemeral terrain, where place comes through and passes away. In the atmospheric dead air of this wireless landscape, we hear not only the dissolution of space and substance, but also the ‘fracture and fluctuation of time…’ (Connor).
I am delighted to announce that two new works for radio will be broadcast as part of Radiophrenia 2017, which begins broadcasting at midnight on Monday 6th November. Radiophrenia is a ‘temporary art radio station, offering a two-week exploration of sound and transmission arts. Broadcasting live from Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts on 87.9FM, the station aims to promote radio as an art form, encouraging challenging and radical new approaches to the medium.’ Radiophrenia will also be available online.
The two works will be broadcast on the 8th and 9th of November and the full Radiophrenia schedule is available here.
Tappng the air: a wireless ecology of the Lizard Peninsula.
Radiophrenia: 09/11/17 | 09:30 – 10:00
Wireless, the air receives us: ‘scattered souls, in expected or else irremediable exile from matter…’ (Gaston Bachelard).
In the summer of 2017 I took a holiday and covert residence at The Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station; built by Marconi in 1900 and site of the first ‘over-the-horizon’ wireless communication. Prior to this, it was thought that wireless communication was restricted to the optical horizon, there had to be a ‘direct line of sight’ between transmitter and receiver.
The ‘residency’ concluded in a live micro FM transmission to an audience of one, in what once was the ‘operating room’ of the wireless station. Broadcasting through six radios the performed transmission was based on field-recordings from a local landscape haunted by the architecture of listening and communication: the looming pulse of the Lizard Lighthouse foghorn, the automatic Morse of loose wires and antennas at Poldhu (site of the first trans-Atlantic wireless transmission), the perimeter hum of wire fences that surround the galactic ear of Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station and the abandoned listening-in of RAF Dry Tree.
The piece opens and concludes with the di-di-dit, of Marconi’s test signal, tapping away at the surface of the Wireless Telegraphy Station, a signal answered by the ethereal tap of another letter ‘s’ as performed on the nearby walls of a derelict radar room at RAF Pen Oliver.
the silence of nostalghia Radiophrenia: 08/11/17 | 12:00 – 13:00
One part of a trilogy of silenced films, in the silence of nostalghia, all dialogue and non-diegetic sound has been removed from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1983 film Nostalghia.
The silence that survives pulls the background into focus, concentrating the attention of the ear on the sonic details of an emerging landscape, wet with the revenants of footfall, entrance and exit. The textures of optical-sound silence, reminiscent of the atmospheric leaks and spillages of radio transmission, amplify the spectral and oneiric qualities of a soundscape where apparitions of place and time seem to appear, disappear, dissolve and fragment.
thunder for three guitars and a trowel | 07:00 | 2017 | mp3
I am delighted to be included in the programme for Datscha Radio 2017. From the 25th August the German radio station will be broadcasting ‘a garden in the air, combining radio, gardening, hospitality and contemporary discourse in a live radio festival from a garden in the north of Berlin.’ The five day radio festival will also be available as a live stream via the Datscha Radio website and subsequently archived online.
The work included was composed specifically for the festival and is based on a series of new field-recordings, which take full advantage of a particularly dank English summer. The field in which I recorded is local and colloquial; that is my own back garden, of uneven bricks, plant pots and things I must at some point do. Things get left in back gardens; they escape use and end up there, waiting for attention, purpose and repair. The nearness of such an enclosed field is helpful to the act of recording rain. I am close to my recording equipment and the site of the transitory unpredictable precipitous event I wish to record. When it rains the garden pronounces an array of wet locutions, from the interrupted drop of rain lolling through the creased guttering of leaves, to the hollow ceramic timpani of a garden pot I must fill and the occasional plink of a seldom-used trowel.
The field recordings used in the new piece differ from many of my earlier works, which are focused upon recording the sound of what is there. In order to record I make myself absent, ensuring my presence does not intrude. I aim to disappear. Informed by the timpani and plink of things left out in the rain, more recent work has included the initiation of sound, introducing things that sound into the field. There is still a sense in which I am distant (I do not attempt to play the things or acoustically intrude) and there is no desire to force the sonic environment into a musical form. The things become instruments for sounding out place, a means of fathoming the patterns and pause of air and rainfall. The arrangement or gardening of things becomes a sort of physical score, a sculptural and horticultural gamelan for the weathered performance of rainfall.
The majority of field recordings used in thunder for three guitars and a trowel were recorded on the early evening of the 18th July. Around 8 o’clock that evening, the sky became yellow, leaves greened, air quickened and shushed. At 8.33pm the first fret of rainfall plucked at the strings of a guitar ‘set up’ with contact microphones and left out to the elements. The pattern thickened as the thunderstorm progressed, the water interrupting the signal from the contacts. Slowly it passed and the garden dripped with the return of birdsong metallizing in the resonance of a crash cymbal and the plaintive wet tick of trowel. The next day I found the silent petrichor of a damp forlorn guitar waiting in the garden, unstrung and murdered by rainfall.
In the aerial garden of the Datsha Radio the rain returns, a low that once moved across a small back garden in Hampshire, now moves across Berlin. A storm now passed continues to excite the air and pour acoustically down.
I recently composed a new soundwork for Sonospace, the online sound art gallery, curated by Harry Sumner. The piece is based on field-recordings made on a short walk through the water meadows near St Cross Hospital in Winchester. This path follows the River Itchen and is part of Keats Walk, which retraces the steps of the poet who visited Winchester in 1819. On the 19th September 1819, Keats traced the river, through the meadow and along the desire line of this footpath. Returning from his walk he composed OdeTo Autumn, a poem of three stanzas in which language pronounces a landscape trembling with sound:
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
I did not choose my route for its association with Keats, although, like him I was drawn to the soundscape of the meadow. I have walked the trail many times, although only recently have I noticed a particular note hanging in the landscape. As I approached St Cross, a distant and quiet whine appeared, a ‘treble soft’, on the cusp of audition, intermittent yet regular. Approaching closer, the whine was joined by others in a phased pattern of plaintive cries, at once near and at a distance. The sound, as fragile as swallows and reminiscent of the electronic whistle of radio tuning, seemed to possess a form; an acoustic arc, that begins, curves and closes. The arc turned out to be the sound of people moving through the landscape, opening and closing the four kissing gates, which interrupt the path. As I meet the first gate and perform the choreography of its action, lifting the latch and swinging the kiss of its arc, I hear space opening and feel the vibration of its close in my hand. The sound trembling through my body causes a blurring of the distinction between the materiality of my body, the gate, and the landscape. In the sounding of our ‘vibrant matter’, the material and immaterial are hinged.
The physicality of the gesture and the vibration it creates, directs attention away from the surface and toward the interior, the whine being only the audible tip of a soundscape detained in substance: a ‘Music, slumbering’ (Coleridge) inside the gates metallic arch.
In a line with four arcs, contact microphones are used to record and listen to this internal soundscape. Recording each gate in succession, a line of movement is mapped through a landscape, and the abstract terrain beneath the visible uncovered. Distinct from the ‘soft floating witchery of sound’ present in Coleridge’s Eolian Harp, this micro-phonic contact reveals a ‘wailful choir’, a mournful howl of space rent open. Awoken from its slumber we can hear substance singing as it disappears.
The exhibition in Sonospace allows images to be used with the sound exhibited. I wanted to emphasise the abstract qualities of the work, so rather than simply using imagery from the walk, I decided to appropriate images from other sources: images e from other places, but which seemed to correspond with the sound of the arc.
 A ‘half-round, rectangular, trapezoidal or V-shaped enclosure with a hinged gate trapped between its arms’, a kissing gate is so named because of the gentle collision of its close: ‘to kiss, to caress, to ‘touch gently’. The word ‘kiss’ is onomatopoeic in origin: ‘an imitation of the sound of the thing meant.’
Kinokophonography Compliation CD: Illustration T.S. Selm
In the early evening of the 13th May 2015, I was fortunate to be part of the listening event Kinokophongraphy at the British Library Sound Archive. Organised by Kinokophone the evening turned our gloaming ear toward a gathering of ‘disappearing sounds’, which included the sound of cobblestones as pronounced by the plastic wheels of ‘rollaboard’ luggage trolleys and the iconic Australian Hills Hoist rotary clothesline. The poignancy of the evening was perhaps encapsulated in the opening sound, recorded by John Sincock in 1983 and introduced by Cheryl Tipp (Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds). The recording ‘held’ by the British Library is a record of the last Kauai O’o A’a, a now extinct songbird, from the Hawaiian island of Kauai:
‘Singing from an old nest site […] our lone O’o A’a is calling for his mate who would never respond.’
Kinokophone has been organising and curating these listening events since 2010, bringing together artists and field-recordings from places all over the world. In October they released their first compilation CD, with a selection of recordings from submissions made between 2010-2015. Artists include: Jez riley French, SALA, Francisco López, Coryn Smethurst and Steven Brown. I am delighted that my piece,air struck gently, (presented at the event in May) has been included in this gathering of sounds.
In a limited edition of 100 the Kinokophonography Compliation CD is available to order here