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
Is it Eating you? IMT Gallery
Is it Eating you? is a performance event curated by Mark Peter Wright as part of his solo exhibition I, The Thing in the Margins at IMT: ‘A night of sound, film and performance exploring non-human worlds. The title of the event takes its cue from Larry Cohen’s 1985 b-movie horror comedy, The Stuff. The plot involves a goo-like substance that is extracted from the ground and sold as frozen yoghurt. As the story unfolds we discover the yoghurt is a parasitic, even sentient organism that gradually takes over the human brain and turns people into zombies before shedding their skin. Inspired by Cohen’s film the evening will mix humour and horror: amplifying a host of matter and affects; from animals to microbes, technology to plants, soil and screams.’
The evening will feature:
Mira Calix (screening)
Esther Planas & Jennifer Ipekel
Graham Dunning & Tom White Pond Scum Light Show (Jennifer Pengilly, Ash Reid & Jamie Sutcliffe)
I will be performing a new variation of the rain choir with dissolving coral accompaniment.Since its installation at Winchester Cathedral, variations of the choir have been recomposed, installed and performed for various situations in the UK and Europe. In this dead sea variation, the original field-recordings of rain falling the guttering system of the Cathedral are joined by ‘live’ voices respired from the sarcophagi of deceased and fossilised corals dissolving in acid: a reaction echoing ocean acidification. In this resuscitated breath of Paleozoic air, molecules of carbon dioxide, exhaled 429 million years ago can be heard (and inhaled) as they dissolve back into the atmosphere. A collective sigh of dead sea air.