Imagination is the power of appearing things, not of representing them. The LIfe of Lines. Tim Ingold.
As part of two covert FM transmissions from Fog Signal Building, Dungeness, and Knowles Farm. Isle of Wight (IOW), I ‘prepared’ an autoharp with plectrum of dismantled clock hands and a pocket-sized museum of nautical litter collected from walks along the shoreline (tangles of fishing line, pebbles, shells, nails, feathers). As the sea breezes over the shingle and harp, fragments of text cut from the International Code of Signals are scattered, music suddenly appears, melodies plucked from thin and salty air mingling with the atmospheric static of FM transmission.
In this ethereal concert of aeolian song, music is immediately composed in correspondence with the breeze, melodies occurring neither in the objects or strings, nor even in the weatherly air, but appearing in-between them.
I borrowed this compositional method for a new series of drawings of sound on paper. These drawings or Correspondences, seek not to represent sound but to allow sound to appear, to draw the ear, by way of the eye, toward the potentiality of sound.
From Correspondence no.1 / no.2.
To compose the drawings, a small cardboard box was lined with two sheets of paper, and ‘prepared’ with relics from the preparation of the harp, together with fragments of charcoal, pencil, and broken ball points. The box was then weighed, stamped, and posted home second class. Three days later, having been handled with varying degrees of care, the box returned and the drawings appeared.
Composed in correspondence with the systemised transit of her Majesty’s Royal Mail, the drawings are quiet, slight, and insignificant. Occasional dots, hesitant lines, and dusty corners stained with inky stillness, mark time, and motion, providing visible residues of sounds that occurred and ceased.
A Blink From Sonic Eyes, Drawings from the Fleeting Archive of Towards Sound at re:future Lab (Berlin), Installation Shot. Image courtesy Ruth Wiesenfeld.
The composer and curator Ruth Wiesenfeld teaches Awareness Through Movement, at the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler, Berlin. Ruth initiated the project Toward Sound, which ‘collects visible traces of creative processes geared towards all sound-based arts exploring diverse approaches of rendering sonic imagination tangible.’ As part of Toward Sound, Ruth curates, The Fleeting Archive. This repository for visual ephemera of the compositional process, gathers: ‘Acts of drawing, sculpting, writing, filming, ordering, assembling and taking apart’, which ‘facilitate a deeper comprehension of ones imagined sound.’ Occasionally, selections from the Archive are exhibited in the guise of the ever-changing Rampant Wall.
I was delighted to have works accepted into the Archive, and subsequentlyapproached Ruth to see if she would be interested in taking part in a new Correspondence. The drawing would be composed in the space in-between us. I would prepare a drawing and post this to Ruth. On its arrival in Berlin, Ruth would listen to the appearance of the drawing as an appearing sound.
Correspondence no.4. 2022. (636 miles / 24 days) Winchester to Berlin
The lid of a small box was lined with grey sandpaper and its base with thick handmade watercolour paper. Inside I placed an ensemble of small sculptural instruments constructed especially for this transit, using marine selvedge from Dungeness and IOW combined with fragments of graphite, chalk, charcoal, and cardboard.
The correspondence was digitally tracked, leaving the UK on the 20th April and arriving in Niederaula, Germany on the 24th. It waited some time in non-EU customs for ‘preliminary import checks’, ‘processed’ and marked with a blue exclamation mark it arrived in Berlin on the 15th May. All instruments were broken in transit, but Ruth emailed:
‘I just opened the box, look what was drawn…a whole symphony. It will sit on my desk until sonic responses emerge.’
Piss Walk№ 6 is the first of my stained perambulations to be published in the form of a limited-edition set of 13 purchasable A6 postcards. Printed on uncoated 600gsm card and seamed in ‘sunny yellow’ the photographic sequence retraces the sixth of my early morning ‘lockdown’ walks, as I sniffed around the back streets of Winchester and along the river Itchen. Each card is rubber stamped on the reverse, with the date of the walk and numbered with its position in the sequence of damp patches encountered that day. As discussed in a previous post, my lockdown walks had no predetermined purpose other than a modicum of exercise and time away from the paralysis of Zoom. Rebecca Solnit notes that the casual acquaintance of a meandering stroll ‘allows you to find what you do not know you are looking for’. My meander, coupled with the quiet physical vacancy of the ante meridiem environment, acquainted me with the occasional and previously unnoticed, damp trails of urine left by the toilet of local hounds. It became my habit to follow and photographically collect these moist encounters. A habit that has resulted in the creation of an unintentional archive of (to date) thirteen Piss Walks.
On the leash of the dogs’ morning privy, I tail the stained criminal records of an intimate act in a public space: an evaporating souvenir of corporeal presence. The obsolete technology of the picture postcard would therefore seem to be an appropriately ephemeral method of recording and mapping these trails. Sent back to where we are not, addressing those we are apart from, the cheap, disposable souvenir of a postcard, announces presence whilst confirming absence. As it passes visibly through the public body of the Royal Mail, the postcard reveals a dysfunctional relationship with intimacy, a mischievous liaison, characterised by the saucy offence of seaside communique and an obsession with bodily function.
The 13 postcards of Piss Walk № 6 have now been sold and sent. Protected and concealed by the hard-backed buff of a manilla envelope, each postcard has passed modestly through the systemised transit of national (and international) mail. Extending the scent of canine territories from Winchester to Brighton to Bristol, Wolverhampton and beyond the sea to Canada, the postcards are a souvenir of an evaporated walk, a memory dispersed, fragmented and lost in the post.
In a second limited-edition, Piss Walk № 9 has been published as a complete set of ten postcards. Archived and preserved in an ironically acid free box, the postcards will remain enveloped and unsent as part of the Artists’ Book Collection at Winchester School of Art Library.
I am also delighted that the damp traces of Piss Walk № 4, have been included in Right Here Right Now, Observations, Speculations & Hallucinations; a new book gathering together the personal lockdown of numerous artists, designers and writers. Published by Book-Lab 2020 (isbn: 978-1-71680-539-4), designed and edited by Danny Aldred, RHRN is ‘a kind of visual atlas [providing] multiple perspectives of the same moment.’ There are plans to exhibit the book at the Design Transfer Gallery (Berlin) later this year.
I have thought I might ‘celebrate’ the end of the pandemic by offering a Piss Walk Tour of Winchester. In direct competition with English Heritage, Jane Austin’s House and the public tours of private education, the WinchesterPiss Walk Tour would meet beneath a plague flag on Water Lane and proceed along the river Itchen, through the Water Meadows, around the u-bend of Winchester College, before passing down the cloisters of Winchester Cathedral and finally through the Water Gate, past The Quaker Meeting House and back across the bridge to rejoin Water Lane. Along the way I would recount stories of infamous stains and perhaps leave a trail of Piss Walk postcards in our wake. DM to reserve your place.
On Friday the 31st January 2020, I arrived at Winchester School of Art Library to find a table ‘reserved for activity’. It had been one year and one day since Silence on Loan was added to the Artists’ Book Collectionat the WSA Library. Held without the protection of cover or sleeve the book (a single-sided 10” dubplate cut with a silent groove) is shelved at 741.64 HEG. Wedged between the hardbacks, this mute slither of vinyl is easily overlooked, but once a year it is taken from the shelf and placed on the platter of a portable turntable. [Re]turning at thirty-three and a third revolutions per minute the dubplate slowly pronounces the dust and harm that has come to its surface: the silence that has been lost. Once played the silence is put back on the shelf, where it is left un-sounding for another year.
As a performance, this annual audition is rather disappointing; nothing much happens for slightly more than nine-minutes. Those who are here to hear (and those library visitors who’s listening the silence loans) listen to silence being broken and unheard. Perhaps the tables are turned, and it is the listeners who perform the silence rather than the record player’s stylus. For many of those who came, this is a return to silence, having been here last year when Silence on Loan was performed at the moment of its inclusion into library stock. Just as the dust collects in the groove, so silence returns and gathers in the ear of those who come to listen and remember listening again.
Everyone who is, and now was, there to hear, receives a souvenir in the form of a Silence on Loan 2020 pin-badge, whilst a paper wristband and UV hand-stamp, temporarily confirm admission and attendance.
I had been inclined to record each performance, so that I might document and measure the changes that time brings to the silence. But such calculating permanence would surely imprison that which does not sound, that which is fragile, fugitive and evasive. Silence, is more concerned with the potential for sound than its absence, most [in]audible when we imagine what we don’t hear. The analogue frailty of a physical recording can be used to augment this un-sounding potentiality. The performance on the 31st was documented using an old portable audio cassette recorder. Such obsolete media is characterised by a distinct lack of [hi] fidelity, recording its own imperfections and imposing its own magnetic patina upon the sound it records. This failure to create a faithful document is enhanced by the recording not being monitored – the tape can be seen slowly winding from left to right, but no lights or needles visibly meter the units of volume.
The quantity of tape used measures the duration of silence recorded, transcribing [no] sound into a spatial length, but the cassette is never played, and the silence remains unheard. Paused at this distance, the silence waits next year’s anniversary, when it will be re-wound and next year’s silence recorded over this. An [un] sounding and unfaithful record, this audio document, simultaneously returns and erases the silence of another year.
The next performance of Silence on Loan will be in January 2021
A perfect summer’s day. Sunshine, slight breeze. The Ness ablaze with flowers.
Derek Jarman, Modern Nature
Seagulls flocking over Ness [field-recording]: 02:00 / mp3 / 2019
At 9:15 AM on the 24th July 1991, the Post Office collected a hand-written envelope, that had been dropped into a letter box in New Romney near Dungeness. A day later, a bright orange envelope, addressed in a flourish of black ink, fell onto the floor of a one-bedroom flat in Park Fields, Wolverhampton. Addressed by Derek Jarman this envelope is kept between the pages of a copy of Modern Nature.
In June this year, Modern Nature featured on the BBC Radio 4 series, Book of the Week. Beautifully read by Rupert Everett the programme was recorded at Prospect Cottage, Jarman’s home in Dungeness. Everett reads from the desk where Modern Nature was written, and an orange envelope inscribed. The letter enclosed within that envelope ends with the words: ‘Dungeness is all flowers.’
Since receiving the letter in 1991, I have wanted to return to Dungeness and see Prospect Cottage in full flower. This summer, twenty-five years after his death I finally returned. I say ‘return’ although I had never actually been to the Ness. And yet, having waited so long, it does feel like a return of sorts, a return to somewhere I have never been and to a memory I am yet to forget.
Listen. Listen now. Listen to Ness.
Ness speaks. Ness speaks gull, speaks wave, speaks
bracken and lapwing, speaks bullet, ruin, gale deception.
Ness speaks […] transmission, reception, Ness speaks
pure mercury, utmost secret, swift current, rapid fire.
Listen again. Listen back. Listen to the past of Ness […] 
As part of the ‘fifth continent’ Dungeness is set adrift, detached, flat and exquisitely bleak. Closer to Calais than London the Global Positioning System of my mobile, ignores Brexit and positions me firmly in France. On the shingle, the derelict shell of a wooden shed , is thought to have been built by Marconi as part of his experiments with the transmission of wireless radio signals across English Channel. The airwaves still chatter in the frequent modulation of broken English and spoken French. Like many of the buildings on the Ness, Marconi’s ‘Wireless shed’ has been converted into a modernist holiday home.
A physical and architectural neighbour to the Wireless shed , the Fog Signal Building is part of the Trinity House Experimentation Station . In August of this year it became the site of my most recent covert residency and micro-FM transmission. The industrial bungalow lies low in the shingle at the very tip of the headland. Rising from its flat concrete roof, the perpendicular pluck of a decommissioned radio tower breaks cover, transmitting a ghost of presence in the horizontal empty – Ness. Every morning a small electronic murmur of starlings settles on the tower, briefly recommissioning transmission.
Fog Signal Building once housed the air pumps, whose compressed breath, mouthed through an array of six horns, tested the distance and propagation of fog signals. An architectural ghost of these forgotten voices remains in a monochrome tower of mute horns, which peaks over the sine waves of shingle, bellowing silently, out to sea.
Formed through longshore drift, the ‘dangerous nose’ of the Ness is constantly wiped by oblique incoming winds. And yet the landscape seems strangely still, evacuated of presence, it oxidises quietly. On the horizon the sea is visible, but it’s sound remains distant and remote, an audible rumour behind a vast tide of shingle.
Considered one of the quietest places in the UK, in the 1920’s the Ness was referred to as ‘the nearest approach to silence […]’ and selected as a good site for the large array of three acoustic mirrors at Great Stone (aka Denge). The early warning system of these concrete ears extends along the Kent coast, from Denge to Hythe, onto Dover and the South Foreland Lighthouse, where in 1899, Marconi conducted the first international radio transmission.
As part of the HytheAcoustical Research Station, the sound mirrors at Hythe were constructed by the Air Ministry in the 1920’s with the largest of the two (30ft) being completed in 1929. Designed to survey the air, the mirrors listened out for the incoming propulsion of enemy aircraft. Although successful in tests, by 1936 the acoustic premonition of sound mirrors was superseded by the electromagnetic scan of RAdio Detection and Ranging.
At the summit of The Roughs, overlooking the beached military ranges below, the largest of the Hythe mirrors survives. Tagged and crumbling, its cracked concrete ear still listens. ‘[A]lone with nothing particular to listen to’, perhaps as Derek Jarman writes, ‘this is [its] finest hour.’ As I ascend the hill and reach the mirror, I hold a microphone out into the oracle [Auricle] of its hollow, and I am suddenly confronted with a burst of gunfire, the echo of its acoustic shrapnel shattering the mirror’s derelict silence. Francois Bonnet notes that ‘the echo, produced by the repercussions a multiplied sound […] establishe[s] a supernatural sonorous environment’. Brandon Labelle also recognises the ghosting of acoustic delay when he writes: ‘the echo is a sound that comes back to haunt [ …]’. Just as the mythical Echo wasted away, her bones turning to stone, so too the percussion of the ballistics recurs, an echoic and fugitive spirit, mineralised in the concrete of the mirror.
Air Harp n.3: 04:12 / mp3 / 2019
My previous transmissions at Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station were composed of sounds found and recorded in the surrounding landscape. At Fog Signal I decided to not only listen into the landscape, but also introduce other sounds into it. The ‘air harp’ is a cheap second-hand auto harp, ‘prepared’ with the flotsam of wood, screw and polystyrene washed up onto the Ness. Performed by the wind, this automatic aeolian harp, uncovers the murmuring music of sea breezes.
But from where and whence do these ghostly melodies come? Athanasius Kircher, who first described the Aeolian harp in 1650, ‘surmised that the wind comes in rays’, plucking the strings and causing them to sound. Whilst, in Physiological Disquisitions, the 17th century natural philosopher William Jones proposed that the music of the Aeolian harp originated not in the strings, but in the air itself. The harp operated as a ‘sound prism’ ‘[refracting] the wind,’ dividing and revealing ‘vibrations […] already present in the air.’
Pebble arc: 02:40 / mp3 / 2019
Fog Signal Transmission [harp and signal] edit: 03:00 / mp3 / 2019
The transmission at Fog Signal, begins as the beam of the Dungeness lighthouse automatically announces night fall. A line of pebbles cast onto the shingle, traces an arc of auditory space and presence. The auto harp sounds, divining the air and revealing a concert of signals already present. I transmit to an unknown and unknowing audience, the transmission, like sound itself, disappearing in the moment of its appearance. Signals lost are sent, received and lost again. No one is listening, nothing is heard.
 Robert Macfarlane & Stanley Donwood, 2019. Ness. London: Hamish Hamilton. p.5
 This shack appears in the landscape of Jarman’s The Garden (1990).
 It is difficult to confirm that Marconi built the ‘Wireless Shed’ in the 1890’s. The building is also refereed to as the Decca Radar Station, built by the Decca Navigator Company in 1961.
 Fog Signal Building and the Experimentation Station complex were redesigned by the Interior Architects Johnson Naylor
 Richard N Scarth. 1995. Mirrors by the sea. North Elham: Minnis Print Ltd. p.5
 Derek Jarman. 1991. Modern Nature. London: Century. p.72
 Francois J. Bonnet. 2016. The order of sounds. Falmouth: Urbanomic. p.25
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 visited the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at Tate Modern and saw for the first time the exquisite and fully unfurled Automobile tire print (1953). Choreographed by Rauschenberg, the print was of course performed by the foot of John Cage and the accelerator of a Model T Ford. The twenty-two foot scroll of tire ‘records nearly three revolutions of Cage’s wheel.’ Haunting the dense black tire of line I noticed another tread; a discreet embossed ghost of the un-inked front wheel. In the same room, quietly cornered by the tire is Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953). Together these works question not only authorship and authenticity but also the limits of the visible: the material or immaterial record of action.
These questions resonate with a number of my recent phonographic objects and actions; the microphone-less field-recordings of a silent tide, for which two silent 10” vinyl records are placed in the North Sea, one as the tide comes in and one as it goes out, and the release of silence lost, in which four silent records are [circumstantially] lost to the seas surrounding the UK.
[silent] tire printing
A few weeks ago a friend of mine told me about an auction she was helping to organise to raise money for the musician and artist Greg Gilbert, who had been diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer on his daughter Bay’s 1st birthday. I wanted to contribute, and so for Greg and in a sonic homage to Rauschenberg’s Automobile tire print, I placed a 7” silent record under the wheel of my 1964 MGB, drove over it, reversed and repeated that action three times (corresponding to the revolutions of Cage’s wheel). I then inked up the front tire, placed the paper record cover underneath it and repeated the action again, rocking the car gently forward and backward three times.
The turntable revolution of the 7″ record mimes that of the tire. The absence of sound printed into its grooves, now offering a silence interrupted by the material inscription of harm written upon the record’s surface.
[silent] tire print is an edition of one and will be part of the auction for Greg, which begins at 6pm on Thursday 9th March at Re:So in Southampton (viewing from the 7th March). You can also donate here to fund treatment for Greg not available on the NHS.
The penultimate ‘release’ of a silence losttook place at Cape Cornwall on Tuesday 16th August 2016, as a 10” silent vinyl record was thrown into the Celtic Sea. As with the previous two disappearances at sea (i.e. the North Sea and English Channel), the loss was quietly announced in the Lost/Found section of The Times newspaper: an announcement that acts as both a premonition and a record of loss.
‘Newspapers’, writes Steven Connor, ‘are not just daily, they make for the occurrence of days, turning days into dates […] For this very reason, newspapers can be used as timepieces, as when victims of kidnappings are photographed holding up a newspaper as proof that they are still alive.’ But proof of being here, now, quickly becomes proof of having been here, then. For Connor this circadian passing confers a melancholy upon the newspaper ‘Such sad stuff, newspaper, sad with the sadness of the lost, the missed…’ But stored as it is in the archive of The British Library, The Times keeps time too, holding every day in a forever yellowing stasis.
Geographically the word Cape refers to a point of land where two bodies of water meet. At Cape Cornwall an area of the Atlantic Ocean known as the Celtic Sea divides, flowing north into the Irish Sea and east into the English Channel. It was the loss of place that this insensible division of sea implies, which drew me to the Cape as a site for the release of a silence lost. The sea is of course unaware of its geographical division; a point augmented by the fact that the Cape, once erroneously believed to be the most westerly point of Britain, is no longer considered the cartographical location of the Celtic Sea’s borders: its limits eroded and redrawn by the fluidities of time and water.
The placeless-ness, that both the meeting of seas and dissolution of cartographic borders suggest, extends into the local Cornwall landscape. This area of the coast is littered with the silenced architectural remains of a once flourishing tin mining industry. At the very summit of the Cape a redundant chimney-stack, a monument to the mining industry, has a new purpose as a navigational aid for shipping. Like a lighthouse the chimney enables ‘mariners to establish precise locations offshore, to calculate distance, speed and course…’ a lonely but faithful ‘point of reference for human contact’: a haunting but tangible human presence. The chimneystack offers a silent, breathless constancy for those all at sea, it waits for those seeking the comfort of a known location: the coordinates of another.
The object of the vinyl record resonates with the silenced obsolescence of the chimneystack, whilst the announcement in The Times newspaper and the metadata of the photographed ocean offer coordinates for an absence: a silence allat sea.
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.’
I approached Supersymmetry via a car park lift illuminated in a narcotic violet glow. Cellotaped to the lift wall was a piece of A4 paper, upon which was printed ‘THIS LIFT DOES NOT SERVE THE 3rd FLOOR’. Interjected in felt tip between ‘The’ and ‘3rd’ was ‘2nd’. I got in anyway and was served with the 1st as promised, from here I took the stairs to the 3rd and final floor, where I entered the enclosed darkness of Ryoji Ikeda’s latest installation. It is ironically appropriate to enter the digital, dark matter of Ikeda’s Supersymmetry via an out of order lift and a dank walk up the concrete steps of a car park stairwell.
Supersymmmetry presents: ‘ an interpretation of quantum mechanics and quantum information theory from an aesthetic viewpoint […] drawing on [Ikeda’s] exchanges with scientist and engineers […] at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the worlds largest particle physics laboratory’.
The installation is divided into two separate parts: experiment and experience. Entering the first ‘experiment’ I am enveloped in a visceral bloom of base, intermittently pierced by sublime, frenetic pinpricks of sound. People gather like moths around three, elevated pools of squared and flickering light. Small round particles of matter roll across the surfaces of this illumination, generating patterns of shade, which shift, disperse and congregate. The motion is hypnotic, strangely reminiscent of those oily wave machines, so popular in the 1970’s. These wave machines were the domestic equivalent of the Executive Ball Clickers, whose cradle of steel spheres once provided an aspirational pre-glitch click to the ‘modern’ office soundscape.
From the experiment I proceed through a curtained blackout, toward the noise of experience. Synchronized bursts of light and data travel at speed down a corridor of screens accompanied by an interrupted cacophony of bleeps and blips. The sound suggests organised forms of communication and analysis, as if we were listening to something being questioned, measured and sent. Physically engulfed in the sensual broken waves of digital noise, I am surprised to be suddenly awash in childhood memories of Star Trek; beamed back to the deck of Starship Enterprise, where control panels flash and everything looks like it is doing something, when of course, it isn’t. As I look around I notice that most people are filming, immersed in Supersymmetry through the raised screen of their mobile phone, a gesture reminiscent of Spock, who would survey new worlds with his handheld Tricorder. A sense of pretense begins to intervene in my experience and I am suspicious that the ‘scientific and mathematical model’ that Ikeda presents is a facade, a beautiful, sensual but ultimately empty aesthetic experience.
In a sudden peak of brightness I look up and notice a series of wooden structures attached to the roof: they looked like upside down tables. Above these I can see damp stains of peeling paint. I realise that the structures have been designed to protect the technology of the installation from the holes in the car park roof. These uncomplicated structures offer an eloquent mathematical model for the solution to a real problem: how do we protect the fabrication of Supersymmetry from the reality of rainfall?
From the pavement outside Carroll/Fletcher I stare through a window at A film about a city (2015), part of the new Wood and Harrison exhibition An almost identical copy. The clinical austerity of Wood and Harrison‘s architectural model is touched with elements of futility as I notice hoards of miniature human forms sheltering under the canopy of a square, whilst others sit on a solitary bank of stadium seating, facing nowhere, waiting for nothing to happen. There is something desolate about this city, this idea of a city and I am reminded of the Talking Heads song The Big Country, in which David Byrne describes an aerial view of the perfect country:
I see the school and the houses where the kids are Places to park by the factories and buildings Restaurants and bars for later in the evening
Byrne concludes: I wouldn’t live there if you paid me to.
Unlike the ‘scientific and mathematical models’ of Ikeda, these models, reminiscent of train sets and Airfix kits, are intimate human spaces, they share a physical ratio with reality.
In the video installation 100 falls (2013), Harrison climbs a ladder ascending out of frame. A pause. And then a human dummy dressed as Harrison, drops to the floor. An obvious video edit and the lifeless dummy reanimates as Harrison. He stands up and proceeds to climb the ladder again. So it continues, one hundred times and then, one hundred more. As I talk to one of the Gallery administrators I am aware that behind his back, whilst we chat, Harrison continues with his pathetic ascent and fall, caught in a tragic, inevitable loop of self-harm. The sense of inevitability continues in Semi Automatic Painting Machine (2013) in which we observe various objects as they are mechanically conveyed through a process of being spray-painted. Amongst the bunting, plants and flip charts, we find John Wood, who was born with a face that looks like it has always been expecting this to happen. He is transported and sprayed white, turned, conveyed and sprayed high visibility yellow. Just as Harrison accepts the inevitability of his continual fall, so Wood is resigned to his place in the chromatic production line of the painting machine.
The downstairs gallery seems abandoned, models of tennis courts and industrial estates are deserted; the funfair has moved on. In the out of town car park of the video installation DIYVBIED (Do-It-Yourself, Vehicle Bourne Improvised Explosive Device), model cars randomly explode, not in a CGI altered reality sort of way, but in an indoor firework, Captain Scarlet sort of way. The cars look out of date, unexciting variations of the Hillman Avenger or Morris Marina (once the most popular car in the UK). As one car explodes and then another, I am reminded of those television images of motionless cityscapes, evacuated in response to telephone warnings and suspicious devices, scenes which are then suddenly reanimated by a controlled and remote explosion. As another door flies off another Avenger, every car becomes suspect and the anachronistic image becomes a contemporary premonition of landscapes to come.
As with all of Wood and Harrison’s work there is an obsessive attention to detail. In the gallery upstairs their almost compulsive obsession to order, results in a series of small, pointless and joyous interventions. In what appears to be the office work of bored and idle hands, drawing pins are organised, pencils sharpened, rulers bent and string measured, In the senseless world of Wood and Harrison, everyday objects are faintly rearranged and organised into poetic models, which question our perception of the tangible and concrete, perhaps much more than the aesthetic particle physics and sensuous digital immersion of Ikeda’s Supersymmetry.