Silence on Loan. 2022. Performance broadcast live on Instagram
On the last Monday of January 2022, the annual performance of Silence on Loan, took place at Winchester School of Art Library. It was performed alone in the early morning before the library opened to the public and without an audience present. During the silence I wore industrial Ear Protectors, so even I could not hear the silence as it occurred.
The annual performance was announced in advance on social media and this blog, which included an invitation for people to not attend or listen. The performed silence was however, broadcast live (and mute) via Instagram, so that those who wished, might watch and not listen, together. The Instagram recording of the broadcast was unceremoniously deleted (by accident) immediately after the performance.
In order for those not listening to inform others of their lack of attention, a limited edition, I Am Not Listening, pin-badge, was available to purchase and wear on the day. The 1” pin sold out, adorning the lapels of people not listening, as far apart as New York and Keyhaven, Australia, Berlin and Wolverhampton.
This year, Silence on Loan was unheard by what could have been its largest audience to date. A big thank you to all those millions of people around the world, who were not listening.
Last year the annual performance of Silence on Loan, was postponed by the ‘silent epidemic’ of COVID. In January, I had hoped to perform a socially distanced version, completely alone in the Winchester School of Art Library, where the publication is held – a lonely withdrawn silence, performed but unheard. But lockdown restrictions meant that visiting the library was not permitted and the annual performance had to be rescheduled, eventually taking place in August 2021 – coincidently in the same week as the publication of my essay Withdrawn from use: silence, listening and undoing, in the journal Organised Sound 26/2 (Cambridge University Press).
This year silence has been recalibrated, returning the annual performance to January so as to synchronise with the original month of publication and the inclusion of Silence on Loan into the Artists’ Books Special Collection at WSA in 2019. But this year’s performance is different to the previous three. In remembrance, perhaps, of the socially distanced, isolated performance which never occurred, the 2022 performance will take place behind the closed magnetic gates of WSA library 2.
On Monday 31st January, around 8:30 am, before the library opens and without visitors or audience, the unpaginated spiral slither of Silence on Loan, will be taken from the shelf and placed on the turntable platter. The unheard audio cassette that has documented every silent anniversary will be rewound. Last year’s silence will be simultaneously erased and recorded over with this. I will keep vigil as silence rotates, my ears defended from it: silence occurring with no one there to hear.
There is strictly no admittance to this performed anniversary of Silence of Loan. But you are invited to not listen with me. You may not listen wherever you are, at home, at work, alone or in company. You may also watch but not listen via a live muted Instagram broadcast at @sebastiane_hegarty
A new album ofseven Séances for air guitar hour hand and harp is now available on Bandcamp.
In a concert of paranormal music, notes are plucked from thin air as the haunted strum of votives, hour-hands, and the missing fingers of an amputated doll’s hand, play upon the strings of an electric guitar and abandoned autoharp . Divined in séance with the breeze and occasionally breaking through the interference of a faulty guitar socket, invisible melodies emerge, cluster and evaporate:
teasing […] sound out of
substance: the air paired fibrous with syllables:
Earth as Air. Gustaf Sobin
The ethereal music of aeolian instruments, has long been associated with other worlds and ghostly communication. In his poem, The Eolian Harp (1796), Coleridge refers to: ‘Such a soft floating witchery of sound’. For Coleridge music sleeps in the air:
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air Is Music slumbering on her instrument.
William Jones, the 17th century natural philosopher, proposed that this ‘slumbering music’ originated not in the strings of the harp [or guitar], but in the air itself. The instrument operated as a ‘sound prism’ ‘[refracting] the wind,’ dividing [divining] and revealing ‘vibrations […] already present in the air.’
Séance for harp hour hand and bird song. 2021. Film still.
As a premonition of the album’s forthcoming release, a new short film made in correspondence with the piece Séance for harp hour hand and birdsong is available to view on Vimeo.
The full septet, Séance for air guitar hour hand and harp, is available as a digital download via Bandcamp. The album download includes a bonus track, Séance for stones radio mast hour hand and harp, recorded in 2021 at Knowles Farm on the Isle of Wight, and featuring the litho-telegraphy of a pebble tapped on a missing radio mast, choreographed and performed by the movement artist Julia S. Hall. As the former location of Marconi’s radio experimentation station, Knowles Farm was the site of the first ‘over the horizon’ wireless transmission to The Lizard Telegraphy Station, Cornwall in 1901. This track, which featured at the Helicotrema X festival of recorded audio (Venice, Barcelona, 2021) is also included with the hand-rendered, artist limited editions. These physical editions are available in three forms: 1. Artist edition audio cassette + album download; 2. Artist edition A6 Séance card + planchette + album download; 3. Very limited full set of, audio cassette + Séance Card + planchette + album download. Full details below.
Séance for air guitar hour hand and harp: Artist Ltd Edition Audio Cassette C40 Cassette + album download + bonus track Edition 6 An artist limited edition audio cassette. Hand rendered each cassette is individually numbered and signed/dated with an artist edition stamp. Designed and produced by the artist, the cover/insert is printed on tracing paper and each cassette and case hand labelled with individual letters and numbers referring to its position in the edition sequence. The cassette includes the bonus track, Séance for stones radio mast hour hand and harp, recorded in 2021 at Knowles Farm on the Isle of Wight.
Séance for air guitar hour hand and harp: Artist Ltd Edition Seance Card A6 Seance Card + planchette + album download + bonus track Edition 20 An original artist edition A6 postcard, printed on luxurious 600gsm superfine card, uncoated on both sides. This artist edition postcard has three visual variations (readings). Hand numbered, signed/dated with the artist edition stamp, each postcard is accompanied with a free album download and a rubber-stamped hand planchette, which may be used to hold séance with other worlds. The postcards have been shuffled and will be sent out in the order divined by the shuffle.
Séance for air guitar hour hand and harp: Full Set: Artist Ltd Edition Audio Cassetteand A6 Seance Card C40Audio Cassette + A6 Seance Card + planchette + album download + bonus track Edition 5 Combined artist limited edition of A6 postcard (with hand printed planchette), audio cassette and full album download including bonus track.
Please note: Cat is for scale purposes only and not included in package.
I am honoured and excited to have a new sound work included in Helicotrema X. On its tenth anniversary, the recorded audio festival takes place in Venice, with it’s long time partner and collaborator Palazzo Grassi/ Punta della Dogana, before moving to Prato hosted by Estuario, and concluding at Hangar in Barcelona – the first time the festival has taken place outside Italy.
third horizon, is a new soundscape based on field-recordings made during my covert residencies at the Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station (where the first ‘over the horizon’ wireless transmission was received in 1901), Fog Signal Building on the edge of the shifting liminal spit of Dungeness, and my most recent occupation at Knowles Farm, Isle of Wight – once home to Marconi’s experimentation station from whence that original wireless signal was sent.
The horizon opens with the acoustic beacon of the Lizard Foghorn, sounding out place and providing a locational fix. As this signal begins a duet with the three-beep character of the Dungeness Foghorn, place begins to disperse and mingle. Travelling through air, place, time and substance, sound unveils a spectral landscape, where the geological chat of tapped pebbles, taps away at matter as it repeats Marconi’s Morse code test signal (the di-di-dit of the letter ‘s’). Rapping on the door of substance, this litho-telegraphy reveals and interrogates ]landscapes littered with the architectural revenants of listening and communication history: the hollow volumes of the Lizard Wireless Station, the abandoned echo of decommissioned radar rooms, the unearthed cold war shiver of a redacted subterranean nuclear listening station. of Marconi’s lost transmission mast. The apparition of all these ghostly raps associate with the aeolian hum of antenna, the oceanic loll of broken waves, and automatic morse of rain and loose wires. As the weather comes in and the rain comes down, the foghorns return, sounding a final lament and keeping an audible watch on the horizon as it closes and disappears. At Knowles Farm, the dance artist and maker, Julia Hall, taps out Marconi’s test signal on the hollowed concrete base of Marconi’s lost transmission mast. The apparition of all these ghostly raps associate with the aeolian hum of antenna, the oceanic loll of broken waves, and automatic morse of rain and loose wires. As the weather comes in and the rain comes down, the foghorns return, sounding a final lament and keeping an audible watch on the horizon as it closes and disappears.
Remains of the original Marconi transmission mast base at Knowles Farm, Isle of Wight
a new work for framework: afield. Broadcast on Resonance FM Sunday 13.06.21 11:00-12:00. Listen live via Resonance FM
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 radiowebsite.
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.
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 andis 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.
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.
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.
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 characterful4 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.
Post 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 frameworkwebsite
framework always needs support to continue its commitment to field recording audio. You can help by becoming a patron via: patreon.com
The wooden mast was rumoured to have been sold, cut and appropraitely repurposed as a ladder.
Allen, J.L. 2021. The Foghorn’s Lament. London: White Rabbit
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.
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.
Peter Christopherson: Nothing here now but the recordings
Constrained Radio, a weekly show for SoundArt Radio in Devon, is curated by the writer, artist, and teacher Mark Leahy. For the latest edition, Nothing here now, Mark and I collaborated on a montage of found sounds, field recordings, documented paranormal voices and experimental music. With a title shamelessly cut from the Industrial Records album of early tape experiments by William Burroughs, the co-curated hour invokes and divines the unseen, uncanny and ethereal landscapes of the unknown. Radio is a perfect channel for such sonic divination. Steven Connor writes, ‘what is heard in the atmospherics [of radio] [is] the fracture and fluctuation of time; […] a time out of joint.’ Marconi himself believed that his wireless signals might ‘pick-up the sounds of long-dead men […] drowned in the Atlantic.’ In the magnetic ether of radio transmission, the past and the future ‘leaks through’.
‘What I say goes.’ writes Connor. Our voice leaves and takes the air. According to Konstantin Raudive, the vocal entities of EVP, expressed a preference for communication via the airwaves, with one voice proclaiming, in what I like to imagine is an accent somewhere between the Carry-on of Kenneth Williams and vaudeville of Frankie Howard: “What a rascal, switch on the radio!” Raudive believed radio was so popular on the other side: ‘…various groups of voice entities […] operate[d] their own stations.’
Nothing here now, opens with a premonition, during which various sonic entities breakthrough: Edison taps out a spiritual telegraph, whilst a mother speaks with her departed son, a fragment of Radioland is found as a test signal tap, tap, taps on the wooden shell of Marconi’s Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station in Cornwall.
In three movements the broadcast mingles the possessed voice of children and EVP excavations of composer Michael Esposito, with airs of animal spirits recorded in Xingu in 1975 and looming ‘disturbed trance’ of Alice Kemp’s ‘A Gold Blade To The Back Of The Head.’
The second movement opens with Sally Ann McIntyre’s, Collected Huia Notations (2017), which ‘re-collects’ from several western musical transcriptions, the extinct voice of the Huia bird. Transcribed to wax cylinder these vanished ‘songs’ can be heard quietly disappearing again. Stephen Cornford’s, Electrocardiographs of a Cathode Ray Tube (2016), medically and methodically surveys the surface of expired technology. This section also includes a recording of my performance of Séance for six radios at the John Hansard Gallery in 2019.
Sally Ann McIntyre
Seance for hour-hand and harp
The final movement opens with the paranormal music of Séance for hour hand and harp: the tapping hour-hand from a dismembered clock plucking music from thin air. A found answerphone message from my own archive of found recordings is followed by Gwen’s Prayer (2005) from David Clegg’s Stories from the Trebus Project, a project where Clegg worked to capture the stories ‘of people living with dementia; stories ‘from the edge’ that would otherwise have been lost.’ The broadcast concludes with Alice Kemp’s Secret room accessed by a passage written in green ink (2016) and Psychic TV’s Proof on survival. Recorded without microphones, using Zuccarelli Holophonic, Proof on survival records the sound of soil falling on a coffin as, ‘Ringo’ (a skull, which is also the transmitter for the Zuccarelli system) is buried ‘alive’ in a grave in Farnham.
Nothing here now is broadcast on SoundArt Radio at 12pm on Wednesday (24/06/20). If you are in Totnes you can tune in on 102.5 FM or you can listen live on-line at: soundartradio.org.uk There is a full track list on the soundart radio website and the programme will also be available in the soundartradio archive.
Coincidently, the cover of “Nothing here now but the recordings” (1981), was designed by Peter Christopherson and the album curated by Genesis P-Orridge, who also wrote the sleeve notes. Genesis ‘dropped he/r body’ in March of this year.
As the publisher of the artists book Silence on Loan, I have been asked to supply the five Legal Deposit copies of the publication to The Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries in Edinburgh. The original Legal Deposit copy has already been deposited with the British Library and these five additional copies are for the remaining Deposit Libraries: The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford (BLO), The National Library of Scotland (NLS), Cambridge University Library (CUL), Trinity College Library, Dublin(TCD), and the National Library of Wales (NLW).
Each hand-stamped copy is identified with the initials of a specified library and accompanied by a typed letter providing details of the publication. As with all prints of Silence on Loan, the Legal Deposit copies are published without the protection of a sleeve or cover. The deposits were sent recorded delivery and signed for by The Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries.
Together with the original copy of Silence on Loan in the Artists’ Book Collection at Winchester School of Art Library (University of Southampton), these Legal Deposits create a form of silent archive, quietly gathering dust and harm in the ‘closed stacks’ of the libraries’ catalogue.
Searching for the publication via SOLO ( Search Oxford Libraries Online), I discover Silence on Loan is stored ‘off site’ with a status of ‘closed stack’: part of a collective silence, held, forgotten and perhaps never heard, but always being written.
At the end of January 2019, a silent vinyl record was quietly slipped into the Artists’ Book Collection at Winchester School of Art Library. The latest edition in an on-going series of silent releases, Silence on Loan is a single-sided 10” vinyl disc or dubplate. Cut with a silent groove, this dubplate is not a copy or replication of silence, but rather a record of a moment when nothing was recorded.
Silence on Loan is shelved without the protection of cover or sleeve so that the harm and dust that comes to its surface, might write an audible trace, a phono-graph, of its presence in the collection. The mute addition to the library stock was announced with a ceremonial playing of the [unrecorded] silent record. The audience was small, including those who had come to listen and other library users, whose audience and listening the silence borrowed. It is intended that this performed silence will be repeated annually, or at least until the damage sustained results in the record itself becoming unplayable and dumb.
Various Silences: 1999 – 2019 03/04/19 – 29/04/19
Winchester School of Art Library Park Avenue, Winchester, SO23 8DL Opening Times Under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act (2003), the publication of Silence on Loan (ISBN: 978-1-5272-3880-0) requires that a copy ‘of the same quality as the best copies’ be deposited with the British Library. The ‘original’ Silence on Loan is exhibited with this dubbed and legally required ‘copy’ in an exhibition of Various Silences at the WSA Library. The exhibition which is open until the 29th April, includes: two seas, one stylus, four records (one missing), and an altered book. I have written a post about the exhibition for the WSA library blog: here
The earliest work exhibited, Red Silence: for the missing (1998-1999) is a found novel, erased over the period of one year, whilst I was studying for my PhD at Winchester School of Art. In rubbing away at the potential sound of printed text, certain words survived, leaving fragments of left over phrases and meaning on the redacted quiet of the erased page.
The exhibition also includes the empty archival sleeve for Silence Lost: North Sea. Silence Lost is a series of four single-sided silent records, lost in the seas surrounding the UK. The exhibited first silence disappeared into the North Sea in 2015; the final silence will be lost in the Irish Sea at the end of April 2019. Each record is labelled with a request for return c/o The British Library Sound Archive. On the day of disappearance, an announcement appears in the Lost and Found section of The Times newspaper. This announcement, together with a digital photograph of the sea in which the record was lost and an empty archival record sleeve, are the only evidence for the existence and loss of silence.
Addendum On the 26th April, I will be performing a quiet micro-FM transmission in the WSA library. This broadcast will be re-composed live from various silence field-recordings that wait unheard, in the annals of my personal sound archive. The dead air of this discreet transmission will bring Various Silences to an appropriately quiet close.
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.
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).