And our ears
Are formed of the sea as we listen 
On Saturday the 4th May 2019 a final silence was lost to the sea off the coast of Holy Island, Anglesey. One of four such disappearances, this concluding silence sank beneath the waves of the Irish Sea on a bright spring day, in [plain] sight of the South Stack Lighthouse. The Metadata of a photograph taken at the time of disappearance, positions the silence at an altitude of 72.07 m with the global coordinates of: Latitude: 53,18.1428N / Longitude: 4,41.3708W.
The quartet of missing silence consists (or consisted) of four single-sided records; each cut with a silent groove and lost to the seas surrounding the UK over a period of four years (the Irish Sea, North Sea, English Channel and Celtic Sea). Each record is labelled with a request for return, care of the British Library Sound Archive. A small advert placed in the Lost and Found section of The Times newspaper announces the site of the silence lost. Published on the day of disappearance, this advert functions as both a premonition and record of loss. The announcement, together with a photograph of the sea into which the record disappeared, and an empty, preservation grey, archival sleeve, are the only ‘proof’ of the records existence and its silence being lost.
In his book Sound, Michel Chion considers the ear as ‘a link between different worlds (real and imaginary) and different registers (physical and mental).’ Just as the silence lost directs our listening toward an imaginary absence of sound, so too the circumstantial (physical) evidence of loss requires that we imagine and believe silence once existed and has now disappeared. The emptiness of the archival sleeve quietly anticipates return, a return that may enable silence to sound [again]. And in this silence lost, we listen without listening for, we place our ear against the shell of sounds that have not yet been caused to vibrate. [Waves…]
As the publisher of the artists’ book Silence on Loan (ISBN: 978-1-5272-3880-0), I am required under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003, to deposit a copy of the publication with the British Library. This copy must be ‘of the same quality as the best copies which, at the time of delivery, have been produced for publication in the United Kingdom.’ [Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003]
The Act applies to printed publications and excludes sound recordings. As an artists’ book in the form of a 10” vinyl record (or dubplate), the publication of Silence on Loan, poses some questions about what constitutes a printed publication. Cut with a silent groove, Silence on Loan is not a sound recording, but rather, a record of a moment when nothing was recorded. The absence of sound etched into the vinyl, ‘sets a mark upon on a surface’ and may therefore be called a print (but not a reproduction) of silence. Stored without the protection of cover or sleeve, this silent print is imprinted (again) with the plosions and fricatives of harm and damage that materiality asserts.
As a book, Silence on Loan is always being rewritten.
In my recent exhibition Various Silences, at Winchester School of Art Library, Silence on Loan was exhibited with a ‘copy’ made for Legal Deposit. Submitting the publication for legal deposit, poses questions concerning the reproduction of an original, which is still being written. Perhaps what is needed is not a copy or reproduction, but a doppelgänger: an apparition of silence. The inscription of one surface upon another, generates a silent palimpsest, a haunted silence. Visually the mechanics of rubber stamps mimic likeness whilst establishing difference: the subtle [dis]placement and frailties of ink creating unique traces with each duplication.
A letter written to accompany the legal deposit copy [apparition] of Silence on Loan, was typed on a (Brother) typewriter and duplicated in triplicate using two sheets of carbon paper. The materiality of this correspondence is reinforced by providing only physical address (no mobile number, no email address.) At the post office, silence was weighed, measured and sent (recorded delivery) to the Deposit Office of the British Library in Boston, Yorkshire.
A receipt for this deposit is pending.
On Saturday the 15th September I will be performing, Variation for six radios and a piano at the Iklectik, London. This live variation is based on recent field-recordings and transmissions at Marconi’s LizardWireless Telegraphy Station in Cornwall and is part of an evening of Eclectic Electronics curated by Bernhard Living. The evening includes performances by the excellent Phil Durrant & Pat Thomas, Lucia H Chung, Lucie Štěpánková, and a new film by Lisa Minaeva.
In August I returned to the Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station. These two small wooden huts are the oldest surviving purpose built radio buildings in the world. In 1901 Marconi’s Morse test signal was transmitted from the Isle of Wight (IOW) and received at the Lizard Wireless Station. Not only was this the furthest a wireless signal had been transmitted at that time, it was also the first ‘over the horizon’ wireless transmission. Prior to this it was believed that wireless radio signals would be confined to the ‘optical’ horizon. The reception of a simple dit-dit-dit, signalled not only the letter ‘s’, but also an escape from the visible and concrete: a flight from the material into the airy immaterial.
Last summer I began an unofficial, covert residency at the Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station. I spent the time listening to and recording from, a local landscape littered with the architectural remains of civil and military communication. At the conclusion of my residence I re-composed the field-recordings into an ephemeral landscape, transmitted live in a performed micro-FM transmission, broadcasting from the former ‘operating room’ of the Marconi Station.
This summer, in advance of my return to the Lizard, I travelled to the Isle of Wight. I used contact microphones to tap and listen into sounds underneath the apparent landscape: the hysterical Morse of Red Funnel air socks, the tap dance of footfall on the Marconi Monument in Alum Bay. Returning to the Wireless Station, I brought these recordings with me, physically transporting the signals over the horizon to the Lizard. Whist on the IOW I also sent a physical signal in the form a 7” vinyl record, cut with a silent groove and transmitted to the Wireless Station via Royal Mail (without the protection of sleeve or envelope.) On my arrival I found this scuffed silence waiting, kindly collected and shelved by Geoff, one of the volunteers at the Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station Museum.
On returning to the Wireless Station my aim was to compose a new work that would mingle the site of Marconi’s original transmission (IOW) with site of its reception (Lizard). I began by listening again, eavesdropping on the local landscape and its changes. I extended my listening along the communication coast from the Serpentine factory at Church Cove to the secret WW2 tunnels at Porthcurno. I also started to introduce signals into the landscape, tapping out the dit-dit-dit of Marconi’s test signal on the architectural revenants of listening and transmission: the derelict Orlit and suffocated air shafts of the subterranean Royal Observer Corps early warning station, the Dry Tree Menhir (standing stone) surrounded by the Earth Satellite Station on Goonhilly Down. Tapping listens in, fathoming space and testing substance, it both confirms and questions presence: I am here, is someone there?
The Wireless Station is on the very periphery of the terrestrial. There is of course absolutely no mobile signal. When the rain comes down and the fog comes in the horizon evaporates. At night everywhere disappears, the intermittent tinnitel hush of ocean and occasional creak of air offering only brief moments of location. I had originally intended to transmit from inside the Wireless Station, but decided that bringing the broadcast into the landscape would encourage interference and amplify the loss of signal The transmission started at 9pm with the scuffed silence of the record disappearing unheard into the landscape. As silence revolved on the turntable, the crepuscular beam of the Lizard Lighthouse started to rotate, automatically announcing the end of daylight and approach of nightfall. Broadcasting at night immersed the transmission in the atmospheric weather of radio: a signal lost to the landscape and the static of night falling upon it.
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).
Let’s get lost. Southampton as the Situationist City is part of Being Human, a national festival of the humanities led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. As part of the Southampton Festival, curated by Dr Flavia Loscialpo, I have composed a series of vestibular soundscapes for mobile phone and the transient spaces of Southampton.
The public are invited to create their own audible desire line through the acoustic map of Southampton provided by these sonic pins. The audience may listen to the mobile soundscapes in situations and at times of their own choosing, finding and composing their own acoustic path through the city.
The soundscapes will be available via this blog for seven days and the project will be introduced through an evening spent sound walking: a guided perambulation, listening through the transitory acoustic spaces for which and from which the soundscape were composed. This sound walk will be led by myself and will take place after the official opening of the Southampton Festival at Solent Showcase Gallery on Friday 17th November. Tickets for the Southampton festival opening and sound walking event are free and available here.
sound walking: lets get lost and found and lost again. Friday 17th November: 18:30 -19:30: Book Now
The seven soundscapes are available below. These can be streamed live from any mobile device or downloaded to a computer and transferred to your phone. It is recommended that participants in the sound walking event download the sounds to a computer via the Soundcloud links below and transfer the soundscapes to your mobile phone prior to the walk on the 17th November. Please note: the soundscapes cannot be downloaded directly from this blog to a mobile phone.
The sound walk will take approximately one hour and will include the use of stairs and elevators and as such may not be suitable for those with restricted mobility. I am grateful to the K6 Gallery for allowing me to use their gallery space as one of the sonic pins. As part of the Southampton’s broader Being Human Festival, participants will be creating a visual map of their listening journey. All materials for this will be provided on the evening.
Important – for the evening sound walking event you will need the following
A mobile phone with headphones (‘over the ear’ headphones recommended).
Access to the Internet via your phone (4G recommended) in order to stream the soundscapes.
It is advised that, prior to the soundwalk, participants download the soundscapes to a computer and add these to iTunes on your phone.
Download or stream the soundscapes via the Soundcloud links below
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.