In April I took part in the Transient Topographies conference at The National University of Ireland in Galway. This fascinating international conference brought together artists, writers and scholars to explore ‘space and interface in digital literature and art.’ Whilst in Galway, the artist, musician and writer Sharon Phelan invited me to take part in a short interview for a show on RTE Lyric FM. During the interview we discussed my covert residency and transmission at Marconi’s Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station in Cornwall, and the broader themes of time, place, materiality and loss, explored in the paper I had delivered at the conference. Serendipitously, the faintest tick of an unobserved wall clock conspired to interrupt our first recording and we had to move our chairs away from said clock so as to keep time at a distance and out of the microphone’s earshot.
You can hear the interview and listen to the clock not ticking, here.
Thanks to Sharon for adeptly editing my words into sense and to Anne Karhio for inviting me to speak at the conference.
I am delighted to be speaking at the Transient Topographies conference organised by The National University of Ireland in Galway. Transient Topographies: Space and Interface in Digital Literature and Art is the second Galway Digital Cultures Initiative conference, and will take place at the Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Studies, Galway, from Friday 20th April to Saturday the 21 April 2018.
My paper, Tapping the air: a wireless topology of listening and communication on the Lizard Peninsular, is based on a covert residency and micro-FM transmission at Marconi’s Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station, Cornwall, last summer. In a choreographed assemblage of original field-recordings, imagery, text and [attempted] live micro-FM transmission, the paper explores the development of the project within the context of listening, materiality, and loss.
Travelling to Galway is a return of sorts, serendipitously retracing Marconi’s own radiophonic footsteps: following the first transatlantic wireless transmission from his Poldhu transmitter in Cornwall to Signal Hill in Newfoundland, commercial interests led Marconi to move to Ireland, where, in 1907, he built the Clifden wireless station in Connemara, County Galway. The journey also retraces my own family’s emigration from Eire. As a child in the 1920’s, my father, together with his parents and sisters, became economic migrants, leaving home and Connemara for the damp outskirts of Manchester. My father died in 1975, without ever returning to Ireland. In 1987 I returned with[out] him, to find the house he had left, the place where he was born. The elderly woman who now lived in the tiny one-up, one-down, labourer’s cottage, very kindly invited me in for tea, and told me she had moved into the cottage when my father’s family had moved out. Years later I learned that the cottage, our ancestral home, had been demolished and there was nowhere now to return to. Marconi’s Clifden Wireless station is still disappearing, its buildings abandoned to ruin, its contents sold for scrap and no employees surviving to communicate and transmit its history.
Tapping the air: transmission edit part 3. 3:00 / mp3 / 2017
The landscape of the Lizard peninsular is haunted by the architectural remains of listening and communication: from the mast array and antenna at Lizard and Poldhu, to the blast walls of the WW2 radar station at RAF Pen Olver and RAF Dry Tree, the abandoned underground listening of the Royal Corps nuclear monitoring station (a place which still does not appear on maps) to the looming low of the Lizard foghorn and galactic ear of the Earth Satellite Station on Goonhilly Downs . During the residency at The Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station these hosts of signals sent, received and lost, became the primary focus of the field-recording process, a process which itself became a form of eavesdropping, a listening-in on landscape, a tapping into listening.
Tapping the air: transmission edit part 3. 3:00 / mp3 / 2017
The residency concluded with a micro-FM transmission from the former ‘operating room’ of the station. Tuned-in through six portable radios the performed transmission was based on field-recordings made in the Lizard landscape. These recordings included sounds available to ear and others occluded from audition: the Aeolian strum and automatic Morse of antennas and loose wires at Poldhu, the perimeter hum of security fences at RAF Dry Tree and the Earth Satellite Station on Goonhilly downs, the sentry pulse of Lizard Lighthouse foghorn.
Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station was the site of Marconi’s first ‘over-the-horizon’ wireless transmission. Prior to this, it was believed that wireless communication was restricted to the optical horizon. In January 1901, the reception of a simple di-di-dit, signalled not only the letter ‘s’, but also an escape from the visible: a flight from the material into the airy immaterial, from permanence to transience. Steven Connor writes: ‘The wireless world promised to cut our connection to the sluggish and annoyingly chopped-up world of time and place and bodies and […] matter.’ The medium of radio offered an insubstantial and ephemeral terrain, where place comes through and passes away. In the atmospheric dead air of this wireless landscape, we hear not only the dissolution of space and substance, but also the ‘fracture and fluctuation of time…’ (Connor).
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.
Framework Intro: variation for a door, a sigh and a cheap guitar.
On Thursday the 6th July I read of the sad death of composer and musique concrète pioneer, Pierre Henry. I shared the Quietus announcement of his death on Facebook and a few minutes later had a message from sound artist and Framework curator, Patrick McGinley (AKA Murmur). Patrick asked if I would be interested in recording a Framework intro for a special edition of the radio show, which would be broadcast as ‘a farewell and tribute to Henry.’ Those familiar with Framework, would know that the intro for each show is created by listeners from across the world. Contributors respond in their own way to a set of recording instructions provided by Patrick on the show’s website. Patrick needed the intro for the following day and thinking aloud said, ‘a squeaky door perhaps’. Coincidentally, on the day Pierre had died I had been recording the Lifts (elevators) on my journey to work, a sort of aural reconnaissance for a project in Southampton this autumn. Although my ear was focused on the damped shush of the Lift doors close, I unintentionally stumbled upon a normal door with an exquisite hinge: I paused, pressed record and mimed the arch of my entrance, allowing a ghost of myself to pass audibly through.
My door recording, which at the time of Patrick’s invitation seemed serendipitous, if not suspiciously portent, formed the starting point of the compositional process. In 1963 Henry used the recorded squeaks of a farmhouse door, alongside the sound of a sigh, a blocked up stream, starved pigs and other occasional off stage noises (Art Lange, The Wire) to compose, Variations pour une porte et un soupir (Variations for a door and a sigh). As a vegetarian, starving a pig seemed intellectually and morally complex, nor did I have access to a farmyard, but as I think back on the intro now composed, other elements of Henry’s variation seem to unintentionally arise, return and resonate.
On Thursday, prior to my learning of Henry’s death, I had been exploring other possible sounds for the forthcoming project. This included a Ping-Pong ball, which, at the request of the winds intermittent sigh (and the occasional impatient forefinger), rolled up and down the un-tuned strings of a cheap guitar. These aural ascents and falls seemed intended for the composition. Having recorded Framework intros before, I realised I would be required to speak the provided statement. I am always slightly uncomfortable hearing my own voice and have previously used methods to place (or hide it) it away from me, such as leaving it on an answerphone tape. In 2007 I recorded an intro with my mother reading out the Framework statement. I decided to use this recording and searched back though my files to find it. I then re-recorded her voice through the larynx of the cheap guitar strings. My mother died in 2011, and it was lovely to hear her voice, her sighs and hesitations, pronounce the air once more. This personal aural link to memory and loss again seemed appropriate for the Henry introduction. As a conclusion to the piece, I printed out the Framework statement and ‘diced’ the words into single letters and full stops. I dripped these alphabetic remains infrequently upon the guitar and listened to language disappear, plucked of meaning but still vibrating.
The premiere of Framework #606 [pierre henry]curated by Patrick McGinley was broadcast on Resonance FM last Sunday and is now available for listening and download on the Framework website.Framework is also broadcast on radio stations across the world (details here).
Thank you to Patrick for asking me to provide an introduction for his beautiful hommage and adieu concrète to Henry.
Formed by the prevailing winds of longshore drift, the shingle spit of Orford Ness is now a National Nature Reserve. Previously the site of an early radar navigation system, during the Second World War the ness was also used as an Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. The ness remains haunted by the abandoned buildings and unexploded ordinance of this military occupation.
Orford ness is a restricted landscape; visitors are warned to keep to the ‘route’ and large areas are off limits. The geometry of blast walls, laboratories and observation stations interrupts the terrain. The architecture of these derelict sentinels quietly observes the horizon, amplifying a sense of vacant stillness. Through the concrete stare of windows, the buildings keep watch on this vacancy, the isolation and secrecy of their accommodation, strangely reminiscent of bird hides. On the roof of bomb ballistics building, binoculars place the ness under the surveillance of a military lens, a series of lines measure and map the landscape viewed. Whilst a breeze ascending the metal staircase, surrounds the building in a harmonic mist, an almost inaudible howl, which hangs in the air like tinnitus.
In accordance with the source of its formation, the soundscape of Orford ness is dominated by the aerial and intermittent: the rumble of wind against the ear, the pits of silence that appear when the breeze drops or is physically obscured. Inside the buildings and behind the blast doors, the occasional draft and clatter of metal interrupts an empty quiet. Outside, animated by the wind, the rope of a flagless pole taps out a signal of distress: a telegraph of unknown content delivered to an anonymous recipient.
air on a hinge: composition for three doors
A monochrome tower in a flat and pallid landscape, inclined to the ocular, the Black Beacon seems appropriately conspicuous. The word ‘beacon’ has its etymological roots in light, fire and desired visibility. However, in counterpoint to this emphasis on the visible the conspicuity of the Black Beacon also results from an allusion to the unseen, invisible and auditory. Built in 1929 as part of the Orfordness Rotating Wireless Beacon Radar System the BlackBeacon was once part of an audible map of the terrain. (Ra)dio (d)etecting (a)nd (r)anging the unseen, the beacon provided a navigational fix for those otherwise lost at sea.
As I climbed the stairs of the beacon my ear was caught by a slight and plaintive whine. This transmission was occasional and intermittent, suspended moans followed by sharp high frequency yelps. I used the rotation of my ear and the volume of the sound to detect the site of its origin. Through this physical radar, my ear (and eye) fixed on the rusted hinge of a door, which, when caught by the draft of a sea breeze, transmitted a sonorous aerial code. As part of its station sequence the Black Beacon had once broadcast in Morse the letters “V” and “B”, now the hinged air pronounced its own alphabet, an ethereal dot and dash, a persistent unanswered signal enunciating loss.