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Silence lost


And our ears
Are formed of the sea as we listen [1]

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).’[2] 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…]

not arriving and then
not arriving [3]

 

With thanks to Trish Bould for her help, photography and metadata.

[1] W. S. Merwin, “Coming to the morning” in: The rain in the trees. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf , 2018), 37

[2] Michel Chion, Sound: an acoustical treatise. (London: Duke Universty Press, 2016), 18

[3] W. S. Merwin, “The Sound of it” in: Garden Time, (Hexham: Bloodaxe book, 2016), 9

 

 

 

 

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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 SeaSilence 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.


Silence Lost: North Sea (2015)

At midday on the 8th January 2015, a one-minute silence was held around the world in memory of the victims of a terrorist attack on the offices of the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo. In Paris, under umbrellas and grey skies, a large crowd of people held their silence in the rain. Later that day, the BBC Radio 4 programme PM broadcasted an uninterrupted recorded extract of this silence. As I sat listening to the dripping static of rainfall through the occasional atmospherics of frequency modulation, I heard my own silence becoming part of a shared silent drizzle of withdrawal. In this brief temporal downpour, time became wet; the borders between here and there, between what is and once was, dissolved.

This description of remembered rain begins my short essay, remembering rain: listening to water and memory [loss].The essay has now been published in the latest on-line edition of Wolf Notes –the publishing arm of Compost and Height. Curated by Patrick Farmer and Sarah Hughes, Wolf Notes #9, features writing by Freya Johnson Ross, Rebecca Glover and Nick Wood, and I am delighted to be in such fascinating company.

Adapted from a paper, originally performed at the Sound of Memory Symposium (Goldsmiths, London) in 2017, the essay is itself a form of remembering. Mingling neuropsychology and the wet reverie of literary oceans, remembering rain, navigates the ‘substantial nothingness’ (Bachelard) of water, sound and memory, drawing in my sound practice – specifically, the installation rain choir (Winchester Cathedral, 2013) and the performed disappearance of Silence Lost  (2015 – 2019) – to commemorate the loss inherent in the act of recording.

Wolf Notes #9 is available here.

Cape_sea2
Celtic Sea: Cape Cornwall
Latitude: 50,7.8335N / Longitude: 5,42.1147W / Altitude 9.53m / Time Stamp: 16/08/2016 15:15:59

The penultimate ‘release’ of a silence lost took 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.

The Times: Lost/Found
The Times: front-page
Celtic Sea map1
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 all at sea.

a silence lost: sebastiane hegarty
a silence lost: date stamped

Silence lost: the english channel
Silence lost in the English Channel
The second ‘release’ of a silence lost took place on Tuesday 5th April 2016. A 10” vinyl record, cut with a silent groove was thrown into the English Channel at Hengistbury Head, Dorset (50. 42. 7767″ N, 1. 45. 1813 W).
The first silence was lost in The North Sea at Cley, Norfolk, on the 27th August 2015. As with that release, this loss was documented (and instructed) by an announcement placed in the Lost and Found section of The Times newspaper, appearing on the day of release. Each issue of The Times newspaper is held in the archives of the British Library and should they ever be found, each record is engraved with the return address of The British Library Sound Archive.

The Times: Silence lost
Announcement in The Times: 05/04/16
The existence of the silent record and its disappearance, rely solely upon the circumstantial evidence of,  the announcement in The Times, a label on an empty record sleeve and a digital image of the sea at the site of release (tagged with the coordinates of meta data). Neither the record nor its physical release are recorded or photographed. The record, like the silence it withholds, exists between the real and the imagined, the present and absent, lost and forgotten.

silence lost: record sleeve
coast guard drip
Sheltered from the rain

At the site of each loss, I have made a short field-recording corresponding to the duration of silence on the record: at Cley, the electrical hum of the sea breeze passing through a wire fence , and at Hengistbury Head the sheltered drips of rain falling from the roof of a decommissioned Coastguard Station.

In 2011 I composed a short soundscape of Hengistbury Head for BBC Radio Solent and on Tuesday, Steve Harris from Radio Solent (Dorset), braved the rain and hail to come and hear silence getting lost in the English Channel. His short interview was broadcast on the Wednesday edition of his Dorset, breakfast show.

Interview with Steve Harris for BBC Radio Solent Dorset.

 

 

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