Silence and weak signals live: part one  5:23 / mp3 / 2019
Silence and weak signals live: part two  5:28 / mp3 / 2019
Silence and weak signals live: part three  5:27 / mp3 / 2019
To mark the end of the exhibition of Various Silences at Winchester School of Art Library, I performed a short micro-FM transmission in Library 2. Silence and weak signals: for five poorly tuned radios, was accompanied by the live dissolve of a cretaceous ammonite, a dissolve that quietly released the fossilised air of ancient C02 into the atmospheric lull of library stacks. The performance begins with a damaged silence as I take Silence on Loan from the library shelf and drop the stylus into its groove. Tuning into the dead air between radio stations, I find silence and weak signals coming through the radios, whilst the tapping of the library shelves and architecture, calls substance into question and asks for a response from elsewhere.
Each day of the exhibition, a page of the erased found novel Red Silence: for the missing, was turned. As I removed the novel from the exhibition, the silent dust of language rubbed out and unsaid, remained on the cabinet floor.
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.
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.