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.
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.
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.
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 MemorySymposium (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 installationrain choir (Winchester Cathedral, 2013) and the performed disappearance of Silence Lost (2015 – 2019) – to commemorate the loss inherent in the act of recording.
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.
In the autumn of 2018 I toured the air. The tour was problematic, not in terms of content or audience response, but in terms of what constitutes a tour. I decided that two performances, separated from each other in place and time, is the minimum axis required for a tour to occur. The bag was packed, the t-shirts printed.
The tapping the air tour consisted of two performed transmissions for six radios. It started in September at The Iklectic Art Laband concluded at the APT Gallery in October. Both micro-FM transmission were based on field-recordings made on the Lizard Peninsular during a covert residency at Marconi’s Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station in Cornwall: site of the world’s first ‘over the horizon’ wireless transmission.
Photography: Nicolò Becciu.
Tapping the air: for six radios and a piano was part of Eclectic Electronics, an evening of experimental sound work at the Iklectic, curated by Bernhard Living and including performances by Lucie Štěpánková, Lucia H Chung, Phil Durrant & Pat Thomas.
The performance began by tuning through the signal jammed London air in search of an available and vacant radio frequency. A vacancy found the six radios are individually tuned into the signal of the transmitted soundscape. However, the signal is never stable, the position of each radio and my physical proximity to them shift and recompose the sound transmitted, establishing a localised and dynamic soundfield.
This soundfield was haunted by the recorded dit-dit-dit of Marconi’s test signal being tapped out on the architectural remains of communication technologies that litter the Lizard landscape. The call of this tapping receives a live response in the geological tap of Serpentine pebbles on the frame and strings of the Iklectic piano. As the transmission closes the choreographer Julia Hall taps unseen on the external wooden walls and windows of the building: a signal coming through from the other side, testing substance and questioning presence.
tapping the air: for a fragment of chalk and any number of radios
edit / opening / 03:02 / mp3 / 2018
edit / ending / 03:39 / mp3 / 2018
At the APT Gallery,Tapping the air: for a fragment of chalk and any number ofradios, invited the audience to tune into its frequency. The performance began with the audible dissolve of a chalk fragment exhumed from the cretaceous geology of Alum Bay on the Isle of Wight (site of Marconi’s early radio transmissions and the Marconi Monument). As the International Ocean Boy slowly tuned into the slither of a vacant FM frequency, the prehistoric static of CO2 escaping from the dissolving chalk was absorbed into the emerging atmospheric shush of radio transmission.
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.
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).