Peter Christopherson: Nothing here now but the recordings
Constrained Radio, a weekly show for SoundArt Radio in Devon, is curated by the writer, artist, and teacher Mark Leahy. For the latest edition, Nothing here now, Mark and I collaborated on a montage of found sounds, field recordings, documented paranormal voices and experimental music. With a title shamelessly cut from the Industrial Records album of early tape experiments by William Burroughs, the co-curated hour invokes and divines the unseen, uncanny and ethereal landscapes of the unknown. Radio is a perfect channel for such sonic divination. Steven Connor writes, ‘what is heard in the atmospherics [of radio] [is] the fracture and fluctuation of time; […] a time out of joint.’ Marconi himself believed that his wireless signals might ‘pick-up the sounds of long-dead men […] drowned in the Atlantic.’ In the magnetic ether of radio transmission, the past and the future ‘leaks through’.
‘What I say goes.’ writes Connor. Our voice leaves and takes the air. According to Konstantin Raudive, the vocal entities of EVP, expressed a preference for communication via the airwaves, with one voice proclaiming, in what I like to imagine is an accent somewhere between the Carry-on of Kenneth Williams and vaudeville of Frankie Howard: “What a rascal, switch on the radio!” Raudive believed radio was so popular on the other side: ‘…various groups of voice entities […] operate[d] their own stations.’
Nothing here now, opens with a premonition, during which various sonic entities breakthrough: Edison taps out a spiritual telegraph, whilst a mother speaks with her departed son, a fragment of Radioland is found as a test signal tap, tap, taps on the wooden shell of Marconi’s Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station in Cornwall.
In three movements the broadcast mingles the possessed voice of children and EVP excavations of composer Michael Esposito, with airs of animal spirits recorded in Xingu in 1975 and looming ‘disturbed trance’ of Alice Kemp’s ‘A Gold Blade To The Back Of The Head.’
The second movement opens with Sally Ann McIntyre’s, Collected Huia Notations (2017), which ‘re-collects’ from several western musical transcriptions, the extinct voice of the Huia bird. Transcribed to wax cylinder these vanished ‘songs’ can be heard quietly disappearing again. Stephen Cornford’s, Electrocardiographs of a Cathode Ray Tube (2016), medically and methodically surveys the surface of expired technology. This section also includes a recording of my performance of Séance for six radios at the John Hansard Gallery in 2019.
Sally Ann McIntyre
Seance for hour-hand and harp
The final movement opens with the paranormal music of Séance for hour hand and harp: the tapping hour-hand from a dismembered clock plucking music from thin air. A found answerphone message from my own archive of found recordings is followed by Gwen’s Prayer (2005) from David Clegg’s Stories from the Trebus Project, a project where Clegg worked to capture the stories ‘of people living with dementia; stories ‘from the edge’ that would otherwise have been lost.’ The broadcast concludes with Alice Kemp’s Secret room accessed by a passage written in green ink (2016) and Psychic TV’s Proof on survival. Recorded without microphones, using Zuccarelli Holophonic, Proof on survival records the sound of soil falling on a coffin as, ‘Ringo’ (a skull, which is also the transmitter for the Zuccarelli system) is buried ‘alive’ in a grave in Farnham.
Nothing here now is broadcast on SoundArt Radio at 12pm on Wednesday (24/06/20). If you are in Totnes you can tune in on 102.5 FM or you can listen live on-line at: soundartradio.org.uk There is a full track list on the soundart radio website and the programme will also be available in the soundartradio archive.
Coincidently, the cover of “Nothing here now but the recordings” (1981), was designed by Peter Christopherson and the album curated by Genesis P-Orridge, who also wrote the sleeve notes. Genesis ‘dropped he/r body’ in March of this year.
Throbbing Gristle at the Winchester Hat Fair (1976). Photo: Judith Blake
In August 1976 Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti performed as Throbbing Gristle at the Winchester Hat fair in Hampshire, England. Earlier that day, Genesis had been seen ‘preparing’ in the High Street outside Boots: ‘bandaging half a peach to his lower leg.’
Encircled by an audience of parents and their young daughters, the gig has been mythically ascribed to the creation of the song: WE HATE YOU (Little Girls). TG returned to Winchester a year later to perform at the Art School, a set which included A Nod and A Wank,Feeling Critical and (possibly) Dead Ed. Both performances were recorded as part of the TG 24 HOURS Cassette [suitcase] (1979).
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Winchester School of Art (WSA). In commemoration of this and in celebration of the TG performances and wider art college alternative music culture that provided a space for such experimental work to occur, artist and musician David Luff organised Art Throbs at The Railway Inn, Winchester: an evening of experimental music, film and happenings.
SluGristle Placards: David Luff
Formed partly [and partly formed] for the Art Throbs happening and in positive reply to the question: ‘Fancy being in a TG tribute band?’ Slug Pellets combine the found tapes, field-recordings and dissolving fossil fuzz of Sebastiane Hegarty with the home-made cardboard synth and mute coronet of David Luff. The Slugs (as they have yet to become known) pilfer their name from the early TG murder ballad, Slug Bait, performed live at The ICA and Nuffield Theatre (University of Southampton). Variations of the ‘song’ appear on the first [official] TG album, 2nd Annual Report (1977): an album described by Michael Bonner in Uncut as “a dystopian churn of smoke and asbestos dust.”
In discussions of how Slug Pellets might conspire to pay homage to TG, David and I agreed that we would not attempt to recreate specific ‘songs’, but rather respond to the form and content of the combined performances and our personal TG ghosts. Echoing TG’s use of found sound and dubious tapes, I searched through the spontaneous sound archive I had developed during my PhD at WSA. Many of these found sounds were recorded through the surveillance of a lapel microphone attached to a pocketed mini disc. Constently held in pause, my ear lay in wait, listening in and baited to record. The archive revealed a paranormal pallet of transient encounters, forgotten sounds and departed voices: the wet percussion of a library gutter, a crushed glass stroll through the acoustics of an abandoned meat packing [death] factory, the posthumous vocal acquaintance of Ron Purse, a much-loved local eccentric: recorded in 1998, Ron approaches [returns] pushing his pram. Seeing me he speaks briefly, then disappears without goodbye ‘home to bed’ and silence. Ron died in 2006. The apparition of these untreated field-recordings is mingled with the fizzle and whine of dissolving ammonites, the looped pulse of raindrop, engine hums and deceased answerphone messages. David worked in response to this soundscape, using his extensive engineering skills to build a hand cranked Intonarumori, utilising cardboard boxes, wire, paper and ply. This was accompanied by muted Coronet and modular tones chewed up through the Gristler.
At the very bottom of a set list that included The Ba and the Architects of Frome, the stage presence of Slug Pellets was industrial glam, with silver rain jackets (Ikea), mirror shades and the vibrant postiche of Genesis (Breyer) bobs. As a landscape for our TG homage I composed a film for projection: a [g]Litterbug of forgotten fragments found lurking in the memory of my iPhone library.
In keeping with early TG concerts the shell-less sound of Slug Pellets was introduced to the Art Throbs audience by way of a found cassette (a verbal warning from Adult Bedside Tapes: Gay Girls no.1). This was followed by a performed poem based on the group name: a synchronised spoken cut-up plagiarised from a rhyming dictionary, which produced a number of profound collisions: Snug / Pelmet, Tug / Helmet, Smug / Ferret.
Unfortunately no recordings of the concert are currently available, but the [dead] edits above are from the three sections of my soundscape before David overlaid his mute Coronet and rotated his cardboard intonarumori.
Genesis P-inOils: David Luff
It was with shock and sadness that one week after our performance at Art Throbs, we learned that Caresse & Genesse P-Orridge had announced that their father, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge had ‘dropped he/r body’ on the morning of Saturday March 14th, 2020.
TIme will see us
Time will free us
Time will be us
We are everywhere
On Friday the 31st January 2020, I arrived at Winchester School of Art Library to find a table ‘reserved for activity’. It had been one year and one day since Silence on Loan was added to the Artists’ Book Collectionat the WSA Library. Held without the protection of cover or sleeve the book (a single-sided 10” dubplate cut with a silent groove) is shelved at 741.64 HEG. Wedged between the hardbacks, this mute slither of vinyl is easily overlooked, but once a year it is taken from the shelf and placed on the platter of a portable turntable. [Re]turning at thirty-three and a third revolutions per minute the dubplate slowly pronounces the dust and harm that has come to its surface: the silence that has been lost. Once played the silence is put back on the shelf, where it is left un-sounding for another year.
As a performance, this annual audition is rather disappointing; nothing much happens for slightly more than nine-minutes. Those who are here to hear (and those library visitors who’s listening the silence loans) listen to silence being broken and unheard. Perhaps the tables are turned, and it is the listeners who perform the silence rather than the record player’s stylus. For many of those who came, this is a return to silence, having been here last year when Silence on Loan was performed at the moment of its inclusion into library stock. Just as the dust collects in the groove, so silence returns and gathers in the ear of those who come to listen and remember listening again.
Everyone who is, and now was, there to hear, receives a souvenir in the form of a Silence on Loan 2020 pin-badge, whilst a paper wristband and UV hand-stamp, temporarily confirm admission and attendance.
I had been inclined to record each performance, so that I might document and measure the changes that time brings to the silence. But such calculating permanence would surely imprison that which does not sound, that which is fragile, fugitive and evasive. Silence, is more concerned with the potential for sound than its absence, most [in]audible when we imagine what we don’t hear. The analogue frailty of a physical recording can be used to augment this un-sounding potentiality. The performance on the 31st was documented using an old portable audio cassette recorder. Such obsolete media is characterised by a distinct lack of [hi] fidelity, recording its own imperfections and imposing its own magnetic patina upon the sound it records. This failure to create a faithful document is enhanced by the recording not being monitored – the tape can be seen slowly winding from left to right, but no lights or needles visibly meter the units of volume.
The quantity of tape used measures the duration of silence recorded, transcribing [no] sound into a spatial length, but the cassette is never played, and the silence remains unheard. Paused at this distance, the silence waits next year’s anniversary, when it will be re-wound and next year’s silence recorded over this. An [un] sounding and unfaithful record, this audio document, simultaneously returns and erases the silence of another year.
The next performance of Silence on Loan will be in January 2021
A perfect summer’s day. Sunshine, slight breeze. The Ness ablaze with flowers.
Derek Jarman, Modern Nature
Seagulls flocking over Ness [field-recording]: 02:00 / mp3 / 2019
At 9:15 AM on the 24th July 1991, the Post Office collected a hand-written envelope, that had been dropped into a letter box in New Romney near Dungeness. A day later, a bright orange envelope, addressed in a flourish of black ink, fell onto the floor of a one-bedroom flat in Park Fields, Wolverhampton. Addressed by Derek Jarman this envelope is kept between the pages of a copy of Modern Nature.
In June this year, Modern Nature featured on the BBC Radio 4 series, Book of the Week. Beautifully read by Rupert Everett the programme was recorded at Prospect Cottage, Jarman’s home in Dungeness. Everett reads from the desk where Modern Nature was written, and an orange envelope inscribed. The letter enclosed within that envelope ends with the words: ‘Dungeness is all flowers.’
Since receiving the letter in 1991, I have wanted to return to Dungeness and see Prospect Cottage in full flower. This summer, twenty-five years after his death I finally returned. I say ‘return’ although I had never actually been to the Ness. And yet, having waited so long, it does feel like a return of sorts, a return to somewhere I have never been and to a memory I am yet to forget.
Listen. Listen now. Listen to Ness.
Ness speaks. Ness speaks gull, speaks wave, speaks
bracken and lapwing, speaks bullet, ruin, gale deception.
Ness speaks […] transmission, reception, Ness speaks
pure mercury, utmost secret, swift current, rapid fire.
Listen again. Listen back. Listen to the past of Ness […] 
As part of the ‘fifth continent’ Dungeness is set adrift, detached, flat and exquisitely bleak. Closer to Calais than London the Global Positioning System of my mobile, ignores Brexit and positions me firmly in France. On the shingle, the derelict shell of a wooden shed , is thought to have been built by Marconi as part of his experiments with the transmission of wireless radio signals across English Channel. The airwaves still chatter in the frequent modulation of broken English and spoken French. Like many of the buildings on the Ness, Marconi’s ‘Wireless shed’ has been converted into a modernist holiday home.
A physical and architectural neighbour to the Wireless shed , the Fog Signal Building is part of the Trinity House Experimentation Station . In August of this year it became the site of my most recent covert residency and micro-FM transmission. The industrial bungalow lies low in the shingle at the very tip of the headland. Rising from its flat concrete roof, the perpendicular pluck of a decommissioned radio tower breaks cover, transmitting a ghost of presence in the horizontal empty – Ness. Every morning a small electronic murmur of starlings settles on the tower, briefly recommissioning transmission.
Fog Signal Building once housed the air pumps, whose compressed breath, mouthed through an array of six horns, tested the distance and propagation of fog signals. An architectural ghost of these forgotten voices remains in a monochrome tower of mute horns, which peaks over the sine waves of shingle, bellowing silently, out to sea.
Formed through longshore drift, the ‘dangerous nose’ of the Ness is constantly wiped by oblique incoming winds. And yet the landscape seems strangely still, evacuated of presence, it oxidises quietly. On the horizon the sea is visible, but it’s sound remains distant and remote, an audible rumour behind a vast tide of shingle.
Considered one of the quietest places in the UK, in the 1920’s the Ness was referred to as ‘the nearest approach to silence […]’ and selected as a good site for the large array of three acoustic mirrors at Great Stone (aka Denge). The early warning system of these concrete ears extends along the Kent coast, from Denge to Hythe, onto Dover and the South Foreland Lighthouse, where in 1899, Marconi conducted the first international radio transmission.
As part of the HytheAcoustical Research Station, the sound mirrors at Hythe were constructed by the Air Ministry in the 1920’s with the largest of the two (30ft) being completed in 1929. Designed to survey the air, the mirrors listened out for the incoming propulsion of enemy aircraft. Although successful in tests, by 1936 the acoustic premonition of sound mirrors was superseded by the electromagnetic scan of RAdio Detection and Ranging.
At the summit of The Roughs, overlooking the beached military ranges below, the largest of the Hythe mirrors survives. Tagged and crumbling, its cracked concrete ear still listens. ‘[A]lone with nothing particular to listen to’, perhaps as Derek Jarman writes, ‘this is [its] finest hour.’ As I ascend the hill and reach the mirror, I hold a microphone out into the oracle [Auricle] of its hollow, and I am suddenly confronted with a burst of gunfire, the echo of its acoustic shrapnel shattering the mirror’s derelict silence. Francois Bonnet notes that ‘the echo, produced by the repercussions a multiplied sound […] establishe[s] a supernatural sonorous environment’. Brandon Labelle also recognises the ghosting of acoustic delay when he writes: ‘the echo is a sound that comes back to haunt [ …]’. Just as the mythical Echo wasted away, her bones turning to stone, so too the percussion of the ballistics recurs, an echoic and fugitive spirit, mineralised in the concrete of the mirror.
Air Harp n.3: 04:12 / mp3 / 2019
My previous transmissions at Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station were composed of sounds found and recorded in the surrounding landscape. At Fog Signal I decided to not only listen into the landscape, but also introduce other sounds into it. The ‘air harp’ is a cheap second-hand auto harp, ‘prepared’ with the flotsam of wood, screw and polystyrene washed up onto the Ness. Performed by the wind, this automatic aeolian harp, uncovers the murmuring music of sea breezes.
But from where and whence do these ghostly melodies come? Athanasius Kircher, who first described the Aeolian harp in 1650, ‘surmised that the wind comes in rays’, plucking the strings and causing them to sound. Whilst, in Physiological Disquisitions, the 17th century natural philosopher William Jones proposed that the music of the Aeolian harp originated not in the strings, but in the air itself. The harp operated as a ‘sound prism’ ‘[refracting] the wind,’ dividing and revealing ‘vibrations […] already present in the air.’
Pebble arc: 02:40 / mp3 / 2019
Fog Signal Transmission [harp and signal] edit: 03:00 / mp3 / 2019
The transmission at Fog Signal, begins as the beam of the Dungeness lighthouse automatically announces night fall. A line of pebbles cast onto the shingle, traces an arc of auditory space and presence. The auto harp sounds, divining the air and revealing a concert of signals already present. I transmit to an unknown and unknowing audience, the transmission, like sound itself, disappearing in the moment of its appearance. Signals lost are sent, received and lost again. No one is listening, nothing is heard.
 Robert Macfarlane & Stanley Donwood, 2019. Ness. London: Hamish Hamilton. p.5
 This shack appears in the landscape of Jarman’s The Garden (1990).
 It is difficult to confirm that Marconi built the ‘Wireless Shed’ in the 1890’s. The building is also refereed to as the Decca Radar Station, built by the Decca Navigator Company in 1961.
 Fog Signal Building and the Experimentation Station complex were redesigned by the Interior Architects Johnson Naylor
 Richard N Scarth. 1995. Mirrors by the sea. North Elham: Minnis Print Ltd. p.5
 Derek Jarman. 1991. Modern Nature. London: Century. p.72
 Francois J. Bonnet. 2016. The order of sounds. Falmouth: Urbanomic. p.25
As the publisher of the artists book Silence on Loan, I have been asked to supply the five Legal Deposit copies of the publication to The Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries in Edinburgh. The original Legal Deposit copy has already been deposited with the British Library and these five additional copies are for the remaining Deposit Libraries: The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford (BLO), The National Library of Scotland (NLS), Cambridge University Library (CUL), Trinity College Library, Dublin(TCD), and the National Library of Wales (NLW).
Each hand-stamped copy is identified with the initials of a specified library and accompanied by a typed letter providing details of the publication. As with all prints of Silence on Loan, the Legal Deposit copies are published without the protection of a sleeve or cover. The deposits were sent recorded delivery and signed for by The Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries.
Together with the original copy of Silence on Loan in the Artists’ Book Collection at Winchester School of Art Library (University of Southampton), these Legal Deposits create a form of silent archive, quietly gathering dust and harm in the ‘closed stacks’ of the libraries’ catalogue.
Searching for the publication via SOLO ( Search Oxford Libraries Online), I discover Silence on Loan is stored ‘off site’ with a status of ‘closed stack’: part of a collective silence, held, forgotten and perhaps never heard, but always being written.
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.
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.