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…]
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.
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).
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.
I recently visited the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at Tate Modern and saw for the first time the exquisite and fully unfurled Automobile tire print (1953). Choreographed by Rauschenberg, the print was of course performed by the foot of John Cage and the accelerator of a Model T Ford. The twenty-two foot scroll of tire ‘records nearly three revolutions of Cage’s wheel.’ Haunting the dense black tire of line I noticed another tread; a discreet embossed ghost of the un-inked front wheel. In the same room, quietly cornered by the tire is Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953). Together these works question not only authorship and authenticity but also the limits of the visible: the material or immaterial record of action.
These questions resonate with a number of my recent phonographic objects and actions; the microphone-less field-recordings of a silent tide, for which two silent 10” vinyl records are placed in the North Sea, one as the tide comes in and one as it goes out, and the release of silence lost, in which four silent records are [circumstantially] lost to the seas surrounding the UK.
[silent] tire printing
A few weeks ago a friend of mine told me about an auction she was helping to organise to raise money for the musician and artist Greg Gilbert, who had been diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer on his daughter Bay’s 1st birthday. I wanted to contribute, and so for Greg and in a sonic homage to Rauschenberg’s Automobile tire print, I placed a 7” silent record under the wheel of my 1964 MGB, drove over it, reversed and repeated that action three times (corresponding to the revolutions of Cage’s wheel). I then inked up the front tire, placed the paper record cover underneath it and repeated the action again, rocking the car gently forward and backward three times.
The turntable revolution of the 7″ record mimes that of the tire. The absence of sound printed into its grooves, now offering a silence interrupted by the material inscription of harm written upon the record’s surface.
[silent] tire print is an edition of one and will be part of the auction for Greg, which begins at 6pm on Thursday 9th March at Re:So in Southampton (viewing from the 7th March). You can also donate here to fund treatment for Greg not available on the NHS.
Earlier this year I was asked by Anna Cady if I would be interested in contributing to Water, the next film from her ‘co-creative’ project, Elemental Dialogues. In 2015 I had contributed to the previous dialogue based on the film, Air, by Cady and Pauline Thomas. Pauline who had began work on this new project, very sadly died before its completion. In many ways this new film, Water, feels like a lament, a quiet lamentation on loss and absence.
As in the previous project, I received a link to a muted version of Water and was asked to use my own practice to ‘interpret or translate’. And again I felt the best way to translate, was to watch the film a few times, then to look away and let my memory work upon it. It was important not to simply create a new soundtrack, but to work with the film (or the memory of it) to develop a sonic landscape in which it may occur.
Pantry Recording: from water recorded in the 13th century Cellarium at Mottisfont.
There is something in the evasiveness of water, its ‘insubstantial nothingness’ (Bachelard), which we can feel but not necessarily touch, that equates to our experience of memory and the unconscious. For Bachelard, ‘[Water] is a substance full of reminiscence and prescient reveries.’ For the film director, Andrei Tarkovsky, whose films are soaked in the continual drip and drop of time escaping and returning, ‘[water is] a mysterious element, [which] can convey movement and a sense of change and flux…[water] has subconscious echoes…’
It is this temporality of water, coupled with the sense of depth and distance created as images submerge and emerge in the surface tension of the film, which persisted in my remembering and which informed my translation. There is a sense of cyclical progression, but, as I have stated previously, the composition is not intended as a synchronised soundtrack, fixed to the film, but rather a work from water and memory, a coincidence for sound and image to coalesce and discord.
In October Anna created an installation at Mottisfont House using the film and it’s interpretation by poets, visual artists and musicians. The installation occupied the 13th century cellarium: a storehouse or pantry belonging to the Monastery which once stood at Mottisfont. This architecture is temporal in intent, creating a space and atmosphere, that privileges stasis and inhibits decay. The cold arch of the pantry, offered an elegant architectural shell in which we could hear the wet soundscapes of sound and poetry, repeat and recur. We could walk through the atmosphere of the film and its dispersed soundscape to find sounds collecting in corners and clinging to the pantry ceiling.
Anna Cady will be present A Balancing Act, an interactive event in the cellarium at Mottisfont House, which will combine projections of the film with the recorded sonic translations, live poetry readings by Joan McGavin, Camilla Nelson and Briony Bennet, and live ‘tacit’ drawings by Mel Rose
On the 12th November the four films from the Elemental Dialogue series will also be screened in the Vintage Mobile Cinema as part of Southampton Film Week.
The penultimate ‘release’ of a silence losttook 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.
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 allat sea.