Site_Seal_Gesture: Post 7 – Sound Mirrors

In our previous post we presented Hoo Fort in the River Medway as a repository for previous itineraries, objects collected and our own experiences. Taking its circular form and isolation from the mainland, we conceived it as a combinatory archive, where memory and the meaning we attach to places and objects is mutable, constantly emerging in new configurations. What we are trying to emphasise in these posts is the process of accumulating, locating and conceptualising the material landscape and our movement through it, both physical and imaginative. This might be thought of as a form of mapping and archiving that takes into account not only apparently fixed features of the landscape but also that which is immaterial or in a state of perpetual change.

In this post we re-visit previous itineraries along the South East coast, a series of concrete sound mirrors built during the 1920s and 1930s as listening posts to detect incoming enemy aircraft. We visited these sites over the past 18 months, sometimes inhabiting them over night, as we did with Hoo Fort, other times staying nearby and returning several times, collecting objects, sounds and images.

Abbot’s Cliff Sound Mirror

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This sound mirror at Abbot’s Cliff has three unbroken horizontal lines grafittied onto it. We don’t know the intention of the person who made these marks but this is the trigram for ‘sky’ or ‘heaven’, which the sound mirror points towards. It was this that cemented our interest in developing a fictitious cosmology that draws from the Yi-Jing, Jung’s synchronicity and the Tarot as combinatory systems of mapping and archiving marginal sites.

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Hythe Sound Mirror

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This site was managed by English Heritage and the MOD, who have made a 3-D scan of the structure, fenced it off and will now allow it to slowly decay. This mirror is a ten meter diameter hemisphere in concrete. Sound mirrors were designed as an early warning system for warplanes coming over the channel – today we hear only far off gulls and distant waves crashing. The feeling here is that all other sounds are silenced.

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There was once an arm inside the mirror which held a microphone. This would be swung around to find the drone of an aeroplane, giving an inverted position of its location in the sky. We made sound recordings from the centre of the dish. Returning to our sound recordings, it appears that the quietness we perceived here was often broken – one moment we caught the sound of a passing aircraft, another time a car revving through the town below. This mirror was decommissioned because of the sound of traffic from the town below, masking the very faint sounds of distant aircraft.

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We’d been talking about the yarrow sticks used with the Yi-Jing and had collected together a lot of sticks from the surrounding area. Using the LED light from a phone, we treated the mirror as a projection screen.

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Later we illuminated the dish with fire and put up hammocks. We were here on a clear night with a sky full of stars. When illuminated the dish would have appeared very much like an avatar of the moon to the town of Hythe, maybe half a mile below.

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