Site_Seal_Gesture Post 8: Denge Sound Mirrors

First trip to Denge, Dungeness…I think we did the Hythe sound mirrors, then on to Dungeness, and found a random place to stay on the main coast road, expensive, someone’s house, horrific interior decoration, a car crash of stripes and nautical themed tat. It was so expensive we thought about stealing the telescope in the hallway to recoup our loses. Instead we got some photos through it, of old wrecks of fishing boats slowly sinking into the shingle. We spent a few hours driving around the next day, trying to find someone to lend us a boat. We asked an old lady who was having a garage sale..seemed hopeful for a while, then she realised no, her son’s boat wasn’t there anymore. We asked lifeguards at the RNLI station, they suggested a place that hires out canoes, but then we wouldn’t be able to take them away. Eventually we realised that this was not going to happen with a boat, but maybe we could get across some other way.

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We headed for the mirrors, parked up at the end of a cul-de-sac and walked across the gravel, around the gravel pit lake. The mirrors here are on an island surrounded by water in a flooded gravel pit. We took photos of the swing bridge, the mechanism to unlock it, in case we could find a key that fit..or make one perhaps, 3D print it. We walked all the way around, looking for narrowest point. Lia stripped to her pants and tried wading into the water – too cold. We gave up. The previous December we had gone skinny dipping in the sea in Dungerness, but somehow the water here seemed colder and we had no towel and would be blue and shivering for the rest of the day. So, we need a boat. Or a li-lo. Or anything that floats. I thought a boat might be the best bet though, we want to take cameras and stuff across. So, we will return.

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In the end, we got a boat on ebay, an inflatable kayak – it was in Somerset, a bit of a trek to pick up from London. Driving out to get it, by coincidence, intersected with Rob Irving’s walk around Avebury, which a friend and I joined. This kind of keyed in nicely again with this synchonicity idea we kept discussing.

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So, we returned to Denge later in the year, I think it was March. This time staying at a place near Dungerness, a semi-detached house on a Barratt style housing estate. Two huge cats, billowing masses of perfectly groomed fur. A cat themed toilet brush holder. No lock on the door. We were basically staying in someones’ spare room. We had an awkward breakfast the following morning, sat opposite a middle aged couple on their way to catch a ferry from Dover. The cats appeared from time to time, aloof and indignant, asking what on earth we were doing in their home.

But this time, we had a boat, we had the cameras, the sound recorder, the ‘selfie stick’ (a 5m mast for the camera) and sunshine. This was her maiden voyage, the SeaEagle. I’d had to saw the oars in half to get them in the car, so we each had one half, hoping this would work ok. We parked up and carried the bagged up boat across the gravel, maybe quarter of a mile so we were out of sight, as if anyone would really care. It was quiet here today, I think a Sunday. Always there was a slight sense of trespass, although I think this area is generally public, except of course the island, which is owned by English Heritage. We took the boat to the swing bridge and pumped it up. Put the boat on the water, loaded it with our stuff, got in it and started rowing. After two strokes we were on the other bank. It felt faintly absurd. A plank would almost have been suffice. So, we ‘disembarked’, dragged the boat to land and at last, we were on the island, among the mirrors. Extraordinary objects, beautiful, complex shapes, full of colour, blooms of lichen clinging to their rough surfaces.

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Lia pulled herself up to peer into the large circular mirror, the listening post still partially intact. There’s a little garden! she exclaimed. We clambered up, and there was a little moss garden encircling the listening post, an oasis of green in the concrete hemisphere. It was a bit of a trick to get up and down from the dish, a little risk of getting it wrong and swinging down into the listening ‘pit’.

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We put the microphone on the ‘selfie stick’ and got it up in the air, pretty much exactly where the original microphone would have been. The air was teeming with distant bird song and the calming drone of light aircraft, somehow suggestive of lazy summer days. We made field recordings of these various expressions of life.

The pit beneath, where the listeners would have spent long days in quiet solitude, now smelt vaguely of urine and little was left of the original equipment. There was a metal pipe, still movable, which would have rotated the arm above. But no sign of the pipes, pedals and stethoscope that would have given the listener something to listen to.

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A listener - image from R.N.Scarth, 2014, Echoes in the Sky, Hythe Civic Society

A listener – image from R.N.Scarth, 2014, Echoes in the Sky, Hythe Civic Society

We went over the the smaller hexagonal mirrors, these are really quite lovely. The sun was striking them obliquely, creating crescent moon shadows, placing it back in the sky towards which it pointed. Like alien worlds imagined, primitive life clung to their surfaces, leaving coloured traces.

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Lia started whistling into this mirror, whilst I recorded, a haunting sound. She talked about playing the didgeridoo, circular breathing, the sounds that breath can make when directed into empty rooms, dark corners, abandoned silences. Just a plastic pipe and some beeswax.

To get to the largest mirror we had to get back into the boat. This time we could take it on a more lengthy voyage, silently moving across this still lake. The feeling was not just being in a still place but of also producing silence as we moved. We glided through rushes (more sticks)..later this would suggest bundles tied together used in other works. From here on the water we could capture the rose thorn profile of the mirror, pricking the sky as if to burst the soundwaves and have them fall to earth in ragged ribbons.

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