This track is a mixture of my field recordings, US coast guard, shortwave transmissions, the atomic clock broadcast and a guitar track. It (very briefly) explores the development of transatlantic communication and was made for the Shortwave Transmissions project by Cities and Memory.
The field recordings that open the piece were recorded at the site of Marconi’s first transatlantic telegraph signal – a windswept peat bog at Derrigimlagh in Connemara, Ireland. On the site of the former transmission station, a wind reed (or aeolian harp) has been installed. The constant wind plays across strings and openings in the structure, causing these haunting, yet musical sounds. This marks the beginning of the development of transatlantic radio communication when it was still incredibly difficult.
The site must have been something to behold 100 years ago when the first signals were sent – the huge condenser house, the power house with its 6 boilers burning thousands of tons of dried peat dug from the bog surrounding it, and the massive aerial system consisting of 8 wooden masts, each 210 feet high and 1500 feet long. The aerials gave off sparks which could be heard like lightning cracks for miles around, indicative of the huge power and voltages involved (150KW at 15,000 volts).
The sounds of Derrigimlagh develop into the recording of the US Coast Guard (US Coast Guard radio station NMC) transmitting navigation and marine safety messages over shortwave, from a period where the technology was at its peak and in general use. This recording, from The Shortwave Archive is strange and otherworldly and yet beautiful and completely mesmeric.
To further tell the story of the development of transatlantic communication, and to provide a musical element, I approached my friend Mike Gutterman in the US to record a guitar track (called ‘ShortWave’). Our conversation happened by mobile phone and the track was sent over the internet, from his garage (the ‘GutterManCave’) in Kentucky, to our front room in County Clare, in seconds.
The contrast between Marconi’s huge, inefficient and dangerous infrastructure and the ease with which we can communicate today could not be more stark. Shortwave played its part, but has come and gone in this development.
This was my first ever sound piece of any description, using some of my first field recordings. It certainly isn’t polished, but was a fun and interesting challenge. Massive thanks to Mike for allowing me to use the track.