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Spirit Communication [album]

by John Harvey

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2.
John! 03:53
3.
Ethnoplasm 02:00
4.
Achtung 02:37
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Drum solo 01:14
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Hellhole 05:54
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הָלַל 06:29
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about

'Spirit Communication' extends a line of inquiry that began with the 'Noisome Spirits' (2021) album. The latter is based upon my book entitled ‘The Appearance of Evil: Apparitions of Spirits in Wales’ (2003): an annotated and updated edition of two publications by the Welsh Calvinistic Congregationalist minister Edmund Jones (1702-93). He collected putatively true accounts of encounters with ghosts, demons, angels, and fairies in eighteenth-century Wales.

His books include examples of auditory apparitions; that is to say, spirit entities that manifested themselves as sound only. Noisome Spirits is an acoustic re-presentation of some of those accounts. The album’s compositions are based upon recordings both of Jones’s text being read and sounds taken from the natural world. These sources are variously modulated, collaged, stretched, inverted, and overlaid to evoke sounds described in his accounts.

In Jones’ day, descriptive writing was the only means of recording sound. However, with the invention of the wax cylinder phonograph in the late 1880s, technology enabled acoustic phenomena to be encoded and played back acoustically. Since then, there has been a burgeoning of sound mediums -- such as shellac and vinyl disc, metal and plastic tape, tape and digital video, digital-audio tape, CD, and streamable media -- along with portable means of recording, from the small-scale reel-to-reel tape recorder to the mobile phone.

These mediums and devices have enabled professionals and amateurs to hear and capture (whether deliberately or inadvertently) putative evidence of the existence of disincarnate and supernatural entities. Spirits communicate (some contend) either mediately – through a radio, tape recorder, TV, telephone, video, or ‘spirit box’, so called -- or immediately, in such a way as can be picked-up by a microphone. Conversations between ghosts and mediums at séances, trance speech, shamanistic incantation, and tongues speaking are recorded in this way.

Unlike the previous releases in The Aural Bible series, 'Spirit Communication' is not based upon a single coherent source, be that: a wax cylinder recording of preaching; the story of a biblical event; an acoustic recording of the whole Bible; a book of spirit histories; a deceased friend’s diary; or a documentary movie about coalmining. Instead, the album addresses a range of audible apparitions drawn from a variety of paranormal, spiritual, and religious traditions and their acoustics cultures. The audible apparitions include phenomena associated with heaven, hell, the interaction of the immaterial and material worlds, and religious utterance. These varied anomalies share several features: first, spirits desire to be heard; and, secondly, their sounds can be communicated via, and documented by, technology.

The sources used in 'Spirit Communication' include found-sound recordings (taken from a variety of historical and contemporary sonic mediums and technologies) of séances, fundamentalist preaching, charismatic worship, audio ethnography, spirit rapping, telephony, Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP), and bore hole drilling, among others. In addition, the album makes use of online open-access material, my Aural Diary archive, and recordings of historical texts -- related to the album’s themes --being read aloud. Additionally, there are the sounds of those musical instruments referred to in the texts. These sources are variously sampled, amalgamated, superimposed, interleaved, segmented, sometimes randomly reorganised, reversed, temporally adjusted, pitch shifted, and modulated to create the clay from which compositions are moulded.

The album is centred on several key themes. They include: accounts of self-playing musical instruments, witnessed at séances; the sound of angelic choirs, heard either above the hubbub of a worshipping congregation or high up in the air; the dreadful blasts of aerial apocalyptic trumpets; and unintelligible speech and incantation.

'Spirit Communication' is, in one sense, a collection of narratives about self-deceit, unscrupulous fabrication, and misinterpretation, on the one hand, and bereavement, desperation, and yearning, on the other. These motives and psychologies articulate an overwhelming desire, on the part of some, to bridge the chasm between this world and the next, so that the living might converse with the dead as they had in life. Religionists, for their part, claim to draw down heaven to earth, give voice to celestial and subterranean entities and, thereby, provide comfort, encouragement, and affirmation for the faithful and a fearful warning to the unrepentant.

The moods and states of mind evoked by the themes’ content and the album’s compositions move through an emotional spectrum from plaintiveness, confidence, determination, triumphalism, ecstasy, enigma to terror and perturbation. Auditory apparitions can be a powerful agent of, and stimulus to, a whole panoply of human responses. They are also an index to societal assumptions about death, the afterlife, and the unseen and otherwise inaudible world.

To the openminded, there is always the possibility that some recordings of auditory apparitions are what they purport to be. And therein lies their potency. As the paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse (1919-2006) once cautioned me: ‘just because you can fake a five-pound note doesn’t mean that there’s no such thing as the real thing’. My attitude to auditory apparitions is one of curiosity, respect, and critical scepticism. I find these consoling illusions compelling, and their delusional aesthetic -- sublime, richly imaginative, emotionally satisfying, and engaging … like a good ghost story, told well.

Auditory apparitions represent a coming together of faith and science, and spirit and sound technology. In 'Spirit Communication', that technology is both a subject and the means of interrogating and articulating both that subject and auditory apparitions, through the process of fabrication, imitation, and counterfactual re-presentation.

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Information on the individual tracks can be found by placing the cursor on the title, and then clicking on 'info'.

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‘Spirit Communication' is the seventh release in The Aural Bible series. The series deals with the Judaeo-Christian scriptures as the written, spoken, and heard word. It explores the cultural articulations and adaptations of the Bible within Judeo-Christian and supernaturalist traditions. The works on the album embark upon a critical, responsive, and interpretive intervention with aspects of their sound culture.

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Further information about this album’s concepts and compositions is available at the following website: communicationspirit.weebly.com.

The websites that accompany the series’ albums are dynamic. Material will be added, and sub-sections fleshed-out, as opportunities for the work to be presented, discussed, reviewed, and broadcast, present themselves.

This website includes descriptive and background material for each of the individual compositions comprising the sound suite. It does not seek to fully explain their nature but, rather, to provide sufficient guidance to enable the listener to appreciate how the works are constructed and informed by the themes, history, and texts to which they respond.

credits

released December 5, 2023

In memoriam: Phoebe Williams (1995-2019).

Personnel: John Harvey.

Instrumentation and production: Adobe Audition CC, Allen & Heath Xone:96 mixer, Apple MacBookPro, Bush Portable Recorder & Cassette Player, Castagnari Recanati melodeon, custom personal computer and Windows 10, Eventide ModFactor, PitchFactor, TimeFactor, and Space pedals, EVP software, Fireface UCX audio interface, RME Fireface UCX analogue/digital interface, Steepletone MBR1081 7-band radio, Steinberger ‘Spirit’ guitar, Strymon Iridium amplifier and cabinet emulator, and Wechter Pathmaker 3120 guitar.

Sources: Bible (KJV and NRSV), Bureau of Mines and Department of the Interior, USA, ‘The Evolution of the Oil Industry’ (1942) A/A Geeks 16mm Films (accessed: June 2023), John Harvey, Aural Diary (1989, 2002), Benjamin Godard, ‘Angles Guard Thee’, from Jocelyn (Op.100), (1918) Internet Archive (accessed July 2023), D. D. Home, 'Incidents in My Life' (New York: A. K. Butts and Co., 1873); Allan Kardec, 'Heaven and Hell: divine justice according to Spiritualism' (1865) trans. by Darrel W. Kimble and Marcia M. Saiz (Brazil: International Spiritualist Council, 2006); Nicholas Renton, ‘Do Not Disturb’ (BBC, Screen Two (March 17, 1991)); Julian Ruddock, recording of drilling, earth-boring project, Lake Chew Bahir, Ethiopia (2015); and UbuWeb Sound (accessed: June-August 2023).

I would like to thank the staff at the National Library of Wales and Screen and Sound Archive for their encouragement and continued support of The Aural Bible series.

All compositions by: John Harvey.
Cover concept and artwork: John Harvey.
Engineered and produced by: John Harvey.
Conceived and mastered at: John Harvey's studio, Aberystwyth, Wales.
Released by: Screen & Sound Archive, Wales, 2023.
All compositions ℗ & © 2023 John Harvey.

The project and recording are a collaboration between the Screen & Sound Archive, The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth and the School of Art, Aberystwyth University.

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about

John Harvey Ceredigion, UK

I’m a practitioner and historian of sound art and visual art, and Emeritus Professor of Art at the School of Art, Aberystwyth University, UK. My research field is the sonic and visual culture of religion. I explore the sonic articulations of the Christian religion by engaging visual, textual, and audible sources, theological and cultural ideas, and systemic and audiovisualogical processes. ... more

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