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Angel Clothed with Cloud

from Spirit Communication [album] by John Harvey

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Harry Grindell Matthews (1880-1941) was an English inventor in the mould of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943). However, unlike Tesla’s visionary science, Matthews’s own (which, today, looks like the stuff of sci-fi B-movies in the 1940s and 50s) often failed in practice, and was rarely either explicable or demonstrable.

His projects included a Death Ray (an unproven device for destroying objects and stopping electric engines by means of an invisible ray-gun) an Aerophone (being a ground-to-air radio telephone), a Luminaphone (a photo-electric technique for creating pitched tones), and a Sky Projector (a mobile projector for casting images via a large and powerful arc lamp onto clouds). It is to the latter that this composition refers.

Matthews first demonstrated his Sky Projector on December 24, 1930, at Hampstead Village, London. One of the images he projected was of an angel. It evokes, fortuitously no doubt, the biblical description of the ‘mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud’ (Revelation 1.10).

The composition is made up of sounds mimicking the arcing and hum of high-voltages, switches being thrown, and the hiss and crackle of electricity. They surround a chorale element constructed from small samples taken from a 78-rpm shellac recording of an opera by Benjamin Godard, entitled 'Jocelyn', released in 1918. They are from a solo performed by Mademoiselle Micailowa, a Polish opera singer, called ‘Angels Guard Thee’. The samples have been reordered, stretched, reversed, pitch shifted and layered to create a choir of voices that sing a melody which is not part of the original music. Matthews had married the Polish opera singer Ganna Walska (1887-1984) in 1938. There appear to be no extant recordings of her work, however.

credits

from Spirit Communication [album], released December 5, 2023

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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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