‘Dort wo man bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am ende menschen’ [Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings]. (Heinrich Heine (1797–1856), ‘Almansor: A Tragedy’ (1823))
The blitz (‘lightening’) of London by the German Luftwaffe began on 7 September 1947 and continued for fifty seven consecutive nights. It claimed nearly 20,000 civilian lives and destroyed public and domestic buildings on a scale unprecedented since the Great Fire of 1666. The most intense raid took place on 29 September and was focussed on the City of London. The firestorm fell on an area around St Paul’s Cathedral (which survived the bombing) and devastated many of the city’s historic relics and buildings including nearby Paternoster Row, the centre of London’s publishing industry. Around five million books were lost.
During the period from 1986 to 1990, I studied at the Reading Room of the British Library, then part of the British Museum, London. The Library lost over 200,000 volumes at its main building and a further 30,000 volumes of newspapers at its repository in Hendon. Occasionally, having requested a volume to read, I received instead a pink slip informing me that the publication had been a casualty of enemy hostilities during the Second World War. That experience was the starting point for this piece.
‘B-Lit-Z’ is a soundscape collage based upon field recordings of air-raid sirens and the mortar fire heard in the skies above London during the blitz, my own recording of ‘silence’ in the British Library’s Reading Room, and noises derived from a audiovisual installation which referenced barrage balloons.
released April 20, 2013
All compositions ℗ and © 2013 John Harvey
Personnel: numerous anonymous scholars, librarians, and John Harvey
Instrumentation: [BBC], ‘The Sounds of Time’ (London: Oriole Records Ltd, 1949) vinyl recording, Sony Microcassette-corder M-627V, Gibson Les Paul Custom 1957 VOS guitar, Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi fuzz box, Digitech Whammy pedal, and Adobe Audition CS6 software
Context: the British Library sample is an extract from my ‘aural diary’ for 1988: a document of experience, sensation, place, and people made using audio recording’; additional noises were recorded at an audiovisual installation entitled ‘Here Everything is Still Floating’, held at the School of Art galleries, Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK on 6 March 2010. Conceived and mastered in Aberystwyth, UK, April 2013
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