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Arguably the most well-known account of a self-playing musical instrument is associated with the narrative known as ‘the drummer of Tedworth’. It was first mentioned in Joseph Glanvill’s (1636-80) spirit history, entitled ‘Saducismus Triumphatus’ (1681). Other versions of the account were published subsequently.

The essence of the story concerns William Drury, a vagrant, who played his drum for money. A local landowner and recruitment officer for the local militia, John Mompesson, discovered that Drury did not possess a licence to busk, and successfully sued him for collecting money under false pretences. Drury’s drum was confiscated as a consequence, and given to Mompesson by the local bailiff. Once installed in Mompesson’s house, loud, relentless, and ferocious drumming noises could be heard above the roof at night and, subsequently, in the children’s bedroom and other rooms in the house during the daytime too.

‘Drum Solo’ refers both to this account and so-called spirit rapping. The latter phenomenon was first witnessed by the Fox sisters (Leah (1830-90), Margaretta (1833-93), and Catherine (1837-92)) in Hydesville, New York, during the 1840s. They claimed to be able to communicate with the spirits of the dead using a technique of responsive percussive knocks. The spirits’ raps emanated from the interior walls of, and furniture in, their house. Thumping and banging noises were also witnessed by members of the Mompesson household, alongside the drumming.

The composition subdivides a sequence of knocks -- derived from a historic recording of spirit rapping -- into individual notes, converts them into discrete patterns of repetition, modifies the sound of what appears to be knuckles knocking on wood in order to mimic the beating of a drum, and reorganises them into a new whole.

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

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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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