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Geographical: fiery stones

from Noisome Spirits [album] by John Harvey



This is the first of four compositions based upon relations included in Jones’s 'A Geographical, Historical, and Religious Account of the Parish of Aberystruth'. Unlike those in his 'A Relation of Apparitions of Spirits', they concern natural rather than supernatural phenomena. Nevertheless, for him, these strange manifestations of the material world were redolent with intimations of the spiritual realm. In his view, the glorious ‘Mighty Wise Creator’ could be seen within and through it all.

The composition has two elements. The first is the noise of stones ‘beating … one against another’. The second is the ferocious, rain-swollen ‘Ebwy Fawr’ [Ebbw Fawr] River, Monmouthshire (which emerges at, what is today, Ebbw Vale and enters the Bristol Channel at Newport) as it coursed. The former element was derived from the sound of droplets hitting the surface of water, captured on the recording of the splash used in ‘Such a noise as if all about was going to pieces’. The sound source in ‘Geographical: fiery stones’ was converted from a 32-bit WAV to a 8-bit MP3 coding, slowed considerably, re-equalised, and modulated using low-pass, ring-modulator, delay, and chorus filters. The latter element comprises multiple overlays of slowed-down breaths that preceded and proceeded the annunciation of words and phrases from Jones’s account.

Source Text
The River Ebwy Vawr, i.e. Ebwy the Great, so called in relation to the Lesser Ebwy, not that it constantly hath more water than the Lesser Ebwy, but because it hath a much longer course, springing up in Brecon-Shire, and running a long way before it comes down into Aberystruth, and after it hath received all the waters of the Parish; and that after it hath past Aberystruth and received several Brooks, and Rivulets, on both sides, and the River Syrowy also, and traveled thro’ divers Parishes, it retains its name until it enters into the Severn in conjunction with the River Usk at the South end of the County. Having entered some way into the Parish, it is very unruly in its passage and mischievous in time of great Floods; the great breadth of the upper end of the Valley, and inclining of the ground towards the River on both sides carrying abundance of waters of waters to it in times of great Rain, causing great and terrible Floods, running on with great noise and violence, beating the stones one against another; so that sparks of fire are sometimes seen in the night to rise up from them; for I have seen it myself. ... Higher up, the water is not very clear, being often troubled with the Pond waters scouring the Coal works; which also is unfriendly to the Fishes, and makes them more scarce.

Source Reference
'A Geographical, Historical, and Religious Account', 18–19.


from Noisome Spirits [album], released July 15, 2021


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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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