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The composition is based on what is undoubtedly an urban legend. Around 1989, Russians (so the story goes) drilled a Superdeep Borehole in Siberia, 9 miles (about 14.5 km) down. The well was so deep that the screams of the damned in hell could he heard via a microphone that had been lowered into the hollow, before it perished in the extreme temperature: 1,000°C (about 2,000°F). In reality, drilling equipment cannot operate above 350°C (662°F), and sound equipment would not have survived a far lower intensity. For example, the High‐temperature Preamplifier Type 1706 microphone is designed to perform up to 125°C only.

The story began to circulate quickly, and was promoted by some fundamentalist and evangelical Christian radio networks as evidence of the literal existence of hell and the fate of those who reject Jesus Christ. Ten years later, what claimed to be an audio recording of the sounds from the borehole was published on a number of Internet sites. It proved to be a fabrication, created digitally using found-sound recordings of screams on film soundtracks, which had been overlaid, looped, and distorted.

‘Hellhole’, too, is a fabrication comprising existing and contrived recordings. The core of the piece is the sound of the drilling process at an earth-boring project in Lake Chew Bahir, Ethiopia in 2016. The recording had been made by Dr Julian Ruddock, who was one of my PhD Fine Art research tutees. He had asked me to develop a sound-art accompaniment for a film he was making about the extracted core sample. I made three versions, one of which became part of his ‘2A: Earth Core’ (2017). The remaining two contribute to this present composition.

The attendant voices are derived from a public information film -- released in 1942 by the Bureau of Mines and Department of the Interior, USA -- entitled ‘The Evolution of the Oil Industry’. Samples from the narrator’s description of the drilling process were variously, stretched, reversed, dropped in pitch, and modulated to evoke the distress and torment of the suffering in the infernal regions.


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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