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This is a programmatic piece that fuses two incidents involving my late father. One took place on a Sunday in 1991. Having spent the evening sat in the lounge reading and listening to the traffic pass, I retired to bed early and began watching the dramatization of a ghost story on the TV, which was installed in the bedroom. Around 9.45 pm, after about ten minutes viewing, the broadcast was suddenly replaced by an image of static noise and an aggressive howl and screech so alarmingly loud that it forced me to hastily switch off the set. (It had not malfunctioned like that before, and never did again.) Immediately after, I received a telephone call from the son of my father’s next-door neighbour; he told me that my father had just died of a heart attack while watching TV.

The second incident is a telephone conversation between my father and I, a year earlier, on the occasion of my 30th birthday. The exchange was recorded by mutual agreement, and represents one of only two acoustic captures that I have of his voice. Our discussion was about what we had done in the previous week and his plans for the future.

The composition is in four sections. The first comprises slowed-down microphone feedback overlaid with the sound of passing vehicles. The second represents the TV broadcast. Its source sample was processed using an EVP algorithm designed to mimic a ghost-hunting tool, called a ‘spirit box’ or ‘ghost box’. The device sweeps multiple radio frequencies at very high speed, dividing them into tiny parcels of sound in a bid to detect the voices of disincarnate spirits. The fragmentary output, it is claimed, provides the clay from which ghosts mould comprehensible words. The algorithm, likewise, splits-up the content of an audio recording (a TV broadcast in this instance) into sections of any duration the operative requires, and rearranges them randomly.

The third section is made up of a complex of clamorous and inchoate noises evoking the TV’s visual and acoustic frenzy. (It is not unknown for the dead to reach out to the living at the moment of their passing via the agency of a TV.) It ends with key tones being pressed on a period telephone as my, then, home number would have sounded when dialled by my father and his neighbour’s son.

The final section imitates a cassette-tape recording of a telephonic EVP. The source material is derived from the telephone conversion with my father, along with fragments of music that he had loved dearly in life. D. Scott Rogo’s and Raymond Bayliss’s ‘Phone Calls from the Dead’ (1979) provides a welter of anecdotes about the deceased making contact with bereaved loved ones using this technology. The section is, in one sense, the fictive expression of a yearning for one final call from my father.

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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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