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John Williams

from Noisome Spirits [album] by John Harvey



The account describes the experience of two Methodist women from Ystradgynlais, Breconshire, who were walking together to Tŷ Gwyn in the parish of Llangadog, Carmarthenshire. They heard a voice – which they recognised as belonging to a young man named John Williams – singing Psalm 105. However, they perceived only some of the words, and in a manner that was contrary to usual auditory experience. At a dissenting meeting-house service on the following Sunday, this psalm was ‘given out’ by the same John Williams. He died some weeks later. Jones remarked upon these occurrences: ‘Here is another notable instance both of the being and foreknowledge of spirits’.

The ‘strings and bass drum’ section – which opens and forms the spine of the composition – comprises samples derived from an overlay of the first and last lines of each stanza from Edmund Prys’s (1542/3–1623) Welsh, metrical translation of Psalm 105 (1621). These are sung to a 17th-century Welsh folk tune, arranged in reverse, and played at very slow speed. The section is interspersed with the superimposed singing (at normal speed) of the first lines of stanzas one to five (played twice), and of the last lines of those stanzas (played once), at the conclusion. The whoosh and rush of wind-like sounds, which surge and ebb throughout, are manufactured from the time-stretched breath of the singer’s inhalations and exhalations, before and between lines of the stanzas. The mood evoked is one of strangeness, ominousness, and foreboding.

Source Text
​They heard the voice of one singing psalms coming to meet them. They knew the voice to be the voice of John Williams. When the voice came near, it slackened and grew weaker (when came within twenty yard’s distance); when just over them, the passing voice ceased, yet was soon renewed; and when about twenty yards distant, the voice was as strong as before. They heard some of the words, which were from Psalm 105. They did not hear all of the words, but the beginning and ends of the stanzas, which they heard with much surprise.

Source Reference
'The Appearance of Evil', 57; Edmund Prys, 'Salmau Cân', Psm 105.


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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