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O, Thou Disembodied Spirits

from Spirit Communication [album] by John Harvey



The sampled voices are taken from a historic recording of Beatrice ‘Bess’ Houdini (1876-1943), widow of the magician and illusionist Harry Houdini (1894-1926), and Edward Saint, the séance moderator.

The séance was held on Halloween 1936 on the rooftop of the Knickerbocker Hotel, Hollywood, California. The occasion represented the final opportunity, following ten years of failed attempts, for Harry to make contact with his former wife -- as he had promised to following his death, if spirit communication was possible. ‘Houdini did not come through’, Beatrice lamented.

The percussive element is derived from the introductory clicks on a 78-rpm shellac record which, fortuitously, also sounds like spirit rapping. The musical element is provided by two guitars (one acoustic and the other electric). Two independent improvisations on the instruments were modified by an EVP software. Afterwards, the outputs were edited and arranged in unison. The guitars and percussion together articulate a sense of urgency as the last chance expires.

Edward Saint: O, thou disembodied spirits
Make yourself known to us

Beatrice Houdini: It’s spirit communication

ES: Are you here? Are you here?
We want the evidence … the truth

I deem magnetic voices from every corner of the earth
Make yourself known to us
Please, now
The time is at hand.


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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