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Plate 13: An End of Coal (1 November 1991)

from Penallta Colliery: Sound pictures [album] by John Harvey



‘An End of Coal’ refers to two finalities: one historic and the another, futurological. The first refers to the closure of Penallta Colliery in 1991. The colliery ceased producing coal, like many others in Wales, not because it had become any less productive over the years. Indeed, the very opposite was true. Rather, the government had considered that the reserves could no longer be extracted economically. It was cheaper to important coal from foreign countries. The second reference is to a time, post-COP26, when the extraction of fossil fuels (of which coal is the chief culprit) must end in the interests of reversing climate change.

The composition is structured around the sounds of industry and the music of a brass band. One played on the last day of production and as miners exited the colliery following the final shift. At the centre of piece, the ‘band’ repeat an ascending scale, which fades like the sound of a peel of bells being blown away upon the wind. The music is affirming and uplifting on the one hand, and melancholic and wistful on the other. At the close, the ‘band’ repeat a descending scale in a stately, Wagnerian style as the composition and coal come to an end.

The libretto comprises specific words extracted from the Overman’s quartet of narratives. They are arranged in a non-linear, somewhat cryptic, fashion to evoke ideas that call attention to coalmining’s contribution to the planet’s peril.


from Penallta Colliery: Sound pictures [album], released July 31, 2022


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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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